The will likely be spoilers, but should I talk about something super new I'll warn ya. But consider this a pre-emptive warning! You're WARNED!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Now that I'm done...

...with Dragon Age II, let me just say: wow. When I left off in my review of Act I, I was unsure how I really felt about it. I was still getting used to the vastly different gameplay, but more importantly, the story hadn't quite gelled yet. Well, it didn't take long in Act II before it clicked- or I clicked, or whatever- and it really started to heat up. The story grew and grew and wrapped around itself, hurtling towards a denouement that was nothing less than...sorry, I have to use the word- epic.

Dragon Age II doesn't have the scope of Origins in terms of geography; where previously you could travel around an entire country (Ferelden), now you're limited to the sprawling city of Kirkwall and a couple of outlying environs. What it lacks in scenery, however, it more than makes for in terms of scope of story. I found this tale of politics and religion to be ultimately more intriguing, mature, dark, and deep than the "stop the Blight" tale of my Grey Warden in Origins. I can't help but feel that huge complaints in that department must come from players who haven't finished yet, or are prefer action to story and blah blah blah.

While early on DA 2 feels like little more than a bunch of random sidequests, they nearly all weave together by the time the tale ends. What you do in Act I- sometimes even the most trivial of decisions- will have repercussions later on, for better or for worse.

As I knew I would, I dug nearly all of my companions- some of them, however, I didn't bother to get to know this time around. By the time it was over, I ended up killing a couple of them and romancing a couple of others. They're constantly surprising, whether it's their reaction to something you say or do, or their in-game actions. The friendships, when you acquire them, are ultimately more satisfying than those in Origins- here, you can't necessarily kiss ass and give presents to get someone to like you. You can't please everyone all the time, and for various reasons and in various ways, you can lose most of them. Permanently.

Likewise, my Hawke became fleshed out as the story went on, as she evolved into the Champion of Kirkwall. The Hawke family drama never ends, and on several occasions...well, let's just say I had to bust out a "There's just something in my eye." as my vision got all water-blurry.

All of this is to say: I loved it.

This doesn't mean it's a game without faults, because it certainly isn't. Personally, I never experienced graphic and texture glitches, but I've seen plenty of complaints about them. PC players are largely unhappy that the interface has been console-ized. The re-used environments smack of "rush job" and are disheartening. It's one thing to be stuck in Kirkwall and its environs, but it's another when every house in Kirkwall has the same interior and the bandit cave looks just like the cave inhabited by Shades. It's know, something you have to deal with, and the story, to me, more than makes up for these sorts of quibbles.

As I've noted, the combat is certainly more button-mashing than tactical. That's going to matter to you, or it's not, depending on your own preferences as a player. A profound statement, I know! Warrior and rogue are a hell of a lot of fun, and while I miss the sweet animated finishing moves of Origins, there are ample "Did you just see that?" moments and some incredibly difficult battles. One huge fight in particular...good gravy. When BioWare themselves say "Heaven forfend you try this on Nightmare difficulty", you know it's a toughie.

And as I've also noted, the inventory system is a bit caca, but you get used to it. It does have improvements over its predecessor, though, like the fact that there aren't potion sizes anymore. You get a "lyrium potion" and that's that. Ordering runes and potions from your home is a nice, convenient touch as well.

Right before the credits roll, there's one small, seemingly throwaway line that hints at what's been going on in Thedas in the decade since Origins began...and that something is coming. For all the "Hey, where's my Grey Warden?" shock when the protagonist of Dragon Age II was announced...well, we should have known that this is all some big master plan on the part of developers and that the stories of The Hero of Ferelden and The Champion of Kirkwall are far more intertwined than we could have imagined. All I know for sure is that my drooling for Dragon Age III has already begun.

BEWARE: SPOILER DISCUSSION IN THE COMMENTS. Like, full-blown, game over, say whatever you want, everything is revealed spoilers. You've been warned!!


Stacie Ponder said...

Okay: "She's gone...just like the Warden."

What is Flemeth doing with these heroes, dammit?? And what does it have to do with Morrigan's God baby?

And at least it explains why Leliana is now a Chantry Seeker rather than living happily ever after with my Warden. She's trying to find her. Aww. :D

Sean Belcher said...

Yea, just finished it! SO, that climax was sooo much more emotionally involving (and so much more fun) than Origins. My jaw was on the floor with Anders' actions - yet I kept him on my team and earned the ire of that fancy pants Sabastian. I mean, how much more intense was it to be caught in the middle fighting mages and templars in this war than fighting hordes of darkspawn? And that bit with the idol? Call me dense, but I never put that together with Meredith!

It does definitely weaving together one big story here, and this was just the second chapter in it, which is exciting.

Now, can we talk about the DA:O cameos? LOL. How much fun was it to see Zevron and Liliana again?

What version of Alistair did you get?

Stacie Ponder said...

I...admittedly marathoned another playthrough over the last week so I could see what's different with regard to choices. You still fight both Orsino and Meredith if you side with the Templars (I did mages 1st time through), but there are some subtle changes.

However, I shank Anders every damn time! :D The first time for making me an unwitting pawn, the second simply for what he did. I never had him in my party unless I had to, anyway...although I've read that it's pretty emotional if you're in a relationship with him.

I NEVER put Meredith and the idol together, and the second time, it's still only so vaguely hinted at it's easy to miss.

Also caught on the second play that I missed the first: that Orsino has been helping out Quentin, the dude who killed your mom. Not helping with the killings, necessarily, but not condemning his actions, either. That bastard! I swear, the mages do make it REALLY hard to side with them throughout the game. They nearly ALL turn on you and use blood magic at one time or another...but, I help them out of principle, I suppose.

Like Merrill! That idiot.

The cameos were GREAT! I got drunk Alistair once and King Alistair on another play. As king, if you have Isabela in your party, she comments on how far he's come since meeting him in The Pearl in DA:O. He says something like "Isabela, you look...different." and she replies "Don't we all." :D Awesome.

The Leliana cameo initially bummed me out because she was SUPPOSED to be all happy ever after with my Warden...then that line at the end about the disappearances came. I can't wait for DA3!!

Sean Belcher said...

I thought Orsino had some hand in that thing (I read the letter you pick up from Qunetin's corpse and it's signed "O"), so I was waiting for the hammer to fall on that one.
BTW, that thing with Hawke's mom? Un-fuckin-real. That was some great stuff there. I mean, first I lost Bethany and then my mom. It felt ridiculous choosing any flip and wise-ass dialogue after that final blow.

Yeah, I kept Anders for selfish reasons - he was my goddamn healer!! I was going to have a relationship with Merrill, but then she turned out to be so pathetic and ugly in the light of that bit with the keeper that I stone-cold turned her down.

I do think they make it hard to side with the mages, but 1) there are plenty of mages running around who don't use blood magic or stab you in the back - they just aren't given any real plot points or key interactions with you, and b) they make a pretty firm point of showing the Templars just ruthlessly razing mages. Both sides are screwed - and that's what I love about it. No matter who you choose, you feel dirty.

I love drunk Alistair. "Swooping is bad..." and "It's all Morrigan's fault. I just know it." So great.

Have you played a mage yet? That's my second run and I'm saddled with Carver. He's such a dick and everyone-everyone!-calls him on it. It's kind of funny.

SO far, playing a mage is just a blast, but I'm shocked more people aren't all like "Hey, you're supposed to be in the Circle!" and doing the whole Donald Sutherland finger-point and howl thing at me. :)

Oh, and favorite line of the game?

"Apositutes". LMAO.

Stacie Ponder said...

I'm gonna start a mage playthrough, although I REALLY don't want to be saddled with Carver! I can't stand him. There are three possible outcomes to the Act I sibling crisis, just as an FYI.

I love that all my mage party members are, like, "I hope no one notices me, an apostate!" while carrying a huge staff and blasting lightning bolts across the Gallows. :D Just some "ignore that lack of logic..." I guess.

Merrill's a charmer, but SO misguided and completely wrong. Next time I'm taking the rivalry path with her. My party (as warrior) was always Merrill, Isabela, and Varric or Aveline. They're all really terrific characters, and Isabela kicks so much ass that I don't even want to play rogue anymore.

I actually clapped my hand over my mouth when Isabela said to Aveline (regarding her husband Donnic and their sex life): "If you stick your thumb up his ass, I win." :D

Ack, and Aveline's "date quest" was hilarious. "It's a lovely night for an evening. :D

Sean Belcher said...

LOL. That was another thing - the writing in this one was soooo good. I laughed out loud more in this one than the first by far.

I'm playing a female mage and intend to romance Anders to see how that plays out. (BTW the combat as a mage...and the clothes if you're a chick...awesome!)

Funny thing - so I'm standard male Hawke my first time around, because for once the default doesn't look or sound like a goon - and I'm noticing Anders is getting really...close to me. He's saying some things that I'm like "Hmmm...that's...intimate" and then he stands real close to me and I get the option to make out with him or shut him down. I was tempted to go all the way with it, but I think Anders himself turned me off. He was so...high maintenance. LOL.

Still, I was very surprised given Awakening how he's portrayed as such a ladies man.

Stacie Ponder said...

I was standard Lady Hawke the first time because she's a looker...then the second time, I went custom and I was surprised to find my family had changed a bit as well! Bethany, in particular, looked much younger, which was good.

Yeah, Anders hit on me, too- I shut him down and got a HUGE rivalry boost. He's such a baby. And so different than he was in Awakenings, yeah! I guess that's mostly Justice's fault...but he's like a totally different character.

The mages are really badass in this game, all the way around.

Sean Belcher said...

I'm doing standard female Hawke for my mage. They really did a great job with the models on this one - except King Alistair had the strangest he had some really funky plastic surgery. I love the way the elves look in the game though.

There were some things that grated - I LOVED running around Kirkwall, especially at night and at sunset/sunrise - gorgeous lighting and atmosphere - but then you get into a cave or cellar and it's the same campfires in the same places and the same stairs was lazy. And I know the potion cool-down was supposed to add extra challenge but it smacked of high-dickery in those boss fights.

I'm planning on writing some more about the story and throwing it up on my site in the next day or so. So much to take in!

Stacie Ponder said...

Yeah, the repeating dungeons were kind of awful. I think they've admitted it was a mistake and it's because the game was a bit rushed.

The jumping from place to place on the map sort of took out some immersion for me. Maybe part of it was as simple as the decision to use a loading screen rather than DA:O's "trail of bloody dots as loading screen" when going place to place. When walking around, I found myself looking at the small map in the corner more than I ever did in DA:O, which didn't help.

Ack, potion cooldowns got me killed a few times, but I eventually came to appreciate the challenge of it.

fugori said...

Just finished this over the weekend... finally!

I couldn't believe what Anders did... and to feel like an accomplice was pretty jarring. I was glad that the game put me in that situation, though, no matter how poor the situation was. It reminded me of the end of Origins, when Alistair forced my hand with Loghain. I didn't give in to Alistair's childishness then, and I'm disappointed that I supported Anders for so long through his madness this time.

This time around, with my no-nonsense two-handed warrior, I'm going to support the Templars, and crush Anders at every opportunity. Let's see how it plays out.

I was very, very disappointed with Isabella as well. I was expecting her to take part in the second half of the story, but she just disappears and never comes back. Her actions were just as abhorrent as Anders's, and with almost as little justification. I mean, she saw how capable our group was up to that point, so why couldn't she believe that we could protect her from whatever clown was threatening her? By her stupidity she murdered hundreds and set the stage for the whole thing.

This time around I'm courting her, seriously, and she better stick around.

Wait, how was Orsino helping Quentin? Quentin really seemed to come out of left field.

The game really lays it on thick with regard to the mages... but as a mage character I felt obligated to help out. Can't help but wonder if that was the right move, though.

Here's a question: how does it go down if you try to stop your sibling from coming along for the deep roads expedition? I mean, the only reason that Carver ended up dying was that he was infected with the Darkspawn taint. If he'd stayed home, that theoretically wouldn't have happened. Do they sneak in after you or something? I'm going to make Bethany stay behind if at all possible this go-around.

The thing about Hawke's mother... I don't feel like they spent enough time developing her. Her death was horrific, but curiously absent of real sentimentality. And it doesn't take Hawke very long to completely forget about the whole thing and return to his cavalier ways. This is a guy who's been through SERIOUS tragedy. I think they dropped the ball on his family interactions.

Carver... he's kind of an angsty kid, but it makes sense. He's second-fiddle to both siblings, the only one born without magic, always overshadowed by his golden-child brother. I know people like Carver, and his character makes perfect sense. I sympathize. I wanted him to stick around.

As a side note, I'm sure they can't be saved... I mean, they're the only party members that don't have character-specific specialties. But I wish that path was open, because I genuinely enjoyed their company, both Carver and Bethany.

It reminds me of how often I wished that Daveth could be saved in the beginning of Origins, or how I wanted to take Leske with me.

Now, I just name my dog Leske. ;)

Merrill can be convinced to do the right thing. Se still responds with rivalry to some puzzling behavior, like destroying evil blood magic texts, but I felt like her resolution was satisfying.

Did anyone feel like this game was a tad sex-obsessed? I do think that the Bioware-style relationships enrich party interactions (I never leave my romantic partner behind once it becomes clear that we're... together... it feels wrong, we're partners at that point, and not leader-subordinate), but so many interactions bring with them forced sexuality... it was weird.

fugori said...

Oh man oh man, I'm obsessed.

Laziness... it wasn't just repeating interior environments, it was the fact that there were a small handful of places you could go in the entire game. Just think of the "world map" - it's so limited.

It's a testament to how compelling the story and gameplay are that I don't ultimately care, but there are moments when I find myself wondering what might have been with more time and level designers.

Has anyone used Sebastian? I had some extra M$ points in my gamer account so I couldn't resist downloading that DLC. I'll be using him extensively with my new character, and I'm excited at the possibility of another fully-realized companion. I thought Shale was one of the best characters from Origins, once I gave in to her misanthropic ways.

Stacie Ponder said...

If you have high enough (max, I think) friendship or a relationship with Isabela (given gifts, etc), then she does come back at the last minute with the relic. The Arishok them wants to take her AND the relic- you can hand her over and they all leave, or you can refuse to give her up and duel the Arishok.

A full friendship with her is pretty great, actually, all the way through. She really comes around and tries to become a better person thanks to your influence and friendship.

As far as siblings go, if you take one AND Anders along in the Deep Roads, things change- they can both be relatively saved by becoming Grey Wardens and leaving Kirkwall. I'm not sure how Carver plays out with that, but Bethany ends up sort of hating you because of it. You see her a couple of times, get a letter, and she's cold. She shows up at the end, though, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't get teary-eyed like a dork.

If you leave them behind, Bethany gets taken to the Circle, where she's actually pretty happy. And again, she shows up to fight with you at the end. Carver, if left, will become a Templar, which could be very interesting.

I wanted to feel bad for Carver, but when he threw Bethany's death in my's ON. :D

What's interesting is that conversations change slightly depending on what kind of answers you tend to choose. I played the appeasing goody-goody and chose those answers 95% of the time, and I find it's very different than what I'm doing now, which is mostly being a smart-ass. Even my "goody-goody" responses are now tinged with sarcasm, and battle banter is different. It's pretty cool.

I can't help but side with mages- even if I'm not one, my little sister is and where Carver feels left out and put upon, I feel protective.

This would have benefited greatly if there was a 5-10 minute prologue in Lothering right before the attack began. We could have gotten to know our family better and gotten more attached...although I brought Bethany with me EVERYWHERE until she was forced out, and I was crushed when she left.

Effing Anders.

It's amazing that in this game, you kind of always lose. You try to do right, but people stab you in the back, betray generally end up fouling things up no matter what. It's pretty dark.

fugori said...

The odd consistency of Hawke's dialog, no matter which of the three main paths you choose at any given moment, is cool and yet also underscores one problem I have with this game: my character feels less like, well, MY character. I'm playing Hawke's story, which is nice, but I never felt as attached to Hawke as I did to my Warden. It's a balancing act, sure, but I think I prefer the mostly silent protagonist, about whom I can fill in the blanks.

Dagon on Netflix streaming and DA2 completed... awesome weekend.

fugori said...

Just a few more observations as I continue my latest replay...

I like Anders better as a passive character, contributing quips here and there while you explore the world, than as a character you actively engage with. It's hard to become invested in his personal quest.

I wish Sten had made an appearance, as he was easily one of my favorite companions from Origins (although in a sleeper sort of way, since I didn't care much for him my first few play-throughs). Then again, it's possible he did make an appearance, which would be unfortunate since it means he died unceremoniously at the hands of Hawke. Damn Qunari and their "roles-as-names" society!

Here's a thought, though: the Qunari need a new Arishok. Who among them is more capable than the warrior who fought alongside the Warden Commander himself to stop te Fifth Blight? Reintroducing Sten as "Arishok" in a sequel would be cool.

The book Leliana had at the end of the game... is this the Chantry holy text... the chant of light... or something? It seemed more distinctly important.

I've been thinking about emotion in this game, and how while I was always engaged with the events of the game, I never felt invested enough to feel genuinely sad about any of the events, and especially the deaths of family, etc. The only emotion the game seems to reliably elicit from me is anger at my companions, especially Anders in the late game and Isabella in the midgame.

One moment was especially poignant for me, though. I played Origins on the PC, so I can't import my saved data about my Warden into DA2. So, for my first character, I chose the prebuilt Dwarven Noble background for the events of Origins. As a result, Alistair shows up in the tavern, completely wasted... and as I walk by him he says, his voice slurred, "Swooping is bad...". Hilarious line from the first game, but in this context it just felt so sad. Alistair was the single character I had the most invested in in the first game, if not in any RPG. It was heartbreaking to see him reduced to that. Anyway, I will cease hijacking your blog comments for a bit.

Stacie Ponder said...

Please, yak away! :)

What's interesting in these BioWare games is that unless I bring a companion along with me almost all the time, I end up not caring about them much at all. It's the little moments of party banter, interactions, and random quest comments that REALLY bring out their personalities.

It's most evident in DAII, I think, because all the companions have their own lives and can be incredibly antagonistic. If I don't get to know Fenris, he's just some broody a-hole festering in a dilapidated mansion. I had to fight him on my first playthrough, and I felt nothing but GOOD, YOU JERK. :D

That's how I felt about Sten until I brought him and Leliana out together. When she kept mentioning seeing him picking flowers and playing with kittens, I died. I love giving him the rainbow butterfly power sword even though he hates it. :D

Oghren never grew on me. He made me laugh a few times, but overall...meh. I was mad that HE was the one who came back in Awakening- especially since he became an absentee father to do it. I'm SO glad he's not in DAII.

I wish the relationship with Hawke's mother had been a little more than her pining for the lost child. It felt like elder Hawke didn't much matter to her, and the death scene didn't have as much impact as it could have.

The most emotional bit for me was definitely Bethany's return. It played out perfectly with the way I was RPing my Hawke, and I got totally suckered in. :D

Stacie Ponder said...

Oh, and Cassandra's book is, I believe, simply a journal-type thing chronicling Hawke's story as she searches for him/her. It may contain the Warden's story as well, or Leliana may have that separately.

I can't wait for DA III. Epic holy war, exalted marches, Morrigan's God child will be of age, the Eluvians...and I hope Cassandra is a companion.

Is Flemeth an Old God?

fugori said...

You know, her being an Old God never occurred to me... it would be quite the twist. I thought by the end of Origins the evidence was piling up regarding her just being an exceptionally powerful Abomination. The question then might be, what kind of demon has that level of power?

Hey, speaking of all things Flemeth... I never played Witch Hunt (that's the Morrigan-centric DLC for Origins, right?)... does she play a part? I really should check it out, since I could almost never help myself when it came to Morrigan and her part in the game ended so suddenly and mysteriously.

Stacie Ponder said...

Witch Hunt is basically...well, hunting Morrigan as she attempts to "reignite", I guess, an Eluvian like Merrill's. Flemeth doesn't figure in EXCEPT that Morrigan vaguely mentions that she's the REAL threat in all this.

Morrigan has had the child, and he's "somewhere safe". It ends with Morrigan entering the Eluvian (though going where, who knows?) in one of three ways:

-you can simply say goodbye and let her go

-if you're a male Warden who romanced her, you can go with her

-you can stab her (!!!) and she falls in, though she's not dead...

I love the mystery surrounding Flemeth. She may simply be an Abomination as is discussed, especially considering that all signs point to her having been human at one point. There were some convos with her that were really telling, I thought- when she talks with Hawke about regret at the altar...

...when she says to Aveline "With no end there can be no peace" after Wesley dies. I mean, Flemeth never ends. Is self-preservation worth it if you're never at peace?

...and my favorite, when Hawke says about Morrigan "I don't know if she's your daughter or your enemy" and Flemeth replies "Neither does she." Kate Mulgrew is awesome!

I wonder why Flemeth wanted the Old God baby to begin with, since that (and possessing Morrigan) was her plan all along.

Sean Belcher said...

Was possessing Morrigan her plan all along? Obviously she can not only change appearance but reform her entire being from even a single portion of herself. In light of DAII, the whole "she must take over the body of a daughter to continue" conceit rings a little false to me. Flemeth even seems to find it amusing when you confront her with the accusation in Origins.

I definitely think there's a link between Dragons, Old Gods, and Flemeth (and her little joke that Hawke mage can never become a dragon certainly supports the theory that she is faaar more than an abomination). I mean, how do these Old Gods fit into the mythology of the Maker - or are they the old gods of the Dalish...or was the Maker an Old God himself? How the child figures into it is just one part of the bigger mystery.

Stacie Ponder said...

"In light of DAII, the whole "she must take over the body of a daughter to continue" conceit rings a little false to me."

Good point. I think her biggest (if not only) agenda was getting the child, and yeah, in hindsight...Morrigan probably made it up figuring the Warden would help her- that way she could abscond with the child herself.

Stupid Morrigan, always lying! Yet I can't help but like her.

Wonder if the third game will have any action in the Tevinter Imperium...if it's all Exalted Marches and mages vs the Chantry...though I'd like to see Orlais, too.

Sean Belcher said...

Not sure if Morrigan *lied* about the possession - I think it was in the spell book. My take was that Flemeth probably prepared that book to seed false information (and maybe even dangerous magic) for others to stumble on. She sent Morrigan out with the wardens for the Old God thing, but also knowing that the Mages were on the treaty and that the lure of swiping the tome would be too great a temptation for Morrigan to resist. Then it was a matter of seeing what Morrigan would do with the info. Flemeth seems far more interested in seeing what Morrigan does with her freedom than she does in having Morrigan as her willing servant. AT least, so it seems to me.

I think there's a good chance we'll see Orlais in it, since that's where Boedon and Sandal are headed. I also think there are a number of other areas or countries we haven't seen yet they could set it in. Is this a trilogy like Mass Effect or are they thinking bigger? It *feels* like it's going to be more than three games, doesn't it? I mean, the more we play, the more appropriate the subtitle Origins feels to the first game after all.

Also, I was thinking how AWESOME it would be if you could have a team made up entirely of imported characters from previous games for the final mission of the final game. :D

Stacie Ponder said...

I don't think they've talked yet about how far they want to take the series, but they've got so much to build on, it could go forever. I think DA:O was a surprise hit, which is why they rushed DA:II.

As to the team of imported characters, oh man. I've been imagining scenarios where it would be possible- since Hawke & the Warden have likely suffered the same fate, having them together somehow seems inevitable. Ack, if they were all, the story changes if you play as Hawke, etc.

They've retconned a few things- like, Morrigan HAS her baby, no matter your decision about the dark ritual, and Leliana is alive, no matter what (you can kill her during the Urn of Sacred Ashes quest) they'll be big players. Isabela seems fairly canon-ish (even if you hand her to the Arishok, the codex says she escapes them again). And Flemeth. I hope Shale comes back, though I want her to remain golem-y. :D I reallllly want to see how the Morrigan/Flemeth relationship pans out. And then who knows, the Qunari might finally invade the south lands.

Hopefully they'll take their time developing it and give it the epic treatment it's going to warrant. I'll have ME 3 and plenty of DLC to tide me over!

Sean Belcher said...

Well, they *could* do the last installment as chapters happening simultaneously ala Lord of the Rings, each with a different lead - then the final "chapter" is a team of four made up of your playable characters (assuming there are four playables by the time the final one rolls around) - that way you could just flit around between teammates as you want during the final confrontation. :)

Honestly, its probably a pipe dream, but oh what a dream...

But I agree, the world they're building is so rich, and conflicts they've introduced so complex, I don't see how they could tie it up in one game. Not in a satisfying fashion, anyway.

fugori said...

So in my current play-through I made it to the deep roads again (finally - I really am an incorrigible completionist).

It's an odd portion of the game, in a lot of ways. It's the only part of the game that takes place in what I would call an exotic locale - i.e. not Kirkwall or the immediate surrounding area of normal-looking terrain. That area is Human land, essentially. The Deep Roads belong to the Darkspawn and the Dwarves.

Also, despite the game building up to it for so long, it's quite brief. Condensed, even, as there's quite a lot to think about from that one trip.

Some unresolved questions that have been rekindled in my mind:

Who built the "lost thaig"? Bartrand expresses doubt that it was Dwarven in origin. The odd architecture seems to support this. If it was Dwarven, it belonged to a very odd offshoot of Dwarven society, perhaps. Could it have been Dwarven originally, but ruined in some disaster, maybe having to do with the unusual nature of the lyrium in that area? That still doesn't explain the lack of Dwarven iconography in the area, and the bizarre design.

And what about Sandal? I remember thinking, when I first stumbled upon him during the final moments of Origins, that Bioware had managed a neat trick by enhancing the enigma of an otherwise simple and comic character while using that as an explanation to justify his presence as the "end game store". I hadn't given him much thought since, but there's one very, very curious line during the deep roads expedition that made me rethink Sandal yet again. When you find him (rescue really isn't appropriate here), and you confront him about how he stayed alive/killed all of the darkspawn around him, he hands you a glowing sphere and says "Boom!" Trés cute. But Hawke responds with (paraphrasing) "... and how did you do THAT?" while pointing to an Ogre, completely encased in, or composed of, ice, in a mid-lunge pose. Sandal replies, "NOT enchantment!" and walks off.

It seems suggestive that Sandal isn't as simple as he seems (nice timing to his rebuttal and casual walk-away) while also suggesting that Sandal has INNATE magical powers. Perhaps he is the exception to the no-dwarven-mages rule. Maybe this is what happens to a dwarf when they achieve that level of connection to the fade?

This reminds me... I hope the earnest dwarven researcher I encouraged to study magic in Ferelden gains some level of power as well...

There's another odd moment with Sandal, but this one might be me reading in to it too much... When you reach the "lost thaig" and talk to Bodahn, he tells Sandal to "thank the nice man who saved you". Sandal pauses, significantly, looks up at you, his brows raise in an almost hurt expression - or maybe confused? - and he says "thank you" in what, to me, seemed like a remarkably sad tone. What's he up to? Maybe this is just more of his "lyrium addled" persona.

Anyway, I'm not sure Bioware will ever "explain" Sandal. He works so well as comic relief that it would be disastrous to introduce a "normal" version of sandal, perhaps through some cure or reversal. And explaining his state might ruin the fun. I dunno.

fugori said...

Oh man, Sean, that would be a tremendous idea. Dragon Quest IV-style chapters leading to a merged finale. I agree that it won't happen, but wonderful and underutilized structure.

Stacie Ponder said...

You're absolutely right about the Deep Roads, and I think it highlights part of the problem with the game. There's tons of buildup and promises of weeks to even GET there, and's way brief. It looks amazing, but there's not much to it- but there's so much potential in the history of it, which we never get to explore even through codex entries or artifacts or something. What about the journey to get there? Or out, when we don't have sherpas and supplies? I'd rather that was all SEEN rather than TOLD. It adds to that disjointed feeling, like when it jumps to the end of your year of servitude- you see these people you worked with, but as a player you don't feel any connection to them. What was my life like as a mercenary in Kirkwall (or a smuggler)?

The game needed to be 80 hours long, I guess. :D

Sandal completely terrified me this go-round. Part of it was the design change- those eyes!- and part of it was the fact that he was just CREEPY. The whole "not enchantment" bit...I just wanted him away from me as quickly as possible. He must be able to cast magic, right? I agree- someone should contact Dagna about him immediately! :D

fugori said...

He did have an unusually creepy quality this time around... and so did Bodahn, I think... also a matter of the eyes - exceptionally dark around the lids, and sunken, but still wild. He looked like I imagine a madman would look, if they looked like anything at all.

I seem to recall a few creepy comments and moments brought to us courtesy of Sandal while he's staying at your family manor as well. Merrill, after I convinced her to move in with me, would often complain that she thought Sandal was staring at her.

What gives, Sandal and Bodahn?

Stacie Ponder said...

Ha! Yes, and then I feel bad that I make Sandal empty my chamberpot. :D

Sean Belcher said...

I *finally* got my take on the game up. Took me a while to wrap my head around the stuff that was resonating with me so much, but I think I cracked it.

Stacie Ponder said...

I missed this exchange in the game, but I read it in the PA I guess this is about Morrigan's God-child?

Sandal: One day the magic will come back - all of it. Everyone will be just like they were. The shadows will part and the skies will open wide.
Bodahn: Huh? What's this?
Sandal: When he rises, everyone will see.
Bodahn: By the ancestors! What has gotten into you, my boy?
Sandal: Enchantment!
Bodahn: That's more like it!

Sean Belcher said...

Yikes! I didn't see that either. That sounds ominous...and AWESOME!

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

I just beat the game. It was awesome. I can't play it again or risk getting sucked into a time vortex where I don't eat or sleep for three days.

But: Zombies! Frankenstein's monster type stuff! Evil wizards! Demons! Pirates! Creepy Uncles! Elves!

This game had everything. EVERYTHING. And, to be honest, I didn't really mind that they reused level designs. Whatever. Caves were such a small, incidental part of the game compared to the city, and that's what detail was lavished upon.

What a tremendous game.

Paul Arrand Rodgers said...

Now that I think about it, though, the serial killer with the white lilies stuff does kind of get resolved out of nowhere. Like, yes there are hints, but you have two quests before your mom dies where nothing gets resolved and the NPCs involved just disappear. The payoff was incredible though--my jaw about hit the ground when mom stumbled out, stitched together from a bunch of other parts.