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"Dragon Age Origins" (2009): The Dark Ritual Pros and Cons

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Lee has been playing "Dragon Age" since the first game's release. She enjoys exploring and explaining the characters and the lore.

A Morrigan wallpaper.

A Morrigan wallpaper.

Dragon Age: Origins is a 2009 classic role-playing game, but if you're reading this article, chances are you already knew that.

For people who need a refresher, however, the Dark Ritual in Origins was a "major" plot choice that was played up as huge and serious business. By Dragon Age Inquisition, however—like so many other choices in Dragon Age—it turned out to be not much of a big deal.

Not to attack Bioware, but Dragon Age—unlike the Mass Effect franchise—is pretty famous for backing out of plot decisions. This was one of many downsides to having us switch protagonists for each installment. After all, why should consequences carry over for a protagonist who has disappeared? Ultimately, Thedas being the protagonist led to a bunch of broken plotlines and choices that didn't matter, and yet, most fans (amazingly enough) don't even seem to make the connection.

A lot of fans were angry and disappointed about the lack of consequences over the years, but it kept happening because Dragon Age: Origins was never meant to be a series. It was created with the assumption that it would never be that popular (bisexual characters probably being a huge part of that), and so, without them having planned ahead of time, it was hard to follow up on those plot choices.

I say Mass Effect was different because we were told in the first game that Cerberus was evil, the geth were victims, and the genophage was wrong—and Bioware stuck to that for three games.

Unfortunately, the people writing for the Dragon Age franchise took the liberty of rewriting the lore multiple times. So, after playing Origins again for the first time in years, I asked myself if the Dark Ritual even mattered.

Like everything else in a classic RPG, in the end, it comes down to your specific character and how you role play them.

Pros and Cons

Kieran was so cute, though.

Kieran was so cute, though.

In this article, we will not be taking Kieran (Morrigan's son in Inquisition) into consideration because the Warden can't see into the future (that's called metagaming!). Instead, we will weigh the pros and cons at the time that the Warden is propositioned.

Cons:

  • You don't know what Morrigan intends to do with the Old God soul.
  • You're being asked to participate in blood magic, which has been expressed throughout the game as dangerous and "bad." Depending on your character, they could be against it.
  • It's possible Flemeth will get the Old God soul and do something awful with it. Even if you "killed" Flemeth, Morrigan will tell you that what you did didn't really kill her, just bought Morrigan time.
  • You are forcing an unborn child to become an abomination. Morrigan is correct to say the fetus isn't really a "child" yet, but that fetus will eventually grow into a child that must share its body with an ancient being's soul—and all without the consent of the child. That's . . . pretty messed up. And it's ironic, considering Morrigan wanted you to kill Flemeth so that she wouldn't be forced to host Mythal.
  • You don't know if the Dark Ritual will really work. Morrigan might be feeding you a line just so she can capture an Old God's soul for nefarious purposes. It doesn't mean your life will be protected. But then, whether your Warden believes Morrigan or not depends on her relationship with your Warden.
  • If you didn't romance Morrigan, you have to sleep with her yourself or get someone else to sleep with her. Whether you love or hate Morrigan, that kinda sucks.
  • You might force Alistair to father a bastard, even though he himself hated that life and will hate himself for behaving just like his father—having a bastard child through casual sex with a woman he didn't care for (Alistair doesn't know about Fiona, his real mother).

Pros:

  • The Warden lives.
  • If it's Alistair's baby, there's an heir to the throne.

The cons outweigh the pros, huh?

But what does it look like from the prospective of each Warden?

Male Warden Who Romanced Morrigan

Morrigan heads through the mirror.

Morrigan heads through the mirror.

If you're playing a male Warden who romanced Morrigan, the choice regarding the Dark Ritual should be pretty damn easy.

Bioware wrote this game with a bunch of horny young straight male gamers in mind, so why wouldn't the majority of them have gone immediately for the side-boob witch who tries to have sex with them before even reaching Lothering?

Because this game was catered to them, Morrigan easily has the Happily Ever After romance. Do the Dark Ritual, and you not only get to have a family with the woman you love—you also get to go through a mirror into a magical elven world and live in domestic bliss with her! What's more, you get to meet your kid and see your "wife" again in Dragon Age: Inquisition!

All this catering to one demographic, who will still turn around and swear Bioware is ignoring them in favor of "duh gays."

All that being said, what are the cons in this situation? The Warden survives the Blight by sleeping with the woman he loves!

Granted, you could role-play a male Warden who is hurt that Morrigan lied from day one. I romanced Morrigan as a male, and it's obvious through a great deal of her dialogue that she's worried you'll be angry when she tells you the truth of why she's there and why she kept sleeping with you.

She just wanted your "demon baby" the whole time. She didn't know she would fall in love with you and come to care about you. If you pay attention, it's obvious she's afraid that when the time comes, you'll react in anger and will refuse to allow her to save your life.

A male Warden who romanced Morrigan can refuse the Dark Ritual—in fact, it would make for some awesome role-play—but let's be honest: most gamers won't. It's more fun to survive and chase Morrigan through Witch Hunt using the ring she gave you.

I mean, who doesn't love a happy ending?

Male Warden + Leliana or Zevran

Zevran and male Warden fanart.

Zevran and male Warden fanart.

If you play a male Warden who romances Leliana or Zevran, you basically have to cheat on your lover with someone else in order to save your own skin.

It would have been much better if you were allowed to talk to Zevran and Leliana about it the way female Warden can talk to Alistair. Instead, you are left to feel as if you went behind your lover's back like a creep, all to avoid doing your duty and saving your own ass.

Yes, your life is more important than the fact that you cheated. I'm sure Zevran and Leliana would understand that. What makes it all seem terrible is the fact that you don't include them in this decision, even though it affects them as well. It's like you make the decision for them. Imagine if your husband or wife went off to get pregnant/get someone pregnant without discussing it with you!

And what are your other options? To make Alistair do it? To make Loghain do it?

I could see asking Loghain to do it. He doesn't seem to care. But Alistair? Alistair hates Morrigan. Making him have sex with Morrigan is all levels of rapey.

So in the end, it seems the best thing to do is to either a) not do the ritual or b) cheat on your partner and do it yourself. If you're going to do something morally questionable, at least do it your damn self and don't drag someone else into it!

Anders healing refugees in "Dragon Age 2."

Anders healing refugees in "Dragon Age 2."

Sure, fans today get dismissive and say "F*ck Loghain!" or "Make Alistair do it! It's just sex!!!" but these people are speaking of a choice they already know the outcome of. I bet you if Inquisition had had no follow-through on the Dark Ritual, fans wouldn't be so casual about it today. But now everyone knows that we get Kieran and nothing much really happens . . . so no one gives a s*it.

I think we've all played these games so much that it becomes easy to say what we would have done in hindsight. I recently caught myself meta-gaming in Dragon Age 2. Anders asked Hawke to help him find the components for his "potion" in Act 3. I had Hawke angrily refuse and storm out of the clinic, only to stop and realize that I was roleplaying based on what I, the player, knew instead of what Hawke, the character, knew.

In that playthrough, my Hawke was actually good friends with Anders (the fact that I didn't recruit Fenris made that easy), so when her friend, who was clearly suffering, asked her for help, why wouldn't she say yes? She doesn't know what he's up to, even if she has her suspicions.

So I had my Hawke get duped into helping Anders blow up the Chantry. And it's only on playthroughs where they aren't friends that she will say no.

As I said, it's so easy to fall into meta-gaming. You really have to roleplay, to put yourself into the shoes of the protagonist, before you decide what to do.

I remember what it was like playing Origins before Inquisition and before I knew what would happen, so this article is written from that perspective, and from the perspective of a Warden who can't see into the future.

So in the end, male Warden has got to do the deed himself or burden some other poor sucker.

Female Warden + Zevran or Leliana

Fan art of the dwarven Warden princess and Leliana. So cute. ^^

Fan art of the dwarven Warden princess and Leliana. So cute. ^^

Which brings us to the female Warden.

Obviously, the female Warden can't knock Morrigan up herself, so she is forced to either a) decline the offer or b) ask her male Warden companion to do it.

Again, asking Alistair to sleep with someone he hates in order to save your life is pretty sh*tty. Yes, we the players know it will save the characters' lives and that it's an ultimately harmless decision, but Alistair and the Warden can't see into the future and don't really know that. For all they know, Morrigan—the swamp witch who openly brags about what a great liar she is —is lying.

And even if the female Warden is good friends with Morrigan and believes she is telling the truth, what has Morrigan really done to have earned her confidence as a potential parent? So far, Morrigan has been shown to sneer on acts of kindness while encouraging you to kill children, elves, and random citizens . . . and we're supposed to jump at the opportunity to make her the mother of the heir of Fereldan?

And why in God's name does Alistair have to sleep with Morrigan in order to make a baby? He doesn't. All Morrigan requires is his seed, which could be inseminated without sex.

They wanted the Dark Ritual to be an emotional, loving night of intimacy for the Wardens who romanced Morrigan, while screwing over the ones who did not.

Once again, I always feel better about asking Loghain to do it. He doesn't hate Morrigan like Alistair and is fairly indifferent toward her. Meanwhile, Morrigan seems to be mildly attracted to Loghain, if you listen to their party banters.

The entire thing is less scummy if Loghain does it versus Alistair, who is clearly uncomfortable with what's happening and doesn't want it at all.

With the female Warden, she's not the one sleeping with Morrigan, so there's no reason for her run and get Leliana's or Zevran's opinion or approval. It would be good for her to tell them about it later, though. And according to Inquisition, the Warden informs Leliana.

Female Warden Who Romanced Alistair

Alistair and elven female Warden.

Alistair and elven female Warden.

God help any straight female gamer who played a female Warden and romanced Alistair.

When I romanced Alistair, I didn't care about the Dark Ritual or have a huge attachment to Alistair because I'm a lesbian (those mods that make Morrigan and Leliana sleep together piss me off, though). If anything, I thought Alistair's reaction to being asked to sleep with Morrigan was hilarious ("What?!") and it was one of my favorite parts of the game (still is)—not that I didn't feel bad about making him sleep with someone he hated, but I digress.

If you romanced Alistair, then chances are you didn't conscript Loghain, Alistair is still in your party, and thus, Alistair is the only option for the Dark Ritual. The Warden can't even ask Riordan to do it. Alistair is purposely set up to be the only one who can impregnate Morrigan.

This is pretty sh*tty for female gamers who allowed themselves to get emotionally invested in these characters. Sh*tty but not surprising. Most female protagonists in Bioware games have crappy romances full of angsty drama like this (Blackwall, Solas, Thane, and Kaidan to name a few), while male gamers get to tip-toe through tulips with their love interest.

A scene from the mod Alistair's Dark Ritual.

A scene from the mod Alistair's Dark Ritual.

Check any game forum on the net, and you will see male gamers screeching that it's "Just sex!!!!!" anytime a female gamer brings up the Dark Ritual. But I bet you those same gamers would have flipped their s*it if they had been forced to watch Morrigan or Leliana banging Loghain in order to save the Warden's life.

Ugh. Someone erase the creepy Alistair/Morrigan scene from my mind. Alistair even smiles while he's sitting on the bed as Morrigan is sauntering up to him. I feel just awful for straight female gamers. I'm laughing . . . but I also feel awful.

The image above is a scene from the mod Alistair's Dark Ritual, which I used back when I didn't yet hate Alistair to stop romancing him. It's a mod that makes the entire Dark Ritual more appropriately dramatic for the female Warden who romanced Alistair. Instead of Alistair diving into the bedsheets with a smile, he's regretful about the whole thing, hugs the female Warden goodbye, comes back to her filled with despair afterwards . . .

The mod gives the scene the severity and emotion female players deserved, rather than just . . . stabbing female players in the face and laughing. (Come to think of it, Thane's romance could have used this in Mass Effect 3 but female players were, as always, forgotten yet again. Oh, Bioware . . .)

Another image from the Alistair's Dark Ritual mod.

Another image from the Alistair's Dark Ritual mod.

I mean, even gay male Wardens shouldn't have had a problem with donating s*erm to the ritual or prodding Loghain to get in there and drop his small clothes (most everyone hates Loghain anyway).

But the female Warden has to offer up her lover like a piece of choice meat and/or bully someone else into doing what she can't. She doesn't even have much choice since she can't do the ritual herself. So in the end, only female Wardens were screwed. Funny how that works.

The female Warden is pretty much boxed into a corner. If she wants to live, she has to let her boyfriend bang someone she might hate. And even if Morrigan is the female Warden's sister at heart, the entire thing is still pretty messed up.

When I played a female Warden who romanced Alistair, I tried both options. With my Dalish, she chose to die (I mostly just wanted to see how her death would play out, plus the sad ending). With my elven mage, she talked Alistair into sleeping with Morrigan. I always thought both outcomes were pretty great, but the choice of sacrifice was my favorite for a long time—not because I didn't want to rent out Alistair but because I loved the ending and the Warden's funeral.

And again, making Alistair sleep with someone he doesn't want to sleep with for a blood magic ritual that may not even work is pretty rapey. Doesn't matter if you're romancing him. You're asking him to impregnate someone and become a father and have sex with someone he hates, all without evidence that it will actually save his life.

That's not a little thing you're asking there.

Morrigan and Kieran leave Skyhold.

Morrigan and Kieran leave Skyhold.

So as I said up higher, the point of choices in RPGs is to define your character and their story. Nothing else, really. So when you make a choice concerning Morrigan, it's supposed to be a reflection of a) who your character is as a person and b) your relationship with Morrigan.

Do you trust her? Do you like her? How far are you willing to go to stop the Blight? This is all that matters in the end. Not the outcome, but your character and how they react in the given situation.

As for the Dark Ritual itself, it was supposed to be a difficult choice with an outcome dubious enough to give the Warden (and us) pause. The fact that it ultimately wasn't doesn't amount to much doesn't mean we should start roleplaying Origins any differently.

© 2019 Lee

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