How a Different Origin Story Can Change the Feel of a Game

I’ve been killing time lately waiting for 12/20/2011 (or 12/15/2011), playing various single player RPGs, replaying a few, and being uninspired by any current MMOs. I’ve already played Mass Effect 1 and 2 as both a female and male Shepard, one heavily on the paragon path, the other heavily on the renegade path. I decided to go back and play through Dragon Age Origins again as well. (Uh, this has spoilers for the few who haven’t yet played this game.)

Dragon Age Origins Ferelden map

Map of Ferelden from Dragon Age Origins - source Bioware

The first time I played DA:O, I chose the city elf female as my starting character. She was slightly bitter, but tried to be open-minded and generally positive about the world and others. She was diplomatic and politically saavy. She romanced her goofy sidekick Alistair and was heartbroken when, after choosing the path that was best for her country, he refused to keep seeing her on the side. She consoled herself in the surprisingly supportive fellow elf Zevran instead. Sure, she still executed Loghain, but I approached it much less personally. It was a necessity to keep the future king happy. Howe was a bad man and his part in the treason was bad, but his crimes weren’t as directed toward my character. While he had to die, it wasn’t for revenge. The crimes both committed toward the elves were much worse than the crime of ¬†turning on the king of this country that oppressed her.

This time I played as the human noble female and it changed my perception of the story quite a bit. The betrayal of Howe and Loghain felt much more personal. First Howe betrayed her family, slaughtered her friends and retainers, and drove my character into the arms of the Grey Wardens. Then Loghain turned on his king and her mentor, leaving her to hear the screams and watch the beacon burn to no good. Then Loghain took Howe as his right hand man, granting him even more honors. By the time I got to actually talk to Loghain in person, hear his lackey Cauthrien call me a churl and Howe sneer, I was ready to chew rocks. Rather than see Cauthrien as the sadly loyal retainer, she became a traitor too.

The first time when I was playing the elf, I killed Howe but took no real satisfaction in it, letting my party finish him off while I rounded up his supporters. This time, I had to be the one to finish him off and it was highly satisfying. I surrendered to Cauthrien the first time, but this time I was not about to let her holier than thou me into custody. I fought and nearly killed her before capture. The first play through, I talked her down from trying to stop me from going into the Landsmeet and let her live. This time I wasn’t about to let her get away with her betrayal and rudeness.

After letting the Queen sweet talk me into letting her keep power the first time around, much to my detriment, this time I wasn’t about to support the daughter of a traitor and a commoner. I was a noble with more of a claim to a throne than she had. No way was I going to meekly let her marry my love to keep her throne. It resulted in bloodshed, but it was very satisfying to not only defeat her father once, but twice, and then execute him in front of her. I felt bad about doing it the first time I played, but this time it was an easy choice to make. I wanted to execute her too, but no, Alistair had to be all wise and let her live “just in case.” At that point there was no way I wasn’t going to make sure he survived so she wouldn’t get to rule.

It is kind of funny how the same story with similar overall choices on my part, even similar diplomacy in most situations, turned out so very different in the end game just from viewing it through a different lens. It makes games more fun to replay when you can approach them that way, especially when they are built to let your choices turn out very differently.

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