When I first played Dragon Age: Origins sometime in 2010, I was… distracted. I realize that now, as I’ve just completed my second romp through the game. That was a strange year, because in just a matter just a matter of months straddling 2009 and 2010, my husband lost his job, we briefly moved in with my folks to help with the finances, my husband got a new job, and we moved out on our own again in a neighboring state. It wasn’t an unhappy or unstable time, but for awhile there, things felt rather hazy. It was during that glassy, glossy period that I played Dragon Age: Origins. And, for better or worse, I ended up having only a couple goals in mind with the game:
Goal 1: Bone Alistair.
Goal 2: See Goal 1.
Before restarting the game, I really couldn’t have told you much about what I actually did in the game that first time round, except that I didn’t achieve my goal. Yes, in the end (in no one’s end, actually. Hey-o!), Alistair and I never got jiggy wit’ it. I screwed up a line of questioning with him just before the final battle, and it was a no-go. Well, shit. As a result, I threw Alistair on the throne against his will and sacrificed my rogue elf Grey Warden in killing the Archdemon. Other than recalling one or two other tidbits, like supporting Prince Bhelen in the dwarf kingdom of Orzammar and how confusing the Circle Tower was, I simply didn’t retain much about my experience.
My decision to take up DA:O again was two-fold. (1) Speeding through the Mass Effect games earlier in the year had left a BioWare-shaped hole in my heart, and (2) Fable II, while quenching my general fantasy interests just wasn’t cutting it story-wise. I wanted something deeper. DA:O fit the bill on both counts.
One of the best things about story-driven RPGs is that they are timeless. The events of DA:O (or others like Skyrim and Chrono Trigger) remain as fixed as ever, with the land called Ferelden in turmoil as it deals with the untimely death of its king and an oncoming Blight led by a formidable dragon known as the Archdemon. But, as fixed as the story is, we, the players, are the ones who change. The fuzzy, flighty me of 2010 chose to overlook most of the political intrigue that permeated DA:O. The more discerning and bitter me of 2017 isn’t nearly as flaky. While it’s true that I still blatantly wanted to bed Alistair properly this time around, I also wanted to engage more with the people of Fereldan, from my companions to the general populace. And I also wanted to take seriously the political plight that came with becoming a Grey Warden – the only folks, by the way, who could slay the Archdemon.
In short, I simply wanted to play the game differently than I had the first time around. So what did I do?
First, I opted to play as a mage. Mages just aren’t my thing in RPGs. I’m much more of a “bash enemy heads in” or “fire a million arrows at their eyes” sorta gal when it comes to navigating the bad guys in such games. And mages aren’t either. But, I wanted something different, so a mage it was. A human female mage, only because I had already once played through as an elf. To further up the “different” ante, I decided I was going to play her strictly as a support character, a healer, nonetheless. I knew this would keep her on the sidelines of most battles, which is where a healer needs to be – keeping watch and assisting her companions when needed. Unfortunately, I didn’t know that in DA:O, mages are very vulnerable, and they are often the first people for which enemies aim. This led to an important party decision: two warriors and a ranged rogue.
Two warriors and a ranged rogue ended up being my party setup for nearly the entire game. Whereas before I played as a rogue and rotated companions with every mission, I found that as a mage, I needed two warriors to serve as front-line protection and a ranged rogue to watch my back. Although I had gathered the mages Morrigan and Wynne, I hardly used either. Oh, I tried for awhile to work with a team of Morrigan, Leliana, and either Alistair or my Mabari war dog, (By the way, Morrigan and Alistair are just the best. I mean, they didn’t like each other, so their conversations were sarcastically brilliant!) but one melee character wasn’t enough to protect three supporters. Once I acquired Sten, a two-handed Qunari warrior, I was in business with him, Alistair, and Leliana. Or so I thought. I found that Sten died more than expected, even when I equipped him to the nines. Once I acquired the dwarf warrior Oghren, I ended up using him in place of Sten. And what a team we were!
Furthering the companions situation, I acquired everyone there was to acquire, and I was generally nice to each of them in camp. Um, except for…Zevran. I…uh…well, I might have…accidentally…killed him. It’s kind of a funny story, though, which I’ll explain momentarily. As for everyone else, despite the fact that I rarely brought them into battle, I maintained pleasantries with my fellow mages Morrigan and Wynne. I tried to get to know the reluctant Sten, but it really felt like he didn’t want to be a part of things. I quickly remembered that the game really wants you to get it on with Leliana – she likes you immediately and it’s super easy to earn her favor. But I was all about Alistair, who’s reluctant to rush into anything. But I did my best to be gentle and witty during our discussions.
Back to the assassin elf Zevran. The story goes that I was in camp, and I became momentarily curious about whether or not I could draw my weapon while there, which was something I hadn’t ever thought to try before. Turned out that yes, I could. And when I did, I happened to be facing Zevran. And at that moment, I happened to release an Arcane Bolt, which he took in the face. He quickly reacted, but so did I. And I won. Poor Zevran remained a corpse at camp until the team took residence in Redcliffe Castle later in the game. Hmm. Maybe it’s not that funny after all.
But, Dragon Age: Origins is nothing without choice. That one was an accidental choice, but then again, I probably could have chosen to holster my weapon and patch things up with Zevran. Here are some of the other choices I made throughout the game. (Sorry, not much explanation here, but they’ll make sense if you’ve played the game. Also, I’m sure I’m missing a few key things, but memory is as memory does.)
- Assisted Redcliffe in battle with the Undead
- Freed Sten, but then asked him to leave just before the final battle. (That was more out of curiosity than anything else. He didn’t want to be a part of the team from the start, and when I told him to go, he just went. No questions.)
- Supported Lord Harrowmont over Prince Behlen in Orzammar
- Helped form Chantry in Orzammar
- Allowed Flemeth to flee, lying to Morrigan that she had been killed
- Saved Connor from demons and his mother, Isolde, remained alive
- Supported mages after Broken Circle mission
- Supported both the elves and werewolves during Nature of the Beast mission – broke the werewolves’ curse
- Killed Loghain at the Landsmeet and supported Anora alone as queen
So what of the endgame? After everything was all said and done, there were still some choices to be made. And sure, there was an Archdemon to kill, but more importantly, had I gotten Alistair to like me enough to consummate our relationship? The short answer is YES! (And I was all WOOHOO and shit.) But then I was faced with an option. An option that I remember well from my first playthrough.
It’s stated several time throughout the game that only a Grey Warden can slay the Archdemon. However, “slaying” actually means “sacrifice.” The warden who does the deed dies as a result. At the tail end of the game, my warden and Alistair meet up with a new warden named Riordan. He offers to be the sacrifice. But, and this is really no big secret as the game lets on, he dies before he can complete the mission. So things eventually come down to either you or Alistair dying. However, before the final, final battle, Morrigan makes an offer: Morrigan sleeps with Alistair, she conceives a child that will absorb the Archdemon’s power, she leaves for good with the child, and everyone gets to remain alive.
The first time around, of course I was all like NO FUCKING WAY WILL YOU HAVE MY ALISTAIR!!! But the older, wiser me thought twice. Because if one night with Morrigan could lead to a lifetime of love between my mage and Alistair, well…that seemed alright. And it’s not like Alistair wanted to be king of Fereldan anyway (despite is half-royal heritage), surely a middling one-night stand with a questionably-intentioned Witch of the Wilds wasn’t the worst thing? (Though Morrigan made quite clear that Alistair wouldn’t be…ahem…disappointed. Yeah, THANKS.)
I honestly thought that Alistair wouldn’t go for it. But, much to my amazement, after an interesting line of questioning, he did. And y’know what? It was all okay. Because I was then “treated” to a super creepy scene of a nearly-naked Morrigan with an awful Joker-esque smile on her face approaching a nearly-naked Alistair, and the whole thing was just uncomfortable. I’m glad I didn’t have to see my mage in that…um…position, no matter what further fantasies might have taken place.
And Morrigan’s plan worked. In the end, and with the help of my remaining teammates, and the help of the all the various groups I had secured over the course of the game (Dwarven warriors, Redcliffe soldiers, Dalish elves, and Templars), my warden slew the Archdemon. (I know that during some playthroughs, there’s a discussion beforehand involving Alistair about who gets to deliver the final blow. I might have gone through this, but I honestly can’t remember. I feel like since I took Morrigan’s offer, it didn’t really matter in the end. During the final cutscene, it was my mage who did the slaying.)
Because both my mage and Alistair were still alive, I got a far different ending from the one I had first experienced in which my warden died. Not only did I get to talk further with Alistair about the (our?) future, but I also got to interact with the remaining survivors: Oghren, Leliana, Wynne, and my Mabari. It was touching, though I remain quite curious about Morrigan’s whereabouts…
I wish I had some sort of profound statement to neatly wrap this up, but since I’ve already written a ridiculous wall of text, I’ll just say that I’m simply really pleased with how the game went. This past year, I had been so wrapped up in all things Mass Effect, that I had forgotten about the complex and engaging world Bioware had created in Dragon Age. While Mass Effect will always remain a favorite series, it’s one that pretty clearly pits the good guys against the bad guys. In Dragon Age: Origins, things are much more muddy, political, and romantic. Yes, there are still good guys and bad guys, but their motivations mimic “real life” more than the ideal and idyllic standards presented in Mass Effect. Everything is clear and nothing is clear in Fereldan, and that’s what makes it perfectly fun to play in.
P. S. On the heels of finishing DA:O, I started up a brand new playthough of Dragon Age II. Again, I’m a mage, but a male this time. And I’m not exactly being the nicest guy around. Like with DA:O, this will be only my second playthrough of this game, a game with which I didn’t exactly have a good time with the first time. ‘Twill be an interested adventure, undoubtedly.