There seems to be an internet consensus that Dragon Age: Origins was vastly superior to Dragon Age 2. Comments range from the generalised “Garbage” to the oddly specific “the ear drawing so ugly” but I’m here to tell you why that is so much hogwash. (Except maybe the ears. They could be right about the ears. I’ve been very remiss in my ear analysis.)
1. Level Design
Much was made of the lack of variation in DA2. Some players were put out that level designers had reconfigured the same assets in a variety of layouts rather than giving every dwelling a bespoke door knob. I’d argue that variation was more than sufficient – the misty peaks of the Sundermount provided a different feeling to the hazy warmth of the Wounded Coast which was different again to the desolate Bone Pit. The fact that some shared trees, rocks and even dungeons for me just created a more consistent world rather than a more generic one. And best thing about level design in Dragon Age 2? No fucking aberrations like Redcliffe Village.
Redcliffe Village is badly designed from both a gameplay and realism point of view. The entry point is unnecessarily high and far from the village proper, which is fine when you first make an entrance and see the village unfolding beneath you, but after running up and down that chuffing hill for other missions, it quickly becomes a chore. The main residential area is so full of arbitrary dead ends forcing you to retrace your steps, it’s no wonder Owen and Dwyn are reluctant to leave their houses – they probably fear getting stuck in an alley full of barrels, unable to find their front door. And whichever town planner thought putting the pub in a remote location with a sheer drop under it was a good idea clearly has something against drinkers.
2. The Fade
I’ve complained about the Fade before but it bears repeating. Being in the Fade is like slipping into another game you didn’t sign up for, where instead of a team of skilled mages and warriors at your back you’ve got the ability to turn into a stealth mouse. You can’t nip out of the Fade and do something else for a while when you get bored of crawling through mouseholes, you’re stuck there til you’ve found all the ghosts and bumped off all the demons. And this goes on for AGES.
In DA2, you go in, kill some stuff, find a guy, maybe kill him, get out. Bish bash bosh, job done and not a transparent rodent in sight. (Although he’s transparent, so maybe he was there, watching from the shadows like the long-tailed pervert I always suspected him to be.)
There was nothing particularly wrong with the story in DA:O. Hero comes from nothing (or a noble house, depending on the backstory you chose) to become a great warrior, facing an insurmountable enemy and planning the ultimate sacrifice. DA2 doesn’t do anything ground-breaking, but it does at least make an effort. The story is told by Dwarven erotic novelist Varric (Seriously, that’s what he does for a living. It’s mentioned several times in the conversations between party members.) and as a seasoned storyteller, he’s prone to embellishment. This makes for a more interesting tale, because we can never be 100% certain what’s true. Cassandra calls him out on his lies at a few points – Hawke single-handedly taking out an ogre in the tutorial, for example. This makes for fun diversions and helps turn necessary gameplay sequences into a relevant part of the storyline. If you’re an over-thinker like me, it also makes the rest of the story more intriguing. For example, maybe Isabela is younger and more boobalicious in DA2 than when we originally saw her in DA:O because she’s funneled through Varric’s fanciful narration. Or maybe the developers were concerned that if a player got stuck with Carver rather than Bethany, they might die from lack of boobs.
4. Dickish Companions
It was possible to piss off your companions in Origins. Cheat on them or be an asshole to them, and they’ll fall out with you, but it doesn’t really change what they say and how they react to you. Also, they’re basically all good people. Sure Sten is a bit surly and Oghren’s a handsy drunk, but they’re not total assholes. Whereas in DA:O, a couple of your followers are. And the really clever thing is, you won’t necessarily even realise what piss weasels they are unless you replay and do things differently. For instance, Anders. First time around, I let Anders romance me and thought that though he was obviously an angry, demon-touting terrorist, there was a sweet man underneath it all. Second playthrough, I set my cap at Isabela and Anders showed his true colours as a king-sized douche. From the moment I spurned his advances, he was a petulant little bitch, taking every nice thing I tried to say to him as a slight. I bet he went around complaining to everyone who’d listen down at the clinic how I’d friend-zoned him and asking why couldn’t I date a ‘nice guy’ like him instead of some promiscuous pirate wench. Prick.
5. More Hotties for the Ladies
If you’re a lady playing as lady in DA:O, your romantic choices are pretty much manchild mega-virgin Alistair, or sultry super-slut Zevran. Leiliana just don’t swing that way, and after many hours of carefully wooing Morrigan, she declared emphatically that I was like a sister to her, so I had to take the hint. In DA2, whatever your persuasion you’re spoiled for choice. Fenris, Merrill, Isabela and Anders are all open to offers. Although so far I’ve had no luck with the elves – I think my Lady Hawke’s too burly and they’re scared I’d snap them like a twig.