Dragon Age: Origins

3DragonAgeOrigins

Dragon Age: Origins is a special game to me, because it’s one of the first I played as an adult that made me fall in love with video games. If you want to know why I got into gaming when I didn’t really play much as a kid, I’ll point to this game as an example of epic storytelling and character development… and the combat is wicked, too.

I still remember my first playthrough, which I began on my birthday (you know, back in the day). On subsequent Friday nights, I’d have a beer (or two) and get all giddy as I played. The story made me feel like my character was a true hero, and being able to do the quests in any order and initiate random conversations with traveling companions was such freedom! Seriously, I adore almost everything about this game.

With Dragon Age III: Inquisition coming out sometime this year (I think, I hope), I’m going to replay the Dragon Age games so I have some saves to import. I’m also going to play things a little differently than I have previously…

Part 1: Traitors and Tragedy (Human Noble Origin Story)

Viggo!
Viggo!

Since I started this game on my birthday, and it’s almost my birthday yet again, I am going back and playing that very first origin story I ever tried: human noble. I love this origin story. Besides the fact that you get your mabari warhound from the beginning, it’s packed with family drama and can be a total tear fest with its tragic turns… In my opinion, it’s hands-down the most epic origin story of all. (So get ready for spoilers.)

My father and brother are preparing to go to battle along with Arl Rendon Howe and Duncan, a Grey Warden. If you don’t know Dragon Age lore, the Grey Wardens are basically an order that battles evil darkspawn, and though people thought they had defeated those evil creatures many, many years ago… now the darkspawn are back.

3 Family time

While my father and brother are gone, I’m going to be in charge of the Cousland castle. But I’m awoken on the first night with news of an attack on our estate.

4 Trying to save Father

My mother joins me in battling baddies in search of my father and brother. Eventually we find my father, critically wounded and taking his last gasps. And guess who is responsible for the attack? Arl Howe, one of my father’s closest friends.

My mother refuses to leave my father’s side. It’s the saddest scene in the game, and even having played it before, it still makes me want to shed an itsy bitsy sad tear. Sigh… This is why I love BioWare.

Part 2: Becoming a Grey Warden at Ostagar

My brother is still missing, so Duncan takes me to the camp at Ostagar to become a Grey Warden. We meet King Cailan, who is an avid fan of heroic battle stories. He dismisses the darkspawn invasion as a tiny bug for Ferelden to squish, but Duncan is more worried. It’s up to the Grey Wardens to stop this mess, so Duncan sends me to meet the warden named Alistair.

Now, whenever I’ve played Dragon Age: Origins in the past, I’ve romanced Alistair. Even during a playthrough when I romanced Leliana (which was brilliant, by the way), I still broke up with her to polish off the game with the Alistair romance. I couldn’t help myself. Alistair is like the quintessential Prince Charming: he’s handsome, witty, possibly more into his brawn than his brains (but that’s okay here), and by turns smooth-talking and adorably awkward.

But I’m not romancing him this time! Frankly, I know his romance backwards and forwards, and I have my eye on somebody else… who’s not here quite yet.

Alistair and I, along with two other Grey Warden recruits, venture into the Korcari Wilds to obtain vials of darkspawn blood (I know, very ew) and ancient treaties that bind other lands to help the Grey Wardens fight the darkspawn, should another invasion occur. That means right now.

In the wilds, we meet Morrigan, a mage wearing very little clothing on top. Usually I don’t get along with Morrigan, because she has a slightly sarcastic and abrasive personality. But this time, I’m playing a direct, scrappy character, so Morrigan and I are much more alike now. I can already tell we’re going to be fast friends. She takes us to her mother, Flemeth — possibly the famous “Witch of the Wilds” Flemeth — who has been protecting the treaties.

We head back to Ostagar camp to undergo the Grey Warden ritual. It does not go well. We have to drink the vials of blood to tune in to the darkspawn, but it poisons and kills one of the recruits. The other freaks out, which forces Duncan to kill him. And then it’s my turn to drink, and I survive… because otherwise, we wouldn’t have a video game.

King Cailan sends Alistair and me — and my mabari warhound, Viggo, of course — to the tower to light the beacon for a battle against darkspawn. We fight our way from one floor to the next until we reach the top, where we run into this guy:

Ew at Ostagar

We beat him speedily, but instead of heeding the beacon, military general Loghain orders his troops to retreat. This leaves King Cailan, Duncan, and the rest of the army to die at the hands of the darkspawn. (On a side note, I just bought David Gaider’s prequel novel Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne yesterday, and I can’t wait to learn more about Loghain before he became such a traitor…)

Arrows shower upon us, and Alistair and I go down, too… but not permanently. When I awaken, I’m face to face with Morrigan, who says her mother saved us. Flemeth sends Morrigan with Alistair and me to gather allies to fight the darkspawn invasion, and we’re off!

Part 3: “Lothering, Pretty as  Picture”

The first place we stop is Lothering, a little village to which many refugees are fleeing. And one of the first people we run into is a Templar with a very familiar voice:

This is Fenris, maybe in disguise after his escape from slavery? Timeline might be off there, but that's my story.
This “Templar” is Fenris from DA2, perhaps in disguise after his escape from slavery? Timeline might be off there, but that’s my story.

We accomplish a lot in Lothering. We kill bandits, sell stuff, buy stuff, seek a blessing at the Chantry, recruit a Chantry sister with amazing fighting skills named Leliana, and free the Qunari Sten from a cage.

Here’s Sten’s story, if I remember correctly: he killed everybody at a farm, including children, which led to him being arrested, put in a cage, and sentenced to death. He seeks atonement through this death sentence, but I give him another option: do some good in the world and go out fighting the darkspawn.

know it seems terrible to release a killer like that. But I believe the idea is that Sten did not kill these people in cold blood; he was in a rage over the loss of his sword, and he wasn’t in control of himself. This is why he actually waited to be arrested. He really is remorseful. (Correct me if I’m wrong there.)

The first time I played Dragon Age: Origins, I missed Sten completely. The second time, I picked him up but had a hard time getting to know him. He doesn’t like to talk at first, but if you choose the right dialogue options (somehow, someway), he opens up later. We’ll see how things go this time…

Part 4: Intimidating My Way Around Redcliffe, etc…

Alistair wants to stop at the village of Redcliffe to visit Arl Eamon, who raised him. But here’s the big news: Alistair is secretly the half-brother of the late King Cailan! Specifically, he’s the son of late King Maric and a serving girl (I think). This makes him a royal bastard, just like Jon Snow.

Before we can visit the castle, we hear that mysterious creatures are attacking the village every night. (It’s got to be darkspawn, right?) I help prepare the village to take a stand against these creatures, and it is so much fun. The reason is that for the first time ever, I’ve been dumping points into Coercion, the charisma skill that lets you either “persuade” or “intimidate” people into doing what you want. Because I’ve always been super sweet in past playthroughs, I’m going the intimidation route this time.

First I intimidate the drunken blacksmith into opening the door.
First I intimidate the drunken blacksmith into opening the door.
Then I intimidate the dwarven warrior into helping protect the village.
Then I intimidate the dwarven warrior into helping protect the village.
Then I intimidate a little boy into coming out of the wardrobe.
Then I intimidate a little boy into coming out of the wardrobe.
And finally, I intimidate a reverend mother at the Chantry. Achievement unlocked!
And finally, I intimidate a reverend mother at the Chantry. Achievement unlocked!

The battle that happens after nightfall is one of my favorite parts of the game. It’s intense and atmospheric — and personally, I appreciate that it’s a breeze to get through with all of the other Redcliffe soldiers helping out. After we defeat the darkspawn and save the village, we head into the castle, where another type of evil is present.

All this evil is inside a little boy named Connor. A blood mage named Jowan has trained Connor in magic, but now a demon has possessed Connor, turning him into an abomination.

15 A boy possessed
A boy possessed.

There are three ways to deal with this demon inside him: 1.) kill Connor, 2.) use forbidden blood magic to sacrifice the mother and save Connor, or 3.) head to the Circle to enlist the help of the mages so neither Connor nor his mother die. Even though I’m into intimidation, I still want to be a nice person in this case, so I opt for the latter.

But here’s the thing. I’m eager to meet Zevran, a recruitable character who shows up after you complete the first main quest — which would be Redcliffe, in my case. But to get help for Connor, I have to complete the Circle quest first. That means that I’m putting off meeting Zevran for two main quests. I don’t want to wait that long.

So as soon as I get to the Circle and realize that Zevran’s not going to show yet, I spin around, return to Redcliffe, and ask Jowan to do the blood magic ritual. It’s terrible to see a mother sacrificed for her son, I know. But I’ve never played the game with this particular heartbreaking choice before, so it’s fascinating, too.

To get the job done, Morrigan — our only mage at the moment — has to enter the Fade. This is a blurry dream world that only mages can consciously explore. (We go there in our sleep…) Morrigan is not too happy about having to be in the Fade and makes some sarcastic statement about doing her bidding as my slave. In the Fade, she half-heartedly tells Connor to “shoo,” trying to be nice against her very nature. I love it.

20 Morrigan in the Fade... way too much fun
Did I mention I love Morrigan now?

Afterwards, there’s a service for Connor’s mother. (I swear, someday I’ll remember her name.) I also chat with Alistair by Arl Eamon’s bedside, asking him if he wants to talk about Duncan. He does, and it’s sad. But here’s the thing about Alistair when you’re playing a human noble: he only lost one father figure. I lost my whole family. When I mention all the death I’ve experienced in my personal life lately, Alistair finally seems to get it. Thanks for the sympathy at last, man.

Finally, Alistair, thanks for the sympathy.
“Oh, of… of course. How stupid of me to forget. Here I am going on and on about Duncan and you… I’m so sorry.”

When we make it to camp, I expect Alistair to be upset with me, because he doesn’t like all this killing at Redcliffe. On a previous playthrough, when I killed Connor (after exploring the castle, I didn’t even intend to run into demon-possessed Connor!), Alistair yelled at me at camp about killing a little boy, causing my approval rating with him to plummet. (I still somehow managed to romance him by the end of the game, but it took effort after that murderous hiccup, let me tell you.)

However, this time, I choose some sarcastic dialogue option like, “Well, that went well, didn’t it?” and Alistair agrees. He even thanks me for saving the family. I think it’s a glitch, but I don’t mind skipping all that yelling, even if I’m not romancing Alistair this time around.

Somehow Alistair is not upset I just killed a woman.
Somehow Alistair is not upset I just killed a woman.

Part 5: Zevran the Assassin

Finally, finally, I have met my man.

It all starts when Loghain hears that the Grey Wardens — namely, Alistair and myself — are still alive after all those arrows hit us and everything. So Loghain hires the order of assassins known as the Antivan Crows to kill us on the road. An elf named Zevran is in charge.

We handily defeat Zevran and his team when they attack, but instead of killing Zevran outright, I spare his life to hear his sexy Spanish (er, I mean Antivan) accent. Since the Crows will kill him for his failure, he agrees to join us instead of returning to them.

He's gonna be my man.
He’s gonna be my man.

In other adventures, we learn that bears rear up dramatically when killed, and cookies are important to Sten:

That bear is already dead. It's true.
That bear is already dead. It’s true.
16 Cookies are important to Sten
“You have a thing… it doesn’t have a word in the qunari tongue. Little baked things, like bread, but sweet, and crumbly.”

Part 6: Thug Life in Denerim

It’s time for some intensive leveling, and Denerim is the place to get it done. This place is teeming with thugs.

Giving Alistair's sister way too much money. Even Alistair regrets it outside...
Giving Alistair’s sister way too much money. Even Alistair regrets it later…

But first, Alistair and I visit his half-sister, who doesn’t know he’s still alive. But the conversation does not go well, as this sister has had a rough life compared to Alistair and feels spiteful about their vastly different upbringings. I understand that, so when Alistair asks to give her money, I say sure. And boom, he takes almost everything I have. I thought he meant 15 little pieces, not 15 big pieces. (I haven’t studied the currency in this game, or I’d explained it better.) I wish I could reload a save, but who knows how far back that would take me now?

Outside, Alistair is upset that his sister didn’t take kindly to him, so I remind him that everybody’s out for themselves. He’ll learn.

After switching out my party for Morrigan, Zevran, and Viggo, I headed to the Pearl to shut down some mercs hanging out there. The Pearl is a brothel, and while we’re there, we run into Zevran’s old friend (and possibly his old flame) Isabela. Now, in Dragon Age 2, I love Isabela. She is one of those characters I have to have in my party at all times. But in Origins, she stands there flirting with Zevran for what feels like a long time. (On a side note, Zevran hits on Morrigan a few minutes later. Until Zevran and I are officially together, things are going to be awkward for me.)

I play cards with Isabela and learn the Duelist specialization, which I might give Zevran at some point. As for my character, I have my eye on the Bard specialization…

Cards with Izzy
She got to my man before I did… and she cheats at cards.

After the brothel, I take on thugs across Denerim with the new team, and we work surprisingly well together. It’s a vast improvement on the old Alistair-Morrigan-Sten set-up I had going… until we get to the Deserted Building. And then it becomes a bloody, gritted-teeth kind of struggle to survive from one room to the next.

You can't see the struggle here, but this is the Deserted Building!
You can’t see the struggle here, but this is the Deserted Building!

This building is packed with blood mages who deal major damage. One room has three of them hitting us from every side. Zevran cannot take the heat and collapses in every room but one, and overall I have to reload at least five or six times. The only way I get through it is by micromanaging the battlefield; I don’t think I ever let the combat run for more than 5 seconds at a time, at most, without pausing to set up everybody’s tactics. Morrigan is our crowd control healer who switches between Heal, Winter’s Grasp, Mind Blast, and Mana Drain. The rest of us guzzle health potions between attacks. But we triumph!

After that chaos, I see some markers on my map and discover they all lead to dead bodies, which I dump into a well. I’m not sure what’s happening here. Clearly I didn’t read my quests journal.

When we try to leave Denerim, a courier delivers a letter from an Antivan man named Ignacio. It turns out that in addition to working as a merchant, he also helps out the Crows. And he wants me to help with some assassinations. I haven’t decided whether I’m going to pursue this quest line or not; it’s not one I’ve encountered on previous playthroughs. Since my character is a bit of a loose cannon, I could see her handling this for the love of blood and gore… but we’ll see.

Also, I purchase new armor for myself, Morrigan, and Zevran, along with war paint for Viggo! We look so much better now that we have proper sets and not just a random hodge podge of whatever we looted off corpses, which is unhygienic anyway.

Part 7: Nature of the Beast

First, let me show off our kickass armor!

33 new armor!

And I have an awesome crossbow now:

35 crossbow action

However, I find myself playing as Morrigan most of the time, because she’s so important for crowd control and healing. My character is probably the most boring in combat; although I love archery, I need rapid aim weapons or something. I only have about four moves to choose from, and I spend so long setting up my shots that there’s hardly any point in managing the attacks. I get much more done playing as other characters.

37 an ent or something
Talking, rhyming man tree.

So I spent this afternoon hanging out in the Brecilian Forest, tracking down some werewolves who have been attacking and infecting the Dalish elves. Keeper Zathrian, leader of the Dalish clan, has asked us to fetch Witherfang’s heart — gruesome, since Witherfang is apparently one of the werewolves. Along the way, we meet talking trees that are like Tolkien’s ents (only a lot meaner, forcing us to kill them), a madman who trades an acorn for one of our books, and loads of enemies, ranging from bears to a demon who’s been haunting travelers.

Finally, we make it to the ruins where Witherfang is hiding. I’m pretty impressed by my navigation skills this time, because usually I get incredibly turned around in this forest. It’s probably the most confusing place in the game, with paths snaking out in several directions and loops that whisk you right back where you started. And it doesn’t help that you have to load different sections of the forest as you go.

At the ruins, we fight giant spiders and skeletons, but the tricky part is the werewolf lair at the end. (That’s code for I died a lot.) Finally, the werewolves talk to us and take us to the Lady of the Forest, who is also Witherfang. They’re like two sides of the same coin… or something like that.

werewolf, witherfang

The werewolves were once human, but Keeper Zathrian cursed them to be werewolves after they killed his family, even raping and torturing them. (Many humans are racist against elves in this world.) Also, as long as the curse exists, Zathrian continues to live. It’s no wonder he doesn’t want to end the curse: he’s afraid of dying, and his need to avenge his family is eternal. I get that. But it’s been centuries, and the curse has passed from one generation to the next. Now, the curse is even infecting the elves, Zathrian’s own people.

That’s why I can’t let Zathrian get away with it anymore. He doesn’t go down easily, but after we nearly defeat him in battle, he finally agrees to lift the curse. The werewolves return to their original human form, and the elves are safe at last.

After persuading the Dalish craftsman to give me both a bow and a chestpiece for some ironbark I found in the forest, I head out to my party’s camp to chat with everybody. Alistair wants to gossip, Sten tells me a qunari story, Zevran informs me he’s bisexual as if concerned I’ll have a problem with it, and Leliana tells me about her old employer Marjolaine, who betrayed her. In other words, almost all of my relationships are progressing pretty well by now…

Part 8: Broken Circle, or… Skipping the Fade

It’s time for my least favorite quest of the entire game: Broken Circle. This is when you go to the Circle, where Templars keep watch on the mages so their magic is contained. Some view it as a prison, which is why mages like Morrigan prefer to hide elsewhere as apostates, even though it’s illegal. Other mages enjoy life in the tower, where they are safe to learn magic and enjoy camaraderie with people who share their natural gifts.

The part where Morrigan calls Wynne a preachy schoolmistress.
The part where Morrigan calls Wynne a preachy schoolmistress.

But when you get to the tower to call on the mages, the tower is in chaos. Blood mages and abominations are running rampant, and it’s up to you to help restore order. Wynne, one of the older mages at the circle and a powerful healer, joins you.

This part is all well and good. But eventually, you come to a room with this guy:

Sloth demon, version 1

And he sends us into the Fade. Sigh… The Fade is the dream world that I talked about before, which is interesting to learn about but not so interesting to experience. Here are the problems with the Fade: a.) You have to trek through it solo, which is tedious and sometimes challenging… like when you’re playing an archer, for instance, b.) You have to learn and use all these shapeshifting moves that you will never get to use again, so what’s the point? c.) It takes forever.

Here’s what the Fade map looks like:

Fade map

You have to unlock each of those areas, turning yourself into a mouse to climb through mouse holes, battling demons to use the transportation pedestals, etc. Did I mention it takes forever?

Sloth Demon, version 2
Sloth demon in the Fade.

The interesting parts are when you meet your companions — just the ones you brought with you to the tower — and you have to free them from their dreams. The demons present them with these fictions that they believe are true, so you convince them they’re dreaming (if you can) before fighting the demons to free them. And then you face the sloth demon at the very end and defeat him to get the hell out of the Fade. (On the plus side, you get major stat bonuses afterwards.)

Apparently a lot of people dislike this part of the game, and researching it led me to a mod called “Skip the Fade,” which just has you meet your companions and fight the sloth demon. In other words, it includes all the interesting parts of the Fade but lets you skip the crazy shapeshifting and random fighting that takes up so much time.

I know, I know, it could be considered cheating… but I installed the mod. I’ve played through the Fade before, okay? I’ve paid my dues. And this way, the Fade only lasts for about 30 minutes, which is perfect.

Unrelated, but dragonlings make the cutest noises.
Unrelated, but dragonlings make the cutest noises.

After getting out of the Fade, we head upstairs to find blood mages and abominations trying to subdue First Enchanter Irving, who is in charge of the tower, along with other mages. Naturally, we can’t let this happen. Irving is steadfast in not giving his mind over to the demons, even though he’s physically unable to fight them. So we help him out.

Madness in the tower.
Madness in the tower.

After defeating the last of the abominations, Irving promises that the mages will fight the darkspawn when the time comes, and Wynne decides to join our party.

I immediately head to camp to chat with her, because I love conversations with this woman. Some people think she’s annoying because she’s like a vending machine of advice, but I like the grandmother vibe. It’s a nice change of pace from the younger, brasher companions.

When I talk to Zevran, he spontaneously achieves “Moderate Dexterity.” Ahem. So I shower him with gifts and conversation — at one point, I think I give him a dog bone — and finally he invites me into the tent for a massage+. I could have invited him myself long ago, but that’s not how this particular character rolls. Either way, read my new achievement and weep. (Also, I’m not sure why all that approval from other companions is showing up now, but we’ll just pretend it’s because they support our casual relationship.)

Easy Lover

Part 9: Defeating Flemeth + Intense Storytime at Camp

So here’s the thing about Morrigan’s mother, Flemeth. She has daughters so that she can take over their bodies to continue living indefinitely. Morrigan doesn’t want to be her next victim, so she sends me to Flemeth’s hut to kill her. Flemeth goes down fighting — but not before turning into a huge, fire-breathing dragon. By the end of the battle, my party looks like this:

The men are down, and I'm running away on fire.
The men are down, and apparently I’m running away while still on fire.

But Morrigan is impressed that I defeated Flemeth and snatched her real grimoire, too — and all for the sake of our friendship rather than personal gain on my part. In a shocking twist, Morrigan is touched by all the warm and fuzzy feelings we have for each other… you know, as friends.

Also at camp, Zevran tells me about his old flame, who ultimately betrayed him… or so he thought when he killed her for it. It was only after she was dead that he learned she didn’t betray him. Sad story.

And Wynne lectures me, basically saying it’s inappropriate to have a fling with Zevran and that love is ultimately selfish. (She’ll apologize later, don’t worry.) And since she fainted during one of our random encounters on the map, she explains that she actually died back at the mage’s tower, but a malevolent spirit from the Fade bonded with her to restore her life. In other words, she’s living on borrowed time, and she can feel the spirit slowly draining from her. I guess she’ll go out fighting darkspawn with us, then.

Part 10: Haven and the Urn of Sacred Ashes

Haven is this little mysterious town that prefers to remain secluded from the rest of the world — and that means people here aren’t too friendly to outsiders. When we arrive to track down Brother Genitivi and his research on the long lost Urn of Sacred Ashes — you know, to heal Arl Eamon in Redcliffe — we find everybody in the Chantry. And then they attack us.

After defeating them, we find Genitivi in a hidden room, wounded. He takes us to ruins just up the mountain and lets us get going in search of the sacred urn.

60 Ruins at Haven

This place is gorgeous. It’s easily my favorite setting in the game. The front room is a massive hall with towering walls and a very high ceiling, and because it’s in ruins, ice has crawled all over the place. I can just imagine my breath making little clouds from how chilly the air must be. As we explore, we come across hidden rooms, such as a library. Cultists (who we have to defeat) have staked out some of the spots that aren’t quite so icy as the rest of the place. It takes a long time to get through these ruins, but it’s screenshot heaven.

Finally we make it to the Gauntlet, which is a temple at the top of the mountain. And this is where things get really interesting. First, we meet Gauntlet Man, burnin’ out his fuse up here alone. (I swear, whenever I see him, I get that song in my head.) He says that in order to see the sacred urn, we have to prove our worthiness by passing a series of tests. This apparently gives him permission to probe into our pasts and hit where it hurts, like this: “Do you think you failed your parents?” Ouch.

To cut even deeper, I then see my father. And even though I know it can’t really be him, it’s still touching to hear him call me “pup” again. Sigh…

The room of riddles is up next. Here, a series of ghosts present us with riddles, and if we answer correctly, we move on… but get one wrong, and we have to fight a wraith. I get all of them right except one. But forget reloading, because I’m too impatient for that today. Dead ash wraith.

Then we have to do this frustrating little make-a-magic-bridge puzzle that takes way too long:

Urn of Sacred Ashes puzzle

… until finally we make it to the urn for a pinch of the ashes, which should heal Arl Eamon at Redcliffe.

I’d be lying if I said we rushed to save him. Instead, we took on the high dragon who lives on the mountain outside the temple… or lived, I should say, because she’s a goner now. And we defeated her on the first try! That’s never happened to me before. Playing on PC makes a huge difference in terms of battlefield management, compared to the Xbox 360 that I played on before. Anyway, check out my man making the killing blow even though he’s really tiny and hard to see on top of the dragon’s neck there:

72 Zevran is on top of the dragon, that's my man

After taking on a few side quests and heading to Denerim to order Wade’s Drake Scale Armor (which for some reason I cannot equip, so I had to give to Zevran), we finally make it to Redcliffe to heal Arl Eamon.

I know I'm happily with Zev now, but look at handsome Alistair... sigh.
I know I’m happily with Zev now, but look at handsome Alistair in Templar armor… sigh.

Eamon thanks us, then basically tells us to get a move on to Orzammar so we can convene the Landsmeet, where we’ll discuss that traitor named Loghain… And Eamon says that Alistair should become king. Alistair’s royal blood makes his claim to the throne irrefutable. Of course, Alistair is not too excited about it, but I’ve hardened him so he’ll get over it. (“Hardened” is a proper Dragon Age: Origins term.) Also, I may have someone else take the throne, because I’ve never really felt right about forcing Alistair into royal life, other than that one time when I became queen…

But the biggest news of the day is this: I purchase the sexiest staff in existence for Morrigan. It’s called Wintersbreath, and since my mages always deal cold damage, it absolutely destroys on the battlefield. And because it even radiates cold, it has this constant whitish glow about it. It cost a small fortune but is totally worth it… and besides, I’m loaded now. It feels good.

75 I feel rich!

Part 11: Orzammar and the Ridiculous Scary Maze Called the Deep Roads

Orzammar
Orzammar

Thank the Maker, I have made it through Orzammar! This is easily the longest chapter of the game — it takes at least four hours, if not more — and it’s not always pretty.

Orzammar is the dwarven capital, but when we arrive with our treaty, there’s no current king to uphold it. The recently deceased king apparently appointed his advisor, Harrowmont, as his successor, but his ballsy son is trying to weasel his way into a crown instead. This is a total Game of Thrones type of situation.

You can support either candidate, but I throw my support behind Harrowmont, first by fighting for him in the Proving — basically a dwarven gladiator tournament — and then by taking out Orzammar’s biggest carta leader. This shows Orzammar that he’s a man who can get things done. Or I am.

Orzammar Proving
Orzammar Proving

But the dwarven people still won’t accept Harrowmont as king… or at least not until a Paragon supports him. Paragons are people so important that they are considered “ancestors” of the dwarves, even when they still walk among the people. I actually think this is a really cool concept — not that it would ever be appropriate in the real world or anything.

Oghren's brilliant self-description.
Oghren’s brilliant self-description: “If you’ve ever heard of me before, it’s probably all been about how I piss ale and kill little boys who look at me wrong.”

The only Paragon around in this day and age is Branka, but she’s been missing in the Deep Roads for a while. So we venture into the Deep to find her, and joining us is her estranged husband Oghren, a grumpy redheaded riot. In past games, my Wardens have never hit it off with him, but this time is different. And it’s not just because I give him gifts of ale all the time; I’m actually picking the correct dialogue choices to impress him!

The Deep Roads is basically a dark labyrinth infested with darkspawn. In fact, it’s where the darkspawn come from, and at one point we even see this guy:

83 Oh shit

… but he flies away before we can fight him. Or her. That’s okay, because we have enough troubles down here, fighting everything from genlocks to giant stone golems. Because this place is such a strangely laid out maze, it’s very easy to get turned around. Backtracking, constant healing, and occasionally dying are what we do for a while.

Oghren is the weakest in the group, but maybe he just needs better armor. On the plus side, I’ve just bought Zevran the Lifegiver ring, which regenerates his health and gives him a bonus to healing received, etc. It has a long list of such effects, and it cost over 80 sovereigns. I left that dwarven shop with less than a single sovereign to my name after that, but it was worth bankrupting myself for that thing; Zevran is almost invincible in battle now.

Meanwhile I’ve made Morrigan a Spirit Healer. Between that and her crowd control spells, she’s extremely useful. She can even hex a troll, then hit it with frost and lightning damage to whittle its health down to nearly half… and that’s before my melee characters even have time to run up and engage it.

As we fight our way through the Deep Roads, we start hearing a creepy voice talking nonsense. This is a fantastic sign that we’re getting somewhere. When we finally find the woman who’s talking, she leads us to Branka.

Paragon Branka is using the Anvil of the Void to make an army of golems. It all sounds incredibly useful until we hear from Caridin, the great golem. He says that a dwarven soul must fuel each of these stone creations, and he no longer believes this sacrifice is morally right.

Caridin
Caridin

Oh, this part makes my heart flutter. This was my favorite part of Dragon Age: Origins the first time I played it, for a number of reasons: 1.) it’s the end of the bloody Deep Roads part, 2.) it’s a thoughtful quest that presents you with a pretty gripping moral dilemma, 3.) the quest’s ending, if you side with Caridin to destroy the Anvil of the Void, is hands-down the most touching part of the game… and even though it might have been the beers I’d just had, it totally made me tear up during my first playthrough, 4.) siding with Caridin won me approval with Alistair, who was my love interest during my first playthrough, and right after this epic, heartbreaking moment, I clicked on him all blood-stained from battle and he confessed his love for me… er, for my Warden. Best moment ever. This is why I love BioWare.

But I can’t play it like that now. That was a once-in-a-gaming-lifetime moment, and I want to do something totally different this time. So I side with Branka. I want a golem army at my side when I defeat the archdemon, and to be frank, having that kind of power in such troubled times may be worth a few souls. (Okay, that’s my fictional justification. God, these moral decisions just tear me up inside, they’re so good!)

Branka forges a crown with the Anvil of the Void, and we run it back to Orzammar to place it atop Harrowmont’s head. And all is right with the world.

Also, I try to spam conversations from my party on the bridge leading to the Proving grounds, because this is one of the trigger points for party banter. (A lot of bridges in the game are trigger points, by the way.) Some highlights: Zevran wins a bet with Alistair that he can successfully flirt with Morrigan, Sten’s name is actually his military rank, and somebody finally comments on Zevran and me being together. Naturally it’s Oghren, snorting that of course I’d fall for the elf.

And finally we leave Orzammar. Seeing fake sunlight gleaming through fake trees in a fake forest in a video game has never felt so incredible.

sky again

Part 12: Ahhhh Sweet Revenge

Wynne being a badass.
Wynne being badass in silly hat.

We make our way back to Denerim to call the Landsmeet. Along the way, Wynne gets to be a badass on the battlefield, we track down Oghren’s old flame so he can hit on her, and we kill Leliana’s former trainer and friend, Marjolaine, who once betrayed Leliana. The battle is tough, so I finally got around to setting up all of my party’s tactics so I can auto-play a little better, without having to pause combat and micromanage everybody all the time.

Zev wants to stay!
Zev wants to stay!

In Denerim, we also come across a Crow assassin who’s tracked down Zevran as a deserter. But Zevran won’t leave us, and so we battle it out. Afterwards, Zev tries to give me an earring as a token of his appreciation for all that I’ve done for him, but knowing something of the Zev romance arc, I decline it. If it’s not an engagement ring, I don’t want his trinkets. And now Zev doesn’t want to go to my tent anymore at camp.

Finally we make it to the Arl of Denerim’s estate to meet that nasty Loghain character — and guess who the new arl is? Rendon Howe, the man who betrayed my family and killed my parents.

We also meet Queen Anora, who is Loghain’s daughter. Naturally, Loghain has set himself up as her regent. But far from being Loghain’s puppet, Anora seems suspicious of her father and thinks he may not be in his right mind. And it’s no wonder she worries: he actually locks her up in the estate.

To free her, my party and I dress up as guards and infiltrate the estate. But Anora’s door is warded with magic, so we make our way into the dungeons to find a mage who can open the door… or something. The biggest news is what happens while we’re fighting our way through the dungeons.

Rendon Howe
“Well, look here. Bryce Cousland’s little spitfire, all grown up and still playing the man.”
Look at my character's revenge face... omg
Look at my character’s revenge face… omg

We meet Arl Howe. And we kill that bastard. I remember how good that felt the first time I played Dragon Age: Origins, when it was such a surprise to stumble across him. This time, I’m ready for him. And revenge — in a game, anyway — still feels so good.

Sending in the best to rescue me.
Sending in the best to rescue me.

But when we try to leave the estate with Anora in tow, I am put under arrest for the murder of Arl Howe. (In previous playthroughs, Alistair was arrested with me, but he’s not in my party this time so it’s just me that gets shackled.) Rather than worrying, I know that some of my party members will come to rescue me — namely, my besties Morrigan and Zevran. I let Zev handle most of the encounters with guards; he makes up stories about special deliveries and at one point flirts with a female guard as only he can.

Once my friends have freed me, we head back to the estate and speak with Queen Anora. I have an option to argue for Alistair being made king — I can even tell Anora to marry him — but I don’t. Alistair has made it clear that he doesn’t want the crown, and Anora seems more than capable of running Ferelden. In the upcoming Landsmeet, I will support her.

Part 13: Diplomacy and Dragon-Slaying

Before we conduct the Landsmeet, we need to dig up some dirt on Loghain to convince people not to follow him. Hearing that something is amuck in the Alienage — a sort of ghetto where the elves are cooped up in Denerim — we visit and find guards quarantining elves sick with a plague. They refuse to let anyone visit the sick, and even though many elves are going into the quarantine zone, nobody is coming out. Something is not right.

Slaver.
Slaver.

After some investigation (and the bribing of a guard), we discover that inside this “quarantine” area, elves are being held in cages. We follow the trail and discover a slaver, Caladrius, who has been working with none other than Loghain. Caladrius is a mage from Tevinter, where powerful mages keep elves as slaves. (You learn a lot more about this in Dragon Age 2.) Morrigan, ruthless and pragmatic as ever, thinks we should cut a deal with him, but of course Zevran finds the idea of elves being enslaved unequivocally wrong. So we kill Caladrius, free the elves, and snatch the evidence against Loghain.

Back at the palace, I speak to Zevran, who apologizes for being so mysterious and not coming to my tent lately. And then it’s time for his big confession — get ready, it’s super cheesy, but I love it! — which is that as an assassin, he was taught to be cold to love and just take pleasures where he could find them. But he’s been feeling something that his training tells him not to feel. Offering me the earring again, he says it’s now a token of affection, and he wants a future together! Lesigh… I knew I would enjoy the Zev romance for a change of pace, but I didn’t realize just how satisfying it would be. I feel that I appreciate Zevran as a character even more now.

Landsmeet
Landsmeet

When we finally convene the Landsmeet, our confrontation with Loghain does not go well. Though we, the Grey Wardens, gain a few supporters, many others continue to support Loghain. Fortunately, Anora shows up to denounce her father. I have Morrigan duel it out with Loghain, because I always play as her and she has healing and everything… but when it’s time for the final blow, Alistair has the honors. I couldn’t see myself stealing that moment of revenge from him. After all, I got my revenge on Howe for killing my family; Alistair needs to avenge the death of his father figure, too.

With the Landsmeet ended, it’s time to move on to the final battle. But that night in the castle, we speak with the only other Grey Warden, Riordan, who says that when we kill the archdemon, one of us will die. Riordan volunteers to make the killing blow, but should something happen to him, it’s up to Alistair or me.

Now, to be honest, I really want to do the Ultimate Sacrifice ending, which means I would take the killing blow and die. I love that ending — absolutely epic. And since I’m not romancing Alistair this time, he won’t even fight me on it!

106 Morrigan has a proposition

But Morrigan wants to talk to me, and she has a proposition: she’ll sleep with Alistair tonight to produce a child, which will have the taint. This means that no Grey Warden has to die killing the archdemon. But she’s very mysterious about it all, saying she wants to raise the child away from everyone else and that we’re not allowed to track her down, ever. Now, even though Morrigan is my bestie this time around, I’m not liking this idea very much. However, if I don’t agree to her plan, she’ll leave, and I won’t have her for the final battle. Since I need her for her healing and Crushing Prison and Cone of Cold and all that good stuff, I agree to convince Alistair to sleep with her. (This is a little weird, considering he’s a virgin if you haven’t romanced him… but we won’t go there right now.)

And so, with Morrigan officially preggers, we launch the final battle in Redcliffe… only to hear that the darkspawn forces are moving toward Denerim. This means the archdemon must be there.

Morrigan's farewell: "I knew nothing of friendship before we met. And I will always consider you such." Awww I love her.
Morrigan’s farewell: “I knew nothing of friendship before we met. And I will always consider you such.” Awww I love her.
"Let's find this archdemon, then, and kick its ass." I mean, what's not to like about Alistair?
“Let’s find this archdemon, then, and kick its ass.” Yeah. I mean, what’s not to like about Alistair?

really want to get through this battle in one go, but that does not happen. I can one-shot a lot of lesser enemies, and we can call on our supporters — such as the dwarves from Orzammar, etc. — but once I get to the entrance to Fort Drakon, things get tough. I swear, this section is harder than the final battle with the archdemon. We’ve got dragonlings and at least two elite enemies throwing magic attacks our way the whole time — and then healing themselves whenever we try to whittle away their health. In real life, I have to give up and go to bed, but when I come back (in the morning, today), I look up strategies on how to get through this section. Apparently, the key is selecting your entire party and having them hold their ground, rather than rushing up to trigger the appearance of all the enemies at once. And it’s better to fight in a group, close together, rather than rushing around to die alone. Calling in the dwarves helps, too.

Once we make it past the entrance, it’s time to autosave like crazy. I inch through the fort, which has two floors of battling before we reach the top where the archdemon awaits. I expect it to be a tough battle, because it was really tricky for me the first time I played Dragon Age: Origins. But this time, it’s a breeze. Nobody dies. I call on the elven archers and that’s it. I don’t even get to see the golems in action, because we never need them! The most frustrating thing to happen is halfway through the battle, when the game shuts down on me and I have to relaunch the game from my previous save. Considering how easy this battle is, it’s not devastating, at least.

That dragon be a little cold...
That dragon be a little cold…

I control Morrigan throughout the battle, as I usually do. And when I finally get up the nerve to rush Morrigan right up to the archdemon, I freeze him! It’s awesome… but not as amazing as my Warden taking the final blow. Ahhhh it feels so good to be done with that demon dragon.

110 then light comes out of ze dragon

Celebrations commence in Denerim, and Anora is queen. She grants me a boon, but instead of going for riches, I ask that the Wardens not be forgotten. This leads her to erect a statue to remember Alistair, the fallen Wardens, and myself.

And then it’s time for the good byes and epilogue! First, get this: my brother is alive! I have no idea where this came from, but he’s at the celebrations. Apparently he never made it to Ostagar and got knocked out and then woke up elsewhere two weeks later… I don’t know. It was just a crazy story, but I’m glad to hear he’s alive, and I’ll see him again in Highever.

Zev is short, which is why his head is forever tilted upwards to look at my Warden. Hmm.
Zev is short, which is why his head is forever tilted upwards to look at my (human) Warden.

In the meantime, Alistair and I are off to recruit and train new Grey Wardens, and Zevran wants to go with me — even if by staying in one place, the Crows come after him and make our lives a little too interesting. Morrigan is not at the celebrations, as she disappeared to protect her future child. Leliana is going to investigate the darkspawn, Wynne is going to advise Queen Anora, Sten is returning home after I found his sword and restored his honor, and Oghren is going to live on the surface and probably make sweet love to Felsi.

The epilogue has tons of information on all the different races and places, but a few things in particular interest me:

  1. The boy Connor, once possessed by demons, ends up studying magic at the Circle.
  2. In Orzammar, Harrowmont sacrifices dwarves so Branka can create golems, but eventually the cost is too high. This leads Branka to kidnap Ferelden humans so they can be sacrificed to make golems! It sounds like I’ve enabled a monster, which I sort of knew… I’m just disappointed that I never actually saw the golems in action, the one time I decided to be cruel enough to create them! Sigh…
  3. Anora built a monument to her father Loghain, which most people ignored.

And that is all… until Dragon Age 2. =)

— Ashley

6 thoughts on “Dragon Age: Origins”

  1. Ashley, I have a question for you about Bioware. I read your post on Geek Force Network about Bioware Romances, but I’d rather discuss this on your personal site (hope that’s okay). I’m a die hard Dragon Age fan (I’m in love with Alistair…something my husband deals with pretty well…probably because he’s in love with Morrigan), but I was sadly dissapointed with the Dragon Age 2 romances. So I tried Mass Effect 1, and I just couldn’t get into the story (probably because, let’s face it, Kaiden just doesn’t cut it). What do you think…should I try Mass Effect 2 or 3? I’m not usually a sci-fi girl. I usually stick to fantasy. And that probably adds to my difficulty with Mass Effect 1 (I hated the music, couldn’t get into the suits or weapons, and I really didn’t like driving around that silly car). I didn’t even finish it. I just got the “good part” with the Kaiden romance, was really disappointed, and then went back to DAO and did another run through. But if the romance with Garrus is that good (I see you listed it as #1, with Alistair as #2), or even Tali, I’m thinking I should give the next couple of games a shot. What are your thoughts?

    Also, I see you noted Star Wars Old Repulic as a Bioware game with romances. I had no idea! I’m thinking of looking into this, but again…I’m more of a fantasy person. How do you feel this game translates for people who aren’t usually big into sci-fi?

    I know I’m asking a lot here, but I love when people do that in my own blog, so I thought I’d go ahead and bug you. Hope that’s okay!

    -Kathleen

    1. Hi Kathleen, thank for your comment! Of course you can bug me, especially when it’s about Mass Effect and you love Dragon Age and stuff. =)

      Yeah, I totally get what you’re saying about the first Mass Effect game. You spend a lot of time bogged down in the menus there, and the combat is pretty clunky which makes it feel dated. Plus, as you said, the romance options are very limited!

      I would recommend jumping into Mass Effect 2 — probably my favorite in the series. It has a lot of character development, as you spend time going on character missions for most of the game. And having several romance options makes it a lot more fun! Garrus did beat out Alistair in the end for me. What’s cool about Mass Effect is that you can romance characters over the course of more than one game, so that relationship arc feels really deep. I think that’s a big reason why I liked the Garrus romance so much. For that reason, I recommend playing 2 and then seeing if you feel like moving on to 3 afterwards and carrying on your fictional relationship!

      Mass Effect is very sci-fi though, and there’s really no getting away from that. I’m probably opposite of you there, in that I like sci-fi a tad more than fantasy. BUT Mass Effect 2 and 3 are both really streamlined, so the combat is a lot easier to get through. As in… you could breeze through on Casual mode if you just want to get to know the characters, etc. In the first game, it feels like you really have to work for those cutscenes — but you get lots of cinematics in games 2 and 3.

      Also, Star Wars The Old Republic might be an awesome choice if you like MMOs (or even if you don’t — I’d never played one before!), because you can’t really go wrong with Star Wars, and I’ve always thought Star Wars has kind of a fantasy feel to it compared to other sci-fi anyway. I think it would be easier for a fantasy fan to get into SWTOR than Mass Effect, actually. Just be forewarned that each character class (and gender, maybe? in SWTOR has just one or two romance options, so once you choose your character, you’re stuck with whoever the game gives you. Lots of cool characters, though. =)

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SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, and VIDEO GAMES!