My Problematic Fave: Dragon Age 2 with Mod Aria!

Mod Aria’s back to talk about more BioWare stuff! Naturally.

I, along with some of the others of NWG, absolutely love most any game BioWare makes. And as you’ve probably guessed, we love them despite some of their glaring flaws. A great example of a BioWare game that I absolutely love but most see as objectively bad is the second installment of the Dragon Age series, Dragon Age 2.

Dragon Age 2 was released in 2011 as a sequel to the popular hit Dragon Age: Origins. Origins was released not long after the original Mass Effect, and it incorporated a lot of similar elements in regards to player choice and romancing characters. Though both games were not visually pleasing, they had unique stories and loveable characters. Most gamers stand by their harsh criticisms of Dragon Age 2; it is a terrible game and regardless of Origins’ flaws, the first game is superior in every way.

While I do think that Origins, overall, is still a better experience, I absolutely disagree with the notion that DA:2 improved nothing about the franchise.

What Dragon Age 2 Did Wrong

Having played both DA:2 and DA:O many times, I feel like I do finally understand why so many people claim that 2 is just a terrible experience in comparison to Origins. There are many, many things that felt weak in 2 that had been such great parts of Origins, and not having that intensity just makes a sequel feel so disappointing.

DA:2 was an incredibly linear game, and that can be a nightmare for gamers who enjoy playing a game at their own pace. While there are side quests in the game, DA:2’s story is drastically changed (usually for the worse) if most of the side quests aren’t completed. There isn’t any room for flexibility, and while I don’t necessarily mind linear games, I understand why too much linear gameplay is detrimental. Origins had a much more relaxed structure with less weighty side quests, which many fans enjoyed. Origins also allowed you to continue the game after you had beaten it, which DA:2 did not do because of how the game ended.

The story of DA:2 was also a much more political one; there wasn’t much of a grand, fantastical adventure (unless you bought some of the DLC stories). Because of this, the game’s plot feels more frustrating than Origins, and this certainly feels like a step in the wrong direction. Most people play Dragon Age to save the world or to kill monsters, not to babysit. And you do a lot of babysitting in Dragon Age: 2. You’re trying to stop arguments from turning into brawls, and it’s like that all the time. Combine that with its linear style, and it’s so repetitive that it makes a lot of people want to quit.

Throw in repetitive story telling with linear gameplay and countless retextured dungeons, and this game comes across as a lazy attempt at making money from popular franchise. It wouldn’t be so bad if the characters were ten times more amazing than DA:O, but even I found myself disliking the majority of the party members. No characters are perfect, but most of them seemed to have a different version of the same flaw: they were ignorant because of how their lives were lived. Fenris hated mages because he was enslaved by them. Anders hated Templars because he was abused by them. Merrill thought blood magic was okay because she’d never seen anyone get hurt by it.

And after reading this, I’m sure if you haven’t played the game (or maybe you have and you hate it) you’re one hundred percent certain there is nothing good about Dragon Age: 2. But as much as I admit that this game is bad, I still love it so much. Because I don’t think it does everything wrong.

What Dragon Age 2 Did Right

There are some people who have looked at me in the eye and told me DA:O had better graphics in comparison to DA:2. I personally think these people need to get their eyes checked. The graphics in DA:2 are a huge improvement to Origins’ as they make the characters look so much more realistic. Their faces are smoother; the animations are smoother. Everyone in Origins looks like their faces were sculpted out of clay and not even finished yet. DA:2’s armor and weapons do not look like shiny cardboard.

I think this is the section that people like to dismiss because they just hate Dragon Age 2 so much they just want to find something else to complain about. I’m not saying there’s no foundation for some of those complaints, but the aesthetics of the game is one of the weakest excuses to hate it.

Not only do the people and objects look better, but the color palette is much more varied and vivid. Everything in Origins looked like it had a smear of mud over it. The dungeons, while certainly not perfect (we’ll talk about this later), were much easier to navigate because the mini map wasn’t textured with all the same colors.

And the interface is so much cleaner in DA:2. I actually feel like my stuff is organized. I don’t have to use every single button to figure out where the heck my upgrades and new weapons are. I don’t have to sift through trash items to find the gifts to give my party members. My power trees are color coded and on separate pages so I don’t accidently level up the wrong skillset.

The combat is also so much less clunky. Playing DA:O literally makes you feel like your characters are walking around with rocks tied to their shins. And that their arms are made of wood. But Dragon Age 2’s combat feels fluid and natural. There’s also a much more succinct crop of skillsets that you can use to make your character.

Finally, the introduction of the Dialogue Wheel. The dialogue choices in DA:O were so vague and awkward. A list of choices with a giant black block obscuring the game did not make the action of choosing an attractive one. There were so many choices that all sounded similar that I always ended up picking the same one every time. In DA:2, the wheel helps rank the choices based on mood, which I enjoyed from the game (and was sad they removed from Inquisition) because it helps give the character your making a defined personality.  It’s what makes Hawke such an amazing protagonist, and my overall favorite protagonist of the Dragon Age franchise.

While the characters are a bit annoying, they still have the same depth to them that is a standard for the series. While Fenris hates mages, he admits that there are some he likes. He’s been traumatized by them so much and understands the dangers of magic. It shows that not all situations are black and white. Isabela struggles with her own inner demons; her self-serving nature is put to the test when Hawke shows her loyalty. The introduction of Varric alone made this game worth it because he is so funny and witty and unique.

I think it’s also a great thing that all the characters can be romanced by anyone of any gender. There are some that call this lazy because the romances are the same, but I think it’s good because it normalizes sexual fluidity. I understand the choices made in Inquisition to give the characters defined sexual preferences again; I just see the benefits of both sides.

And even though the story is tedious, there are some parts in it that really make you question what’s considered good and bad. DA:2 really makes you think about the situation with mage freedom. Mages are human and deserve autonomy, but can we deny that magic is dangerous and that some mages do use it to harm people? It’s a relevant topic that can be easily related to reality.

In Conclusion

Dragon Age: 2 is a flawed game, that much is clear. I’m sure I haven’t covered all its flaws. But I think that there are some redeeming factors in this game that get overlooked by people that hate it so vehemently. Sometimes I feel like there are gamers that hate on DA:2 just because it’s what is expected of people who love the Dragon Age series. And I’m here to say that I do enjoy Dragon Age: 2 in the face of that negativity.

I will admit, however, that DA:2 was the first Dragon Age game that I ever played. My brother had a bunch of used games given to him, and it was among the bunch. I picked it out and ended up doing nothing but playing it for three days straight. And I fell in love with the series from that moment on. So DA:2 is an important game to me, as it helped rekindle my love for gaming as a whole. And it’s still one of my faves. Even though it is certainly problematic.

And it’s okay to have problematic faves.

–Mod Aria/Sam


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