After talking about the open worlds of L.A. Noire and Red Dead Redemption a few weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend of mine about the subject, which in turn caused me to realize that I had more to say on the topic. Having just finished a run through of Dragon Age II, it occurred to me that the end was somewhat less indicative of my impact on the city of Kirkwall than I’d thought it would be—but I didn’t care. Sure, in Dragon Age: Origins I had saved the whole world from a Blight, chosen the next dwarven king, cured a whole society of lycanthropy, and done a bunch of other things that would have never been resolved if not for the timely intervention of me, the Grey Warden.
Alternatively you could keep werewolves around. It is Your Choice.
In the world of Dragon Age: Origins, your control extends to the fate of the world. In Dragon Age II, you are in control of your own fate—but only just. Both games have stories revolving around choice, yet there’s no “open world” to explore. Indeed, both games in the series make the decision to cut out all the travel time between locations. There’s no overworld to explore, just a series of locations that you can jump to by pointing at them on a map.
Interestingly, the choices in Dragon Age II do not have the large, world altering effects of Dragon Age: Origins (apart from the end of Act II, in which Hawke saves the city). That is in part because of the differing narrative foci of Dragon Age II, since Hawke is meant to be an individual who is merely caught up in events far beyond his control (evidenced by the indication that really there’s very little difference in the ending depending upon who the player chooses to side with) Sure, siding with the Templars nets you a cushy viscountship, but there’s still widespread unrest and Circle rebellions all over the damn place. That said, the player has an awful lot of control over the sort of person that Hawke is, which is thanks largely to the conversation system, a system that allows you to joke with some characters, be nice to others, and be a complete dick to the rest. My first time through, I played Hawke as utterly devil-may-care, which is largely why he wound up romancing Isabella.