Moments: Tragedy At Ostagar
It’s not often that an event takes place within a game that catches a player completely by surprise and changes the entire paradigm of the rest of the experience. But this moment in Dragon Age: Origins did. The first major battle of the game not only surprised players, but it also shaped everything that came after it, both in that game and the rest of the Dragon Age series.
By the time the player reaches the Battle of Ostagar, they are already at least five hours into the game. They have played through one of the six origin stories and placed themselves as a junior Grey Warden under the mentorship of Duncan after being initiated into the order on the eve of the first battle against the Blight. Through Bioware’s deft use of both overheard conversation and artfully executed cinematics, the player has learned that Teyrn Loghain will be the one responsible for outflanking the dark spawn horde while they are engaging the forces of King Cailan, the ruler of Ferelden. The player ends up having to light the beacon that will signal this maneuver when the tower it is housed in is overwhelmed by dark spawn. However, when the beacon is lit, instead of coming to the aid of the king and Duncan, Loghain chooses to retreat, thereby dooming both the young ruler and the player’s mentor to death, in effect, destroying any expectation as to how the game would unfold. Combine that with the fact that the player’s character is shot down by more invading dark spawn at the end of the cinematic, and everything the player expected has been completely uprooted.
But what is truly impressive about this moment is that not only does it immediately shape the outcome of Dragon Age: Origins, it is the lynchpin that has shapes the entire Dragon Age series to date. Loghain’s choices as the primary antagonist in the first game means that the player will have to make a choice between avenging the death of his mentor and forgiving Loghain in favor of strengthening the forces of Ferelden.
In addition, the death of Duncan means that at the end of the game, the player’s character is the head of the Grey Wardens in Ferelden, which sets up the events in Dragon Age: Origins Awakening. There’s no doubt that if Duncan had been alive, the events in the expansion would have unfolded differently.
Finally, because of the failure to stop the Blight at Ostagar, the village of Lothering is overrun, and one family in particular is displaced. This is the Hawke family, among whom are the main protagonists of Dragon Age II, who without this incentive to move, would have never relocated to Kirkwall, and would have never set up the events that take place in the second game in the series.
So not only was the Battle of Ostagar important to the beginning of Dragon Age Origins, it is an event that is integral to the identity of the entire franchise.