So, despite it taking me once again to stupid o’clock in the morning last night, I managed to finish Dragon Age 2. Actually completing games is a bit of a rare occurrence for me… I think I must have short attention span or something, as eventually I just get bored or decide to move on to another game. Obviously for work purposes I try to play through as much as possible, but I’ve never been of the camp that you ‘have’ to complete a game in order to be able to review it.
Your review is better the more you play, obviously, but if the first 10 – 15 hours (if it’s that long) aren’t enough to grab your interest, then it’s hard to recommend it as a product to the consumer.
*** MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT ***
Anyway – as I said in my review, Dragon Age 2 was good, but flawed… the further you progress in the game the more lazy the design gets it seems, and the bugs really come out as well. In fact one chain of quests related to a companion was, in hindsight I realised, triggered out of order so I didn’t really know what was going on, and then there was a another side quest that wouldn’t trigger at all, so I couldn’t complete it. Very sad to see. Still, the narrative is what drew me in, and the narrative is what kept me going. The ending was as I thought (I’d gotten the details from someone who had completed it for the review) – very anti-climatic, and a bit of a slap in the face. The main issue I had though was with how they handled the central themes of the game.
It takes different forms early on, but racism and discrimination are both central to the story. At first, it’s the stigma of being a refugee in a city that doesn’t really want you (although to be honest, it’s not really done that well, didn’t really ‘get’ it that much). As the years go by, and Hawke grows into an important figure, it shifts to Xenophobia against a group of non-humans who’ve been stuck in the city for a while. They finally get sick of being mistreated and try to ransack the place, forcing you to step up and bitch-slap them back to where they came from.
But the last, climatic shift is one of severe discrimination against Mages. Like the ever-going mistreatment of elves as second-class citizens, this fear of mages isn’t something they’ve brought into this game – you see it in Dragon Age: Origins as well. The Dragon Age religion – the Chantry – has a militaristic branch known as the Templars (very influenced by Christian history here), and it’s their job to watch over the mages and keep them in check. Mages, sadly, whilst possessing incredible power, are also constantly tempted to turn to what only can be described as the ‘dark side’, deal with demons, kill innocent people, and generally causes a ruckus. Because of this, all mages are branded as a potential threat and so are kept on a very short leash.
In Dragon Age 2, this way of thinking is taken to an extreme, due to the very paranoid Knight-Commander Meredith who’s in charge of the Kirkwall Templars. She’s portrayed as very heavy handed, very paranoid, and she keeps the mages locked up like animals, punishing them for the slightest mis-hap, all in the name of keeping the mages in check. She argues that the mage is unstable, that the mage will usually always be tempted to turn, and so she pre-empts all this by personifying Hitler or something.
What I found unsettling though, really, is that Meredith turned out to be right in the end. Nearly all the mages in that fricking game, bar those who were killed and one who was more of a drunk incompetent French stereotype than a mage, turned to blood magic and ‘evil’ in the end. Some mages who wanted to escape the tyranny of the circle to be free, ended up turning to blood magic – one even kills his wife.
Someone you save early on in the game ends up hating you, kidnaps your sister, and turns to blood magic. One of your own companions commits an act of mage-themed terrorism on the local scale of 9/11 (albeit it wasn’t blood magic). Even the ‘head mage’, who for the whole game stood as a beacon of practicality – trying to get the Templars to lay off his mages, get some basic freedoms, whilst also keeping his guys in check because he does know the danger, eventually turns to blood magic.
Being Dragon Age – you eventually had a to make a choice – supporting the Mages was clearly the ‘good’ path, and helping Meredith crack down on them was clearly the ‘bad’ path – I’m still disappointed there was no true middle road you could explore. As much as I knew this is how it was set-up, I hesitated. All of the Knight-Commanders worries had tangible backing, stuff that I’d witnessed happen with my own eyes.
Now, the counter-argument here was that Meredith’s extreme actions forced the mages to act this way, but to be honest some of the stuff that happens in this game means that message is lost. I don’t remember seeing one notable mage resisting temptation, not one mage was so kick-ass they could resist capture, defy the circle and not turn to evil whilst doing it. The only reason your sister (who’s a mage) doesn’t turn bad, or do anything important, actually, is that apparently one choice ends up getting her killed earlier on in the game, so I guess they couldn’t really do anything with her. That smacks of poor design as well, and completely devalues her character.
Wow… that was a bit of a rant, wasn’t it? It was just all kind of depressing really. I couldn’t help but draw parallels from today’s world, terrorism, discrimination etc… and I just wonder what message Bioware wants me to take from this. It’s not a hopeful one, to say the least.
Until next time.