So, I played Dragon Age for a couple of weeks. It’s engrossing. Very engrossing. But I *was* disappointed with how little change there is to the plot or storyline with each of the six different starting conditions. Each start story was really well done, so to have the narratives from a particular one be mostly forgotten once you get to the main game… Well, on the official forums, SLPr0 wrote up a nice overview of some of the ways in which the plot could have been so much more (included after the break). Head on over to the forum thread (Literary Criticism in Regards to Flopped Plot Opportunities and the Human Noble Origin) to read the ongoing discussion.
I’m bringing these up in their own sections and putting it here in the Spoilers section because it will
inevitably contain spoilers in regards to the story line. But I should, first, write the following disclaimer to ensure my
intents are not misconstrued by the reader.
- I like Dragon Age: Origins quite a lot and I think its a fine game
- I have read both pre-quel books and played the game through three times now in variant ways
Now with that disclaimer in place, let me move on to where I’d like to point at some things that I find frustrating in regards to the storyline inconsistencies I’ve personally found.
Highever – The Disappearing Tehyrin:
Human Noble Origin is a standard play through that almost everyone will likely try first or definitely try at least once. Starting off you are betrayed and your family slaughtered by Arl Howe of Amaranthine. This is a nice plot device to get the character moving, but slides out of focus entirely once the Grey Warden designation is added to the characters
Highever itself becomes completely inaccessible after said events, the Tehryin is barely visible on the map (no text), and at Ostagar you get like one or two lines of concern in regards to the apparent death of your entire noble family and concerns for your brother who is lost somewhere in the Wilds on “patrol” and you’re given no real options there beyond that at that point.
Now, this becomes annoying in the story line plot at that point, your family is dead, your brother, the rightful Tehryn of Highever is missing and even more frustrating is the ill fated Ser Jory, who has a wife and child in Highever(though there are conflicts, he says, in original discovery conversation that he is a knight in the service of Arl Eamon at Redcliffe but in another part of discussion with Daveth says he has a wife and child in Highever) who doesn’t even seem to know who you are, nor are you given any options to let him know that the Tehryn was taken by Arl Howe….guess it doesn’t matter, since Jory is just a “redshirt” as things go, but regardless, its one of many holes in the human noble origin storyline that become more and more annoying as the game progresses.
Now largely, after Ostagar, this entire line of the story just falls flat on its face, you then become the Grey Warden, of noble line but no one seems to know or care (except in one case where you can assert your nobility at Flemeth’s hut after rescue from Ostagar). the Tehryn of Highever, your much uglier brother Fergus is missing and nobody cares about that. And Arl Howe of Amaranthine, the betrayer of your family becomes a strange and sickening ally, indeed, to the Hero of the River Dane, Tehyrn Loghain of Gwaren, which makes very little sense.
Now for people that have not read the books and just see Loghain for his actions at Ostagar and go “he is the bad
guy”, I guess that makes plenty of sense that a weasel like Arl Howe would be his ally, but for the people that read the
books this makes no sense at all, irregardless of Tehryn Loghains actions at Ostagar, we’re talking about a man who rose from the peasantry of the Bannorn, the son of a farmer who killed an Orlesian lord for raping and killing his wife and took his family and household into hiding, becoming rebel brigands rather than further to accept the tyrrany of the Orlesian oppressors, this is where, after the death of the Rebel Queen, Loghain becomes involved with Maric the Saviour and eventually leads the rebellion to victory at the River Dane, placing the rightful heir of Calenhad back on the
throne of Ferelden.
Loghains actions at Ostagar are unconscionable, but to suddenly take this very complex man and make him contemporaries with someone like Arl Howe is completely beyond understanding, Loghains distrust of the Grey Wardens has its legitimate roots, given the bulk of the Warden’s local forces being in Orlais, and Duncan himself being an Orleasian. His betrayal of Cailan at Ostagar is horrible especially understanding that Cailan is the son of the woman Loghain loved and a man he greatly protected and respected, but that, to me, in judgment of the character, still doesn’t explain his sudden acceptance of a lying, traitorous toady like Arl Howe. Arl Howe is everything that Loghain is not, regardless of the sudden blackness of Loghain’s character in Origins.
So anyways we get towards the end of the campaign and we’re in Denerim, and the solution to the Howe crimes is a rather lackluster scene where you defeat Howe and a couple mages and minions in a dungeon….this is somehow “payment” for his crimes against your family and your line and “settles” the story of your families betrayal but it doesn’t…why? Cause Highever still isn’t there and at NO POINT in the game til the very last of it, do you finally
find out that your bumble headed brother apparently took MONTHS to find his way out of the Wilds while you were busy running around saving the world. Its just tacked in there, nice and pat “oh hi I never made it to Ostagar I’m still alive and every thing is great “pup” and I’ll see you back at Highever some day…which, by the way, isn’t there”.
This is crappy writing and in total while I’m sure going the direction I’d have gone, which is giving the player the ability to use their amassed armies to mount a campaign to retake Highever(and hey maybe your brother shows back up
then? Makes a lot more sense to me) and use it as a base of operations from where you can recruit more men and then make a campaign into Amaranthine and visit vengeance on Howe and his line PROPERLY.
Now…would that add 20 or so more hours to the game? Yes, probably…would that be a bad thing? No not at
all, and it would make a lot more sense in regards to the story.
But just like the “civil war” was merely a Chanters board quest with a shoe box encounter fight
involving like 12 people total, so the entire betrayal of the Cousland line is tied up and “solved” in a pat combat
encounter in a 20×20 room in a dungeon in the Arl of Denerim’s estate.
And again I will restate that indicating via the DA:O storyline that Arl Howe was the kind of man that someone
like Loghain Mac Tir would even tolerate to be in the same room with him, regardless of his crime at Ostagar, is beyond believable. Loghain may have sacrificed Cailan for his own beliefs in regards to the safety of Ferelden, but at no time, not in either book nor in DA:O did Loghain Mac Tir strike me as the kind of man that would tolerate a cowardly court snake like Howe as an ally, or even an ally of convenience.
So all in all the Human Noble storyline completely falls on its face in regards to where it should
Denerim – The Loghain/Alistair paradox and the literal sacrifice of Ser Cauthrien:
Another frustrating storyline element that bears heavy scrutiny which begins actually at the rescue of Queen
Anora from the Arl of Denerim’s estate. Where begins the bifurcation of the potentialities of the future leader/ruler of Ferelden and depending on your conversation choices with Ser Cauthrien Anora simply says nothing or outright lies and you get massively beat down and sent to Fort Drakon.
Now, not that I’ve spent a lot of time in jail but I will have to go with Terry Pratchett’s fantasy genre cynicism here in full in regards to the Escape sidequest from Fort Drakon, it literally was 20 minutes of the most cliched fantasy RPG
prison break of all time.
I mean seriously you’ve captured two of the most politically dangerous men in Denerim and the prison area is only being minded by one jailer, who is dumb enough to fall for the “fake illness” ploy (or the “lonely” ploy if you play a female, or so I understand), after which you of course, attack the guard…with your bare fists and do more damage than you do with heavy weapons and the guy is wearing armor.
Then somehow, someone in this Fort is dumb enough to literally place your high end weapons and armor in an
easily accessible box right where you can get to it and no one will notice anything is amiss and then even worse not a stones throw away from that box is an armory area where you can conveniently get dressed up like a guard and then completely pass ALL NOTICE entirely within Fort Drakon, do a couple minor information quests, and be given the password to walk straight out of the place with no one the wiser.
Now while I could go on at length at the absolute abuse of literary fantasy cliches in Fort Drakon, its nothing in the face of the Alistair/Loghain paradox that occurs at the end of the Landsmeet honor duel.
For oh, at least two or three hours, since his royal blood is revealed, Alistair complains bitterly about not wanting to be king, he has conversations with party members about the “extent” of his relationship with his half brother Cailan, making great light of the fact that there was little if no relationship at all, he spends plenty of time deriding the importance of Maric laying with a serving girl to produce him as a bastard, all and all hes just not interested in
being king at all, but will reluctantly agree (with high persuasion) to marry Anora and share the throne with her…for the optimal best of both worlds approach,
But after the honor duel, you are faced with a choice, you may exact justice on Loghain, the Hero of the River Dane, the man who literally carried Maric’s banner and restored the Ferelden throne, for his crime at Ostagar, which will
result in Anora and Alistair breaking their deal then you have to choose one or the other of them.
Or you can choose to make Loghain a Grey Warden, which to me is a fantastic penance for a man who had done so much wrong to the Wardens (at his age, the Calling would not take long to take him, after all, and theres always the
chance he won’t survive) and also gives what was once a great man a chance to redeem himself or at least atone, through his death fighting the arch-demon, for his crimes at Ostagar.
But…no, this is absolutely unacceptable to Alistair, its like he doesn’t even know the history of his own country, its like he doesn’t understand who Loghain is at all other than the “guy who betrayed King Cailan and the Grey Wardens at Ostagar” which is patently stupid especially for the royal bastard of Maric, it is a blind spot in literary license that is nearly unforgivable, there should be no question in Alistair’s mind as to the potential gain of Loghain as an ally, unwilling or not, as compared to the further need for bloodshed against a man who, while committed great crimes
against Ferelden, had only done so out of his twisted sense of loss that all of it that he had truly loved and fought for had died (Rowan and Maric, to be succinct) and Ferelden was all he had left, the years of his life spent in the reestablishment of the Ferelden nation was all he had left, beyond Cailan, and once he was willing to abandon Cailan to the darkspawn, any means to defend Ferelden, up to slavery and civil war, would seem justified in a man so heart
broken and alone.
You would think given this understanding of who Loghain truly is, that Alistair would understand the rightness
that Loghain be given the opportunity to join them to end the blight, or to at least die trying under the Joining ritual, and that Alistair would relent, be he does not, if you press your claim for Loghain’s life, Alistair, after months of traveling and shedding blood with you, regardless of how high your relationship is with him, throws all reason out the window, forgets everything about Loghain’s historical contributions to the Ferelden nation, appears to forget that mercy is a kingly virtue and completely loses his mind.
You are then, stuck with a single choice, you may no longer bring Anora and Alistair together, and it is literally a 1 or
0 choice. You must support Anora to save Loghain, or you must support Alistair, and Loghain will die….whether by your hand or Alistair’s. And Anora gets stuck in a tower because Alistair’s such a gentleman.
If you choose Anora to save Loghain, Alistair suddenly becomes the worlds most whiny, unreasonable person in the
history of video games and your entire relationship with him is suddenly shattered, and he leaves the party never to return, and you can only save his life by asking a boon of Anora because otherwise shes going to have him executed as a threat to her throne….I had hoped that requesting that boon would restore some of his faith in me as his friend and he would return in the final battles, but he did not.
So in total, in the Alistair/Loghain paradox, we have Alistair, who doesn’t want to be king at all, suddenly willing
to take the throne if it means the death of Loghain, a man he surely knows the true history of and a man that regardless of his crimes Alistair should at least respect for the service of his life to Ferelden. Also should you thwart him, his oath as a Grey Warden and all his anguish for Duncan and the losses at Ostagar mean nothing
compared to his angst at the thought of Loghain becoming a Grey Warden himself (which is a death sentence either way as the storyline reveals).
Alistair’s inability to see duty and need over his personal feelings comes as a story shaking twist, especially if hes been supported well by the player and has a strong relationship with the player. And his inability to accept the Grey
Warden’s standard of taking any help they can find and achieving victory by any means necessary, does Alistair’s character no justice at all, its like hes a petty child, not a Grey Warden. Now I am unsure if you go through a hardening process with Alistair whether he will accept Loghain or not, I always get very buddy buddy with Alistair throughout my play throughs because I just like the guy….so I never harden him at all. But after having devoured the prequels it was my intent in this last play through to find a way to spare Loghain Mac Tir and to have found a way to use him and make him see the error of his ways. Doing so at the price of losing Alistair to relative obscurity (the final message on him is
that a man matching his description was found in an alehouse, drunk and raving about being a prince and a Grey Warden…how ignoble an end for such a vibrant character) is simply almost too much to bear. And in the face of the Blight, and the Wardens Oath….it makes no sense that he simply just takes his ball and goes home. And is hardly what I expected of him as a character, a Grey Warden and the son of Maric.
And thus ends the line of Calenhad….somewhere in an Antivan Alehouse.
On Ser Cauthrien – Another Wasted Destiny in a Shoebox Encounter:
And so we come to Ser Cauthrien a minor annoyance in the path of the hero at the Arl of Denerim’s Estate, and should you be captured, someone who takes it upon themselves to sacrifice their life in an attempt to keep you
from speaking at the Landsmeet.
Now whether this is planned or not is never established, it can be assumed since the soldiers with her are “Loghain’s Guard” that we should apparently believe the Tehyrn of Gwaren is simply a murderous, evil bastard, and, given that your corpses would be at the door of the Landsmeet and his guards covered in your blood, an extremely inept murderous evil bastard at that because that would hardly avert the civil war that would occur should the hero’s story end there.
But no, the hero’s story cannot be ended in such an ignoble way only redshirts like Ser Cauthrien are worthy of being so easily written off. Regardless of that, Ser Cauthrien gives you no opportunity to turn her, she is loyal to the Tehryn to the bitter end, and thusly dies a quick and rather wasteful death in yet another 20×20 space in the world, when her destiny given the coming story, would imply so much more for her.
So we return to the end of the honor duel, Loghain is defeated and is awaiting judgement, your refusal to spare
his life sparks confilict between Anora and Alistair and in supporting Alistair, Anora is placed in a tower. And its all nicely sanded off as if that works just fine.
But politically it does not work, even if you’ve gained the support of every possible Lord in the Landsmeet, there is still at least ONE of them that stands behind Loghain and the sudden deposement of Anora, a well loved ruler and the Queen of the former king and her replacement with Maric’s bastard would be sure to drive a deeper wedge in the Landsmeet support, thusly opening a new potential chapter in of which Ser Cauthrien, instead of being wasted, mounts a rebellion and frees Anora, the now rightful Tehryna of Gwaren, from imprisonment, and splits the army and the support in the Landsmeet between Anora, the former queen, and Maric’s bastard, the unknown and untested
And instead of a rather meaningless trip to Redcliffe which almost immediately sends you back to Denerim at
breakneck speed, to “save the world and win the game” you gain another 5 – 10 hours of content regarding Denerim political intrigues and marching on Gwaren to close the division of the country by conquering Gwaren and gaining the blood oath of loyalty from Anora to the crown and unifying the country under Alistair solidly and there in that more appropriate of settings, Ser Cauthrien can die, or perhaps even survive.
But no, instead of that, Cauthrien dies a redshirts death, Anora is imprisoned in a tower and the country after having watched one of its greatest heroes executed and the Queen deposed is happily and favorably united with a tiny little Bravehearty speech from Alistair and off to Redcliffe we go, to save the world,only to immediately get sent
back to Denerim 15 minutes later….to save the world cause the enemy somehow passed unnoticed, in your travels.
Now, I’m not a professional writer, but I am a professional game developer and I find lore to be of almost paramount importance in regards to RPG game development and it seems to me that so much of the lore was treated so cheaply and represented badly or resolved in such small ways that were well beneath the true scale and capacity of the story and characters we’re dealing with, that I almost suspect everything, post Landsmeet was heavily cut and edited
to reduce time commitment and further development time from the games development schedule by EA themselves, if not then the only other excuse that comes to mind is that by that point David Gaider was so exhausted that he’d lost touch with his own story, and in some respects, even with the characters he had created, that he simply phoned in the final part of the game based story. Because I find it difficult to believe, given the prequel lore, that Mr. Gaider would be so quick to represent Loghain Mac Tir as shallowly as a power hungry madman, when it is quite obvious to anyone that has read the prequel books that Loghain Mac Tir could never be so easily circumscribed as the atypical high fantasy “bad guy” Regent/Grand Vizier that is so boringly cliche in the high fantasy genre of popular fiction these days.
And the wasted opportunities, at Highever, Amaranthine and Gwaren, again are simply more evidence that the story….beyond the whole “stop the blight, save the world” was largely abandoned, and this story, I am afraid, is the story of Ferelden as it should have been told, in my opinion, and it was not.
To be frank, and honest, I’d have traded all the Blackstone Irregulars content, Mages Collective and Chantry side questing, I’d have traded Gaxkhang and Asunder and I might have even have traded some of the companion side quests (but hopfeully not), I’d have traded all the annoying road interruptions from the persistent dwarf merchant who “attacked” me far more often than any roving bands of dark spawn or anything else in the game while map traveling….simply to have seen the development time that went into these small end side quests that barely associated themselves with the lore of Ferelden, be focused on more truly defining and presenting the Human Noble Origin…and the places it should have went, but never did….on Towns and Tehryns we should have seen as something other than a slightly house shaped image in an unreachable part of the map, and on truly bringing closure to the Cousland origin in a more active fashion than “you killed the weasel guy in a basement and your brother
miraculously reappears at the end of the game to make you feel all warm and fuzzy” after you’ve had to cheaply waste the lives of several people who could have played greater parts and executed the greatest Hero of Ferelden simply to supplant his legend with your own.
There was so much more that could have been done with the human origin storyline. And while the game continues
to keep me enthralled and willing to play it (I am looking quite forward to my Dwarf Noble play through I am hoping the
resolutions in Orzammar are far more deep and interesting but I have a sneaking suspicion that they will simply play the plot element of you having no house as you were exiled and you just get stuck choosing between Harrowmont and Bhelen as per the regular storyline experienced by the human noble origin…which makes that part of the game seem both tantalizing and potentially full of great disappointment as well, depending on how cheaply it is handled.)
So anyways this is a very long post, and I will get a lot of TLDR out of it and even potentially people that will read the
entire thing and agree or disagree with me and that is fine…but I simply had to write this out, after several human noble
completions, because I felt the true story of that origin was so pat and trite that it fell extremely short of its true potential.
No offense to David Gaider or any of the other writing team that I may be making judgments on here, these are simply the opinions of an ardent bibliophile who loves how much the story translated into an interactive experience but sees so much of what “might have been”.
And for those that will say “hey wait for DLC content I bet they’ll cover that” DLC content of what “might have happened” or “should have happened” I think, would be a bit silly, sort of like a weird episode of Star Trek where everyones experiencing parallel dimensions, no, from here, in DLC’s and expansions and, gods willing, a sequel somewhere down the line, we can only go forward, til our Calling, and our death in the Deep Roads, fighting the dark
spawn to our last breath.