Dragon Age: Origins - Dark Ritual Not Disappointing In Context To Potential Sequel Plotline, An Opinion & Reality Check - ejronin Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Dragon Age: Origins - Dark Ritual Not Disappointing In Context To Potential Sequel Plotline, An Opinion & Reality Check

This is a lengthy post full of spoilers about one of several endings, it requires time to read and absorb, so if pressed for time or with lack of desire to read about an ending - move on now.

The point here isn’t to necessarily spoil the game however, it is to explain away players’ disappointment with the “Dark Ritual” ending as I heard and read many players are. It is important to note that the game does a very good job of ensuring that all rewards have their own consequences. Saving a life costs a life and eerie balance is at play the whole game through.

Dragon Age: Origins is a game that players should be really happy with in that it’s lived up to the title. It is a wonderful introduction to the world, the lore, and the idea of a much larger chain of events over the Blight and darkspawn. The very rich story with many layers and possibilities, converge on the night prior to the final battle with the Archdemon. Most of the storyline details aren’t in the character dialogue but in the numerous codexes found throughout the game. Codexes reveal the past and present on goings, motives of certain groups, and shed light on the who’s who in the game world. The main player character (henceforth “PC”) can come from one of 6 different beginnings and while the meat of the story will differ slightly, they’ll end up with more or less the same band of companions. How the companions feel about the PC hinge upon the choices made in what side-quests the PC embarks upon.

I played a male City Elf who killed the Arl's son that raped my friend and stole my betrothed, became the Grey Warden Templar / Bezerker, saved Sten, named my Dog "Ghengis", spared Wynne, drank some of the Darkspawn blood in the Warden’s Keep, killed Flemmeth, only took a pinch of ashes from the urn to save the Arl Eamon, saved Connor, fought with the militia at Redcliffe, made Shale remember that she was a dwarf, destroyed the anvil, sided with Harrowmont, removed the curse from the Werewolves and Dalish, exposed the slavers in the Alienage, let Allister kill Loghain and imprison the would-be queen, and… performed the Dark Ritual with Morrigan.
 
The maturity level of the game plays on the maturity of comprehension of the player. DA:O reminds me very much of the emotional plays that Final Fantasy VI (and in some cases Final Fantasy X)makes - birth, death, love, pain, abandonment, loneliness, self awareness, friendship, loyalty, betrayal... all of these things aren't so black and white in terms of right and wrong and many of them require a sacrifice in areas to obtain or rectify that we're usually unwilling to do so easily, especially at the expense of others. Young hearts and minds have a very hard time coming to grips with how unfair these motions can be once realized, or how unfair getting them in our favor really is and veterans of these emotional battles grow easily weary because we understand the tolls they take and witnessed the cost, sometimes first hand. It's unpleasant, cruel, and devious and that's the nature of it yet we still search it out hoping that in the end things will work out fine and any transgressions are justified by the outcome, because... because we have at least hope.


DARK RITUAL ENDING AS I SEE IT:


Morrigan is a character that as an anti-heroine, parallels Loghain – she’s integral to the overall success of quelling the Blight, but she’s got separate motive for doing so and with potentially great cost. This raises questions about Morrigan being a heroine at all, or part of a grander scheme of a greater evil. Personally I think that Morrigan, is a character torn between what she is and what she wants to be. Dissociative and callous, Morrigan speaks her mind, often just to see the reaction of other people. Some might call her someone with sociopathic attitudes... perhaps someone who is generally indifferent and apathetic. She has a dark curiosity that rubs many people the wrong way at the right times, she's dangerous and much about her is kept secret by her but can she really be blamed?

There is a lot we don’t know about Morrigan and even less about Flemmeth, making them two characters that we’re driven to explore to no conclusive ends (for now). Flemmeth and Morrigan prove to be secretive characters revealing only what they need to manipulate a scenario giving them a dark feel. But in time enough can be figured out that indicate they might both be members of the Dragon Cult.

Raised by Flemmeth, the shapeshifting witch who allegedly "ate" men after sex with them and intended to use Morrigan as a host to continue her own life as she had done with allegedly dozens of previous “daughters”.  At least this is what we’re told. Morrigan's character depths arise from a lack of information. As players we make assumptions based on what little info we have. We want her to be one way or another, not very willing to give into the idea of a tertiary state of mind – she’s trying to hide her real lineage for fear of rejection or persecution. She's not dissuaded to be something other than what she is and certainly not willing to express herself in an open exchange for a period of time to subdue any previous assumptions. This then makes us as the audience creates extra space for character persona mobility - Is she this? Does she intend to do that? Does she want those? All various strings of her personality that we don't know but want to make room for, so we do.

The “Dark Ritual” is what I think really sets the tone for a sequel. The PC has the option to refuse the ritual, refuse to try and talk Allister into the ritual and given that it’s completely turned down Morrigan will leave, bitter and cold. Either way, Morrigan will leave but if the ritual is performed she’ll fight and then leave as opposed to leaving before the big fight. Morrigan was one of my main party members through the game anyway so she was helpful in the fight and keeping the PC ‘in game’ I felt it made sense for the PC to keep her around for as long as possible, hoping to convince her to change her mind and not run off as she promises after the Dark Ritual.

No matter what the PC does, Morrigan leaves - it is unavoidable and the player has no control over it. We must simply watch helplessly as she walks away.

Still, why put a lot of work into building a relationship with Morrigan if it’s known that it will ultimately end in heartbreak and disaster? Morrigan insists on several occasions that the player will regret being close to her in the end or regret leaving her in the end (foreshadowing that Morrigan is integral to the plot irrespective of choices, and that no matter what you do, it's going to 'hurt'). Both cases have regret and if the player chooses Morrigan and Morrigan has a high level of affection towards the PC, the Epilogue states that with Morrigan’s Ring, the player senses when Morrigan thinks of him and feels her regret and sorrow (assuming Morrigan strongly ‘loved’ the PC).

What we do know of them is what we’re told by their characters and what we read in the codex as myth and legend, so we never really do know what to believe. Thus, we’ve got to experience it for ourselves. We only assume that Morrigan and Flemmeth are human witches because they look like it, but they’re both shape-shifters and their characters constantly point out that things are not as they appear. Morrigan tells the PC that she shape-shifts by living as the creature she’s taken form. If Flemmeth is also a shapeshifter and shifts to a High Dragon, then it’s apparent they’re part of the Dragon Cult (since they have to be among that to which they shift).  She also tells the PC that she’s ventured from the woods before and walked among people in the. Morrigan is the only character to have unnaturally colored eyes, like that of a reptile and the Dragon Cult codex explains that cult members who drink of the dragon blood are sometimes affected physically. The codex also explains that cult members turned to worship dragons because their Old Gods failed them. The plot thickens and we can begin to see that Morrigan in terms of the Dark Ritual may be more complex than what she’s telling us.
 
Players are left unclear as to who was lying about whom (or if at all) between the two - they could be in cahoots or they could be at odds. If players embark on the quest to kill Flemmeth she explains that if allowed to live she'll eventually find Morrigan and deal with her in an undisclosed manner but that players can take the Grimoire. Maybe it’s a case of "A teacher teaches a student everything the student knows, not everything the teacher knows." If the players kill Flemmeth (who seemed to fully expect the players to return and try to kill her and hints that it isn’t the first time Morrigan has tried this), Morrigan expresses her uncertainty that Flemmeth is really dead and that if she’s not, will have to find some way to take care of it later.  It brings the idea that Flemmeth is a lot more powerful than we know. The conversation with Flemmeth indicates that the story of possession is something to motivate the PC, but ultimately untrue. Morrigan also states that getting pregnant is part of why Flemmeth sent her with the PC – and never talks about anything other than what the Black Grimoire contained, not what Flemmeth's Grimoire contained so, if Flemmeth is truly dead why continue with Flemmeth’s order to conceive?

The only two logical reason I can come up with is that Morrigan and Flemmeth are as I talked about earlier, part of the Dragon Cult. The Dragon Cult codex explains about their practices,a nd Morrigan says she wants to get the Old God soul from the Archdemon and transfer it to the unborn child and teach  it the good of things. I think that this is Morrigans way of doing exactly what the Chantry is: working to get their God to come back their people once more. The other reason is that Morrigan IS Flemmeth - if you go through all dialogue options in the Dark Ritual conversation and have taken on the killing of Flemmeth quest then you'll notice that Morrigan says some of the exact phrases Flemmeth did in your conversation with her. So, either Morrigan got possessed in studying the grimoire or Flemmeth wasn't dead and possessed Morrigan. I mean really... the "Robes of Possession" weren't all that hard to find, and if you don't kill Flemmeth, she gives them to you to give Morrigan anyway.


WHY THE DARK RITUAL ENDING NEED NOT DISAPPOINT:

Perhaps the greatest frustration players felt with Morrigan stems from the consistent pattern of game stories to give the game players explanations of other players’ motives. Players have to accept that Morrigan is secretive and doesn’t owe the player anything in her own mind. People are selfish, secretive, and manipulative and that doesn’t always make them bad people. Morrigan was all of these, but she was also someone that was worth saving because despite her damaged persona, players could see tiny slivers good, and tiny seeds of hope. The game however, presents the story in a way that nothing is free and heroes make sacrifices, sometimes unwillingly. Loghain was an integral character in context to this theme. He became ultimately treasonous for the love of his country, left with a reckless daydreaming King Cailan to defend against the impending Blight, having suffered through betrayal and loss of his own past loves… Loghain forced the idea of dealing with harsh reality in harsh ways that often contradicted the altruistic nature often associated with heroes and exemplified the phrase, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” - Which means that you can plan on doing good, simply wanting to do good doesn’t mean it’ll end up that way.

We come to expect equal exchange between the characters. Leliana expresses her concern for people openly and is revealed to possibly retell stores of her vision to garner attention, no matter how negative; Allister eventually tells us of his lineage, and why he keeps it secret (which contrasts Morrigan's own secretive nature) and even Loghain has the fortitude to tell the Landsmeet he felt his evils were just with and objectively valid reasoning in context to his ultimate goal.

If partying with Allister and Leliana in tow alongside Morrigan we can hear the contrast of virtues between the three. Leliana and Morrigan debate in much the same way an atheist and theist debate the existence God, both with rational explanations for their belifs as they pertain to their individual viewpoints. Allister and Morrigan often squabble over morality from their individual standpoints, again with very valid rationale. It sheds light on Morrigan's egocentric style brought about by a life of isolation, prompting the PC to work to alter that and offer a perspective from someone we assume she respects and hopefully trusts - making the eventual 'betrayal' all that much more hurtful.

Ultimately the PC runs from death, thus Morrigan runs from the PC. Something gained and something lost, and it is important remember that Morrigan states in the conversation about the conception of a child that if the PC chooses to take the killing blow and not partake in the dark ritual therefore sacrificing yourself, that she'd mourn for you. What do we believe? We know she’s hiding something, we know she’s no issue with lying and often seeks an end for personal gain or power… but she’s not evil, just chaotic.

We can't simply assume that Morrigan will be 'ours' just because we made her happy or that she 'should' see that we care thus so she should also. Simply being willing to be transparent with someone is no reason to assume they'd be equally transparent, especially with someone like Morrigan who, has depth based on what we don't know as opposed to what we do know.  The most painful love is unrequited love, yet it is one of the many facets of love that is very real - if not the most real because it stabs us in the front and not the back, and we have to deal with the anxiety of watching it all happen without being able to control it. Perhaps the pain of it comes from the idea that Morrigan is ultimately professed to be a friend and a lover, and we'd rather be stabbed in the back, totally unaware, never having to deal with watching the perceived betrayal unfold and that backstabbing never has a good reason therefore no reason to search it out. Was she wrong for being forthright and telling us to avoid her? No, at least she cared enough to be honest and it now becomes our choice to be hurt in the end. It challenged our own worldviews in the game and contrasts them against the background experiences of the other characters with which we interact. Morrigan is the prime example of this and the only character that we can't just kill, abandon or force to leave. She's like a fresco - unique and ornate but not without serious flaws that detract from overall sense of total perfection. Her character is well written and she's supposed to lead us on -that's her role, and she ultimately does what we as players struggle to do through the entire game - deal with the reality of the situations no matter who it hurts or why, even if it also hurts herself. Layer this with overtones of emotions like love and there needs to be less explanation because there is less reason for explanation to be given.

When I got married my wife would sometimes ask me "Why do you love me?" and at that time I could go on for days explaining it, giving examples of reasons. Five and a half years later there needs to be no reason other than I simply do - there are still reasons, but they're nothing more than accessories to it and not reasons for it. In this case, love becomes the strongest of intangible emotions only equaled by hate. Spend enough time with it, and it is just what it is. We've got to accept that from Morrigan as a character and know that in the sequel there will be much more revealed about her motives and whether or not she truly did love the PC or were we just a tool for her own ends (and then consider that over time, things change and she may realize that she did love us more than she thought - you know, that whole distance makes the heart grow fonder thing?). The point is, that Morrigan disappointed many people because they either know someone like Morrigan or they, deep down inside, are Morrigan. We long for people to work to open us up and we feel that if they did then we'd go to them, like some fantasy romance novel yet we know we wouldn't. Fear wells up and... we choke. We're comfortable in that pain and loneliness because we've know it for so long. Conversely, those people who we know who are like Morrigan we've taken time to learn who they are... but not having been in a situation like in the game, we can only assume that they'd reciprocate and 'love' us back. Anything less is unfair, but love isn't fair. Someone always loses even if we don't see it.

In summary, Morrigan represents everything we dislike about ourselves and others. The shallow mental judgmental narratives that underline the day to day conversations between people, our lack of faith and values in ourselves, the short sighted self involvement and over/under analytical propensity to see things that are not there or never were to satiate our curiosity and quell the thirst for knowledge and understanding, and our desire to give meaning to things that have none or redirect off handed comments from others about parts of our lives they’d never understand - all come to the single character, Morrigan. Some players want her to go away but she won't (well… you can kick her out, but she comes back), she's too important and self exposing to be written off as a cheap feral floozy while others move to embrace her in a futile attempt to change that which we have no control. She's what we love to hate and hate to love about ourselves and society. And yet one last possibility remains that the emotional jolt Morrigan gives us is covered by the natural reaction of denial. Perhaps Morrigan is a heartless shrew, and we choose to not admit it given our emotional investments; that we played into her and Flemming's hand - Morrigan may not have liked it, but like Loghain, dealing with the reality of it takes precedence over the fantasy world our emotions have created to shelter us.
 

SEQUEL PREDICTION:
 

Given that the story generally pushed to make the PC to live on (there are more choices to allow the PC to live than die), and that the “Dark Ritual” ending is the most developed and revealing I’m betting the following basic plotline will be in Dragon Age 2.
 

The plotline of the second game would be about Flemmeth, the Dragon Cult, and a possible showdown between members of the Chantry and the Dragon Cultists. All of that while a political battle between Ferelden and Orlain possibly igniting a minor war, The Circle of the Magi, Blood Magic, the possible need to resurrect the Anvil and the reuniting of both City and Dalish elves as a single sovereign nation would be integral plotlines as well.


I think if Flemmeth is alive then she would seek revenge on Morrigan and reveal that ultimately the story of possessions are untrue in the fashion they’re told. That, the name “Flemmeth” is used in conjunction with the legend to better conceal and throw doubt as to the existence of the Dragon Cult (though that could be a DLC quest and not part of the sequel I suppose… discover the truth behind Flemmeth and afford yet another possible ending).


Ultimately what I'd like to see is the sequel take the work that the PC did to gain the approval and affection from Morrigan get rewarded. Flemmeth’s (replacing Loghain in terms of character purpose) return to corrupt the child would prompt Morrigan to seek help from the PC, if even for selfish reasons, thus giving opportunity to rekindle the lost relationship, but also put the two at odds given that Morrigan was the one who walked out despite the protests of the PC.  Morrigan would have to show bits of humanity and admit wrongs and submit to the weakness that is love - and at what cost? The answers would be in the sequel. This isn't to say that along the second journey the PC couldn't have relationships with other men or women, but the ultimate goal with Morrigan would be to get closure and continue the relationship or move on. A nice touch would be placed in a situation where you have to choose to kill her or defend her from death at the hands of some of your companions (or convince them to also defend her)


I think it would be neat if not perhaps too complicated in the mechanical process to have the sequel look at the save game files of the first game and allow the player to unlock main and plot dynamics based on which of the endings players achieved. It may be too intricate for the developers to worry about but Bioware is really good with complex storytelling and plot lines, so who knows?...


CLOSING THOUGHTS:


Overall, the game can be played out many different ways and has a few variations to the ending, but the 'real' ending in my opinion is the Dark Ritual where you're forced to suffer the loss, realize in time that your own selfishness may end up causing a catastrophe thus proving part of Morrigan's point about how love is a weakness to be avoided at all costs. Dark, engaging, and thought provoking I think Bioware has set themselves up for a short franchise that can be considered an instant classic in the RPG area for multi-faceted characters, wealth of dynamic outcomes with static plot underpinnings. Unfortunately, I feel that game may be too deep for a lot of modern players and am somewhat afraid that the sequel may end up having to get watered down to bring a lot of even superficial questions to light. Leliana was a good character as were all of them, and while I half expected Shale to mention 'meatbag' even she was well done given her circumstances and background. It still remains that Morrigan was the central character through every ending thus, the subplot that carries into forming the core plot of the sequel.
 

Only three other games in the history of my gaming have left me feeling the way I do about the story in context to how it's told and where it takes us on an emotional level - Advent Rising, Final Fantasy VI and Final Fantasy X (The Astyanax is in there somewhere, but... that was a happy ending all around). Still I remain hopeful that like Final Fantasy X-2, Dragon Age 2 will provide us will some multitude of closure on the relationship between the PC and Morrigan while retaining the mature emotional concepts and the things entailed with them. Nevertheless, as the PC we've more or less asked for and walked into the emotional trap set for us by the storytellers even though we know it's coming - we feel we can at some point change it and make things 'okay'. Bravo Bioware, bravo.

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