Heroes often come from auspicious origins – that was the story told in the first Dragon Age game as players gained insight into the world of the game thanks to an eternal conflict between inhuman darkspawn and the people of Thedas. We came to see the gothic and often very bloody fantasy setting through the eyes of a hero pressed into greater calling through destiny as the Warden.
The Warden's tale was fairly standard as fantasy RPGs go – from small fry you develop into a serious player within the kingdom of Ferelden. It's adventures followed a fixed path toward an inevitable conclusion with side adventures and later downloadable add on content offering some alternate perspectives on the main game's characters and events.
Dragon Age 2
breaks with this traditional approach. Instead of a chronologically linear storytelling mechanism, the player is instead treated to a 3rd person and often unreliable narration. The main character, like their Dragon Age: Origins predecessor rises from nothing to become an important figure, the difference this time – it isn't an immediate climb, but instead a ten year epic.
The main aim of the game is to tell a chapter-based story and while it still has most of the contrivances of a fantasy role-playing game, there is far less focus on discovery and exploration this time out, instead Dragon Age 2 focuses on button-mashing high action sequences told in distinct pieces.
Those expecting a repeat of Origins with some slight tuning need to adjust their expectations before jumping back into the Dragon Age universe. The gameplay is not the same, the focus of this game is firmly set on the development – thematically – of a single person. Hawke, your proxy, will eventually become the champion of Kirkwall, the game's primary setting, though don't be fooled into believing that champion means hero necessarily.
Instead of choosing a race/class combination and then playing through a tailored prologue, Dragon Age 2 shortcuts a bit while allowing you to choose a profession but not a background. Since you are Hawke (much like you are Commander Shepard in Mass Effect and its sequels), the beginning of the game is fixed. Sure you get to pick your class, gender and can customize your looks, but no matter what you are playing the same character with a few variations in approach.
Fans of the origin element of Origins might complain but this is not Origins 2, it's a completely new game set in the Dragon Age setting with some overlap and connection to the events of the first. Hawke comes from Lothering, which is a location the Warden attempts to save in the original title but ultimately loses to the surge of the Darkspawn horde. This catalytic event drives the character to flee Ferelden and expands our experience to a new setting across the sea called Kirkwall.
Kirkwall is a very different place. The walled city is ruled by a vicount in title but truly is kept together through the refugee crisis of the Ferelden Blight by the religious military Chantry. These holy knights and priests stand against the corruption of the world and guard/monitor the mages with an iron grip and close eye. Magic, the chantry believes, is a sign of evil corruption and humanity cannot be left alone with such power unguided lest demons corrupt its wielders and enter the world. This conflict between the Chantry and the mages takes center stage in Dragon Age 2.
Along with the refugee angle, the Champion is saddled with something else the Warden lacked – a family. This “real connection” I suspect was meant to help players see the family and build personal connections, but in my playthroughs my siblings (either a brother who is a warrior or sister who is a mage) quickly became less interesting traveling partners, lost in the more interesting friends I made through the game's story who weren't forced on to me (Which mirrors my personal family life I guess).
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