This is the second of a multi-part post regarding the game Dragon Age II. As with the last one, there are a few spoilers used to illustrate some of the points I make. You have been warned.
|This is about 90% of all available |
The first act begins with Hawke, a refugee from the recently fallen Lothering (a "cameo" of sorts from the first game), fleeing towards Kirkwall, an overseas city-state to which all of the recently expatriated Fereldans (Ferelden being, again, a name drop from the previous game) hope to find refuge. A few misadventures later (during which Hawke either takes up work as a smuggler or mercenary), he is admitted to the city and sets up camp in the city's slums.
The overarching goal for Act 1 then shifts to joining an expedition to the Deep Roads; a vast underground complex from where the previous game's villains emerge from every few decades to wreak havoc on the surface, and where there are rumoured to be treasures of immense value. In effect, this involves Hawke running a multitude of errands for various interested parties, during which he assembles a group of NPC characters and is gradually introduced to the city of Kirkwall and the surrounding countryside.
|The Qunari, major plot focus for Act 2.|
This is where there should have been a plot hook for the second act, information of some sort that sets the stage for the next set of adventures so that the player's interest is kept. Instead, the game skips forward a few years, during which the gist of the story is that "Hawke got the treasure, moved up in society, lives a life of riches"; no character development, no connections whatsoever to the previous act's exploits (save for a "mysterious artefact" that ties into the final act, and which is cryptic in implementation at best) and for the first time, the story flow comes to a screeching halt before Act 2 comes into play and tries to get things moving again.
|The Templars, zealots to a fault.|
The majority of this act falls yet again into a formulaic pattern of (mostly) fetch quests, which is not helped when the entirety of the locales from the first act is recycled verbatim (see previous post for more thoughts on the subject). At the finale, the situation finally explodes (again, not so subtly hinted at from the onset), with the Qunari capturing and eventually killing the viscount of Kirkwall. Hawke defeats the Qunari, is dubbed "the Champion of Kirkwall" and, yet again, the act resolves itself with little in the way of loose story threads, therefore lacking once again cohesion and continuity with the final act.
|Can't decide if these are the good guys?|
Neither can the game, apparently
The onset is promising enough, with several thought-provoking quests in which there is a considerable effort to not paint either side as right or wrong; this is the part I enjoyed the most and where, in my opinion, BioWare's pedigree of intelligent story and dialogue shines through. This enjoyment does not quite make it to the end though, mainly because the finale makes such a fine mess of giving your choices weight.
To elaborate: At the very end of Act 3, you are given the choice to support either of the groups, which in turn affects how the finale is played out. In theory, this should give players pause for thought, as the effort that has gone into this act to show both factions as morally ambiguous would present the player with an interesting dilemma in choosing between supporting the Templars or Mages. In effect, however, little changes in the end sequences: regardless of choice, the leader of the Mages succumbs to temptation (thus invalidating any favourable actions of the faction during this act) and the Templar leader turns out to have been corrupted all along (therefore also destroying any redeeming qualities the faction may have had in the eyes of the viewer).
With this ham-fisted resolution (both leaders are dead by Hawke's hand, regardless of his alliances), the coup de grace is dealt by the story writer here: a hugely inappropriate "to be continued" is dropped, with a (presumably obligatory) cameo from an Origins character, which I can only assume to be a weak attempt to tie both games to a third instalment in the series.
|You'd think the game would have|
more of these, considering the name.
Follow-up posts will elaborate on my impressions on the combat philosophy BioWare seems to have followed in this instalment and give an opinion into the party members' characterization.
As a point of interest, I played as a male warrior Hawke that favoured Diplomatic/Helpful dialogue options, romanced Isabela (and defended her in a duel with the Qunari Arishok), sided with the mages in the finale, tried to complete as many side missions as possible and spared Anders after his betrayal.