Dragon Age 4, or whatever they end up calling it, is still a long way off if the behind the scenes trailer is anything to go by. We fans will just have to content ourselves by replaying the existing games in a desperate attempt to recapture the magic of that first playthrough.
In the spirit of doing that, I dusted off my DVD copy of Dragon Age: Origins and made a new character. Since then, I have made two discoveries about the Dragon age series first installment. The first is that the Human Noble and Dalish Elf origins are the best for reasons we don’t have time to get into right now. The second is that the Deep Roads are the best part of the game from a storytelling perspective.
But first, a quick refresher on what I’m talking about. A large chunk of Dragon Age: Origins is spent gathering allies to repel the coming Darkspawn invasion. One of these potential allies is the dwarven kingdom of Orzammar. Unfortunately, the dwarves are having a bit of a succession crisis. The only person who can sort everything out is the dwarven Paragon Branka. Unfortunately, she is missing somewhere in the continent-spanning network of Darkspawn-infested tunnels known as the Deep Roads.
After a bit of searching, the player character makes a series of discoveries. The first revelation is how Darkspawn are created. You see, there are no female Darkspawn. Instead, they reproduce by capturing human, dwarven, and elven women, and mutating them into horrific creatures called brood mothers.
Resembling a cross between Jabba the Hut and a Cenobite, they are easily the most viscerally disturbing creatures in Dragon Age. And remember, the penultimate boss of Dragon Age II was a giant monster made of corpses.
The brood mothers aren’t included for mere shock value. Instead, this section serves a vital narrative purpose. It shows the characters, and by extension, the player, exactly what makes the Darkspawn so terrible. They’re not just savage monsters. They are a walking plague that reproduces through rape. It drives home that the Darkspawn are not only an enemy to be defeated but an abomination that must be destroyed.
And then what happens? Well, it turns out that Paragon Branka is alive. She’s gone completely insane, but she’s alive. And she’s found the Anvil of the Void, an ancient artifact needed to create golems. These magical constructs would definitely be a boon to the war effort. In fact, they might just be enough to someday defeat the Darkspawn permanently. At the very least, they could help break the stalemate in the Deep Roads.
Golems are not free, however. Each one requires a human, or in this case dwarven, sacrifice. On top of that, Branka is the only living person with the skill to make them, and we’ve already talked about how she’s a few anvils short of a full workshop.
In almost any other game, this would be an easy decision to make. If the blood sacrifice part wasn’t bad enough, it’s outright stated that someone will abuse the Anvil’s power sooner or later. With Branka at the helm, the smart money is on sooner.
On the other hand, you just fought a giant festering example of why the Darkspawn need to be destroyed.
In fairness, this is a sword that cuts both ways. Branka allowed the other women in her expedition to be captured and mutated, hoping to use the Darkspawn to clear a path for her. This shows a shocking disregard for the lives of those under her command, not to mention questionable judgment.
That being said it’s not like the Darkspawn haven’t been turning women into brood mothers for centuries. Isn’t stopping them worth any price? Dragon Age is mute on the issue. It merely presents the moral dilemma and leaves the player to figure it out.
Each of the main story quests ends in some sort of ethical quandary, but most have a right answer if you know where to look. In the Mage’s tower, the player is given no real reason to believe the Mages need to be killed, and sparing them offers no apparent disadvantage. It’s possible to save the Arl of Redcliff without killing his son or resorting to blood magic. Again, there is no penalty to finding another way. Curing the werewolves helps them and the elves, and the only alleged downside is losing the werewolves as a military asset. It’s debatable if that’s even a disadvantage.
With the golems, however, we know they would help against the Darkspawn. While you can argue that using them is unethical and ripe for abuse, they’re also huge, never tire, and are immune to the plague that Darkspawn carry. You could definitely make the case that having them is worth the risks. It’s one of the game’s only moral choices that presents an actual dilemma, and it might not have if it hadn’t been constructed exactly the way it was.