Characters Done Right – Aveline

Aveline Vallen - a red haired, freckled woman

Memorable characters have unique motivations, stories, and personalities. Video games often have ensemble casts with the individual party members simply serving the main character’s interests. As a healer, damage dealer, or thief they are there to compliment the gameplay style of the main character. Dragon Age 2 takes an ensemble cast and creates a detailed backstory for each party member. Instead of serving only as aides to the main character, their motivations and goals are independent of the main character. Aveline, a warrior with whom you spend the entire game, is one of these well written characters from Dragon Age 2.

This post will include several story spoilers for Aveline from Dragon Age 2.

At the start of the game your main character and their immediate family are fleeing their hometown of Lothering. On this journey out of town is where Hawke encounters Aveline Vallen and her husband Wesley. You quickly learn that she is a warrior that had fought at the battle of Ostagar. Her portrayal as a female warrior is very positive: Aveline is strong, has fought in many battles in the past, wears full armor (no chain mail bikini and high heels here) and  generally feels like a straightforward depiction of a warrior rather than an extreme version of a woman that kicks butt (such as Bayonetta).

Shortly after meeting Aveline, the party is attacked by darkspawn and her husband Wesley does not survive for long after that battle. His demise in the storyline could have become a way to make Aveline a potential love interest for the main character Hawke. But luckily that is not the path that Bioware chose for this plot point. The loss of her husband greatly affects Aveline and her mourning of her husband is handled respectfully and honestly. He was not killed to make Aveline available for Hawke, instead his death gives allows us to see Aveline go through her own emotional journey. It is a way for the player to see a side character deal with grief and then how she moves on with her own life after that loss.

Upon reaching the city of Kirkwall, Aveline’s story continues to mature. She begins to work for the city guard and is eventually promoted to Captain. Her life and path do not revolve around Hawke’s decisions and desires. As she climbs up the power structure in the guard, Aveline faces insecurities and fears. She worries about the loyalty of her guards but does her best earn and keep their trust. Witnessing her struggle with the job and her new position as Commander help draw her out as a realistic character. Her insecurities and doubt combined with her competence and care for her job make her character believable. She is a woman in charge of the city guard and her gender adds nuance to her rise to the role of Captain.

Part of what makes Aveline interesting (that is also true of the other side characters in Dragon Age 2) is her struggle with aiding Hawke. Aveline accompanies Hawke, but does so cautiously. Because she has her own set of values and beliefs, she sometimes disagree with Hawke. Dragon Age 2 does an amazing job with this personality and belief clashes within the party. Based on decisions made within the game, some of the characters may leave Hawke during the course of the journey. A set of beliefs that is separate from the goals of the main character makes the cast feel human. They are not simply a cheering section for Hawke, but a group with their own motivations and stories.

One of the great things about Aveline are her flaws and insecurities. She is a strong warrior, a leader of the guard in a large city, but she is not fully confident. This is especially true with her and romance. It a storyline during the second act of the game Aveline admits that she has becoming interested in a fellow guard named Donnic. In one set of quests, we see how unsure and awkward Aveline is when flirting. I found it endearing. She was not familiar with dating and was unsure how to act. This unease led to a lot of misunderstandings and uncomfortable moments between her and Donnic. It felt like a very human and real situation. Additionally,  when Hawke flirts with Aveline she is oblivious to the advances. She is interested in Donnic; she is not there only for Hawke. She has her own life path and that was more important than the desires of the main character.

(Trigger warning for discussion of slut shaming in the following paragraph)

Unfortunately, when speaking of flaws there is a glaring one with Aveline. Her relationship with another side character in the game, Isabela, is very strained for most of the game. In my first playthrough of the game I played as a rogue. Because of this, I rarely (almost never) had Isabela in my party because she is also a rogue. As such, I missed her interactions with Aveline. However, in my second playthrough as a mage I often went on quests with both Aveline and Isabela in my group. Isabela is a character that is very comfortable with her own sexuality. She discusses sex without shame and flirts very openly with Hawke. Aveline clearly dislikes Isabela early in the game and calls her a whore during some party dialogue. But, as the game progresses there is the hint of a change within their relationship. One exchange goes as follows:

  • Aveline: You’re right.
  • Isabela: About?
  • Aveline: About knowing who you are.
  • Aveline: I’m the captain of the guard. I’m loyal, strong, and I don’t look too bad naked.
  • Isabela: Exactly. And if I called you a mannish, awkward, ball-crushing do-gooder, you’d say…?
  • Aveline: (Calmly and firmly) Shut up, whore.
  • Isabela: That’s my girl.

That discussion makes me think that Isabela does change Aveline’s attitude over time. However, I wish the player could see that change more clearly. I want to hear her apologize at least once to Isabela for her earlier name calling. I wanted to see more of that relationship. They were not close friends at the end of the game, but I got the sense that they at least began to understand each other better. An interesting aspect to this negative side of Aveline is that is can be completely missed by the player. As mentioned, on my first playthrough I did not have these two characters interact much at all. In fact, even recruiting Isabela is optional so some players may go through the game and never see any interaction between her and Aveline. As Kris Ligman points out in her article about Isabela, it would be a shame to miss out of this interesting character.

One of the numerous things that I appreciate about Aveline’s character is that she looks like a real person. She does not represent an idealized sexual object. She is a freckled, red haired, strong, mature woman. She is attractive without using a thin, young model to create her character. Therefore I find it sad that when looking through PC mods for the game there are several out there whose purpose is to make Aveline more attractive.  I find her beautiful as she is in the game and I am glad that Bioware created a character like Aveline. I hope that the existence of such mods does not discourage companies from creating less “perfect” character models.

Overall, Aveline is a truly remarkable character because she feels human. She is not a one dimensional figure: she has flaws and insecurities, an independent storyline outside that of the main character, and she grows and changes throughout the course of the game. These things are seen in several of the side companions in Dragon Age 2 and I found their stories completely engrossing. They are what made Dragon Age 2 a wonderful and unique game.

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34 Responses to Characters Done Right – Aveline

  1. Laurentius says:

    I only watched LPs of DA2 and I like Aveline but with reservations to this Donnic’s romance, especially this romance quest. It doesn’t make sense to me and fit her character poorly, sure she isn’t overbearing extrovert and flirtatious character but Aveline is grown up woman, once married now technically a widow, rather self assure but with doubts like almost everyone and certainly quite attractive. In this quest arc she seems to be framed with this over the top awkwardness for only comedic purpose.

    • Jonathan says:

      While the trope is a common one (big, authoritative warrior having difficulty with intimate social interaction) having a woman in the role really is refreshing. It also made her a very relatable character for me. I’ve been married, I generally come across as confident and I don’t have any difficulty socialising, but when it comes to trying to move beyond simple friendship, I fall to pieces. I totally understood how she felt and it made her one of my favourite characters.

    • Deviija says:

      I read it as Aveline not having insight into the proper courtship rituals expected of one that is pursuing another for their hand. It seemed to me in the DA world, or perhaps Ferelden/Free Marches, that women are able to be the pursuers (the courters) and men can be the receivers without any sort of our real world’s gender expectations. Meaning, men and women were equally able to actively pursue another in a formal way like this, without it being seen as strange or out of the ordinary for a woman to be doing the active/aggressor role. I found this incredibly refreshing!

      My personal guess, but I bet she was like this (re: awkward, clueless) with Wesley, too. It is difficult to say since the only courting we see or know of Aveline doing is the one with Donnic.

    • Trodamus says:

      At that point in the game she’d been out of the dating circuit for what was likely approaching a decade. She’s not really portrayed as being bad with people or emotions, but most peoples’ blind spots are themselves and it’s easy to see she’s not used to that, especially as she’s overly concerned with what is and isn’t appropriate for her position.

      The writing does play this for laughs, but she does call you out pretty severely when you try to rush things with your sitcom-like attempt at immediate resolution.

      Overall I thought it was well done.

  2. gunthera1 says:

    I actually liked that sequence. To me it read as if she didn’t know the dating customs of this area. She was trying to get Donnic to know she liked him with symbols that she knew but to Donnic they where meaningless. I thought that when they went on the patrol together she was unsure how to express her interest in part because she was his superior.Once together they were great, it was just that initial start of the relationship that was bumpy.

  3. Thomas says:

    That’s really interesting that she is non-romancable, making her only one of two party members, the other being the dwarf (clean-shaven dwarf, too- brilliant). I like when Bioware takes a stand with their characters- or perhaps rather let’s their characters make a stand for themselves. The way you put it is exactly right: “She has her own life path and that was more important than the desires of the main character.”

    As I played a male Hawke, it allowed me to build a game relationship with a female NPC that is almost unheard of in mainstream games- platonic, affectionately disapproving, layered. Even when the little “heart” flirt option came up, my reaction became “With Aveline?!? I just don’t think of her that way.” because although our characters were very close, that would have not fit the nature of out interactions.

    Well played, Bioware. Well played.

  4. Nathan says:

    Some of the most interesting things about characters are revealed by their interactions with each other, as opposed to the player. Isabela, maybe because of her optional/specialist position in the gameplay, shows up in a lot of conversations that are ostensibly with other NPCs.
    One of the final conversations in Aveline’s office, if all the conditions are met, begins something like this-
    Isabela: (finishes vulgar joke)
    Aveline: You are horrible
    Isabela: You love it, big girl. And you owe me for the bottle. (walks offstage)
    Aveline, to Hawke: She’s not so bad. Except when she is.

    The implication being that, if you’ve interacted with them both a certain way, they almost become friends, in the way that only people who perpetually disagree with each other can.

    Another good example, particularly with regard to the player-uninvolved romance issue, is what happens in the dialogue between Isabela and Fenris if you don’t pursue romance with either of them.
    I got the sense that all of these relationships were occurring and changing over time, and it helped evoke a sense of real people in a real society, even if said wasn’t explicitly visible.

  5. Korva says:

    I did not buy DA2, for a variety of reasons, and do not intend to do so. But ever since Aveline was revealed as a companion, I sure have been tempted — just for her. She just pushes almost all of my happy buttons. It’s such a bleeding shame that female characters like her are just about nonexistent, and I’m really glad Bioware created her. Along with Wynne from DA: Origins (which I do own and enioyed a lot), Aveline fulfills my long-held wishes for female companions OUTSIDE the obligatory “young, hot, available, and usually hurt and needy” box. A woman as the “kind older mentor”? A woman as the “solid, upright buddy” who is a warrior to boot? I have such a big soft spot for both these roles. And we all know about Bioware’s screwups with some things, so it is a sign of hope that yes, they can still get it right.

    What really baffled and aggravated me was how some “fans” lost all interest in her and acted as if they had been personally wronged once it was revealed she was not in fact “available”. If they really did like her, what does it matter? But that is another rant altogether …

    Re: Aveline and Isabela, I thought the whole thing wasn’t one-sided but a matter of Isabela heckling her first and repeatedly? I must admit Isabela is a big turnoff for me, but the fact that these two CAN get over their differences and make peace, or even maybe become sort-of-friends, is heartening. It’d have been so easy, so typical, to just have an endless “bitch fight” because “everyone knows women don’t get along”. So thumbs up for that, too.

    • Deviija says:

      I think you’d really love her, Korva. She’s everything I wanted in a warrior woman companion (plus, not romanceable!) and more. She is brilliantly written. Aside from the bisexual romances, she’s the highest selling point of DA2 for me.

      (Minor spoiler) In the codex entries for the characters, after each time leap forward, it mentions that Aveline got Isabella out of Kirkwall jail and helps to keep her out of lawful trouble. I’m generalizing. But in the blurbs you can see that, even when they were ‘fighting’ in the beginning, with perhaps Aveline being more aggressive than Isabella’s carefree snark, she still helps the pirate out. :)

      As the article touches upon, what disturbs me most are the ‘beautification’ mods for Aveline. To make her ‘more pretty.’ Just like how I am extremely turned off and disturbed by the ‘make Isabella white/light skinned’ mods.

      • Korva says:

        Tell me about it. It is really sad/frustrating because it shows how narrow, and narrow-minded, the all-consuming, mandatory “standard of female beauty” is.

        And too I am certain that I’d love her! What I have read about her and seen in some videos made me an instant fan, there’s just so much that they seem to get exactly right with her. I just don’t have any interest in the game beside her, and that isn’t enough.

        I don’t suppose that, given her duties and new husband, Aveline is the one who sticks with Hawke in the end if you don’t have an active romance? Does anyone? It’d be great if asexuals/aromantics or people who don’t like any of the available characters “that way” would not be left out by the assumption that platonic friendships don’t really matter or never last.

        • Jonathan says:

          One of the best things about DA2 is that you develop relationships with all your party members. You really do feel like that other characters have become friends or rivals. At the same time, you get hints of the relationships between the other party characters; the scenes that trigger when you visit one of them at their home will often include one of the other characters.

        • Alex says:

          The only requirement for a character to stick with you until the end is maxed out rivalry or friendship, and romance isn’t required to do that. (And even this is only in certain circumstances… sometimes it doesn’t require max for them to stick with you anyway, depending on the choice you’re making.)

          • Korva says:

            I mean in the very end, the epilogue. If you don’t have a romance, does anyone stay with you then? Given the way Aveline seems to be set up as the “best buddy” at least for protagonists who aren’t jerkoffs, it would be great if she stuck with Hawke — but as I said, I suppose her duties, her sense of duty and her husband would weigh against it. Too bad.

            That was something I liked about Origins: there’s no default “protagonist & bedwarmer stay together” epilogue, instead you have a few choices, provided you survive. Or so I hear. There was just no way I’d spare Loghain or do Morrigan’s rite, and the sacrifice was PERFECT for what I wanted from the game to boot, so I got a funeral instead and was happy with that. ;)

  6. Kirk says:

    I had a billion and one problems with Dragon Age 2, but Aveline was not one of them. She was my favorite character in the game, bar none.

    Given that it looks like the old gang is getting back together for DA3, I sincerely hope she gets to carry on with everyone else. I’d love to see how she and Leliana get on.

    • Lina says:

      Given that it looks like the old gang is getting back together for DA3,

      It does? How?

      • Kirk says:

        {DA2 Spoilers}

        {Which I should have really posted in that initial comment, apologies}

        One of the very last shots of the game was of Leliana, who is a fellow seeker along with Cassandra (the woman interrogating Varric). Given that the two of them talk about finding the Hero of Ferelden and the Champion of Kirkwall, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see a bunch of characters from Origins turn up in DA3. I hope they do, anyway!

  7. Shy says:

    I loved Aveline! She always had a place in my party. We hung around, high-fiving and being lawful-good.

    I did feel somewhat disappointed by how she treated Isabela though; I played as a rogue the first time through so I didn’t need Isabela, and didn’t see how she was treated by the rest of the party until subsequent playthroughs.

  8. Deviija says:

    Lovely article. Character done right, indeed! Aveline is my favorite companion in that entire game. Perhaps my favorite out of all of BioWare games, though Leliana and Wynne and Garrus are in the top five spot as well.

    Along with the bisexual romance options, Aveline really made the game for me. It sold me on DA2 enough to try it out at a friend’s house. Not enough to rush out and purchase the game on week one, or to get it while the price is still new… but enough that I plan on buying the GOTY edition of DA2 whenever it comes out. I wholly support bi-romances (giving more choice to the player) and Aveline warrior ladies (but not a lot of the other mechanics, art style, and time-jumping and reused areas and so forth that DA2 suffers from).

    I did want to point out the other side of Isabella and Aveline’s bickering. Aveline’s insults toward Isabella, yes, I definitely understand why it is brought up (whore insults et all). But what is overlooked, I think, is how Isabella puts down and negatively paints Aveline as ‘mannish’ and manly, as if being something other than overtly feminine is somehow *less* and a *bad* thing for a woman. Especially when it is one’s appearance and that is something that cannot be changed.

    Oh, and I will have to disagree about Isabella being an interesting character. She puts me off in so many ways, from visual design to portrayal, that it pushes all the wrong buttons for me. Like Bayonetta.

  9. mim says:

    I’m a bit torn on her unromanceability. On one hand, there is virtually nor precedent in fiction for a male and female character of compatible sexuality to have an honest to god platonic friendship. On the other hand, I got disappointed that you couln’t get with her, because the romances and the romanceable characters in this game were so cartoonish and unhealthy.

    I’m not one of those who applaud Isabela’s character, because to me she was just another archetype based on the usual clichés of heterosexual romance. Anders is the tragic hero that needs to be reeled in and taken care of, Fenris is the tortured anime hero, Merril is the girl next door taken to the point where she almost becomes a child (my main problem with her romance was the feeling of taking advantage, since she never actually shows that she wants and adult relationsip, in fact the contrary is implied when looking at her things after the move-in). Isabela is the femme fatale, the mrs Jones, in short the opposite of that. Aside from these few conversations with Aveline, there’s nothing to indicate that she’s more than the fetish of a sexy predator to be tamed.

    Aveline was the one female character who was more than a representative of the ideal woman on the virgin-whore spectrum (even then she gives off markers to the Mother arvhetype, so maybe that is why you couldn’t romance her), and if the writers had been able to write a relationship without warping her to fit a straight ideal, it would probably have been more engaging than any of the other romances in the game.

    • Ikkin says:

      I’m a bit torn on her unromanceability. On one hand, there is virtually nor precedent in fiction for a male and female character of compatible sexuality to have an honest to god platonic friendship. On the other hand, I got disappointed that you couln’t get with her, because the romances and the romanceable characters in this game were so cartoonish and unhealthy.

      There’s this weird catch-22 with platonic straight male-straight female friendships, I think: they’re so rare that it’s great when they show up, but they also almost by necessity turn the characters involved into the type of people who would make good non-traditional romance partners because of their mutual respect for each other as equals. It’s rather frustrating in general, because both types of relationships between men and women need more love.

      • mim says:

        Yes, precisely this. If Aveline hadn’t been the only female character this complex it wouldn’t have mattered half as much. I think this may also be why some people wanted to romance Bethany, as even she is more nuanced than Merril or Isabela

    • I love my LGBT romances but I ended up finding the f/m pairings much more satisfying than the f/f. I’ve just written some long rambly blog posts on the subject so I won’t talk too much here, but I feel like both Merrill and Isabela were handled badly by the plot. If you attempt to take the plot seriously, particularly the timescale it takes place over, it makes their interactions feel hollow.

    • 12Sided says:

      So on board with this. Merrill and Isabella, while over time I grew to like/accept them more I’ve never felt attracted to them for a romance. Isabella is the femme fatal which I don’t find all that interesting and her other traits and romance (someone who has a reputation of getting around and is afraid of a committed relationship) were already handled by Zevran (in a romance that I really love) in the first game, and he switched things up by being a male femme fatal. Merrill lost all the confidence and maturity that she had when she appeared in DA:O, like she regressed from the trauma of loosing two clan members to obsesses about taking control of the thing that hurt her to the detriment of everyone around her including herself.
      Playing for the first time as a diplomatic/helpful archer Lady Hawke Aveline eclipsed every other party member as not only someone who shared a lot of the same values but who you had an implicit bond with, she’s stable and supportive but still with human weaknesses. It’s weird that the two non romance-able party members are arguably the most stable.
      I eventually started another Hawke(male) and really enjoyed the camaraderie and friendship of Aveline but this first Hawke will be forever alone pinning for Aveline

  10. Kirk says:

    Oooh I actually want to share an Aveline story – so I was fighting through one of the quests, can’t remember which one exactly, it was the one where you go into a cave and fight a bunch of spiders, and then a really big spider. [Insert joke about how that could have been any of 100 quests here.]


    My party, as I remember it, consisted of my Rogue LadyHawke, Merrill, Aveline and Anders. And man, I haaaated the boss battles in that game, particularly that spider. I think I had to reload a couple of times, until I finally started doing pretty well, but then, probably five minutes in, somehow I lost Anders.

    So you know what happens when your healer goes down… everyone else starts going down soon thereafter. Merrill got taken out, then Hawke, and soon it was just Aveline and this giant spider. And I swear, it was the most epic moment… she had her buffs all up, and was basically just staring down this huge beast, with her friends lying wounded all around her… but damned if she and I didn’t soldier through and emerge victorious!

    I went through pretty much all of my healing potions, and had to game it by running in circles a bit, but when Aveline finally took the Spider down I was so. pumped.

    It was probably my peak moment playing the game, and though it was an unscripted thing that emerged from the game, it was so much cooler because it was Aveline who pulled it off. It just fit so perfectly.

    So, here’s to gameplay reflecting character, however inadvertently!

    • Lina says:

      In the final battle, when XX left everyone stunned, Aveline alone was there, unfazed, hacking away. She is the ultimate tank and the ultimate Hawke BFF/honorary sister. I <3 her and wanted her to never leave the party from the moment she was recruited.

    • Alex says:

      That same thing happened to me during the first boss fight in the Deep Roads (the rock demon thingy?). It took Aveline maybe 15 minutes to hack away that last sliver of health, but she did it!

  11. PlusSizedGamerWoman says:

    I am glad that you pointed out the ridiculous amount of slut shaming from Aveline towards Isabela. It really irked me, especially with the privilege dynamic between the two:

    Aveline, the chaste lily white woman who is the one charged with the upkeep of order

    Isabela, the dark skinned pirate who is sexually “available” and wily..

    Really, Bioware? REALLY? One again, using skin tone to dictate morality.

    • Jonathan says:

      I really think that’s a grossly unfair accusation. At the same time Aveline is slut shaming, Isabella is taunting Aveline for having masculine traits. It’s two characters who dislike each other taking the opportunity to throw insults.

      Obviously any unpleasantness between fictional characters runs the risk of being offensive to the viewer, which makes the context incredibly important. Isabella is shown to be highly self-aware and her sexuality is celebrated as a positive thing. Aveline does have issues regarding her lack of typical femininity, but it’s demonstrated that they are baseless insecurities and she is loved and respected by those around her.

      As to potential racial problems, I’m trying to think back over the Bioware catalogue to find examples of them consistently “using skin tone to dictate morality” and I’m finding it difficult.

      • PlusSizedGamerWoman says:

        I was more referring to Uncharted 2’s use of a darker skinned woman as the ‘beast’ with my skin tone comment.

        And yes, I do realize that Isabela did indeed insult back, but I am looking at a larger picture, which is wrought with these problems, because it does link to the stereotype of the jezebel, whether they intended to do it or not. Aveline gets to be the Madonna who can occasionally get her kicks, but in a ‘good girl’ way, while Isabela is forever the whore, with little chance of redemption.

        • Bel says:

          Except that’s not the narrative at all, Isabela does in fact redeem herself, and by the end of the game they are friends standing on equal footing. Within the game Aveline faces more prejudice (for being a Fereldan) than Isabela ever does (which is to say – none at all, nobody really seems to mind her being a Rivaini, at least not the crowd she runs with).

  12. Bel says:

    I love Aveline but I do think she (as all other DA2 characters did) went off the rails from time to time. When she was trying to haul those elves in from the Qunari for murdering their sister’s rapist, for instance, or at the end of the game when she was siding inexplicably with Meredith. She’s normally quite just, so I had no idea where that was coming from.

    • Lina says:

      Aveline doesn’t side with Meredith so much as *against* Hawke — she and Fenris will only take Meredith’s side if Rivalry with Hawke is high enough.

      And those elves *did* kill someone and needed to receive punishment. The qunari *were* harbouring criminals in the eyes of the law. Her actions then were 100% in line with what would be expected of her as Guard Captain.

  13. Orianna says:

    First of all I want to say, I love Aveline to bits. She’s one of the most amazing videogame female characters. That’s why I hated the way her story was handled if she doesn’t get married to Donnic. She becomes very harsh, hardened, and bitter. Not all of the guards respect her and they definitely don’t love her as they do when she’s a married and happy woman. I just hated the way it seemed to say that she couldn’t cope with it on her own, without a husband. I mean, I’d understand if she was completely alone, and Hawke wasn’t her friend, but she wasn’t, she had Hawke and co supporting her and being there for her, so there was no reason for her to become like that.

    Anyway, I enjoyed the article, thank you!

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