This entry is the second in a series of nine entries about David Siegel's Nine Act Story structure as it applies to Dragon Age: Origins, a role-playing video game developed by BioWare and published by EA in 2009. Set in the kingdom of Ferelden, a medieval fantasy realm, the game focuses on the player’s progression as a Grey Warden, a member of an order sworn to protect the world of Thedas from darkspawn. The player selects one of two sexes (male, female), one of three classes (rogue, warrior, mage), and one of three races (elf, human, dwarf) and proceeds to the corresponding origin story. Through a series of battles, puzzles, and conversation choices, the player emerges with different party companions, advantages, and game outcomes.
Here, I will discuss Act II in the context of the game.
Act II: Something Bad Happens
Even Aristotle agrees that a great heroic tale needs a catalyst – a significant, bad event that relieves the hero of so-called “burdens” of his or her epic journey, such as family, friends, and a home. This also must be an event that prompts the hero to begin his or her quest at all.
This act is very clearly communicated in Dragon Age: Origins, although the version of the act depends on the selected origin story. A player may begin as one of the following:
- City elf
- Dalish elf
- Elf mage
- Human noble
- Human mage
- Dwarven noble
- Dust Town dwarf
The game’s origin stories are all unique, but in each story, some catastrophic event propels the hero to leave his or her home to join the Grey Wardens. I will explore the following two origin stories: human noble and city elf.
1) Human noble
- The player is the daughter of wealthy aristocrats whose father and brother are preparing to enter battle. The player’s father charges them with the task of taking care of the estate while they are gone. Duncan happens to be visiting to recruit Grey Wardens.
- During the day before their departure, Arl Howe and acts very secretive and sycophantic, generally arousing suspicion in more observant players.
- In the morning, the player awakens to find that the estate is under attack. Arl Howe has betrayed the player’s family and decided to fight for the estate. Arl Howe is also the associate of the primary human antagonist, Logain, foreshadowing Logain’s eventual betrayal.
- Arl Howe’s soldiers slaughter the player’s family with the exception of her brother, who had already left for battle the night before. The hero’s ties to family and home have thus been severed.
- Duncan helps the player escape and brings the player to Ostagar, the kingdom’s fortress at which a large battle with the darkspawn will soon commence. Duncan asks the player to become a Grey Warden, and the player’s only option is to accept the offer.
- This experience is intended to generate anger, pain, and fear in the player, fueling a quest for revenge.
- The player’s home is now with one or more of the following: the Grey Wardens, a new city, or a love interest. The only remaining links to home for the player are her brother, if he is still alive, and her Mabari warhound.
2) City elf
- The origin story opens on the player’s wedding day, and, according to tradition, the player is committed to marrying a stranger chosen by his or her father. The wedding is paired with another wedding. Duncan happens to be in town to recruit Grey Wardens.
- In the middle of the joint ceremony, the Arl of Denerim’s son interrupts, capturing off of the women in order to have his way with all of them before they’re married. The player challenges him, only to end up amongst the women captured (if female) or set to rescue them (if male). In order to escape, the player must slaughter all of the guards and eventually the Arl’s son himself.
- Duncan volunteers to save the player from prosecution for killing the Arl’s son by conscripting him or her into the Grey Wardens.
- While the player’s father and friends still reside in the elven alienage, the player cannot return to his or her home or he or she will be executed.
- The player is intended to feel anger, frustration, pain, and loss of identity in response to the separation. In addition, the player may feel guilt related to not being able to prevent the rape of one of his or her female friends, Arianni. This occurrence provides a reason for the player to seek revenge and atonement.