Goodbye, Chantry: Dragon Age II Film Scene Analysis

Video recorded by “Carlos Torres”, screenshots taken from video.

Video games aren’t films, it’s true. They have their own little techniques, and I would welcome anyone who wishes to examine them. But many have called some video games “cinematic” — and it just so happens most of BioWare works, particularly those post-Mass Effect, are one of those lot. Some even tote cinematic…ism as a goal. BioWare have cinematic designers, and they are well-renowned for their cutscenes.

But, if they were films, how successful would they be? Let’s look at the finale-beginning scene of Dragon Age II. I’ll be glossing over segments that change depending on choice, as well as some stretches of the scene.

I’ll admit, this is a curiosity on my part, and I may not analyse to the full possible extent — getting screenshots for this is almost work enough on its own. If you disagree with anything I’ve said, or notice something else, you’re welcome to comment in the, uh, comments. Free, independent thinking! In general, it’s probably good. Well, unless you’re in Oceania or Par Vollen.

Spoilers! As you’d expect.

Hawke rides in

Honestly, feel like she'll fall over.

Honestly, feel like she’ll fall over.

This, my friend, is what we call a canted angle, or if you like a “Dutch angle”, and an unsubtle one at that. It’s especially prominent when we’re looking a Meredith, and if you’ve beat the game you know Meredith’s unstable and paranoid. Hilariously, Orsino actually does know blood magic, but we can laugh about that later. So, this angle represents Meredith’s state-of-mind, as well as the general mess of the situation.

To be clear: not my Hawke.

To be clear: not my Hawke.

Hawke is essentially called in to stop this fighting, and this is reflected in the framing of the shot. Orsino and Meredith stand, staring each other down, with Hawke caught in the middle in the background.

“I know, and it breaks my heart to do it, but we must be vigilant. If you cannot tell me another way, do not brand me a tyrant!”

As Meredith says that line above, the camera performs a zoom-in and tilt on her face. This is one of Meredith’s humanising lines (“Killing a bunch of innocents is sort of a bummer” is admittedly the most you’ll get unless you do the game’s templar path), so it makes sense it starts off fairly normal, and then slides into insanity again as she reasserts herself. And, of course, close-ups are often used for emotional shots (similarly, the camera close-ups on Meredith’s face as she sadly says “Tell me, Champion…”).

“I removed the chance of compromise, because there is no compromise.”
As Anders stumbles in, the camera is constantly in motion. To put it simply, the motion pretty much signifies “something is going to happen”, creating an air of uncertainty. The canted angle is back, reinforced by the swaggering motion, doing what it did for Meredith to Anders (the tint begins just as he walks in, even), as well as reinforcing this uncertainty.

“There can be no half-measures.”

Anders turns away, and then Hawke is framed over his shoulder, looking at him. Anders’ opposite direction emphasises his isolation, for want of a better word, here, and then he looks to the side and the camera follows him (removing Hawke from the shot): this accompanies the line “There is no turning back”, essentially cementing him as isolated. Near the end of this scene, non-diegetic music starts building, and then…

It bursts into full-boom, in what, if you ask me, is probably the most dramatic moment in the game. As the climatic boom booms and the rubble is cast across the city, the music suddenly quiets: the silence of death. Throughout this scene, the camera rumbles as Chantry explodes, adding to a sense of panic and of course demonstrating the rumbling ground (well yeah).


Anders is not the most cheery person to talk to.

Anders is not the most cheery person to talk to.

I’ll skip ahead to the Anders judgement scene now. You’ll want to note the camera angle here: Hawke is towering, imposing over Anders. His life in their hands. In terms of framing, Hawke of course occupies the space just above Anders, adding to this sense. Depending on your dialogue, you can get treated to an establishing shot showing the chaos and dead bodies surrounding, accompanied by “The world needs to see this.” The obvious use here is to hammer in the destruction and death this has caused. In addition, however, the sparsity (there are three corpses) of the scene further heighten Anders’ isolation.

“Of the mages I know, you’re the one I expected to go out in a blaze.”

If you decide to kill him, the actual execution will be done implicitly, with a close-up of Hawke’s hand holding the knife behind Anders back, then watching his face as it enters. This removes the focus from the execution itself to Anders, the character. As Hawke leaves, we get an extreme close-up of Anders dying as his life fades. This is reflected through the scene’s own fade-to-black.

And so the scene ends
Okay, that admittedly had more than I thought it would. Good job, BioWare’s cinematic designer people. Good work. Maybe tone down on some of those wacky Dutch angles.

Oh, that Anders.

Oh, that Anders.


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