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A Mixed Bag Built on an Appeal to Novelty
Let me open this by saying that I didn't hate this game the way the vast majority of the Internet appears to. If you just want a rage-fix, probably not getting it here. I'll also be primarily reviewing its storytelling rather than its competent-but-unremarkable gameplay.

The game's biggest narrative weaknesses come from the same place as its biggest strengths: it wants to be *different*, to try doing things that haven't necessarily been done before, for better or for worse.

The overall plot for instance: it tries to break away from the Bioware Story Cliche chart we've all seen and focus on a smaller, more personal story of an immigrant family's struggles in a new place, how efforts to stay together and climb socially only lead to more tragedy and heartbreak. On the other hand, that same obsession with the unconventional, that fear of tradition also leads to the stuff everyone complains about: reduced scope and a gloomy ending where both sides are evil and you're stuck in the middle.

On the one hand, effort is made to differentiate the companions from their archetypes: the traumatized former slave who's actually traumatized, the backstabbing, open-legged pirate who might actually backstab and heartbreak you, the cute dark wizard who's not just misunderstood by an intolerant world but making poor life choices and trying to ignore the consequences. On the other hand, it also leads to Anders' infamous unavoidable endgame actions, a character who's impossible to lead to reason or save from himself, in a bit of realism that just comes off as unsatisfying.

I'm in the minority here, but I actually liked the idea of centering the game on one city in theory, since it gives the player incentive to, like Hawke him/herself, put down roots and grow to like the place. Unfortunately, well, here the infamous time and budget restrictions show themselves, and Kirkwall isn't as lively or memorable as it would need to be to make this work.

Ultimately, the game falls into the same trap as Star Trek: Generations or the rightly infamous ending to Mass Effect 3 - making different or unexpected choices a higher-priority than quality ones. It's not an awful or unplayable game, but it's still a modest artistic failure and I hope Bioware learns the right lessons from it.
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