Destructoid News Contributor, 2D/3D artist and all around art nerd. Avid retro game and promotional items collector, and frequent practitioner of Wing Chun Kung Fu.
Disclosure: I have worked on a few iOS and PC indie games, as well as am currently employed at a major North America videogame retailer. My previous and current employment does not and has not affected any of the pieces I have written, but it is something that you, as a reader, should know.
Dragon Age: Origins has been one of the most highly awarded western RPGs in recent years, and after you play through its main campaign it’s very easy to see why.
I hopped on the Dragon Age: Origins band wagon a little late, about 9 Months if you want to be technical about it. I picked it up around December 2009 and started to play it…then got side tracked with other work…and other games. I’ve left it on the backburner for a few months now, not really having any motivation to finish off the campaign. This past August I caught a bad cold and was stuck at home for a few days with nothing to do other then watch movies (I watched Hot Fuzz around 10 times in 3 days, that movie’s great!) With this new impetus I thought that I should play some more Dragon Age to see what everyone talked about.
I’ve just completed the game and…only now, with a good nights’ sleep to ponder on it, do I really understand the underling consequences to my actions. This post will have some spoilers in it, so I’d just like to get that out of the way.
WARNING!! SPOILERS AHEAD!!
Alright, so what I’m talking about is the last BIG decision of the game. The ultimate goal of Dragon Age: Origins is to unite the separate races Ferelden and cleanse the land of this Darkspawn Blight, and to do that you must defeat the Arch Demon (aka that huge spiky, Dragon-Demon) As you make your way through Ferelden, you’ll learn more and more about the Grey Wardens from other NPC’s as well as from your codex. Everything that you learn about this order of Warriors is that they give their all to protect the land from the crushing hands of the Darkspawn.
On one of your first missions against the Darkspawn, you see wave after wave of Wardens charge heroically into battle, each knowing full well that they most likely will not make it out alive from the battle of Ostagar. Never the less, they continue to press on; your recruiter Duncan at its helm. After that battle you and Alistair are the last 2 Grey Wardens in all of Ferelden. The task ahead is a difficult one with many difficult choices, but the one that made me question every other choice I made and everything I came to learn about the Grey Wardens came 1 night before the Battle of Denerim.
We were in Denerim, at the estate of Arl Eamon, a man whom you saved from a vicious poisoning attempt. Alistair and I were asked to come to the room of the Grey Warden who travelled to Ferelden from the neighbouring country of Orlais, Riordan. Since I’ve only had a few conversations with Riordan, I was very interested to learn more about the Wardens from a more experienced Warden, and how to take down this Arch Demon.
Riordan then explains the second purpose of the Wardens’, it was then that I was felt conflicted. Inside each Warden is the blood of a Darkspawn; through the Joining ritual, Warriors whom survive the test become full Grey Wardens with the new ability to sense when the Darkspawn are near. Thus they are tasked with hunting them and the Arch Demon down to ensure the safety of their lands. The second task is much more difficult. Each time the Arch Demon is slain, its old soul is transferred the closest Darkspawn; and since Darkspawn are just hapless puppets, the Arch Demon is born anew. However, since the Wardens carry the blood of a Darkspawn in them, the soul can be transferred to the closet Warden, most likely to the Warden who landed the killing blow. But because the Wardens still have their souls, the Arch Demon cannot be reborn and the Warden perishes after completing this final trial.
So that was it, a life of sacrifice and of limitless danger; of dealing with tyrants, maleficarum and creatures from a realm beyond that of understanding…only to have it end by the twisted hand of fate. When the conversation was over, I was feeling uneasy about all of this. Of making the decision to…sacrifice my character, my Warrior, my Warden….to sacrifice my virtual-self. There had to be another way…There was.
As I enter my quarters to sleep for the last time, Morrigan was there to greet me. She then offered me a chance, an opportunity to save Ferelden and to not have to sacrifice myself in the process. All I had to do was sire a child with her and I could live; but I could never see my first born, never ask where they were going or what she wanted him for. At this point I know Morrigan’s past, I know that she was created to become the next body to house her mother’s soul; and I also know through many quests, Morrigan has shown a lack of compassion for others and a general disregard for the value of human life, no matter the person.
The choice was simple: life or death. I could give up my life to defeat this Arch Demon or I could give up this child, my child, to fate and save myself from the final duty of the Wardens’.
I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want my character to die! I thought it was unfair that a man who has experienced so much pain and tragedy had to simply die because someone told him so. I don’t blame the Grey Warden’s for their secrecy, but to find out after all I’ve done that Alistair or I would have to sacrifice ourselves…it just seemed unfair.
But that was what Dragon Age based its entire story on; the fact life isn’t meant to be fair. That no matter how good the intentions are behind your actions that some situations just don’t work out. Like in real life, you have to make compromises and weigh out the risk and reward of each action. Decisions aren’t just black or white, good or evil; they are all shades of grey. That even the most noble of warriors can succumb to corruption and be led down a dark path. So by now, you know the choice I made.
I chose to give up my child to fate, to save myself. I made the coward’s choice; and in doing so turned my back on all of the principal’s and virtues set out by Duncan, Alistair and all of the Grey Warden’s before me. Still at this point, the full repercussions of my actions were still not evident to me. There was still a Blight to end and an Arch Demon to slay.
I had made my choice, and my party and I charged through Denerim. Pillars of fire and smoke cover the city streets; Darkspawn creeping out of every crack. I decided that my 3 most reliable fighters would accompany me to the Arch Demon. Alistair; my trusted Grey Warden brother and now King of Ferelden; Wynn the experienced and battle-tested mage who held our party together with her healing abilities; and Morrigan, a fearsome and talented Apostate and the mother of my child. As I was about to land the killing blow on the Arch Demon, that was when it hit me. I betrayed Duncan, Alistair and all of the Grey Wardens…
The Warden’s were made for 2 reasons: to protect Ferelden from Darkspawn and to sacrifice themselves to seal away the Arch Demon. This was the way it has been since before Duncan’s time, and rather than honour the traditions of the Grey Warden’s I decided to save myself, and to trust my child to a women whose intentions have never been clear, even from the beginning. I spat in the face of Warden’s and gave up my child to a woman who was raised to be the next vessel of her mother’s undying soul. It surprised me how quickly I turned my back on my beliefs and on those who trusted me. In a moment, I went from a Grey Warden who rebuilt the alliances that helped defeat the Darkspawn years ago, to another cowardly simpleton with a sword without the fortitude to do what needs to be done and make the ultimate sacrifice. For Ferelden, for my people, for my compatriots…
Afterwards, at a celebration in Denerim, all of my companions were congratulating me on a job well done. None of them really knew the truth of the dark deal that I made to save my own life, except Alistair. And I chose to keep it that way.
In the closing moments of the game, it described how my actions affected Ferelden. Most of them were in a positive, more beneficial manner; Teagen was named the new ruler of Redcliffe, the Circle of Magi was returned to power and the Sacred Ashes of Andraste are now well protected against any other potential scavengers. The Dwarves however…let’s just say that I probably don’t have many friends left in Orzammar. But the rest of the Wardens look at me with suspicion, because I was able to defeat the Arch Demon and survive. It bothered me to know that I’m respected and admired as a hero to Ferelden but that in the eyes of the people I look up to the most, I am a fraud.
After this playthrough of Dragon Age, it made me start to wonder about how I deal with difficult choices on a daily basis. Like most people, I weigh out the pros and cons of decisions and choose the one that gives me the least risk with the greatest reward. In games I tend to stick by this method, but every now and again I take a leap of faith and make a different choice. In reality, I just stick to the sensible and least difficult choice; and this has let me miss out on some very interesting opportunities.
I think that what made Dragon Age: Origins stand out as such a unique and interesting experience was because of the choices it asks you to make. It tells you that “Life is difficult and full of difficult choices, some of which you won’t like but that must be done”. It forces you to question how much you value your life, as well as the lives of others. It asks you if you’re willing to let these innocents die so that many more can live.
To me, these feelings and the thought process that I had to go through to get through some the decisions, it really re-enforces my belief that videogames can be a great storytelling medium and that it can illicit emotions in you that you cannot get from simply reading a book or watching a movie. By travelling all over Ferelden, making new allies and enemies, making these difficult decisions, by putting in all of this effort for one ultimate goal it forms a bond between the player and the characters, the land and the story. You want to see what happens next in the game, of course, but more importantly you want to see if Ferelden thrives because of your actions or if falls apart.
Dragon Age: Origins has to be one of my favorite RPGs of all time. Its’ story drew me in and showed me a world that was harsh and cruel at times, but that still had a lot of history and wonder to it. It helped me see that I may need to take a few more leaps of faith in my own life, and to have the fortitude to make the difficult choice, whether it is in my career, finances or relationships. If you haven’t checked out Dragon Age: Origins, I highly recommend it. It’s a great experience from start to finish, and maybe it can help you figure out something about yourself too.