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"Dragon Age: Origins" (2009): The Mage Warden, An Analysis

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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.

Warden Mage Surana official concept art.

Warden Mage Surana official concept art.

I love playing mages in video games, so the entire mage/templar conflict in the Dragon Age franchise has always intrigued me. As a result, the elf mage Warden, Surana, has always been one of my favorite wardens.

After the dwarf noble, I feel she has a very compelling arc regarding friendship and betrayal, and it provides a lot of great role playing opportunities, especially if you're going to romance Morrigan, an apostate (illegal) mage or Alistair, a former templar (aka mage hunter).

Though I love Surana, I also love the human mage Amell—but I'll be honest. That's mostly because Warden Amell is the cousin of Hawke, the protagonist from Dragon Age 2.

I never really got into roleplaying Amell before Dragon Age 2 because, for me, playing an elf mage made the game more interesting and it also made the character more relatable.

The elf mage has to contend with hatred for mages, hatred for elves, and hatred for women throughout the game. I relate to this because I'm a black lesbian (racism, sexism, homophobia) so I know what it's like to stand at an intersection of hatred. Why wouldn't I be drawn to embodying a character like this, who overcomes these social barriers to save the entire world?

That being said, most of my analysis will focus on Surana, not Amell.

Let us begin.

The Mage Warden's Background

My screenshot of the elf mage you can chat with about Surana's background.

My screenshot of the elf mage you can chat with about Surana's background.

Unlike the other origins, we know little to nothing of Surana's background.

We know that Amell came from a noble family thanks to Dragon Age 2, and that she was sent away to the tower at a young age, something which seemed to prompt Hawke's mother into desperately hiding her mage children.

But in Dragon Age: Origins, we know nothing of Amell, and all we know of Surana is that she was either from Lothering or was a city elf who was taken from the alienage in Denerim. This is something she can say in dialogue when asked about her family during the origin.

It was like this on purpose because the mage Warden's origin is supposed to be about her lack of family and how she tried to create one instead inside the Circle with Jowan, a sibling, and Enchanter Irving, who is supposed to be a father figure.

This is my Canon Warden

My Surana Warden outwits the Pride demon.

My Surana Warden outwits the Pride demon.

I was playing Surana again recently for the hell of it, and I realized that Surana is actually my favorite origin. In fact, female Surana who romances Leliana and does all the "good" idealistic choices (barring Harrowmont because Bhelen's the better king) is actually my canon.

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Surana is basically a city elf without all the depressing drama from the city elf origin (I really hate rape plots). Her origin is more amusing than heartbreaking. There are several fun characters you can talk to (Sweeney comes to mind), and as someone who has spent their life basically isolated from others, I always felt I could identify a lot with how alone Surana was.

I mean, even compared to Amell, who has an entire family out there, Surana has no one. She never meets her family in Denerim or Lothering, (which might have been interesting, in hindsight) and her entire arc is about her only friend betraying her!

I think this was done deliberately to underscore how socially miserable living in a Circle can be. It's a place full of fear, where everyone is paranoid they're going to be made Tranquil. A powerful mage like Surana is a threat to the templars and will, therefore, be avoided by other mages who don't want trouble.

In every other origin, the Warden has a friend they hang out with for the duration of the origin. In the Dalish origin, there was Tamlen. The human noble had Ser Gilmore. The dwarf noble had Gorim. The dwarf commoner had Leske. And the city elf had Soris. (Notably all male . . .)

The mage has no one but Jowan, who betrays her. And before meeting Jowan for the first time in the origin, the player's companion and "friend" was Mouse, another person who manipulated, lied, and betrayed Surana.

So for all her power, rather than being in control of her own destiny, Surana's power isolates and confines her (literally to a tower and also socially).

The Warden's Isolation

Jowan as he appears in "Dragon Age: Origins."

Jowan as he appears in "Dragon Age: Origins."

Through dialogue choices with Jowan during the origin, we learn that he and the Warden have been friends since they were both dumped at the tower as children.

Jowan discusses his mother cursing him and calling him a demon and disowning him for his magic. So his father takes him to the Chantry and just leaves him there. Eventually, he is taken to the Circle Tower.

Later after the events at Redcliffe, the Warden can ask Jowan why he would betray her when they had been friends for so long. Jowan will admit that he was jealous of her tremendous magic power.

The Warden, after all, is quite famous for her skill. So much to the point that Duncan comes all the way to the tower to recruit her specifically. And she is known by those in the tower as Irving's "star pupil."

But she is also feared.

Knight Commander Greagoir as he appears in the game.

Knight Commander Greagoir as he appears in the game.

Again, the Mage Warden is alone.

Having Knight Commander Greagoir always breathing down her neck because he's afraid of her turning on the tower meant that other mages steered clear of the Warden. Even the templar Cullen, who has a crush on her, is too terrified of her to really make a move, instead hiding behind the pretense of duty and honor.

Interestingly enough, Jowan does not observe that the mage Warden is lonely and isolated because of her power. Instead, he envies her! Which, I think, has more to do with his feelings of self-worth as a result of his mother's abuse and neglect.

Trying to be a blood mage was Jowan's way of trying to be as good as the Warden. Instead, he got caught, lied to his friend—and his lover's!—face about it, and took them all down with him.

Basically, Jowan was willing to throw the Warden under the bus and risk imprisonment and torture for his lover, Lily, if it meant he got to escape the Circle and becoming a Tranquil.

This is what makes Jowan's betrayal so sad, deep, and thoroughly infuriating.

Betraying Jowan Makes Sense

Enchanter Irving as he appears in the game.

Enchanter Irving as he appears in the game.

There are two ways that you can role play the Warden.

The first way? As someone who is naive and completely trusting of Jowan, believing him to be their friend.

The second way? As someone who knows Jowan well enough to tell when he is lying. You can actually ask Jowan straight-up if he is a blood mage. This occurs while he is standing in the Chantry hall with Lily. When asked, he stammers a great deal and has shifty eyes.

And instead of letting herself get thrown under the bus, the Warden can go to Enchanter Irving and betray Jowan before he can betray her, thus securing her own survival.

I have done both paths, and I prefer to betray Jowan.

This is largely because the Mage Warden was raised by Enchanter Irving, who is like a father to her. And the mage origin shows that Irving is a conniving and ruthless politician, constantly sparring for what little power he can gain in order to protect his mages and the Circle from the ruthlessness of the templars and the Chantry.

A cool Enchanter Irving mod I can't find.

A cool Enchanter Irving mod I can't find.

If you go to Irving and tell him that Jowan is planning to escape with Lily, a Chantry sister, Irving will devise a plan to get both of them caught, so that the Chantry is embarrassed and exposed.

The Warden can call Irving vicious for this, but it's mere politics. Taking the Chantry down a peg insures that they don't purge the Circle over one blood mage because they would have to purge their own. It's pragmatic and cruel but a necessary cruelty.

This is the man that the Mage Warden was raised by. It only makes sense that she would learn from him and be as cunning, pragmatic, and cruel when the need arises. So why wouldn't she betray Jowan and Lily to secure her own survival? Getting caught helping them could have easily made her Tranquil given Greagoir's paranoia, but with Irving to back her, she has a chance to avoid a harsher punishment.

Of course, if you choose to play the Mage Warden as naive and trusting, things magically work out for her anyway. But I enjoy the story more knowing that my character took charge of her destiny and tried to prevent herself from being used and betrayed by her own friend.

Also, again, it just makes sense that the Mage Warden would be a pragmatist after having been raised by a father figure like Irving.

Uldred as he appears in "Dragon Age: Origins."

Uldred as he appears in "Dragon Age: Origins."

And yet, on the other hand, Irving is also so confident in his own cunning that he doesn't even notice Uldred is recruiting blood mages under his very nose. In fact, he trusts and respects Uldred and believes they are friends, and this is how Uldred gets away with building his secret army and eventually taking over the Circle.

Like Jowan, Uldred had good intentions. Using blood magic began with simply wanting his freedom and independence and became something dark, as Loghain going back on his promise to free the Circle is what ultimately ticked Uldred off.

This is why it's just as valid to roleplay a Warden who is actually fooled by Jowan, her blood mage friend. The parallels between the two friendships are deliberate.

I actually like not betraying Jowan just as much. If you're role playing a character who actually likes him (not many fans did), then standing by your friend is the option. Even Duncan approves of this, which makes sense given that his best friend was Fiona, an Orlesian Grey Warden, a mage, and Alistair's mother.

Irving and Jowan at Redcliffe.

Irving and Jowan at Redcliffe.

But no matter which choice you make, it's my belief that Irving set you up to get conscripted by Duncan. Whether you go to him about Jowan or not, he already planned for you to be a Grey Warden.

Irving also already knew what Jowan was up to and isn't remotely surprised when you come to tattle. He then decides to use Duncan as a way to save you. This is why Duncan is always there with Greagoir right as you are leaving the basement. This is also why Duncan mysteriously appears just in time to conscript you. Irving basically tells you this by mentioning a "great reward" for betraying Jowan.

If you didn't come to Irving with Jowan's plan, Irving will scold you and express disappointment, but Duncan being there to save you is still his doing. Duncan will praise you for standing by your friend, but Irving is peeved that you chose to trust Jowan over him. Nonetheless, he made sure Duncan was there to swoop you up from Greagoir.

You're Irving's favorite and he would do anything you ask, even travel a day across the lake to help save a possessed child. Even allow Jowan into the Fade when it's against his better judgement.

He knew he couldn't protect you from Tranquility or execution or Aeonar, so he set you up to get conscripted. He didn't betray you.

Irving saved you.

Roleplaying Redcliffe

The Redcliffe Dungeons where Jowan is encountered.

The Redcliffe Dungeons where Jowan is encountered.

Another reason I love playing as Mage Surana is that it makes the events at Redcliffe personal and gives the Warden a huge amount of roleplay for the first half of the game that the other Wardens just don't get.

Straight out of Ostagar, the Warden is advised to go to Redcliffe, where they discover their traitor-friend, Jowan, is the cause for an army of undead attacking the village each night.

The Warden doesn't know it's Jowan until after the battle, which can make for some interesting roleplay depending on whether or not they chose to defend the village. For example, if your Warden chooses to abandon Redcliffe for the night, they might return, discover Jowan is behind it, and then feel guilty, as they might blame themselves for letting Jowan escape the tower.

Talking to Jowan at length and choosing to release him or keep him imprisoned is also more meaningful when you actually know him. You can choose to play a bitter Warden who calls him a fool or you can open the door and let him run to freedom.

Given that you're a mage who actually understands demons and magic, it would also make sense in this origin to leave Redcliffe and venture to the Circle Tower to find help for Connor.

Possessed Connor and Isolde.

Possessed Connor and Isolde.