Wednesday 6 January 2010

No safety or surprise, the end

Danger! Here be Dragon Age Spoilers! Previously on the show: allies had been gathered fairly easily, but things hadn’t quite gone according to plan in the Landsmeet. The situation looks nice and simple as we head for the final act, though: Evil Archdemon to be killed, world to be saved, tea and biscuits for everybody, sorted.

The night before the final battle, Alastair popped his head around the door for a quick chat. He was besotted with me, we were ecstatically happy together, I’d just made him King, I figured he’d probably want to show me his gratitude. And by “gratitude” I mean “hammer“.
“Hi” he began, “you know how like we’re all in love and that? Well, I’m going to have to go and shag a bunch of other birds.”

All right, his reasoning was slightly more complex, involving the need for an heir (look at the mess we were currently in due to lack of succession planning) and the fact that Gray Wardens inevitably went bonkers in the nut, meaning a child of one Gray Warden parent was risky enough let alone two, but it was still a kick in the teeth. I went back to Leilana and tried to persuade her that when she’d given the ultimatum and made me pick either her or Alistair she must’ve misheard me, I didn’t say “well regretfully I’ll have to choose Alistair” at all, it was actually “sod Alistair, he’s just going to go off and ‘ensure the Royal succession’ with some strumpet, it’s you I want” but she wasn’t having any of it. That just left Zevran as a possible romantic interest, but he was a bit too close to Captain Bertorelli from ‘Allo ‘Allo to be a serious option (whatta mistake-a to make-a!)

Still, never mind, once I’d heroically killed the Archdemon I’d be fighting ’em off with a stick, right? “Oh yeah, about that…” chirped up Riordan, the conveniently liberated Warden, “I should probably just mention that whoever kills the Archdemon dies themselves. Y’know, it’s a bit like when you’ve got a nuclear hand grenade with a blast radius bigger than your throwing range. Only not like that, and with more magical essence and stuff. But don’t worry! I’ll do my utmost to strike the final blow.”
“Uh huh. The geezer that’s just turned up is our ultimate saviour? Seems a bit unlikely, doesn’t it? Lacks a bit of emotional impact compared to having to choose between me or Alistair. Though if the silly git had let Loghain join up, it would’ve been a perfect Evil Henchman Has Change Of Heart And Achieves Redemption By Killing More Evil Boss But Dying In The Process (there must be a snappier title for that on TV Tropes).”
“Well, narrative imperative does rather suggest that doesn’t it, but we’ll sort it out at the time I’m sure. Hope I haven’t dampened the mood at the pre-battle party too much!”

I didn’t really fancy the vol-au-vents after that and slunk off to bed, but got buttonholed by Morrigan on the way. “Don’t worry, my liege, I overheard that stuff about a Warden having to die, and I have a cunning plan!”
I sighed. “If it’s putting a pair of underpants on my head, a pencil up each nostril and saying ‘wibble’, I don’t think it’s going to help”
“Better than that! I sleep with Alistair, then the evil-demon-essence-thing will latch onto me instead of the Warden who delivers the killing blow, and result in me being pregnant with a demon-Alistair-god-magic-baby-thing.”
“That’s the worst chat-up line I’ve ever heard. Still, it might work…”

Dilemma time: having gone to all the trouble of making Alistair King, if he struck the final blow to the Archdemon and popped his clogs we’d be back to square one with the other main ruling candidate locked up. On the other hand if I struck the final blow, being dead would put a serious crimp in my plans for the weekend, as well as making a direct sequel a bit difficult (Dragon Age 2: I Got Better!) If Riordan struck the final blow then nobody would give a stuff, hence being a somewhat unlikely eventuality. Or! I could unleash a demon-Alistair-god-magic-baby-thing on the world. Hrm. As the old saying goes, “better to face the possibility of a demon-Alistair-god-magic-baby-thing in the future than your own imminent death in the present”, so I told Morrigan to go for it. As long as I could watch. “That’s the worst chat-up line I’ve ever heard” said Alistair, but he went along with the plan. The strumpet.

Finally we plunged in to the actual final battle, and that was nicely done. For a start it actually made sense of a fixed party size! “A small party of you, say, hrm, oh, I don’t know, picking a number at random, four should go and confront the Archdemon while the rest of the group stay and defend the gate!” The allies you’d gathered in the earlier part of the game were available to call on as reinforcements as you hacked your way through the city (ever-so-slightly undoing the good work of explaining why you have a fixed party of four by giving you a massive pool of troops to call on, only instead of rushing the Darkspawn with a massive human(/dwarf/elf) wave assault you sportingly only unleash five or ten of them at a time; even then it’s an impressively large scale battle that caused the framerate on the old PC to drop off when the fireballs started flying, so it’s obvious why full army RTS-type battles are impractical). Riordan, surprisingly enough, didn’t manage to take out the Archdemon on his own, but the heroic overpoweredness of Morrigan, Wynne and a giant stack of mana potions did the trick. Archdemon stabbed, magical essence diverted to Morrigan instead of killing me as promised, all that was left was the coronation, victory parade and biscuits. And the “what happened to…” montage; apparently Alistair wasn’t the most natural King and kept buggering off on various quests, but fortunately he left the Kingdom in the incredibly capable hands of… me. So that was OK.

I’m quite interested in all the other possible endings, though not interested enough to play all the possible origins through all the combinations of decisions; it’s where the story can really open up, as there are no more fixed points it has to manoeuvre your character to. Spinks posted an interesting link to the forums where people discuss their own endings, and I might try another playthrough sometime, steering towards ending up with Leilana and getting Loghain to strike the final blow on the Archdemon.

What’s also interesting is the announcement of an expansion, Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening (expanding not only the game but the variety of punctuation in the title), with the option to import your character, so perhaps another fixed point to be manoeuvred to after all; I wonder if it’ll take account of all possible endings of the original game, or assume a single “canonical” version?

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