The (Second) Interesting Case of Dragon Age II, or Making Peace with Unideal Options

A long, long time ago, on a blog page far, far away, I shared some thoughts about Dragon Age II. I gave some background on the game, and talked a bit about some of my frustrations with it, but eventually meandered around to thinking that the game overall did what the second game of a trilogy should do, and that its positives were grossly overshadowed by the copy/paste environments, and also my own desire for Dragon Age II to simply be more Dragon Age: Origins, in the same way I was overly hard on The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword because I wanted it to be more The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.

Perhaps last year, I decided to play through Dragon Age II again, hoping that playing the game again after some time would yield different feelings toward it. And I’ll be a Dalish’s uncle if that’s not what happened.

Time of Your Life

This wouldn’t be the first time that the timing of playing a game has affecting my feelings on it. Knowing from the start that Dragon Age II is its own game, and not a direct following of Dragon Age: Origins was Dragon Age: Origins – Awakenings DLC, I went in ready to just accept the game for what it was – whatever it was – and glean from it what I could, just like I would for any new gaming experience.

Two points immediately stuck out to me: one was my interactions with the characters, and how they changed from last time, and the other was the themes that I focused on.

Personal Feelings

I always appreciated this meme:

rude NPC dialogue

Often, this is how I wind up playing games, first because I don’t generally like antagonizing people without good cause, and secondly because I know that being friends with NPCs also tends to unlock different content. And so, I dutifully sank  hours into my first playthrough, trying to balance which companions I took on which quests, because I wanted to get everyone to the max “friend” rating of approval. This playthrough, I had my favorites, and my Hawke traveled with them and only them (with few exceptions) so while I was getting close to Isabela and Merrill and Aveline, poor Fenris and Anders and Varric were mostly being neglected.

While usually this would bother me, I wasn’t particularly upset this go around. It was strange to get to the end of the game and realize I hadn’t done a few personal missions, and even stranger when I realized the reason why, but overall I was pretty pleased with the game and the characters I neglected were the characters I hadn’t particularly cared for the first time around. It was somewhat freeing to not have to run around with characters I didn’t like, just for the sake of a trophy.

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Another change was my taste in romances. During my first playthrough, I was very much pursuing Merrill. This go around, I was attempting to complete something called a “rivalmance,” in which the companion character is at a 100% rivalry rating with Hawke, but still in a romance with her (using female pronouns as my Hawke was female). I chose this because I am rather fond of the character arc she goes through, having seen it in a playthrough.

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But around halfway through my Hawke decided she was going to pursue Isabela, and that turned into a much more satisfying relationship than the rivalmance that I wound up messing up anyway.

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All this to say, playing Dragon Age II this time around, with a focus of just goofing around and trying out different things, was a much more satisfying game experience than playing it with the same fervor with which I play(ed) Dragon Age: Origins.

However, it wasn’t just a change in personal relationships that I noticed. The way I engaged with the main conflict had also changed, again, I believe, influenced by when I played the game this time.

Impossible Choices

There are a number of plot points that Dragon Age II weaves into itself, from introducing red lyrium, to hinting at an impending qunari invasion, to the main conflict between the mages and templars, which I’ve talked more about here. Ironically, the linked post is from early 2017, during which I was making a comment about then-current events. And here I am again, using the same conflict to talk about current events. I’d give it a quick read if you’re able, because I might reference some points here that are addressed in more detail there.

The mages and the templar have quietly been at odds for some time, and when I first played Dragon Age II, while I sympathized with the mages, I would up siding with the templars during the endgame because of how I was role-playing that Hawke. It seemed reasonable that Hawke side with the templars, after almost every mage not under templar control was a murderer, and after the high enchanter was involved in a situation that led to a mage killing Hawke’s mother. Of course the mages needed to be kept in line: look how they behaved otherwise.

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On another pass, I sided with the mages, somewhat disgusted that I had sided with the templars previously, because the answer to rebellion against oppression shouldn’t be more oppression. During this playthrough, I found myself just as angry at Anders for his antics as I had been in the past playthrough. Oppression is bad, but terrorism is never called for, said I, firmly in Camp Moderate Political Viewpoint.

This go around, I found myself disgusted with both sides. On one side were the templars, wanting to maintain the status quo, even at the expense of others, because the status quo had “worked” for so long. On the other side were the mages, oppressed and ignored for so long they resorted to more and more extreme means of demanding change, including murdering innocent people.

On one side were the templars, wanting to protect the people from the rebelling mages, and on the other side were the mages, seeing a better, more inclusive way of running society.

On one side were the templars, refusing to listen to the mages. On the other side were the mages, refusing to listen to the templars.

And little by little, even the templars and mages began to fracture within their own groups, distancing themselves from other factions that seemed so different in practice and in words, although were the same in ultimate goal. But there was too much hurt on both sides for any to see this.

Sitting on the sidelines, knowing the story, it was easy for me to look at First Enchanter Orsino, and the templar Knight Captain Meredith, and dislike both of them. Orsino was not the best representative of what mages could be, and Meredith was a tyrant who – while one could believe in some of the words she said – acting so abhorrently that it boggled my mind how her templars could follow and defend her.

This playthrough, it felt like neither choice was ideal, and all I could do was go with the one I thought would cause the least amount of harm. Survival was necessary now. Idealism could come later.

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It’s interesting that when we play games can have such an impact on what we take away from them, no?

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Maybe Flemeth is right. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try to fly.

Have you ever played a game for which your opinion changed as time went on? What was it? Did you ever find yourself gleaning different themes and ideas from the same game, based on current events? Did you vote? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you soon!
~Athena

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6 comments

  1. I found my initial reaction to Dragon Age 2 was similar to my reaction to Final Fantasy X-2, when I first played it. I loved Final Fantasy X and Dragon Age: Origins, so when I picked up their repsective sequels I was disappointed that I wasn’t simply getting more of the original games. Yet, when I replayed Dragon Age 2 and Final Fantasy X-2, I enjoyed them more as I was playing them as separate entities to the original games. Both games taught me that its always worth going back to a game, even if your first experience wasn’t that great.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it’s always interesting when you love a game so much that you want the sequel to just be MORE of that game. That happened for me with Twilight Princess, and wanting Skyward Sword to just be more of it… But I’m glad you were also able to go back and enjoy the games as their own experiences. I like how you put that, that it’s always worth going back to a game, even if the first experience wasn’t great. I guess you never really know!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mine would be Majora’s Mask. Ocarina of Time was what got me into Zelda games, so following that up wasn’t going to be easy. I liked MM, but didn’t feel as strongly about it as OoT. Having played it a couple times since then, it’s become one of my favorite Zelda games as I’ve learned to appreciate its dark weirdness. I was just talking about this same concept this morning with games like Banjo-Tooie, Starfox Adventures, and Perfect Dark: Zero. All games that I never gave enough of a chance because I had an idea of what I WANTED them to be and not appreciating what they actually were.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can see that! I played Majora’s Mask so far after release that I sort of went into it knowing it would be very different. I had a similar experience between Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword, like I said in another comment. Learned my lesson, though, to always try and look at a game for what it *is,* rather than expecting it to be one thing or another, or “more” of another game!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Huh, maybe I’ll have to try something similar next time I go through DA2. I was really disatisfied with it in my initial playthrough, and yeah, I was playing it soon after Origins and making sure to go through and complete every bit of content I could. Maybe a more casual approach does lead to a more enjoyable experience, as you suggest here.

    And as for the central conflict, yeah, it’s a choice with no good options. Much like the choices we’re presented with in our political system. And the least bad option is still pretty ruinous. There’s been games I do appreciate that kind of choice in, but I was rather frustrated with the way it was handled in Dragon Age 2. Then again, it could well be the way I played, and approached it again. It may be worth a try with a more open mind next time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. While the lore geek in me is glad for that first playthrough, and I did eventually grudgingly appreciate some of the characters who weren’t my favorite (again, lore geek me is glad for that), I enjoyed rolling with my “friends” a lot more, and it felt like a more organic experience.

      I do appreciate when there is no obvious “right” or “wrong” choice in games, as well. I think it’s more realistic and also offers more opportunity for real role playing, instead of choosing “good playthrough” and ‘evil playthrough” and then button mashing through the rest. Knowing the story, I didn’t think that the storylines were as rushed or as frustrating, but I couldn’t tell you whether it’s because I wasn’t as overall frustrated with the game/played it with a more open mind, or because I knew the story beats and so was “looking” for the nuance in the conflict, if that makes sense. Maybe it was a combination of both. If you do play it again, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on it!

      Liked by 1 person

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