Ash has been playing "Dragon Age" since the first game's release. She enjoys exploring and explaining the characters and the lore.
Dragon Age 2 was the second installment of the Dragon Age franchise and possibly the most hated everywhere on the internet (except, for some bizarre reason, on Tumblr).
The game was hated because it was sloppy, rushed, and completely watered-down in terms of story compared to its predecessor, Dragon Age: Origins.
It was also hated because it took great strides to emulate the success of Bioware's other flagship series, Mass Effect. This angered Dragon Age fans because we were used to having a classic blank slate RPG protagonist that we could shape to our liking. Instead, we were given this protagonist with a preset personalty with three variations to it, similar to Shepard's preset personality with two variations (the protagonist of Mass Effect).
On top of that, the followers were just rehashed versions of characters from Origins.
This reusage of old characters meant that the followers in Dragon Age 2 had little development compared to Origins because the audience already knew their background and personality.
The only character with any sort of extensive dialogue was Fenris, and that was because he was brand new and had to tell his story to the audience. Just about everyone else, however, was a rehash, while Aveline and Varric had stories that were shown and not told (which was fine).
The end result was that we didn't get a lot of screen time with our followers. Instead of having moderately lengthy and fun conversations with our party like we did in Origins, we only had two-second conversations with them in their homes before returning to the game.
It was one of the more disappointing things about Dragon Age 2, alongside the repetitive copy/paste dungeons and complete lack of choices that actually mattered.
Yes, as someone who used to practically worship Origins, I would rant these arguments to anyone who would listen, everyday, all day.
But now, years later, I have a true appreciation for Dragon Age 2.
Thus, this article.
Hawke Was the Best Dragon Age Protagonist
It was actually Dragon Age: Inquisition that made me realize Hawke was a great protagonist and should have continued her story.
(As a side note, I will never refer to Hawke as "FemHawke" the same way I won't refer to Shepard as—ugh—"FemShep." They are not the female version of the "real" protagonist. They are the protagonist in their own right and that should be acknowledged. I have always referred to the female Hawke by her default name, which is Marian. But only when I needed to be specific that she was female.)
I still remember when Inquisition came out back in 2014, when I was still willing to throw away money preordering games. I remember being so relieved that Hawke was gone because I wanted to return to playing an oppressed elf and indulging in this fantasy of rising above oppression to become someone powerful and respected.
And I was so caught up in this fantasy that I failed to appreciate Hawke for the amazing protagonist that she was—that and the fact that Hawke is just a better character all around than both the Warden and the Inquisitor.
After we complained that we wanted to roleplay different races again, Bioware kindly obliged us (aka made sure we bought the game) by giving us the option to play elves and dwarves again, as well as qunari.
Each Inquisitor is given a brief origin story in the shape of a few paragraphs, and because Bioware was trying to remove the predetermined personality without completely removing it, the Inquisitor wound up being a weird cross between a completely blank slate (the Warden) and a predetermined character (Hawke).
They also took fans complaining about Hawke's tragic story and made the Inquisitor just the opposite: someone who always won and never had a moment of crisis. Even after Haven, when they technically lost to Corypheus, the Inquisitor is still praised and worshiped by their followers, who insist they are a holy figure.
Good character development means that the protagonist suffers, and suffers in particular on screen (a lot of interesting things that happen to the Inquisitor in Inquisition were reduced to tabletop quests).
The Warden suffers a lot (even more depending on origin story) and it is significant to how they are roleplayed throughout the game because Origins was a role-playing game. Meanwhile, Hawke suffered regardless of your choices because Dragon Age 2 was a linear story that we weren't supposed to participate in but rather just watch and enjoy.
But the Inquisitor? They were an odd cross between the two, and the result was a bland character with a bland story where the protagonist always won and never suffered and nothing much really happened.
In short, Bioware tried to protect their coins by opting to please everyone (instead of following their own vision), and the end result was that they pleased no one (except perhaps people who don't care enough about story and character development to blink twice at Inquisition's shortcomings in that regard).
In the end, the Inquisitor was a boring protagonist! And the fact that Hawke makes a cameo in the game only makes it more obvious when the two are side by side.
So oddly enough, it took playing the third installment without Hawke to see how much she should have been leading the game.
The Romances Could Have Been Fleshed Out
I always felt the romances were kind of . . . hollow in Dragon Age 2. This was largely because the game was streamlined and rushed. So all of the companions suffered from not getting enough interaction with Hawke, the romances included.
Having Hawke continue her own story was an opportunity for the protagonist to continue her established romance from Dragon Age 2 or else start a new one in Inquisition with one of the new followers.
Imagine romancing Cassandra as Hawke! As she is interrogating Varric during Dragon Age 2, it's revealed that Cassandra has a crush on Hawke, especially if Hawke duels the Arishok in defense of Isabela. I believe this was done on purpose to set up a future possible romance between Garrett Hawke and Cassandra, who in my humble opinion, has the best romance in Inquisition. That and Cassandra just happens to love romance and views duels in that light. (Sigh. Such a pity Cassandra was straight. But then, the pseudo-Christian warrior characters always are in Dragon Age.)
Or imagine how amazing it would have been to continue a romance with Fenris or Isabela or, hell, even Anders provided Hawke did not kill him and kept his location a secret while she ran the Inquisition.
Imagine a scenario where Hawke sneaks off to visit Anders in his cave and is caught and has to make a choice about punishing him for his crimes or helping him escape again. I mean . . . there were so many wonderful things that could have been done had Hawke remained the protagonist. But much like the romances from Mass Effect 2, the romances from Dragon Age 2 were shafted. We don't even get to see any of them when Hawke visits the Inquisitor in Skyhold.
The sad reality is, so many people were against having Hawke return that the developers listened, and the end result was a disappointing bland new protagonist who must clean up the mess of the earlier protagonist and does it so efficiently that it makes Hawke look even more like a buffoon.
It is a complaint I now deeply regret making five years later. At the time, it was important to me that I have the ability to play different races in Dragon Age. Now looking back, I feel it should have been more important to finish the story of the second game's protagonist, if not to at least keep things consistent as well as interesting.
And I think other fans (old fans who played Origins and 2), after how disappointing Inquisition was, probably feel the same.
If only Bioware hadn't listened to us and instead stuck to their own vision . . . and if only changing protagonists hadn't been motivated by keeping fans aka money.
Sometimes art is more important than money. Telling a good story should have been prioritized above all else, but alas, that is not the sort of industry gaming is.
Choices Could Have Mattered
A lot of people (myself included, admittedly) complained that Dragon Age 2 was not a role-playing game. It was a linear game where our choices didn't matter. No matter what we did or how hard Hawke fought, the same ending always occurred because this was Hawke's story (not ours) and we were merely passively watching it.
This was hard to accept because the Dragon Age franchise started out a classic role-playing game, where our choices actually did matter and had consequences and results.
For example, choosing to spare Loghain meant losing your friendship with Alistair. Or playing as a elf meant being barred from certain options, such as becoming queen of Fereldan.
But the thing is, Dragon Age 2 was not a role-playing game. It was a fantasy version of a casual shooter game that was the sequel to a role-playing game. So we weren't supposed to have choices that mattered. We were just supposed to watch a story. And it's a good story. I've really come to love and appreciate Hawke and Dragon Age 2 over the years. Hell, it might be my favorite in the franchise at this point.
But since Bioware seemed to be trying to slip back (somewhat) into their role-playing roots, they implemented some choices in Inquisition that had consequences (though very few).
Inquisition was an opportunity to make Hawke's choices matter. But not only that, it was an opportunity to give Hawke agency! Hawke in Dragon Age 2 was a reactive character, not a proactive character. She never took charge of her destiny because it was out of her hands. She didn't make things happen. Things happened to her and she merely reacted (her siblings dying, her mother dying, Anders' terrorism, the qunari attack).
Hawke never had the ability to really shape her own story because she was just a continuous victim. This was one of the main complaints people had about the game, and as I said, one of the main reasons the Inquisitor so easily wins basically everything.
The writers saw us complaining and shrugged and made the Inquisitor a boring protagonist who always wins, when in reality, we just wanted things to get easier for Hawke, who just dealt with tragedy after tragedy without a break.
Inquisition could have been that break for Hawke. As the Inquisitor, Hawke could have finally had the power to take control of her destiny, to fight back against evil, and to win. It will forever irk me that she wasn't allowed to defeat Corypheus and bring a satisfying end to her arc.
Instead, she serves the Inquisitor, while possibly meeting a tragic and lonely end in the Fade. Hawke constantly being the world's punching bag was just a bit . . . too much. She deserved a better end to her story. I see that now and I wish I hadn't complained about her coming back as the protagonist.
I recall Tallis saying to Hawke in the DLC Mark of the Assassin that she was sorry for not giving Hawke the respect she deserved.
So am I.
Inquisition Was Hawke's Story Anyway
What most fans already know is that Inquisition was actually Hawke's story anyway.
There was a canceled DLC called Exalted March in which the Chantry was going to march on Kirkwall to put things right after the explosion between mages and templars.
And it made sense for this to happen because everything going on in Dragon Age 2 was leading to it. Cassandra wasn't interrogating Varric for fun. She wanted to arrest Hawke because she and Leliana actually wanted Hawke to be the Inquisitor and had searched for the Warden first.
This is also why Dragon Age 2 feels like an unfinished story. We never get to properly deal with the situation regarding Corypheus or . . . anything, really. Instead, Hawke fights and then flees, leaving a mess of red templars and Corypheus walking free in her wake.
All of it was her mess to fix, and yet, instead of being allowed to properly wrap up her own story, she winds up being a secondary character in the Inquisitor's story, and it's the Inquisitor who fights Corypheus and stops the red templars.
Even back in the day when I whined about not wanting to play as Hawke anymore, I was still against someone else finishing her story! Hawke went through hell in Dragon Age 2 and deserved to end her own story as a hero, not as some two-second cameo in the background.
Frankly, it's insulting. Because looking back, Hawke was actually an amazing female protagonist almost on par with Commander Shepard: she was well-written, interesting, attractive without being dehumanized or sexualized. Nothing pleased me more than her not being forced to wear a dress in Mark of the Assassin or p*rnified bikini armor or other sexist, dehumanizing crap.
Marian Hawke was allowed to be a human being. Not a sex object. Not a plot device. Not a forgotten alternative to the male Hawke. She didn't exist to titillate male fans, nor was she was treated (by the developers, at least) as a secondary or optional protagonist. She was the protagonist. (Though sadly, she still wasn't on the cover art because female gamers are largely ignored promotion-wise.)
And what's more, she was allowed to be unapologetically lesbian. Hawke is never once forced to allude to some past with a male or to flirt with a male. She is not assumed to be bisexual. The player is in complete control her of sexuality.
And to add icing to the cake, she is also not forced to be a tragic lesbian trope. Merrill and Isabela both survive and Hawke can too if you don't leave her in the Fade in Inquisition. (So that's one up on Commander Shepard, who dies regardless of what ending you choose.)
She is also fully customizable. You can make her look however you want, and her family will look like her! I was always so grateful Bioware implemented this after the way the families in Origins were explicitly white. It wasn't a huge deal, but it was jarring when I made the mistake of making a brown character only for her to have a white family. In Dragon Age 2, I have the ability to fully project onto my power fantasy without the constant reminder that the game wasn't targeted at me.
This time, the game was targeted at me.
(Sadly, trying to make a lightskin black Hawke like me means still having a white family. The mechanic was wonky but at least it was there.)
Having a character like Marian Hawke was amazing. I'm honestly ashamed I didn't realize it before and that I was so quick to throw her under the bus in favor of a new protagonist that wound up being disappointing anyway.
As a black gay female gamer who has always been forced to play straight white male protagonists (ha ha, watch male gamers flock to take mouth-foaming offense to that mere acknowledgment of reality), I'm very happy Marian Hawke existed.
If only she had been allowed to complete her own story.