These Are the Voyages… – Anna replays Dragon Age 2 Pt.1
Kirkwall: the final frontier. These are the voyages of Hawke. Her continuing mission: to explore strange new cities, to seek out new friends and new jobs, to boldly go where no one has gone before.
And how well she does it! Dragon Age 2 is my personal favourite game in the Dragon Age series so far. DA2 you scoff? the game with those recycled environments where everything looks the same and the combat just goes on and on an on? Yes. Though I have to admit I love it despite those things, not because of them.
Dragon Age 2 has a special place among games for me. The main reason for that? Hawke. The main character of this game is one of my all time favourite gaming protagonists ever. Quite a bit of that is due to the phenomenal voice acting that both Nick Boulton and Jo Wyatt are delivering here. Both of them do an amazing job. This is the one game where the voice acting of the make protagonist is so good I actually played a run as a male Hawke.
Not only are the voice actors doing their job exceptionally well, the whole mechanic of how your character works is amazing. The game has a conversation wheel ala Mass Effect and the firt time you chose you see tone icons. Representing three different kinds of personality that Hawke can have. The first one is diplomatic/helpful, the second one sarcastic/funny and the third one direct/aggressive. Now that very first choice you make in the prologue sets the tone, literally. The game remembers what kind of answers you favour and acts accordingly. The very first choice massively puts your character in that direction and every following choice you make in tone that is the same affirms it. BUT: Your personality can change over time. In numbers that means if I chose sarcastic in the beginning and then decide later diplomatic is more my style I have to take about the double amount of diplomatic answers until Hawke’s personality switches.
The personality influences how Hawke reacts to thinks that are not presented in a dialogue wheel, how her answers to companion banter change etc. Additionally, after every act the score gets almost resetted, giving you a chance to have her personality change after the time jumps if you think the events warrant a change in behaviour. The different personalities also give you different choices and dialogue options. A diplomatic Hawke does have quite a few options in several quests to end situations peacefully. The sarcastic Hawke gets her own special twist on some choices and the aggressive Hawke can intimidate or sometimes simply kill an opponent in a cutscene without further ado. An aggressive Hawke may make you experience the game in a very different way than a diplomatic one. The sarcastic Hawke, usually a player favourite, makes everything a lot more funny. And from time to time gets to be the biggest asshole to ever walk across Thedas. Yay, I guess? 😉
Another large plus are the companions. I love the Dragon Age companions in all games but the ones in DA2 are somewhat special to me. I love them all way more than I should given they are, well, fictional. And last but not least: The story is intensely personal. It is not a “you are the hero, here save the world” story. It is a story about a refugee who has to find her place in a new city, help her family getting by and making some friends on the way. A person working their way up and then being in the wrong place at the right time. Or wrong time. Hawke DOES become a hero to the city at some point. Though the game highlights how incidental that can actually be. And how becoming a hero in the eyes of the people comes with additional baggage. In many ways the story of this game is trope breaking. A lot of traditional fantasy elements are taken and turned upside down.
We start the game in Lothering, during the blight, basically at the same time that Dragon Age Origins is playing. Lothering gets overrun and Hawke and her family are running too. Away from the dark spawn. This plays very closely after the battle of Ostagar. If you play a warrior Hawke you might have even fought in that battle. Hawke’s brother Carver certainly has. The entire family is on the run, picking up other people on their way. Namely Aveline, a warrior from the king’s army and her husband Wesley, a templar. Great, picking a templar up while on the run as a mage (or with a mage sister or even both) seems like a great idea to start your day. We agree to not try to kill each other for the moment and keep running and fighting until we really can’t anymore. A huge Ogre shows up and kills Hakwe’s sister Bethany before we can do anything. And even though we kill it there are simply too many darkspawn to fight them all.
Enter Janeway! Everyone who played Origins remembers Flemmeth, though you can almost not recognise her from the way she looks. Oh the wonders of a new engine and an upgraded character model. Also, she starts out being a huge dragon. She saves us and for a small fee (deliver something later to someone) takes us away from the battlefield. not without a lot of cryptic talking. Aveline also needs to leave her husband behind because he has the blight and we have no one that can cure it. Janeway even mentions our Origins character briefly, but they are already far away and can’t help. So our severely diminished group takes a ship towards Kirkwall, the city of chains.
Kirkwall was once a Tevinter city, the gateway to the Imperium and a main hub for slave trade. And it sill looks like it. Kirkwall looks terrifying and is not very welcoming. Overrun by refugees they don’t want to take in any more and only the fact that we have family there gets us even past the main guards. Only to find out that the once wealthy family of our mother now consists of exactly one shady uncle that lives in one of the worst parts of the city. But he manages to get us in, for the small price of selling our services and the one’s of our brother into servitude for a local mercenary for a year. No big deal right? But we are out of options so we take it. Aveline decides to stick with us and we are finally there, in Kirkwall, trying to start a new life in what is probably the most dire and horrifying city that we know of in all of Thedas. Cassia jokes around, how bad can it be? And I almost flinch in front of the computer because she really has no idea just how intense her new home will be.