Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dragon Age 2: Pirate Booty (Both Kinds)

by Laurie K.

When last we checked into Dragon Age 2, warrior badass extraordinaire Hawke was having a tedious love life.  Caught between the two eligible yet uninspiring Cullen clones, she had decided to pursue hot, saucy pirate wench Isabela.  Then, to her complete surprise, unfun Anders did her a favor she could never repay and she began to feel more charitably toward his (actually rather justified) whining.

It was just so hard to choose that I decided not to – our girl Hawke would just have to have a girlfriend and a boyfriend. (Mild booty-related spoilers within.)

One of my great joys in RPGs is the match-making.  I especially enjoy seeing how game designers who are probably exclusively male envision romance from the female perspective. The romance system in Dragon Age 2 is pretty ham-fisted compared to the intricacy of Dragon Age: Origins.  Not only is the gameplay aspect surrounding the love interests almost totally removed in DA2, the writing is terribad.  I’ve already cited the Twilight-factor when it comes to the characters themselves, but the character interactions have the emotional depth of a 14 year old boy – who has maybe been reading Twillight. 

Zevran: High Maintenance Elf
In Dragon Age:Origins you had to get to know someone, gain their favor, and only then could you make a move.  It was actually kind of a complex process, especially if you didn’t naturally agree with their political and personal leanings.  I had to carefully romance Zevran not just into my gal’s bed but also into not murdering her outright when his old assassin buddies came knocking.  It was surprisingly difficult, as it should have been given that my character was a lawful good sort of girl and Zevran was a neutral evil sort of guy.  Gameplay-wise, I bankrupted my character – twice! – and ran her all over the world finding gifts for this elf and I barely made the cut.  My character also had to convince him with a lot of talking and a lot of sex.  Two words:  High. Maintenance.

The lovely (and stacked) Isabela
So, I expected an uphill battle when romancing Isabela in Dragon Age 2, since my Hawke is a neutral good angel-of-mercy type and Isabela is… not.  To borrow a phrase from Kresley Cole, Hawke would spend her days putting mittens on kittens and rescuing nuns from a nuclear winter because she just can’t stand to let anyone be hurt.  Isabela would probably put you out if you were on fire as she strolled by on her way to the brothel.  I was disappointed to see that it was no effort at all to get her into Hawke’s boudoir, given the difference in outlooks.  I gave her one gift, which came to me as an incidental drop from a darkspawn I killed.  She and Hawke talked privately twice.  I didn’t have to go even one step out of my way.

Once Hawke and Isabela got down to basics, it was a rough and tumble encounter with a good time had by all.  When the clothes were back on and the pillow talk was done, Isabela turned to Hawke with a vaguely horrified expression and said, “Wait. You’re not thinking of bringing feelings into this… Are you?”  Hawke laughed and said of course not.  Isabela was deeply relieved.  (Ouch.)  We parted as the best of friends, however, and she cordially invited me to seduce her again in the future.

Soon after my liaison with Isabela, Anders made his move.  He wanted help getting some mages free of a corrupt templar and while they were in the dungeon, he completely lost control of his anger and had to be dragged back from the edge of murderizing everyone.  He pulled an Edward and fled lest he damage his love (sob), but that was okay because he was actually sort of freaky when he Hulked out.  When we talked at his clinic afterward, he gave me all the star-crossed lover rhetoric.  “Blah blah love blah.  Blah you deserve better blah blah.”  Hawke said some similar kissy stuff and then they were off toward the mansion.

Then it was awkward time.  Anders asked, “What about Isabela?”  Now, there are a lot of ways to answer that question.  The ‘good’ answer on the wheel of conversation said, “I’m interested in you” which I thought was fair, so I took that answer.  What Hawke actually said was, “She means nothing to me.  It’s you I’m interested in.” 

Wait, what?

Given that Hawke is the quintessential knight in shining armor, she would never have slept with Isabela if she meant nothing to her.  From a gameplay standpoint, Hawke’s actions have been 98% good so a line like that coming up was pretty off base.  From a writing standpoint, who says that about someone they’re extremely good friends with after a great night together?  I would have accepted, “She and I were not serious about each other.  It’s you I love.”  Or maybe, “I spent a night with her, but I want to build a life with you.”  Or even an Eddie Murphy-esque, “Baby, I just f***ed her.  I make love to you!”  (Okay, maybe not that last one.)

I have seen a lot of back and forth about Dragon Age 2.  The critics love it.  The users give it a resounding meh.  This is one aspect that is nowhere near as good as the original game.  Maybe it sounds weird but I miss courting my chosen love interest with words and gifts and deeds.  I also dislike the idea that I can be quantifiably ‘good’ from a gameplay standpoint and still say things that are pretty damn mean about people who are supposedly deeply important to me.  (Pretty sure I don't want to date whoever wrote those lines. Yikes.) Is this system better than most RPGs?  Sure!  However, it’s deeply inferior to the previous game in the series, and that is the gold standard by which all sequels will be judged.  Hopefully they’ll get their groove back in the expansion.  
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  1. I think it is quite funny to see Bodahn and Sandal just chilling in the background while Hawke and Isabela are flirting. They are video-bombing the scenes!

  2. Ha! Now that I think of it, wasn't Hawke's mother in the room, too?

    "Isabela and I are going to my room to see my etchings, mother. BRB."

  3. Mobygames doesn't have credits up for Dragon Age II yet, but DA:O had a reasonably gender balanced writing staff: three women to four men.

  4. In all fairness, our lovely Isabela would sleep with strangers not to get information but to give it in origins.

    "I do, however, wish to get to know my potential student better, so we shall call for a drink and you will honor me with a game"

    "Are there no other ways for us to get to know eachother?"

    "Do you have something else in mind?"

    "Lets go somewhere private and I could ... show you."

    Commence boot knocking. Hence, I'm fairly certain you could pop a hole in and deflate those balloons she calls breasts and spit on her prada pirate boots and she'd still go look at your "etchings." Got to love a gal who stays true to herself.