(Not) doing the math

Notes on Dragon Age: Origins #13 — Looking back as taking account and not just accounting

At this point, there’s only one decision left worth mentioning. I told Morrigan not to perform the ritual, and went down in a blaze of glory defeating the archdemon. I spent enough time working to make sure Alistair became king that I sure as hell wasn’t going to let him take the easy way out now.

Furthermore, knowing that Dragon Age II was going to ask me to play a new character regardless of the outcome of Dragon Age: Origins meant that it didn’t feel terribly critical to save my Warden regardless of the cost. So I went with my gut one last time and told Morrigan, in effect, that I really didn’t trust her.

Because I don’t! I’m big fans of both Morrigan and Flemeth — who I killed at Morrigan’s request and regretted it almost immediately — but I wouldn’t exactly put my life in either of their hands.

[Of course, then the Awakening expansion let me play my Warden again, even though she died. And that’s all I have to say about Awakening. It was fine. Playing feudal lord wasn’t as fun as I would have hoped it would be.]

But more importantly, given that this is a BioWare game, I finished the game without completing a romance with Leliana.

And you know what? I’m okay with that. I liked Leliana, and this is the first BioWare game I’ve ever finished without completing a romance, but I think on the whole I can live without my playthrough featuring awkward manequin NPC sexytime just before the final battle. Leliana and my Warden were really close, openly professed their love, and even survived a bit of jealousy over my apparent closeness with Zevran. (I’m not totally sure where that came from, given that I hardly ever talked to Zevran, but after the Feastday gifts everyone loved me and Zevran is pretty shady, so maybe it had more to do with him than me.)

Ironically enough, it may have been the Feastday gifts that kept me from being able to “officially” romance Leliana. According to the Dragon Age Wiki, triggering Leliana’s companion quest requires talking with her about “Minstrels and spies in Orlais,” and in some versions of the game, this conversation option won’t be available if Leliana’s approval level for the Warden is at 71 or above.

While this might be illogical from a game mechanic standpoint — if Leliana “likes” you too much, you can’t complete the romance — it actually makes some semblance of sense from a character standpoint — once Leliana starts caring what the Warden thinks of her, if you’re say, in the early stages of dating, she might be less likely to talk about parts of her past of which she’s not terribly proud.

There’s advice in the Wiki on how to game this bug — it’s possible to use a Feastday prank to lower Leliana’s approval and then slowly raise it again — but all of this highlights how weird BioWare’s “romance” mechanics really are if you find yourself having to think about them at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I have warm fuzzies for all the characters I romanced in Mass Effect, and a non-compulsory “romance” system can build player investment in a narrative world.

But at least this time, breaking down my interactions with Leliana to a set of numbers just felt unforgivably cynical. I wanted my narrative to be more than just having said enough of the “right” things to earn a racy cutscene as an in-game reward.

Leliana and I fought together until death parted us. We didn’t get a happily ever after, and that was just part of our story. What the game showed or didn’t show us doing before that end isn’t really the most important thing.

And as a player, this time around, that’s my win state.

Originally published 5/21/15 on Medium