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I have a lot of “guilty pleasures” when it comes to entertainment, and video games are no exception. Whenever I bring up one of my favorite games, it becomes pretty clear many gamers don't feel the same way about it I do. This does not surprise me anymore, since it's Dragon Age II, a game that tends to spark a pretty strong reaction from many fans of the fantasy franchise created by BioWare. However, there are some times when I think the game is dismissed all too easily, even with its faults.
Of course, you won’t find me denying the fact that DA II has many flaws that work against it. I honestly can’t stand them for the most part, either, whether it’s the recycled environments or the waves of enemies seemingly coming from nowhere. Even with all of these issues, though, Dragon Age II is my favorite game in the series. I love Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age: Inquisition, and have played those games multiple times, but the second game has lured me back to replay it more times than the others. I just can’t get enough!
Here are some of the main reasons why Dragon Age II won me over and that, to me, make it a game to revisit.
In my opinion, setting the game in one location was a great idea. It was a refreshing change from so many of the games out there in which you have to travel around the world as you try to save it. I enjoy those, but it was nice to see a story told on a smaller scale, and I believe it worked well in the Dragon Age world. Focusing on one city was a good way to offer a closer look at the tensions between mages and templars before they reached a breaking point that would impact the entire world. It made it easier to get to know the people on both sides and let players see not only how things changed between the two groups over time, but how the situation impacted the people and city around them. By keeping the setting in Kirkwall and the surrounding area, you can get to know the city and its people on a more intimate level.
Kirkwall never felt restrictive to me either even though we were there the entire game. That's thanks in large part to how they decided to have time pass and how they decided to structure the story.
Breaking up the story into three acts and having years go by in between added a layer of depth that you don’t get in a game in which not much time passes. Thanks to the years passing between acts, we might be in one place the whole game, but things change, so Kirkwall never feels boring. Visual changes in the city aren’t as obvious, unfortunately, but other changes are. City politics, the relationships between characters, and Hawke’s personal situation are all allowed to grow in ways that you wouldn’t see, otherwise. Even with the rushed conclusion, I think this structure helped tell a really interesting story in which you get to see how certain choices you make lead to changes years later.
I love how Varric is telling this entire story, as well. Not only does he explain what happens between acts, but the story is interrupted at other moments, too, in which he is embellishing or holding back something. For example, I love when Cassandra calls him out in the beginning of the game when he’s describing Hawke’s journey to Kirkwall and how he tries to get away with telling her something different about his personal quest in Act II, “A Family Matter.”
With Varric telling the story, it brings up some intriguing questions about it, too. Were there other things Cassandra didn’t catch that he wasn’t telling correctly? Was he leaving something out that we might not learn about until future games? These thoughts raced through my mind during my first play-through and continue to help make it an entertaining game to play.
Perhaps the main reason I think Dragon Age II managed to become my favorite game in the series was the companions. I love how attached I feel to them by the end of the game. The setting meant it felt like you really were living with these people over a period of time, getting to know them as you traveled together and visited each other at your respective homes. The structure meant you were able to see your relationship evolve with them over the course of years. You can even get a sense of how your relationship with them continued in those intervening years between acts, despite not seeing it on screen. This comes across when chatting with each character towards the beginning of each act, as they talk about what they’ve been up to and even reference something here and there that happened to you both during that time.
It’s also clear that, even when you’re not there, your companions have come to mean something to each other, since they’ve been brought together. Whether it’s walking in on one character visiting another or hearing their banter as you explore, it shows how these companions are also close with each other, even if they might not all necessarily get along. This helps it feel like you’ve grown into a big, odd family by Act III.
The companions also offer a great mix of personalities, making the interactions with you and the other characters more interesting. Everyone from Merrill to yes, even Anders, adds something unique to the experience. Of course, there’s also the fact that this game gave us Varric, my favorite of the companions. He may be in Inquisition, but in my opinion it’s in his original appearance that he truly shines. He has amazing dialogue, is great in a fight, and it really feels like he can become best friends with your character.
Even beyond the companions, I think many of the characters in the game are interesting, and I always become quite attached to my Hawkes. I think she’s a fascinating character and I love being able to see her progress through the years, from her connections to Ferelden and Origins at the start to her Kirkwall life and making a name for herself to become Champion at the end. I also tend to enjoy a voiced protagonist and loved what that added to the game. Is there anything better than the humorous, sarcastic Hawke dialogue?
All of this makes Dragon Age II my ultimate guilty pleasure game. There are definitely flaws, but the above aspects have repeatedly made me return to it over the years and in my opinion, make it worth another look!
Do you think Dragon Age II isn’t as bad as people say or do you think its flaws definitely make it the worst in the series? Tell us in the comments!