Fans waiting for the March release of BioWare's second installment in their fantasy-RPG franchise have yet another morsel to tide them over. The latest major character from Dragon Age II has been announced, and from the details and screenshots provided, she's a force to be reckoned with. Fans of the series already know that gender stereotypes are something that BioWare enjoys twisting on their head, and Aveline Vallen is no exception.
Dragon Age: Origins showed fans that a character's backstory may be interesting, but in the end, a character's feelings or motivations had little impact on their ability to hand out rage and bloodthirsty limb-removal.
With Aveline Vallen's addition to the already revealed cast of characters, it's clear that BioWare is ramping up the moral ambiguity and gray areas the first game employed so well.
In a role-playing game, nothing can break the illusion of that fantasy like flat, uninteresting characters who are little more than their particular class of fighter. Both Dragon Age and Mass Effect have done their best to give players a real sense of choice, and Dragon Age II is already filled with more questionable characters and allies than its predecessor.
For proof that Aveline isn't just another damsel in distress, or one more shining companion with an unquestionable moral compass, take a look at how BioWare describes their heroine:
"Aveline Vallen is a soldier, a master of sword and shield, and a tireless guardian... to a point. The daughter of an exiled chevalier, Aveline is not the knight her father wished her to be. Although fully trained in chivalrous combat, she was raised in the shadow of a lost life and will not lose another for the sake of honor."
Fans of RPG's know that having a character fall short of their own own moral expectations can be frustrating, and often result in losing a team member that you would much rather have kept. But making secondary characters into complete identities, not interchangeable tools is also what can take a simple game and turn it into a fantastically immersive experience. A game is truly making you think when you have to put down the controller or mouse, and weigh the outcomes against the choices as much as you would in your own life.
Aveline Vallen may have been trained to fight as a noble knight, but there is no chance that she will be as predictable as one. A player's version of the protagonist, Hawke may believe in sacrificing the few for the good of the world at large, but Aveline is nowhere near as sentimental:
"Protecting her adopted home of Kirkwall becomes a chosen duty, not a privileged calling. The people she stands for will not be wasted on lost causes or protecting the foolish from themselves. Pride can be bandaged like any other wound–when threats are dead and everyone is safely home."
Dragon Age II really is shaping up to be BioWare's definitive fantasy RPG, and the glimpses of the game in action impress both in terms of quality and improvement over Origins. The continuity of the story may result in a cohesive narrative that we have yet to see in modern RPGs, thanks to the developers giving players who finished Origins the ability to import over the world they shaped.
Now that the characters are all seeming to embody various competing moral ideals, the drama between primary and secondary characters may become a truly interesting facet of gameplay, as opposed to some extra dialogue in the original. The developers certainly seem to be shaping a much more artistic vision of various species this time around, so all signs are pointing to a far richer experience.
Some fans were let down by Mass Effect 2's plot stalling much of the momentum of the first game, so hopefully BioWare's decision to take a completely different path for Dragon Age II will produce even better results. The developer has already made it clear that they've got big plans for the series, so fans of the genre can cross their fingers that with Dragon Age II, they'll strike gold.
You'll have to keep your fingers crossed all through the winter, until Dragon Age II hits Xbox 360, PS3, and PC on March 8, 2011.