Friday, November 13, 2009

Dragon Age: Origins -- The Landsmeet

I had an amazing time with Dragon Age: Origins, and the Landsmeet sequence was a big contributor to that. So I decided to recount my experience over on Bitmob, and it was really well received.

Be Warned: This article is basically one giant spoiler.

DA_Landsmeet_beginning

I thought that I knew my enemy. Every single action I had taken served a single purpose: deposing the traitor, Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir. The supposed hero of Ferelden betrayed King Cailan on the battlefield, leaving him to die at the hands of the Darkspawn, and blamed the Grey Wardens for the king’s death.

The Blight loomed in the background, threatening to annihilate all of Ferelden. But as long as Loghain lived and drew support from any noble family, facing the Blight would have to wait.

So Arl Eamon, a victim of Loghain’s machinations and my newly acquired ally, called the Landsmeet. At this event we could formally reveal Loghain’s many betrayals and atrocities to the ruling class and place Alistair -- fellow Grey Warden, illegitimate son of Cailan's father, King Maric, and my friend -- on the throne.

 

Unfortunately, the Landsmeet did not progress as smoothly as we would've liked. Loghain proved to be a master orator, and he rebuffed all of my attempts at discrediting him. He aimed to keep his daughter, Anora, on the throne while retaining control of Ferelden’s armies.

After a heated verbal battle, the proceedings broke down into violence. Cooler heads eventually prevailed and called for the most traditional means of settling an argument: a duel. Loghain would represent Anora, and I would represent Alistair. The winner would, of course, decide the ruler.

DA_Landsmeet_Duel

In the end, my Elvish dual-weapon fighting style was too much for Loghain. He conceded, placing his life -- and the lives of all of Ferelden's citizens -- in my hands.

Indecision

Suddenly, I found myself conflicted. My sworn enemy knelt at my feet, ready for execution. I'd been anticipating this moment throughout my journeys. I finally had the opportunity to kill Loghain and exact my revenge.

But I couldn’t do the deed. I couldn’t kill Loghain. I probably wouldn’t have had this change of heart if we dueled to the death. In the heat of battle, I surely would have killed him. Or maybe my reluctance resulted from a prior encounter with Ser Cauthrien, Loghain’s commander.

Ser Cauthrien was an honorable and principled woman in addition to being a fierce warrior. I thought if I revealed some of Loghain’s crimes to her, she would realize his evil nature and join my side. Instead, I was surprised to discover that she not only knew about Loghain’s betrayals, endorsements of slavery, and kidnappings, she also reluctantly endorsed them.

Seeing Loghain’s actions through Ser Cauthrien’s eyes made me realize that Loghain wasn’t necessarily the monster that I had originally thought. Like my own actions, Loghain’s scheming had a single purpose: saving Ferelden from the Blight.

I could not agree with his methods, but his motivations were certainly just. In fact, his motivations were more just than my own. While I was bent on seeking revenge, he was considering the bigger picture and the greater threat.

Perhaps that’s why I couldn’t execute Loghain when he submitted himself to me. I let him live.

Alistair furiously took exception to this. He couldn’t forgive Loghain’s crimes, especially those against the Grey Wardens

DA_Landsmeet_Alistair_disapproves

Alistair had always been reluctant to become king – he simply didn’t want the responsibility. But when I decided to spare Loghain’s life, Alistair voiced his desire to take the throne. He would become king, if only to see Loghain executed.

In turn, Anora objected to Alistair’s sentiments and questioned his ability to rule due to his selfishness. She, of course, wanted to remain on the throne and see her father live.

Verdict

Finally, both Alistair and Anora turned to me. It was time for me to declare the undisputed ruler of Ferelden.

Even though I attended the Landsmeet with the intention of declaring Alistair king, I had to rethink my decision.

Alistair was my friend, companion, and fellow Grey Warden. We had been together since the beginning. His irreverent humor lightened some of the most harrowing circumstances, and his weapon-and-shield defensive-fighting style perfectly complemented my dual-weapon offensive style.

Alistair also never wanted to be king. He was content with his role as a Grey Warden, fighting in battle with no responsibility to anyone except the man standing next to him.

But I knew that if I did not declare him king now and allow him to execute Loghain, he would leave. I would lose him as an ally on the battlefield and as a friend in life.

We were also really close to having sex, and I didn’t want to ruin that.

On the other hand, I despised Anora. Like her father, she had betrayed me. She had set me up in a diabolical plot to portray me as an immoral kidnapper.

Also like her father, she was unapologetic for her actions. Even though I deplored her means, Anora did what she thought was right, not for herself, but for the kingdom. I had to admire her conviction. Such a quality seemed essential for a strong ruler.

I weighed the pros and cons of both Alistair and Anora for 10 minutes, staring at the screen as the lightning on my sword crackled and the characters swayed slowly, waiting for a response. Option one: “Fine, Alistair will be king, then.” Option two: “Very well. Anora will remain on the throne.”

DA_Landsmeet_king_making

I chose Anora.

Alistair, needless to say, was devastated. “You’re siding with her? How could you do this to me? You, of all people?”

My response was trite and detached. “I thought you hated the idea of being king.”

“What’s wrong with you? He’s repeatedly tried to kill us both, and you side with him over me?”

Alistair left then, and I never saw him again. “Have fun ending the Blight...or whatever. I guess you made your decision, right? So goodbye.”

Why I Play

Videogames have a wide range of appeals. They can provide goal-oriented satisfaction, connect us with family and friends, create adrenaline-pumping moments, and tell engaging stories.

However, anyone can obtain any of those appeals from a number of other mediums and forms of entertainment, such as books, movies, television, and organized sports.

The Landsmeet sequence in Dragon Age: Origins provides an experience unique to videogames. In no other medium can a person gain the experience of determining a people’s fate. No other medium is capable of forcing a person to weigh their selfish desires against the good of the many.

I know developers at BioWare constructed the entire Landsmeet sequence. I know that my decisions in Dragon Age: Origins have little to no effect on the overall gameplay. Nonetheless, in choosing Anora over Alistair at the Landsmeet, I’ve gained an experience that can be applied to all aspects of life.

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