Five Things We Learned From Dragon Age: Origins

By Aaron Matteson in Five Things, Humor, Lists!
Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 3:00 pm
In Dragon Age: Origins, you do regular stuff like kill arch-demons and sleep with witches.

I've been severely behind the times on this-gen games for what seems like an eternity. For a long while I had no console to call my own, only a laptop with a graphics card that kept me permanently stuck in about 2005.  Using the computer equivalent of dark sorcery (I think I put a file called "eyeofnewt.ini" in some directory), I managed to trick the machine into running some more recent games like Oblivion or Mass Effect, but the dismal frame-rates made the games more like interactive slideshows, and I usually had to decrease the draw distance so much that my character was wandering through a permanent haze.

Every so often I would remember wistfully the good old days when I was at the cutting edge of gaming, when my father had bought a Dreamcast for us and we marveled at its then-unbelievable capabilities. I have clear memories of shouting at the microphone we attached to the controller to play Seaman, trying to tell my tadpole son that he was a fuck-up and that he'd never amount to anything, all the while amazed that games were so advanced.

For a time  it seemed that those days were gone forever, that the price of New York life on low wages would preclude me from experiencing current games.

But recently a good friend purchased a newer model Xbox 360 and, in an act of gamer benevolence matched by few others, passed his still-perfectly-working previous 360 along to me. And so suddenly I find myself with all the possibilities of modern gaming at my fingertips. Mad with power, I now chip away at a seven-year backlog, devouring the games I once thought I would only be able to play come 2020 or so.

And with new games, come new life lessons. So let's get right to it, and talk about the lessons of one of the first games I popped into that sweet vertical 360 CD tray -- Dragon Age: Origins.

As usual, game spoilers lie ahead.

1.) Before you sign up for anything, read the fine print.

Duncan, a leader of the fraternity Grey Wardens, forces the pledges new recruits to drink Smirnoff Ice Darkspawn blood in this brutal ritual called hazing the Joining.
In my play-through I was a city elf, living in the Denerim elf-ghetto and trying to protect my bride's honor by killing the smarmy human nobles who kidnapped her. I was to be thrown in a dungeon for my awesome crimes, but Duncan of the Grey Wardens spirited me away to be a new recruit and to fight the evil Darkspawn.

It sounds like a pretty good deal -- get out of jail free, see the world, do some fetch quests, get a cooler sword, etc. But Duncan fails to mention a couple fairly important points about being a Grey Warden. The most important bit is about the Joining, the ceremony that inducts one into service as a Grey Warden. The Joining consists of drinking the blood of Darkspawn, who are basically intense, ugly, evil demon guys. This will either straight-up kill you, or give you something called "the Taint," which is exactly as lame as it sounds.  The Taint gives you cool powers like the ability to have nightmares and the ability to die at a very young age.

This would be like signing up for a book club and then finding out after you've committed to it that everyone involved is forcibly injected with Ebola.

2.) Swindlers, when caught, usually have poor excuses for their cons.

Alastair, making his trollface.

Okay, just a little bit more on the Joining, because, I mean, come on. You don't give recruits any kind of heads up about this whole "drinking demon cancer blood" deal? I know, I know, it's necessary to defeat the arch-demon, but seriously, you guys, you couldn't add a small disclaimer about any of this?

If your character complains to Duncan or your buddy Alistair about any aspect of being a Grey Warden, from the truncated lifespan to the chance of instant death, the glib reply you'll receive is something to the effect of, "Well, if we told everybody how dangerous it was, we wouldn't get many new recruits, would we?"

No, I guess you wouldn't, YOU ASSHOLE

3.) Don't put up with sexual harassment.

If this guy gets fresh with you, don't hesitate to call HR.
In DA:O, much of the game is spent interacting with your companions; sometimes they'll even interact with one another. This allows them to share their views on your surroundings, bond with each other, or hash out their differences, and when your pals do speak to each other it always offers a bit of insight into who they really are.

One of the more awkward recurring interactions between two companions occurs if you have the coarse dwarf Ohgren in your party as well as the beautiful witch Morrigan. Ohgren first joins your party to look for his lost wife, but even in semi-mourning he still wastes no time putting the moves on Morrigan. His version of "the moves" is pretty much just talking about the things he'd do to her and grabbing her ass.

Not cool, Ohgren! This is modern day Ferelden, not some seedy Orlesian brothel! Show some respect. If you want to have a shot with Morrigan, you should follow the player character's example -- give her tons and tons of random gifts and then kill her mom. Now that's a recipe for loooooove.

4.) Things don't always work out as planned.

Dictator / reformer? Ow... my morality hurts... it's so confused...
As the Grey Warden hero attempting to unite the land against a common enemy, a lot of your time is spent helping would-be kings rise to power so that those new rulers, grateful to you for your help, will pledge support. At several points in the game, it is up to you to make a smart choice as to who to place on the throne.

In the dwarven city of Orzammar, the player must choose between the soft-spoken, conventional Lord Harrowmont and the ruthless iconoclast Bhelen. If the player selects Harrowmont (who seems like the "good guy" choice that most RPGs offer players in all circumstances), nothing will change about the wildly unjust dwarven society, and -- at least in the epilogue I achieved -- a few months later Orzammar will be in turmoil again.

On the other hand, according to people who had a different play-through, if you choose to support Bhelen for the crown, he abolishes the dwarven legislative branch and effectively seizes complete control of the city. Not so cool, bro. But then he proves to be a remarkably progressive leader, paving the way toward a more equal and open society for dwarves. So, in essence, your choice is between an honorable but ineffectual leader promoting the status quo, or a dangerous but progressive firebrand who will destroy democracy but free the people.

As much as I love the Mass Effect games, the cut-and-dry morality system of that series would shit its pants in pure incomprehension if faced with an ethical choice as muddy as this one.

5.) Everybody has talents.

Sandal is pretty much the Rain Man of Dragon Age. Instead of counting cards, he enchants weapons. There is no in-game evidence that he compulsively watches The People's Court, but really we can't be sure.

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