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Hands Up Who Wants To Die!

February 18, 2010

3 July 2012: I wrote this years ago, but for one reason or another I didn’t post it, and later it seemed as though its Moment Had Passed. Maybe it had, but the other day Alex and Robyn were discussing this very issue on twitter, and I thought: hey! I had THOUGHTS on this topic at one time! I shall post them, in case there are still people out there who would like to argue with me about them.

Narratives of self-sacrifice in Dragon Age: Origins – writers vs players, and What Women Want.

(Title is a self-indulgent reference to this, because I am a Recovering Goth.)

Massive spoiler warning! This entire post is about endgame events.

“You say that as if I’m giving you a choice”,  he says, if she commands him not to do it. All the player character can do is watch as Alistair goes running off to strike the killing blow to the Archdemon, ending his life, and sparing that of the woman he loves. It’s a moment of high romance and tragic drama that will no doubt be sending gamers of an emotional bent into floods of tears for a long time to come. Everyone loves a heart-wrenching finale. Especially those ladygamers. They adore that stuff, right?

…Right? And yet, some of these aforementioned ladygamers on the BioWare forums seemed almost… angry!

Yanna01: I was ready to make the ultimate sacrifice. I was mentally preparing myself for the glorious death while butchering the darkspawn in Denerim and guess what? I picked a wrong answer in the final dialogue and Alistair took the sword and ran to the archdemon. I was literally yelling at him: “Where are you going, you idiot?! It is my death! You’re stealing MY DEATH from me!

Yanna01 wasn’t the only one.

Colenda: I’ve never played the Alistair romance through to the end – so there’s not a single chance to argue?

Recidiva: No.  No chance to argue.  And I tried for three games, raising cunning, race choice and going through the entire rooftop tree of conversation options one by one.  No chance.  I actually came to this site to confirm there was absolutely no way whatsoever to change his mind.  Or I’d be trying ot push level 50 with a cunning of 100 to unlock the damned option.

I didn’t realize at all the gate option, because Riordan specifially says to take Alistair, I never questioned it as game canon.  And also because it’s intensely “unromantic” and counterintuitive to me entirely.

The WORST part is getting the “Warden Commander” achievement that says I commanded Alistair to kill himself when I actually was doing my damnedest through several playthroughs to PREVENT it.

Every character who faces the archdemon together with Alistair has the option to decide who takes the final blow, except for a female character who is in love with him. She has no choice. Why?

Recidiva: To have him decide he’s taking the final blow despite my orders because I’m a girl… To not get a sexist vibe is…impossible.

Ooh, someone used the s-word. Batten down the hatches! As accusations of sexism are wont to do, this was met with a fair amount of incredulity and derision, from, amongst others, the Dragon Age writers:

David Gaider: So… am I reading this right? Alistair sacrificing himself to save the woman he loves is… sexist?

Let’s step back from the s-word for a moment, and break this down a little.

Isn’t this really about character?

One popular reaction was: well, what would you prefer? For Alistair to stand back and let his lover die, when that would be wildly out of character? It’s true, everything about Alistair’s character development up to this point sets this sacrifice up as a natural action for him. He is crippled by survivor’s guilt after the massacre at Ostagar. He lost Duncan, and he is not about to stand by and watch a loved one die again. He confesses, if questioned by the Guardian of the Sacred Ashes: “If Duncan had been saved, and not me, everything would be better. If I’d just had the chance, maybe…” Alistair has no confidence in his ability to lead.  If he’s being put on the throne, he will claim that a dead king is “the best king [he] could be”. He has no idea how to rule, but he knows how to die.

Nobody is seriously suggesting that Alistair himself is acting in a sexist manner by insisting on dying. It’s not even about wanting him to behave any differently – personally, if he’d been susceptible to a Persuade-check on this point, I’d have thought less of him. Alistair can be talked out of making the ultimate sacrifice if the player is a friend (male or female) rather than a lover. Would he insist on taking the final blow if his romance was equal-opportunity, and he was saving the life of a man he loved? Probably. It’s not about gender at this point, and the fact that he won’t insist on dying for a female friend shows that love is the deciding factor here. It’s not about chivalry. Alistair is doing what anyone in love would do, given that they possessed that predisposition towards self-sacrifice.

Hang on a minute.  If Alistair is doing “what anyone in love would do”, isn’t the player character also allowed to be in love? What about her? Again from the forums:

Colenda: Um – he decides he’s taking the final blow because he loves you, surely?

Recidiva: And his love is stronger than mine and his will stronger than mine…because?

Playing a character… characterising the player

This is the endgame. By now, any player with even half an impulse towards roleplaying will have developed some idea of who their character is, and how they might feel and act in a given situation. Such as being faced with the imminent death of the person they love.

Dunhart: It comes down to what you think is the greater sacrifice. Dying for your loved one or staying behind to mourn them for the rest of your life. Alistair has the disadvantage of being brought up to believe the former, apparently.

He really does have the tendency to show some backbone at the worst possible moments, doesn’t he.

Recidiva: I had backbone the whole time!  I have more practice at the whole “backbone” thing!  Plus I purposely kept his strength and cunning low…just in case it came to that.

Other players cared less about dying for love and more about playing out their character’s redemption arc:

Savvy30039: I wish I could have [sacrificed myself]. It would have been a fitting bit of retribution for a spoiled noble that never really did anything honorable with her life until she joined the Gray Wardens. And since Alistair was my favorite character, he seemed worth preserving, so that he could go on to be the great king I knew he could be. But unfortunately Al felt I deserved to live more than him, and ran off to sacrifice himself without giving me a chance to stop him.

It is perfectly possible for a player to insist that their PC has just as much reason as Alistair has to want to sacrifice themselves. Why does he get priority? Because he is stronger, faster, more determined?

SarEnyaDor: he runs faster with that sword???

Recidiva: Not…Good…Enough…

Lest we forget, this is a stat-based RPG. The thing about assigning numerical values to character traits is that when faced with such attempts to impose a narrative on them, the player can gesture to their stats screen and say “but look, my character has higher stats than Alistair right across the board. And you’re telling me that for Reasons of Plot, he’s suddenly stronger?” As quoted above, Recidiva even tried deliberately keeping Alistair’s stats low in the hope of affecting the outcome.  Other players reported wanting to cast Force Field on him, a spell that, used on Alistair in battle, will invariably freeze him to the spot.

Players are used to having absolute knowledge of and control over their team – is it so surprising they want to keep it?

A brief digression on metagaming

Let me just address a simple objection to this entire line of argument: that you don’t have to let Alistair sacrifice himself if you don’t take him with you to kill the Archdemon. This is true. There is some debate as to whether this course of action involves metagaming. Metagaming, in this context, is basing the actions of your PC on information that you, the player, have, but your PC could not have. Metagaming, therefore, is anathema to the dedicated roleplayer.

Recidiva: I didn’t realize at all the gate option, because Riordan specifially says to take Alistair, I never questioned it as game canon.  And also because it’s intensely “unromantic” and counterintuitive to me entirely.

It does seem tactically incompetent to leave Alistair at the gate. Riordan tells you to take him, and strategically he’s right – they need as many Wardens directly engaging the Archdemon as possible. The good-Grey-Warden choice is clearly to take him. You can tell Riordan that you intend to take the blow, and Alistair, standing right there and listening, doesn’t object.

Recidiva: You have the option to mention to Riordan that youl’ll take the final blow and Alistair doesn’t blink then.  There’s no reason to think he won’t accept your leadership, as he’s done so for the whole game if you played it his way.

Savvy30039: I had taken Alistair with me the entire game, and I didn’t know he wasn’t going to give me a choice when it came time to do the deed. It also never even crossed my mind to not have him there at the tower. He was a Gray Warden, the future king, and an important part of my battle tactics. His being there was given before I even considered who my final team would be.

Also mentioned here is a gameplay reason – Alistair is designed to be the party’s main tank! As the player will have lost Morrigan at this point (since by the nature of this whole discussion, we must assume that her little proposal has been rejected) the player may not be in a position to compromise their team further.

None of which stops it from being completely predictable, for the aforementioned reasons of characterisation, that Alistair will attempt the sacrifice. Thief-of-Hearts wrote:

Thief-of-Hearts: With Riordan – you know Alistair is just keeping his mouth silent. I’m sure he is planning it all in his head “yeah right, not if I have anything to do with it”. And you can call him on it if you decide to leave him at the gate. One of the options are “You will do something foolish.” To which he replies “Maybe, but we will never know now.” Most female fans were shocked and surprised that he refused to let them die – would you still be so shocked if you had an arguement over it the night before? No. Alistair is smart. He knows if he causes a scene early, you’ll leave him behind and then he won’t get his chance to save you.

Recidiva: All that adds up to is “The World According to Alistair” and I thought it was my game.  Guess not.

That’s How It Went Down

Let’s get back to the issue of control, but tie it in to the metagaming angle. Mary Kirby, one of the writers of Dragon Age had this to say:

Mary Kirby: You get a lot of opportunity to control Alistair.  You dictate his actions in combat, and in conversation, you are always in control.  That’s not a realistic expectation to create, and maybe making him a little bit less interactive would have helped. What does “comparative strength of will and/or love” have to do with anything?  Does your love or your willpower make you faster than him? I’ve been married to my husband for almost ten years, and I can’t get him to stop leaving his dirty socks on the living room floor.   I don’t anticipate that I can suddenly talk him out of running in front of me, if that’s what he decides to do, or that I will gain a magical burst of speed upon demand because I love him the most.

And in another post:

Mary Kirby: You think it’s metagaming to leave Alistair behind so he doesn’t die, but you don’t think it’s metagaming to assume that you will have some option to decide, in the heat of battle, while you and who knows how many allies are attacking a dragon, who will strike the final blow?  If you bring him to the archdemon, who’s to say that one stray sword swing doesn’t cost you Alistair, anyway?

Kirby pinpoints the source of the players’ angst and confusion: they usually have control over Alistair, especially in battle! They have been in battles with Alistair for the entire game, and have (in my view, reasonable) expectations about what he will and won’t do. I think she is being too hard on them, since the players have been subjected to a classic “bait and switch”, and one which is quite deliberate. Kirby disingenuously sidesteps the issue of who is responsible for the situation the players find themselves in. “Who’s to say” what could happen, indeed. How about the people who control when the action is scripted, and when it is not? Writers like her, for example. The writers, who baited the players with the prospect of one outcome, where they make the ultimate sacrifice, only to switch it at the last minute for one in which Alistair does. Lead writer David Gaider was more direct.

David Gaider: Well… tough? Sorry you feel that way, but Alistair sacrificing himself for you is how you went down. You’re not supposed to like it. You are responsible for it, however — you did not take Morrigan’s offer, which would have saved you both, and then brought him to the Archdemon to… what? Watch the woman he loves die?

I get why you would have wanted to die too, but that’s who Alistair is. In this case he ran and did it first. As far as I’m concerned you could have been two steps behind him the entire run towards the Archdemon, but you simply didn’t catch up to him in time… because that’s how it went down. That’s the story.

The issue here is not actually about control over Alistair or his actions at all. It’s about the agency of the player character, and her options for action – or lack of them. One forumite replied to Gaider’s bemused query as to whether Alistair’s actions were sexist with:

mousestalker: No, it’s actually sweet. Not having a handy bottle to knock him out with was sexist.

While the response was tongue-in-cheek, it makes a valid point. The writers could have provided a method for the player to take the final blow without compromising Alistair’s character, but they didn’t. (Modders, of course, have filled the gap.) Dragon Age sells itself on the promise of player choice and consequence, but a line must be drawn somewhere. The writers have their own artistic agenda, and decide how much control the player gets, using this to shape the story they want to tell. So… how much control over the story should the player have?

Whose Narrative Is It Anyway?

The appeal of Dragon Age, for me, is the extent to which it does allow the player to create their own narrative, from their origin story through all the decisions affecting the areas that they pass through. True, the player is limited in the sense that their control over events takes the form of a series of branching choices, rather than truly creative, freeform decision making. When faced with a situation, the player must choose path A, B or C, they cannot choose “Other” and fill in the blank themselves. Nevertheless, the player still has a high degree of agency, in that they are the only person making the decision. Party members may make their feelings clear, sometimes even leaving, or fighting the player, but ultimately these are consequences, not constraints. The player always gets the right to choose, and it’s hardly surprising that they might get used to this.

Which makes it all the more jarring when it gets taken away. At several points during the endgame, this feeling of control may be wrested away, leaving the player feeling helpless and swept along by events they do not want to be happening, triggered by things they either did not realise they were triggering, or had no control over at all.

This need not always be a bad thing. The theme of control, and the lack of it, is something games are expertly equipped to deal with and express in powerful ways. We’ve all heard about the “Would you kindly…” moment in Bioshock. Taking control from the player, done judiciously, can be a compelling artistic statement.

Note: “can be”. I’m not about to get into whether I think Dragon Age succeeds overall in making any kind of statement in this regard, as I think some parts work better than others, and in any case, we only need to consider one of them.

It’s clear that when Alistair makes his sacrifice, the sudden and total powerlessness of the player is absolutely deliberate – they are forced to watch their lover die, and there is nothing they can do. It is intended to be dramatic and emotionally affecting. Lead writer David Gaider has made no secret of the fact that he deliberately set out to break hearts:

David Gaider: I know it probably makes me a bad person, but there are moments when the thought of all the Alistair fangirls … tearing out their hair and rending their shirts pleases me inordinately.

David Gaider: Emotional engagement is a reward in and of itself, and if people are distressed by their character’s situation it’s because they feel it keenly. Which is good.

In this case, player agency gets subsumed in favour of drama, or the writers’ notion of it. Generally speaking, this has advantages and disadvantages. There is nothing inherently wrong with linear narrative – being told a good story is fun. Dragon Age has a skilled team of writers. But in a game dominated by player choice, the moments of railroading need to feel worth it. Dramatically interesting scenes may be the payoff, but what is lost?

“I thought this was my game”, said Recidiva. Others disagreed:

Thief-of-Hearts: This isn’t your game. Nor is it Alistair’s. You are really just a pawn and an observer in a story being told. While you are a catalyst for many things that must be done, it really doesn’t matter if you, me or some other random body does it so long as the job gets done. All the choices and cusomizations are just illusions to complete freedom. “My story” is only valid up to a certain point and after that you are just beating your head to a brick wall, because the reality is there *has* to be limitation somewhere.

Of course there cannot be unlimited freedom, but this seems a strange place to draw the line. Every player character except for one romancing Alistair has the option to play out a narrative of self-sacrifice. For Recidiva and others, the story she wanted to play out for her character got thrown under the bus in favour of Alistair’s story. Why? What does he have that she doesn’t?

Back to gender – Narratives of self-sacrifice, and who is allowed to tell them.

Recidiva: Okay, take sex out of it.  Two men or two women.  Two lizards.  Why does the NPC get the choice?

It all revolves about how a man doesn’t let his woman die.  That does make it an issue about gender and love, and if someone doesn’t like the word “sexism” then let’s pick something less scary.  Why is the male protecting the female if the female’s actually been protecting and guiding the male for the game?

How does a woman let her man die?  Or should I have played the game as someone who expected to have my fighting and choices made for me?  Should I have been Anora for the whole thing, sitting in a castle waiting to be rescued?

Why can a male at +100 friendly arrange for Alistair to sacrifice himself?  If love is the difference, why aren’t both partners equally motivated to be the ones to make the sacrifice?

Narratives of self-sacrifice are heroic and glorious. Here are some male players describing how they felt after achieving the self-sacrifice ending, after avoiding it on previous playthroughs:

blademaster7: The best thing you could do … is play a new character and do the Ultimate Sacrifice. It is totally worth it. I reached the top of Fort Drakon and Alistair stepped up requesting that I let him die in my place. He was supposed to be king but he wanted to sacrifice himself for duty. I felt like an idiot when I heard Alistair say that… and here I thought he was the one without spine and not me. I went ahead and killed the Archdemon and the epilogue was pretty much everything I could ask for. At least my character died with dignity in this playthrough.

Barbarossa2010: Amen blademaster, it is the right way out for players like us.  I would never have imagined it, until I cowboy’ed up and did it.  Much more dignified and fulfilling than a kick in the ba!!s.   I can see where ending with Alistair at your side would be something memorable.  There was no doubt at my sacrificial ending who was going to die.  The looks on Wynne and Zevran’s faces alluded to immediate heartbreaking understanding as I did the deed.  Lelina’s prologue was worth it all.  An appropriate ending for my Warden.

I’m with you all the way on this.  I don’t play to evolve into a super-man (initially a very reluctant hero) only to be artificially and magically reduced to a spineless twit just prior to the climax.


Barbarossa2010: I came back to the game after a while, made a new character, cowboy’ed up and committed to a sacrifical ending, determined to end this story in character.  I swear, my “Dane” PC fought like a demon possessed with a clear conscience, unfettered with doubt, dignity intact and Wynne as his mage.  He literally could do no wrong in the fight.  He killed the Archdemon in a single playthrough, faster than any other Warden I had, and ended something beyond even a Paragon; sharing the fate of only 4 others before him in history, being loved as he was loved to the very end and beyond.  It totally felt like I finally had the ending that was right for me.

Barbarossa2010 is referring to Morrigan’s lifesaving ritual with his “reduced to a spineless twit” comment, but I suspect it also echoes how many players of female PCs felt, watching Alistair “steal” their sacrifice. “Spineless” is, at least in theory, a gender-neutral metaphor for courage (although I can’t remember when I last heard it applied to a woman). The common variant would, of course, be “balls”; to “have the balls” to do something. For some cisgender men, testicles are the prime expression and condensation of masculine courage and power – an interesting claim for one of the most delicate parts of the body. Perhaps real men have the fabled “balls of steel”. But I digress.

If presented with the choice to either die heroically, or allow someone else to do the same, a “real man” will step up. By this logic, a man who lets someone else die in his place is thereby emasculated. Barbarossa2010 claims he was made to feel “spineless” by a woman having saved his life with a spell. Imagine if she had actually died to save him! The testicle-dissolving horror of it!

DeathWyrmNexus: Then you have that pesky genetic drive that men are expendable and protecting your woman is key. It is sexist but it is also what pretty much any man I know would do for their woman. We don’t even think about it. So yea, I found it to be a very honest decision for [Alistair] to make.

Recidiva: The only way that it’s sexist is assuming that women don’t have the will or drive to do the same.  Even, say, a stronger will or impulse to do the same.

I found my decision to be very honest as well.  And rather infuriating to be told that what I want makes no sense and I’m unappreciative because I’m a girl.  I don’t get it.  It’s not getting any better, it’s actually getting worse when people explain it.

It’s like trying to grill at my family reunion.  “Women don’t like fire.” ” Women shouldn’t be doing this.”  “Guys, I make a better barbecue sauce than any of you…” “Hahaha..she’s so cute.”  and I can just hear when I get steered away from something I’m really good at “You’re acting like we’re giving you a choice.”

I’m a mother with exactly the right sort of mama bear instincts and set of hormones that would require giving my life for someone I love and my mate.  I’m not getting how my impulse is invalid or how I should have just accepted it.  No.  Nope.  Sorry.  Not working for me.

A point to make here is that it is “acceptable” for women to sacrifice themselves for their children. This is a scenario where women have a recognised narrative of sacrifice – in fact, it’s appeared in Dragon Age already, with Lady Isolde of Redcliffe, who offers to lay down her life to save that of her son. It’s far less normalised for women to make a heroic, warrior self-sacrifice of the type Alistair makes, because there is no established cultural narrative for it.

Female players have made it clear that many of them can, and do, want to make heroic sacrifices, and not just in a maternal context, in a full-on, chest-thumping-warrior context. To save your mouse wheels, I’ll repeat the quote I started with:

Yanna01: I was ready to make the ultimate sacrifice. I was mentally preparing myself for the glorious death while butchering the darkspawn in Denerim and guess what? I picked a wrong answer in the final dialogue and Alistair took the sword and ran to the archdemon. I was literally yelling at him: “Where are you going, you idiot?! It is my death! You’re stealing MY DEATH from me!

This player didn’t want a heartbreaking romantic tragedy. She wanted a power fantasy, a heroic, “glorious” death. To get Classical for a moment, she wanted to be Achilles, not Andromache.

Not many women in real life get to be warriors. Lots of women get to be mothers, and so we have stories about them. Games, of course, are often touted as escapist fantasy, but the funny thing about fantasy worlds is how much stays the same, created as they are by people who grew up in the real world. Female Grey Wardens in Dragon Age can have identical stats to their male counterparts, but they still suffer from restrictions laid down by the writers about what sort of story a female character gets to play out.

Ending It

Bittersweet sympathy

Before people sweep in in defense of the Dragon Age writing team here, let me clarify something: I’m not calling the team sexist, and I don’t need a list of the ways in which Dragon Age is progressive; I know. I love the writers, and I love BioWare games. In fact, it’s my long history as a fan of David Gaider that informs my suspicions about why Alistair’s sacrifice situation plays out in the way that it does. Gaider endured the loss of his favourite tragic romantic double-suicidal-sacrifice ending that he wrote for the female character and her love interest in Knights of the Old Republic, which got left on the cutting room floor. Many fans, many of them female, were upset by this, proclaiming their love for bittersweet heartbreak, and how not all endings need to be happy. Mods to restore parts of that ending are still available. I was, therefore, not at all surprised to find that Gaider, in his first role as Head Writer, jumped at the chance to include tragic endings, including one seemingly geared towards female characters romancing the male lead.

Gaider wasn’t wrong: tragic, romantic endings can be fun, and far be it from me to stand in the way of his appetite for the bitter tears of Alistair fans. But the responses from players tell me that he misjudged this one. Because whatever the intention, none of it prevents the resulting situation in the game from being sexist, and reinforcing the idea that male heroes sacrifice their lives to save the women they love, but to have it be the other way around is unimaginable.

People liked the KOTOR ending because the lovers died together, in a blaze of glory. Can’t those poor, doomed, tragic-romantic Wardens charge the Archdemon together, hands clasped together around the sword hilt, and let fate decide? And if by “fate”, I really mean the writing team, well… at least it would grant the player the pursuit of a hero’s death. Games involve negotiation of control between the players and creators, and reasonable players understand that they cannot always get their way. But when female heroes are denied an ending that is served up to male heroes (male NPCs, even!) on a plate, something has gone seriously wrong with the balance. Say what you like about the Mass Effect series, they never make the mistake of diluting female Shepard’s badassery. Power fantasies should be equal-opportunity, and that includes suicide missions.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Jess permalink
    January 17, 2013 00:37

    “… none of it prevents the resulting situation in the game from being sexist, and reinforcing the idea that male heroes sacrifice their lives to save the women they love, but to have it be the other way around is unimaginable.”

    Are you kidding? You’re stating that having Alistair sacrifice himself reinforces the idea of male heroes sacrificing themselves to save the women they love and that having it the other way around is unimaginable — when there IS in fact an option to have it “the other way around” (by having the Warden take the final blow).

    I think your statement is clumsily arranged since it’s founded on incorrect facts. You’re essentially suggesting that Alistair sacrificing himself reinforced stereotypes of male heroes “saving” their loved ones; can you tell me how it specifically does this when it essentially is a player choice? If you’re claiming that it reinforces a stereotype, you also have to recognize choice and responsibility; that it is not the game, but in fact the PLAYER that chooses to reinforce the stereotype since he or she had another choice to begin with.

    • Kateri permalink*
      January 17, 2013 13:12

      Did you read the article? There is no player choice at that moment.

  2. Nez permalink
    September 3, 2014 17:27

    Thank you so much for this. I’m years late to the game, but I only just played the game and to be honest this is the most angry and betrayed I’ve felt because of a game in a long time. Everything I’ve been feeling and thinking was in this article and it was nice to know that I’m not alone and I’m not the only one who saw it as a remarkably sexist move to pull–even considering all of the other factors as you discussed. So yeah, I needed this. Thanks.

  3. September 24, 2014 16:19

    Hi, just got here from an article on rock paper shotgun (about an Indiana Jones game and the relation between Indy and Sophia), and that’s it for the credit :p

    I found your article here very interesting, first because you reminded me after all these years why this game is one of my all time favorite, the one that blew me away the most and showed me how deep and immersive a narrative game can be.
    And second because what you say here completely got over my head at that time (and since I’m not Drax the destroyer, a lot of things can pass over my head :D)

    It’s probably because on my only complete playthrough I played a woman but my love interest was Leliana and on top of that I accepted Morrigan’s offer, so the situation never appeared to me. And I must say, if I had found myself in the same situation, I’d have felt probably the same way. I’m as you said in the article a cis male, but I don’t see why female characters wouldn’t be able to do the same thing as others in all the aspects of the game.

    I played a noble human, and I threw myslef brutally into the fight after having lost my home and family (except my dog :p), I became a ruthless barbarian dual wielding warrior, I was mainly a parangon but tried to make the more pragmatic decisions, like putting Bhelen on the throne because even though I hated him from the bottom of my heart, I thought he would made a better leader on the long term than the other (and the prologue gave me satisfaction about this). I saved a ruler, I saved a population of werewolves, I saved the tower of Mages and a lot of them, I helped a lot of people, I accepted and trusted the one sent to kill me in my team, I risked my life to help a golem recover his (well in fact her) memories, killed a lot of monsters (human ones included), I stormed into the battles like I was already dead, and after that if I couldn’t make one choice with the game telling me that’s impossible because I’m a girl and Allistair loves me, I would have been quite frustrated.

    It’s like someone is showing you the most appetizing cake in the world, with a marvelous cherry on top of it, and then he gives it to you but without the cherry, you eat it, it’s the best cake in the world, but you realize the cherry’s not here and despite being the best, it could have been a little better.

    Anyway, I hope they deliver a similar experience with Dragon Age 3. Dragon Age 2 was so disappointing, it was not a bad game, but they put the bar so high with Origins that it felt like a bad joke. Characters were average or blank, you have little to no effect on the events by your choices, I had a very hard time feeling myself being Hawk. In origins most characters have a deep personnality and background (even the golem, and Iove her loyalty quest), you feel invested in the world, choices you make change a lot of thing, you discover unbelievable secrets (the dward kingdom part with the golems really impressed me), there is an excellent epilogue, you can even see what the world would be if you had died without becoming a warden. Bioware made a masterpiece with this game, and Mass Effect (that given me the tools to play the most badass female character of all time).

    To finish this indigestible ugly wall of text, thanks for this article, it reminded me that despite the laughable end of ME3 (I was so frustrated to see the most epic trilogy of all time being ended like this :/) and the below average realisation of DA2, Bioware made some of the best immersive games of all time, games that make you feel strong emotions other that “yeah I beat this f******g bastard of end boss”

  4. Hmm permalink
    December 22, 2014 03:54

    I did beat DA as a male ultimate sacrifice the first time.(And am male) But when I read online about a romanced Alistair taking the sacrifice without listening to you, I thought that was awesome. Maybe some of it has to do with me being accepting that some characters in a game will yank control from you. You can’t really choose to be a grey warden or if you even really want to slay the archdemon.

    Maybe from a game perspective there should have should be a forced situation that deems it impossible for a player to stop Alistair. I don’t know you trip or fall or something knocks you over. I have not seen the actual video but I’m guessing they reuse the video of him doing it with your permission so he has a longish run which frustrates players who think they should be able to outrun or phsyically stop Alistair.. I guess for a budget and poetic reasons they just had him run first.

    Would it be more acceptable if Alistair said “I’m sorry” after subduing the arch demon, and then the only response that be picked would be “For what?” or “Why?” Whichever choice picked regardless Alistair knocks you over punches you out whatever. I don’t see why player character can’t be caught off guard. So someone will say “My agility is better than Alistair’s so that shouldn’t be possible” What can I say you had “charmed” status. (You did choose to romance him) Everyone gets a critical hit sometimes? Funny about someone saying I could put him in a force field, well he did have Templar training. If you try the force field he could nullify it and say maybe a bit jokingly “I knew you’d try that” as he negates and still succeeds to sacrifice himself. I guess in a perfect world the game could have done all these things to cover each base. I guess execution could have been worked out better, with how he beats you to it, which probably is at least why some frustration is there.

    Would it become acceptable if Alistair was bisexual and did it for any romanced character?
    I think its perfectly valid for one of the NPC’s to beat a player to something though, despite game stat stuff. I guess cunning does muck things up for players completely accepting some plot choices are beyond their reach.

    As for a player saying they had the “spine” to do the ultimate sacrifice I can only say why I would call it spine. Its not so much Morrigan being a woman saving your life, but the fact that the whole dark ritual thing is super sketchy depending on how the player feels. “Gee there’s a soul of a demon that keeps jumping around into other dark spawn bodies, but you want me to impregnate its soul into you and then never see you again? Well if it saves me and Alistair’s life lets do this.” You don’t risk it and one of you makes the ultimate sacrifice to save everyone by laying your own life down.

  5. kineli permalink
    January 9, 2015 12:37

    And what I hate about this ending is that it makes love “better” or “stronger” than friendship. So Alistair can’t let his lover die, but can let his friend do it. But just why? Love is _not_ a superior form of friendship, it’s just different. And I really can’t understand why is it supposed that a character will do for a lover more, than for a friend. Or is it because friend’s decision to sacrifice himself is valued while the lovers one is not?

  6. July 25, 2015 04:08

    Morrigan warns you the night before what will happen if you do not accept her offer. She says that Alistair will not sit by and let his love die. His sacrifice, which I have not experienced as I listened to Morrigan, is in keeping with the story line and the character. If you taint the Ashes of Andraste with Leliana or Wynn in your party, they will turn on you. It does not matter if your cunning is higher than theirs, it will be killed or be killed (it does cause an interesting side conversation in Inquisition by the way-as Leliana still dies, but is resurrected). If you decide to listen to Cullen and kill everyone in the Harrowing chamber, Wynn will, once again, try to kill you. Thus, it follows the game that if you reject Morrigan’s offer, which can lead to a happy ending, then another of your team will stay true to character no matter how convincing you are. The noble knight will not stand by and watch the person they love die, not when they can take the blow themselves.

  7. Alice permalink
    April 2, 2018 23:43

    When i played this through the first time Good old Al sacrifced himself for my female dalish elf he broke up with her then ultimate sacrifice here i come! I was so upset i was like ‘No Al why do it you dumbass i was gonna do it!!!!!’ I had an inkling after i found out one of them had to die that Al would do it but then he broke up with her i thought to myself no point her surviving then sure i wanted him to be king but as a writer i have the tendency if going over board and tried to think what it would be like after for her knowing that he died then morrigans proposal came up and i thought what if they both survived that would be even worse not being being able to be with him but both loving each other so i decided yup shed take the blow he had to become king after all this lol so ending happened i was angry upset and thought could i find something that would work to bring him back so i could kill him myself after i calmed down i decided its what my character was gonna do so its not surprising he did either i calmed down didnt play for a while then started it again and thought ill get him this time mwahahaha

  8. Ali permalink
    June 5, 2021 21:15

    Ok, this is a very old article, but I’m gonna put my two-cents in. I know how to do the Ultimate Sacrifice and have done it. I did not let Alistair take the final blow via knocking his ass out. I wanted to save Alistair and I did. The thing that stung to me, was that my Warden’s sacrifice meant nothing to Alistair in Dragon Age Inquisition. There is NO dialogue about the Ultimate Sacrificed warden who romanced Alistair when you talk to him in Here Lies The Abyss. I wish I knew why. Did Gaider and company not care? Sure, it’s been 10 yrs since it happened, but nothing? No twinge of sadness, no jokey answer that masks grieving? What the hell?!

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