Why Dragon Age 2 is Great and What Inquisition Can Learn From It

Warning: All the Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2 spoilers within.

Despite some glowing early review scores, the past three years have not been particularly kind to Dragon Age 2.

The backlash was immediate from fans who were upset about the small scale of the game world and the abuse of a pair of dungeon templates copied and pasted to stand in for a couple dozen different places. Dragon Age: Origins had you travel around a large chunk of earth, visiting a few very different places and participating in a quest to save the world from an evil orc-ish menace. By contrast, Dragon Age 2 takes place entirely in one city and the woods nearby, and includes a lot of dungeons that looked similar because they were exactly the same.

But on revisiting both games recently, I’ve found that I prefer Dragon Age 2 to Origins, to the extent that I honestly believe it to be the better game. This surprised me, but once I looked past the obviously quickly and shoddily assemble world — almost certainly the result of the game’s 18-month turnaround after Origins — I realized that DA2 is a unique and exhilarating experience in the fantasy genre, and one that feels quite at home in this post-Game of Thrones world.

It turns out that Dragon Age 2 manages to be great despite some technical flaws and shortcuts, and we can only hope that Bioware held on to some of the game’s key principles in building this year’s Dragon Age: Inquisition.

A world you can give a shit about

What makes Dragon Age 2 so good is that it’s set in one city and never strays far from it. Fantasy stories about a grand journey across a sprawling landscape are fun and all, but there are lots of those in the genre already, and not so many that allow the player character (or the player, for that matter) to invest emotionally in one location simply by having you spend a lot of time in it.

When I look back at Origins, I remember a lot of places I’d go to for a few hours and do quests in, and maybe come back to later in a few cases. BioWare games are very structured by nature, and so in Origins, once you finish a quest in an area you generally just move along.

In Dragon Age 2, your character calls Lothering home at the start, but Hawke and his family are run out of town by the events of Origins and end up in a city called Kirkwall, beyond that first game’s world map. It’s a new, strange place; Hawke and his sibling become mercenaries in order to get in, and then the game cuts to a year later.

Then a funny thing happens: As you walk around Kirkwall talking to NPCs with exclamation points over their heads, Hawke greets them with familiarity. Because, you know, they’re his pals. Other people request his help because they’ve heard he’s handy with a blade, and these people stick around.

A city that changes with you

At this point, Hawke is free of his mercenary contract and wants to get in on a quest for treasure into the Deep Roads — tunnels built under the mountains by ancient dwarves. But in order to be included, he has to become an investor, and to be an investor he needs gold. So in this first act of the game, Hawke rolls around the city doing whatever people need help with, meeting a lot of folks along the way and becoming an unwitting part of local politics. The quest for cash, you see, involves meeting a lot of rich, important people.

Fantasy stories about a grand journey across a sprawling landscape are fun and all, but there are lots of those in the genre already, and not so many that allow the player to invest emotionally in one location.

It also involves meeting a dwarf merchant named Javaris, who wants to get his hands on some exploding powder (“blackpowder”) that a race called the qunari have allegedly crafted. Making a deal with Javaris, Hawke meets the local leader, or Arishok, of a band of qunari that was shipwrecked and stranded in Kirkwall. Javaris ends up eventually getting no powder and Hawke has a new “pal” in the Arishok.

So Hawke makes his money and goes off on this quest and then comes back wealthy and buys a mansion for the family. As a sort of noble who’s helped out a lot of people who matter, Hawke is important, and ends up doing work with Kirkwall’s mayor (viscount) as they try to keep the rather antagonistic qunari from doing anything weird or violent.

In dealing with the Arishok once more, Hawke learns a thief has stolen a barrel of poison powder that makes people crazy when lit — said thief was looking for blackpowder, and Hawke and the Arishok reflexively think it’s their old friend Javaris, who has skipped town. It wasn’t, though; when Hawke catches up to the squirrelly dwarf we learn it was a setup.

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29 Comments on Why Dragon Age 2 is Great and What Inquisition Can Learn From It


On April 22, 2014 at 11:45 am

Kirkwall was and I would have burned it to the ground myself if I had the option.

Inquisition should regard DA2 only as a template for things you should strive to be nothing like in every way possible.


On April 22, 2014 at 1:09 pm

You see, you can hardly call a game “great” just because it did a bunch of side things nicely. Even less when the core game is the problem.


On April 22, 2014 at 1:16 pm

It was a bad game, sorry.


On April 22, 2014 at 1:32 pm

There are many many many more reasons to dislike DA2 than simply small scale and abuse of template dungeons. The fact that any decisions you made were quickly and easily ignored (Oh you saved this person? Doesn’t matter, they hate you for it. Next play through – you let them get captured, they hate you for it, exactly same things happen. This happens with EVERY DECISION across the game)

The combat and the wave system was terrible and unless you knew where they were going to spawn ruined any tactics you had (So only worked when you’d played it through before). The default AI templates for your teammates were awful and somehow had gone backwards (For example in DAO you could change one or two things, like when a heal/regen was activated by your group and the rest of the template would continue as you levelled. Not so in DA2), the fact that you couldn’t change what weapons your teammates had meant that again, you had to know what was coming to have a decent fight (A dual wielding Rogue in a Dragon Fight? Instant death, always, forcing you to turn off your entire teams AI to keep them alive)

While I actually like DA2 – it suffers from being a sequel to DAO. It’s a Die Hard 2 to a Die Hard 1. It’s a good film, and I know people who actually have it as their favourite, but objectively….it’s inferior.


On April 22, 2014 at 1:33 pm

Dragon Age II was the first Bioware game that I never finished and I bought all their games except Shattered Steel and the Sonic game they made. DA2 had no choices at all , You made a female character your sister died, make a male one brother dies, I forgot the name of the place where you chose to either bring your sibling with you or leave them , if you bring them they get poisoned by Darkspawns and they need to join the Grey Wardens, you leave them they join what ever faction . Then you can’t even save your mother no matter what choices you make then I stopped there , Illusion of choices that’s the only thing you have.

So saying this game is great ? Nope, not with the dumbing down and all the copy paste they made, also with the attitude they had with people criticizing the game saying that we were idiots for not liking the game and it was the best game ever. Yeah right .


On April 22, 2014 at 1:38 pm

This article puts the emotional value of interactions in the city and NPCs on a pedestal. It was far easier to accidentally lose a number of your companions than to bond with them.
In Origins it was a difficult decision whether to support Bhelen or Harrowmont, especially the second time playing through as I knew some of the consequences of what would happen. And the same with the Dalish and werewolves.
In DA2 you slaughter your way through every problem without having to make a decision right until the end where instead of supporting the Templars or saving the Mages you end up massacring both and leaving.


On April 22, 2014 at 2:15 pm

The last shoot in the foot of BIOWARE. After this game, say good bye to BIOWARE, and never come back.


On April 22, 2014 at 2:34 pm

All I remember from DA2 was extremely shallow gameplay (typical 2 to 3 wave enemy attacks around every corner), a bunch of underdeveloped characters, a stale city and extreme reuse of assets to such an extent it’s impossible to just wave away like in the article. The fact that its predecessor was also an inherently flawed game doesn’t excuse DA2. And don’t even get me started on the endgame, which just took the already intolerably repetitive gameplay to offensive extremes. The only thing I celebrated about DA2 were the credits.


On April 22, 2014 at 3:34 pm

Now I liked DA2 but let’s not get crazy and call it great. Course it also the only BioWare game I have only ever finished once. Just never could get myself to play it again. That will change with DA:I as I will play thru Origin and DA2

Sean Riley

On April 22, 2014 at 3:42 pm

You’re at least halfway right, though I’d not go so far as to say it was better than Dragon Age: Origins. While you’re right about the strength of its geographic focus and how it leverages that, I’d argue that Origins had a stronger central theme (Doubt) and overall a stronger cast of characters. (I’d happily lose Wynne, yes, but Morrigan, Sten, Zevran, Loghain and especially Alistair stand up a lot better to the DA2 cast, with the exceptions of Isabela and Varric.)

But I actually agree on a lot of this stuff. It’s true that the game integrates its sidequests a lot better, it does leverage the geography well for the most part, and I’d add in one thing you didn’t: It probably handles inter-party relationships better than any Bioware RPG to date. Characters actually get arcs. The clearest example of this is Isabela and Aveline: Their relationship is well defined and yet shifts between acts, until by the third act they’re fast companions whose early hatred is playfully referred to. That’s some impressive writing, and it deserves praise.

I still see DA2 as a very flawed game, which whiffs some pretty basic stuff and desperately needed more editorial oversight. (The lyrium idol? Utterly stupid. The whole Anders/Justice thing? Blah.) But when it worked, by which I mostly mean the absolutely fantastic second act, it worked like gangbusters. There’s a version of that game in my head that files off all the worst qualities of the game and leaves the core intact and it’s one of the best things Bioware’s never done. It’s a game that deserves a revisionist treatment like this one, and for that I say kudos.


On April 22, 2014 at 3:57 pm

I think a lot of people have forgotten something about the story of DA2, even this article has forgotten it. You are playing a game that is actually a story being told by Verric to Cassandra and while it is the truth about what happened he would of course and some embellishments to it so it would still make for a good story.

I saw some of you complaining about how the way combat was handled ruined your tactics…. I’m sorry, did you think doing the same thing in every fantasy game would work, despite how many times you were proven wrong in DA2? Once I realized that combat against normal mobs came in two waves I adapted my tactics to account for it, bosses, same deal.

Those of you who said that there are no choices in the game, that you just slaughter you way to end and the only choice in the game.

O_o What game were you playing?

Chapter 1 could see you being an only child if you made the wrong choices or brought the wrong people

Chapter 2 ends differently depending on what you have been doing with Isabella [DO ALL THE NAUGHTY THINGS!]

Chapter 3 could see you being an only child again, assuming you weren’t made one back in chapter 1, depending on what you do.

I replayed all of the prolog and chapter 1 after watching Bethany die in Male Hawks arms and realized I didn’t have a save from before I entered the deep roads.

Is it a perfect game? No, the copy paste dungeons really annoyed me among a few other things.

Is it a crap game like its detractors claim it to be? Heck no!


On April 22, 2014 at 4:33 pm

Yea, I really liked Kirkwall, and I really liked the story structure, and I loved the characters. Outside of that, the combat was so shallow, it was flashy, but so much weaker than DA:O, with the waves just making it even worse (this being the primary form of gameplay really detracts from it being a great game). The level design outside of the city of Kirkwall itself was terrible. The decisions in the game were more deep than people in this thread seem to think, though in some cases too subtle I suppose. But the conversation system they used gave it so much more breadth than a traditional morality system. I wish there were more games with the home city kind of structure, but DA2 was far from a perfect game despite how much I enjoyed that aspect. The whole game, outside of the character designs and writing felt incredibly rushed.


On April 22, 2014 at 4:50 pm

I have to disagree with DA2 being even a good game on its own.

The copy and paste dungeons, the “hit one button for awesome!1! 1!!” combat , the fetch missions where you could get the item first and magically bump into the quest giver and say “I think you wanted this”. The supposed connection to your city was paper thin, so much so that the story text may as well have had options like “to feel sad choose me”. The little things don’t redem it, just look at the inventory which gives you the “choice” to mix and match armor for just the main character and by mix and match you could wear the older weaker items for the class you chose ( see: stat you had to pump all points into). Yes this game got a lot of hate, but deservedly so. This was an RPG with little RP and less G.


On April 22, 2014 at 7:17 pm

I kinda understand where he is coming from, playing as this kind of local champion/noble character was indeed kinda interesting especially for RPing. Problem is that a video game is much more than characters and story. Gameplay is just as important if not more so than story. So saying that DA2 which is just a lazily cobbled together mess gameplaywise is a better game than DAO with a solid gameplay doesn’t really sound right to me.

I think he is onto something however when pointing out DA:Os flaws. Personally I could never really figure out why is it so highly regarded by people. Aside form little things like terrible class balance( governed by retarded Bioware logic like mages should be tanks in heavy armor wielding swords and shields instead of frying enemies with magic), uninspired spell selection, pacing issues( Fade sections anyone?) and ugly character models its setting is incredibly dull and boring as well(which is of course a huge flaw of the whole franchise). Which would be fine still if the actual story itself was anything special at least. Unfortunately it isn’t. I was bored to tears with this game and even stopped playing for weeks the first time around which’s never happened with any BW RPG before that.

And lets not even start with technical issues like the import flags not setting properly making one of the biggest selling points of the franchise entirely pointless(it worked flawlessly in ME until 3 BTW which is even more strange).

So my point is that the DA franchise and BW has way bigger problems which started way earlier than simply messing up DA2. IMHO they should start doing licensed projects again because it seems obvious that this “creating IPs on our own” thing is not really working out for them.


On April 22, 2014 at 7:41 pm

I’m sorry, but the fact that the same dungeons, caves, warehouses are used 3,4,5 times to portray different places and the only difference is which door is locked or which path is blocked by a rock is so very immersion breaking for me.

You mention the year that Hawke works as a mercenary. The same mercenary work that has you doing 1 mission before the game fades to black and tells you that you successful worked off your contract? Does anybody remember Lady Elegant? The herbalist that says “Remember me from when you working as a mercernary?” You don’t actually meet her until the game tells you the first year is over.

My problem with the game is that each act felt like it’s only little story or game with a little “Mages are bad” sprinkled on it when lead to the inevitable mages vs. templar conflict at the end. Perhaps if I had a reason to care what happened to Kirkwall or it’s people I might feel differently about the game, but it doesn’t give me a reason to care. Hawke’s only there because the darkspawn drove him from Lothering and his uncle who he presumably never met before lives in Kirkwall. And most people you do quests for you might met again at a later time for a thank you or some small thing, but that’s it. You never see them again. I can’t care for these people because the game says I should after minimal interaction.

Two quick things on the mage/templar thing. 1) I do think that it’s poor story telling that no matter what decisions you make Orsino uses blood magic becomes an abomination and you have to fight him. Then Meredith goes bat crazy and you have to fight her and we’re back where we started with neither side coming out on top or being “right”. 2) I would like to point out how immersion breaking it was to be wearing mage robes with a mage staff on my back, get into a fight in which I whip fire balls around, and nobody says a word to me.

The one thing off teh top of my head I will give DA2 credit for is the fact that based on decisions you made you could have both siblings dead, some companions could die, or in Isabella’s case she leaves you. Not everyone got along with each other which was nice.

Oh and for love of god Bioware let’s not have the protagonist wander off into the night yet again never to be seen again.

Gaius Maximus

On April 22, 2014 at 8:18 pm

Nice to see someone speaking up for DA2, which I’ve always felt has taken way more crap than it deserves. I don’t know if it’s objectively a better game than DAO, but I certainly enjoyed playing it more.

I personally didn’t find the reused dungeon maps to be more than a minor annoyance. One thing I’ve found strange, though, is that so many gamers who are down on DA2 for the reused maps usually hold up ME1 as one of Bioware’s last good games, when it did the exact same thing.

Tolbin Boskat

On April 22, 2014 at 8:31 pm

In my opinion, DA2 had a few nice features but overall, it sucked. It was nice to see a combat system that was more geared for console (whereas origins was clearly more PC friendly) and to finally see an archer who didn’t try to point blank enemies with arrows. Instead they’d use the bow itself as a weapon which, although unrealistic, is nice. The story sucked, being trapped in one town and forest sucked, having no real impact at all upon the world, sucked. Also, you get to see plain as day the plight of the mages (if you played the mage class at least) and you can see somewhat subtly what DA2 has to shove down your throat. I honestly didn’t like it, I didn’t like how your choices didn’t matter worth a damn half the time, I didn’t like how limited magic was, I didn’t like how character creation was the most simple I’ve seen in years, and I didn’t like how Bioware could have done this when Origins had such potential. I sincerely hope that (aside from combat tweaks) Bioware takes nothing from DA2. They built a solid scifi trilogy of epic proportions (Mass Effect) and they botched the ending of the third. With Dragons Age they botched the sequel and the first was clumsy. Here, I think, is the potential to make a third part that redeems the other two and saves what would otherwise become a forgettable addition to the RPG genre.


On April 22, 2014 at 9:22 pm

Ya the game was bad worse than mass effect 2 and three


On April 22, 2014 at 10:18 pm

The thing is… DA2 failed as a game. And considering it’s supposed to be a game, that also makes it a failure, no? The gameplay was absolutely awful, and I nearly quit playing the game because it was so damn tedious. The gameplay was very shallow, with any ability to play strategically removed, and the waves of enemies they sent every time you would think you were done a fight were just annoying.

Level design was shameful, and if anything the awful copy+pasted levels made Kirkwall feel incredibly dull and uninteresting. I personally had no attachment whatsoever to the place. I was absolutely sick of that damn city by the end of the game.

As others have mentioned, your choices had no real consequence. Ultimately results were the same no matter your choice, except for in a few rare instances. I was shocked at how similar the ending section was regardless of who you chose to side with. It was quite disappointing. People about the ME3 ending, but if you want a truly meaningless ending look no further than DA2. I think something devs need to realize is that the more you try to trick players in to thinking they have a choice, the more obvious it will be when they realize they have no choice. *the exception to this is the companion characters, who had very interesting dynamics and who could die or leave depending on your actions

The only redeeming factor in DA2 is the development of character relationships. I was invested in the stories of my companion characters, and they have a lot of really entertaining banter when you’re just wandering around. Also, it seems that with every new game BioWare is making less and less painfully awkward ‘romance’ cutscenes, which is nice. The ones in origins were so bad I was embarrassed to watch them, whereas in DA2 they were pretty decent. But one redeeming quality does not a good game make.


On April 23, 2014 at 4:13 am

Sorry, but no. DA2 tried to present a fresh take, focusing the story on a singular city, but it made it extremely clumsily, with the writing being subpar to everything BioWare provided until then – in both the story structure and the dialog. I actually enjoyed the game so-so and don’t mind if others enjoyed it, but the point you’re trying to make in this article just doesn’t stick – it wasn’t unenjoyable because of the reuse of the dungeons alone, but by the forced direction the entire game took (which was “actionization” and flattening of conflicts), as well as poor writing turning an interesting story concept into uninteresting muck.


On April 23, 2014 at 6:06 am

Is there even really a point in dissecting Phil Owen’s articles anymore, especially ones about BioWare games when he’s clearly just a fanboy of theirs? This is the same guy who wrote three long-winded articles about interpreting the ME3 ending, and his conclusion after all that was that it was guess work anyway. For a more intelligent and balanced look at Dragon Age 2, I’d recommend this:



On April 23, 2014 at 8:19 am

I’ll happily cop to playing DA2 multiple times. I definitely agree that there are things they can take from that game to use in Inquisitions. But a “better” game than Origins? Not even close.

I liked Kirkwall, I liked the characters, I liked the Mage-Templar dynamic. But the repetitive dungeons were not a “minor annoyance.” The waves of enemies just paratrooping in resulted in even a simple mugging reaching a body count in the dozens. You had to fight both “bosses” at the end, even though doing so removed the narrative importance from the decision to side with one or the other. Multiple fights were incredibly difficult or outright impossible (the Arishok duel, the fight with Ser Varnell and the fanatics, etc.). I like the game, but it is certainly not without its flaws.


On April 23, 2014 at 9:15 am

I didn’t hate DA2 as much as most people, but to say it’s better than Origins…….. well lets just say your opinion at this site just dipped drastically. Most people will have a hard time trusting your opinion for awhile. I sure won’t trust it.
My first though when playing DA2 with a two handed sword, was OMG,,,,, they’ve turned DA into a Japanese fighting game. No,,, DA2 was a show of what not to do. They got lazy and sloppy both. Honestly, how could anyone justify reusing tile so frequently and blatantly? Did they think we wouldn’t notice? Did they think it was ok? Are they really that stupid?
It’s your right to like it, but come on. This article is more for shock value than honesty. You knew people would blast you for this…. and your using this for that alone.


On April 23, 2014 at 10:09 am

I totally agree!! While I enjoyed Origins, it was DA2 that really stuck with me – mainly for the reasons you just stated – really feeling like Kirkwall was home & wanting the best for everyone. The combat in Origins was a bit better (hopefully Inquisition’s is better than both), but I hope Bioware doesn’t disregard all the neat things DA2 did.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!


On April 23, 2014 at 4:40 pm

DA2′s principle sin was that you can see a really, really good game and story in there, but its buried under a lot of flaws.

I don’t think the combat was as terrible as some people claim. It got repetitive fairly quickly, but it wasn’t exactly painful to play for the most part. The recycled assets however were truly unforgivable, especially considering the smaller scale of the story.

As for the story itself, well there are problems with that as well. The things that work well are fine, but the bits that fall flat are too big. Too many of the choices are futile and some of the characters, well some of them feel less like characters and more like animated concepts.

There are good things about DA2 worth defending, and I do indeed enjoy the game, but its one of those where every once in awhile I feel an urge to play it again, reinstall and then quit four hours in because the flaws I was able to look past the first time are too glaring the second time around.


On April 23, 2014 at 6:32 pm

I read somewhere, and to this day I think it’s the best description I’ve ever heard about these games, that Dragon Age: Origins was a mediocre game (it IS, quite obviously, a Lord of the Rings ripoff) that received a lot of polish and thus pretty much was polished into gold, while Dragon Age II had awesome concepts that received next to no polish due to its rushed development.

I loved that Dragon Age II was more than the typical “save the world” thingie. EVERY (BioWare) GAME IS ABOUT SAVING THE WORLD. Terrible! Dragon Age II is a rare BW game, that dares to break with this overused formula.

If Dragon Age II would have had no reused maps and if it properly utilized the fact that the city should have changed over the years (the sole change in Kirkwall was the added statue of the Arishok in chapter 3) it would have been amazing. There was so much unused potential everywhere. The game was oozing it.

Just imagine Hawke could have met the companions somewhere in the city, them doing some business or even meeting with other friends (similar to how crew members in Mass Effect 3 would move around onboard the Normandy and not just always stand in the exact same spot!). The companions’ houses/homes (it’s ridiculous that they would live for years in the same dirty rundown places without ever cleaning/fixing them up) should have changed too, over the years. Some of the quests should have been, that companions would ask Hawke for help for more mundane things and not just their sole companion quest.

Seriously, if they would have managed to properly run with their ideas, the game would have been stellar. A total classic.


On April 24, 2014 at 2:20 am

So basically what you’re saying is DA2 is a great game if you ignore all the unfinished bs, terrible environment design, trash gameplay, pointless choices and retcons of player choices from the previous game; and only focus on how super neato the world building is?

There’s these cool things I think you’d be interested in called books, you should give them a try.


On April 25, 2014 at 5:04 pm

I’m glad you find it that way, but as for me, my experience was different.

1.) I didn’t care about the location. they didn’t really “change.” They just had a few different sprites. Video games do the “changing world” thing pretty poorly. Rarely are things really that much different based on choices you make. So Kirkwall remains a boring, bland and stale town throughout all three acts.

2.) Outside of the Arishok, all the characters are horrible and I don’t give a damn about them. Knight Commander Meredith isn’t a villain so much as a caricature, and you have little invested in hating her. When you faced Loghain, you hated that SOB. He nearly got you killed. He was dividing the kingdom via civil war looking to increase his own fiefdom while the world burned. As you built up to the final battle with him, it was satisfying, especially once you wtfpwned him. And then you have a chance ot save him, you play the DLC….. and suddenly Loghain isn’t the monster you thought he was. Cailin really was an awful king who was opening Ferelden’s doors to the guys who brutally occupied them for centuries. Loghain’s actions are awlays selfish, but you can see a reasoning for them.

There’s none of this character development in DA2. The only one who comes close is Arishok.

3.) The side-quests really didn’t make much sense, and were horribly done fetch and retrieve quests. Yes, Origins had these, but they sometimes helped build things up.

4.) The story completely goes off the rails in Act 3. The buildup to the war between the templars and mages happens mostly out of nowhere, and suddenly no matter what the archmage (a foe of blood magic) becomes an abomination, proving the Knight-Commander Right. Except the Knight-Commander is also evil as well, so no matter what, you fight both of them. You don’t have any time invested in either “villain” (especially the archmage) and most of the actions really make no sense.

That’s ignoring the awful repeated dungeons, dead angles, etc.


On June 4, 2014 at 6:36 am

Lots of good points here about why DA:2 sucked. I can’t believe they made the city 90% of the game. I was bored to tears and quit b/c I could never go more than a few places out of it.

The real kicker I’m surprised no one has mentioned is the audacity of bioware towards it’s player base. DA:O had weapon sets, they didn’t include them in DA:2 b/c the developers said they though their player base was so stupid they could not figure out how to use them. *facepalm*