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.