This post was initially going to be grammar-related. As I said in my brief little introduction, I am in fact a grammar nerd. However, as I started writing, I realized that I had a whole lot of work ahead of me to make discourse grammar actually sound interesting. (Have I mentioned that I’m one of those weird English majors who don’t want to be a teacher?)

This book is awesome. You should read it.
This book is awesome. You should read it.

I’m also almost finished with my first playthrough of Dragon Age: Inquisition, the third installment of BioWare’s Dragon Age series, so to be honest I’d much rather talk about video games right now.

Next post, feel free to expect a long, drawn out (and hopefully engaging) discussion of the discourse grammar in Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. Until then, I think I’ll share some insight I’ve gained from one of my favorite video game series.

A second playthrough is often just as fun as—or even more so than—the first one.

This is especially true in the Dragon Age franchise. During my first playthrough of Dragon Age: Origins, I had immense fun developing my character (human female noble is the best) and getting introduced to Ferelden and the world of Thedas in general.

That being said, my second playthrough of Dragon Age 2 is currently my favorite (probably because in Origins you had to experience both Orzammar and the Deep Roads, both things I would not want to repeat).

After my first playthrough of DA: 2, I probably would have rated it even less than Tobias did in his own review of the game. (He gave it a 6/10. I probably wouldn’t have been as generous. Spoiler: I was too bitter about the fact that my character’s boyfriend turned out to be a homicidal terrorist.)

After my second playthrough, however, I think I can confidently give the game an overall 8/10.

Since I’m totally stealing Tobias’ idea by reviewing DA: 2, let’s go ahead and use the same categories he did:

Overall: 8/10

Most of the drawbacks I found in my first playthrough were resolved by the second. The two major problems that I had with the game were 1) DA: 2 was not the sequel to Origins that I was expecting, and 2) the outcome of the game seemed to come out of nowhere.

I realize that this higher rating is mostly a matter of perspective: once I knew that DA: 2 was not so much a continuation of the story from Origins, I wasn’t expecting it to be. I could enjoy and evaluate the game on its own terms.

(Spoiler: Also, I made the decision not to romance or befriend the homicidal terrorist the second time around. Things got remarkably better from there.)

Writing and Gameplay: 8/10

When Bioware finally decided to give FemShep her due.
When BioWare finally decided to give FemShep her due.

When I first played DA: 2, I was very much unimpressed with the gameplay. It was distinctly different from what I was accustomed to in Origins. However, once I got over how un-Origins this game was, it was very easy to fall in love with it.

First of all, the gameplay reminded me of Mass Effect 2—another very fun game from yet another awesome BioWare universe.

Secondly, it fit with the game’s writing.

Unlike Origins, the player doesn’t enter the story from the point of view of the main character of the game. In DA: 2, the first character you’re introduced to is the dwarven noble Varric Tethras.

If you look at the game as if it is a written narrative, the player in a sense becomes the author of the tale. He is not merely the main character of the story, the “I” of a first-person narrative. He takes on the role of Varric the storyteller, spinning a tale for his audience—in this case, the Chantry Seeker Cassandra Pentaghast.

Throughout the game, the player’s actions take on storybook proportions: the heavy swings of a broadsword are highly exaggerated as warriors dart across the screen in blindingly fast motion, just as members of the rogue class are able to disappear and reappear at will in order to deal critical hits on their unsuspecting foes.

When I think about it this way, the gameplay is pretty phenomenal. Add the fact that my second playthrough of DA: 2 was also the first time I decided to try out the mage class…yeah, it was just plain awesome.

To be honest, the only reason I took off points in this category was because of the constantly recycled maps. Man, did they get annoying.

Characters: 9/10

I definitely cheated in my second playthrough of this game. I knew exactly who I wanted to romance, who I would call a friend, and who would be among my rivals. I even had cheat sheets for which dialogue options gave which friendship/rivalry points. I was determined to make this playthrough fun.

And it was.

Pursuing a rivalry with certain characters (like Anders or Merrill) let them develop more fully as they struggled with their beliefs. You see this particularly in the DLC Legacy—which you should definitely download if you ever plan on playing Inquisition.

This scene is hilarious. That is all.
This scene is hilarious. That is all.

Being determined to max out those friendship/rivalry points also allowed for some pretty interesting character interactions. Take Isabela and Aveline. On their own, they tend to be a little too much (Isabela is unabashedly lewd about everything, and Aveline tends to be on the boring side). Put them in the same room, however, and they balance each other out a bit. The result is often hilarious.

World: 9/10

I’ve always been impressed with the worldbuilding that BioWare is able to accomplish with their RPGs. Origins felt like a real (fantasy) world with real consequences, and by the second playthrough of DA: 2, so did Kirkwall.

It’s easy to get immersed in Hawke’s story. I even went through my first playthrough of DA: 2 without any jarring moments that brought me out of the experience—apart from the climax of the story, which as I have said seemed to pretty much come out of nowhere. (Spoiler: Again, not being friends with the terrorist helped the storyline move along quite a bit more believably).

As Tobias mentions in his earlier review, however, there is a flaw in the worldbuilding that bugged me in my second playthrough: the main characters do not seem to age much (if at all) during the ten-year span of the game.

I do think the game makes up for this discrepancy at least in part by the fact that some characters do show age. If your Hero of Ferelden made certain decisions in Origins, the character Alistair can have a cameo—looking older, and a little heavier. The same can be said of Zevran, as well as of Dragon Age: Awakening characters such as Nathaniel Howe and even Anders. This adds to the overall believability of the game world.

Plot and Content: 8/10

When I first played DA: 2, I was expecting something along the lines of Origins in regards to plot and content—or, at the very least, something akin to the stories found in the Mass Effect universe.

As Tobias mentions in his post, for the rest of the BioWare games (especially in Mass Effect, with its Paragon and Renegade options), the story is much about developing the moral character of the protagonist and exploring the consequences of the choices he makes.

DA: 2 isn’t like that.

No matter what decisions you make—and I’ll be honest, you aren’t given a lot of options to do the “right” thing—the outcome of the game will be the same. This time, the story isn’t about how your decisions affect the rest of the universe.

It’s about what decisions you make when you know you can’t change anything.

Pacing: 9/10

The pacing is pretty much spot-on, though. Even during my second playthrough, I didn’t get bored often—which is something, because I got bored a lot the second time I played Origins (again, I blame Orzammar and the Deep Roads).

I defeat a High Dragon for you, and all you can say is "Thanks"?
I defeat a High Dragon for you, and all you can say is “Thanks”?

The only main problem I had with the pacing was the DLC Mark of the Assassin—some okay moments, but others really tended to drag on.

Oh, and the next time I’m sent to The Bone Pit to clear out a bunch of dragons, I’m going to punch whoever sent me there. Honestly, you’d think that if a mine were constantly overrun by dangerous beasts that could kill your workers, you might think about going elsewhere for business.

Commentary: 5/10

I agree with Tobias about giving this category a lower score—DA: 2 doesn’t have a lot in terms of social commentary (especially when you compare it to the Mass Effect franchise). Then again, Origins really didn’t have much to say either, unless you consider the mistreatment of elves and mages as commentating on real-life instances of prejudice. You see a lot of that in DA: 2, too, especially in regards to templars mistreating mages—though on the flipside you also have mages mistreating pretty much everyone else.

It definitely would have been nice to have a morality system like there was in the Mass Effect series—Tobias also talks about this in his post—but I think DA: 2 still says a lot about making the right decisions. Unlike Origins, however, your decisions don’t (or can’t) lead to a “perfect” ending.

Moral of this post: don’t judge a game by its first playthrough. Sometimes, the game will surprise you by being remarkably better the second time around.

It might just take a little cheating to get there.

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One thought on “Second Playthroughs are the Best, Especially if you Cheat (Another Dragon Age 2 Review)

  1. I think that was the point. Often times there are two sides going at each other, and we keep justifying which side is right or wrong, and cling to it. Are we mage or are we templar? It’s easy for us to see that they’re both insane. But what about our own society? Are we cops? Or are we blacks? Are we higher taxes? Or are we anti-establishment? Are we x, or are we z? The list is incredibly long right now. And you can never ever get along with the other side and all talk that is rational is labeled cowardice. If they curb stomp you, cut out their legs. Or become an abomination. I don’t know, the whole mage-templar conflict really hits me, even if looking at it in a game context makes it seem ridiculous. Maybe it’s how we should view our own prejudices.

    Love this post. Love that game.

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