Last time, I talked about how the Deep Roads were secretly the best part of Dragon Age: Origins. I also hinted that some of the six possible character origins are secretly better than their fellows. Now I am about to tell you why.
But first, a quick recap. When creating a new character in Dragon Age: Origins, the player must select one of six Origins that explain the character’s backstory. Which of the six are available depend on the player character’s race and class. Human warriors and rogues are restricted to the Human Noble Origin. All mages have the same Origin regardless of race. Non-magic elves can be City Elves or “wild” Dalish Elves, and dwarves can be nobles or commoners.
Each of the six Origins has a corresponding prologue, all of which share the same basic format. The main character is a young and talented but not necessarily influential member of their respective group. They’re given a series of tasks to complete that mainly serve to introduce the player to the world. Things inevitably go horribly wrong. The mains character must then leave their home behind and join the Grey Wardens, an order of warriors that are basically the Night’s Watch from Game of Thrones.
None of the six prologues are necessarily bad, and most of them are paid off later in the main story. In fact, the more I think about it, describing one as the “best” isn’t the right word. It might be better to say that some are more narratively important than others. These would be the Human Noble and Dalish Elf Origins.
Taken on their own, they’re arguably the least interesting of the six available prologues. Castle Cousland, the setting of the Human Noble Origin, seems to be made primarily of identical hallways. The Dalish Origin, meanwhile, is mostly just two brief dungeon crawls. Part of it may be that they’re the only ones to take place entirely in areas the player will never revisit. As a result, the developers needed stories that could be told in as few rooms as possible. Thus, there was a limit to how complicated they could be. However, these two Origins tie into the plot in a much more meaningful way than the others.
In the case of the Human Noble, the player character begins the game as the youngest child of the Teyrn of Highever. Teyrns in Dragon Age are basically dukes in service to the King of Ferelden. The Teyrn sends most of his men to fight the invading Darkspawn, leaving only a minimal garrison at the castle. This allows a treacherous vassal named Arl Howe to launch a surprise attack, killing the main character’s parents, nephew, and sister-in-law.
Most of the Origins have their own version of Arl Howe, but only about half ever come up in the plot again. The Mage and Dalish Origins doesn’t have a villain per se and are unrelated to the quests you do for them later. The villains of the City Elf and Dwarven Commoner Origins are dead by the end of the prologue. Those events are only tangentially related to the rest of the story. Only the Human and Dwarven Noble’s stories circle back into the main plot. The latter’s prologue sets up the Dwarves’ storyline later in the game. Still, that whole section is relatively disconnected from the rest of the plot.
Howe, meanwhile, is the only one with a connection to one of the game’s primary antagonists. He’s the villain’s second in command. That makes Howe important to the story as a whole, and he takes an active role in trying to stop you from completing your objective. Howe’s not the main antagonist nor the final boss, but he’s absolutely the Human Noble’s arch-nemesis.
But what about the Dalish Origin? It arguably has less to do with the main plot than any of the others.
That’s true if we’re only talking about Dragon Age: Origins. It’s a different story taken in context with the rest of the series.
The Dalish Origin was the first depiction of an eluvian in the Dragon Age canon. These magical mirrors allow the user to travel great distances, although they always seem to be more trouble than they’re worth.
The first encounter ends badly, with the Dalish main character and their friend becoming cursed with the Darkspawn taint. The protagonist goes looking for the same mirror in the Witch Hunt DLC. This happens regardless of which Origin was chosen but bookends the story nicely if playing as a Dalish Elf.
An eluvian features heavily in Dragon Age II, along with several characters from the Dalish Origin. That includes the elven party member Merill, who was a significant character in that section of the game. In fact, her whole subplot is basically a sequel to the Dalish Origin from the first game. Her entire character motivation stems from an obsession with understanding the artifact her friends discovered in Dragon Age: Origins.
The eluvians are equally prominent in Dragon Age: Inquisition and its Trespasser DLC might as well have been called Dragon Age: Eluvians. In short, the Dalish Origin is to the series as a whole what the Human Noble Origin was to Dragon Age: Origins in particular.
We could argue about which of the six Origins hold up the best on their own merits. These two aren’t even necessarily my favorites. However, when we look at what they do for the rest of Dragon Age: Origins and the series as a whole, they rise head and shoulders above the rest.