Sunday, January 30, 2011

DA:O - A Cursed Past

The Lady of the Forest is not amused.

Perra and Friends wandered into the Brecilian Forest last night, and in doing so encountered the Dalish. Since this major leg of the game was completed all at once, this shall be a longer, image heavy post. Of the four and a half main quests in Dragon Age that of the Brecilian Forest is perhaps my second favorite. My first would be the search for Andraste's Ashes. I don't care for the Ruined Temple, but an inexplicable affinity for the Gauntlet certainly exists. (I'm not certain that the quest for Andraste's Ashes can really be considered a main quest, but it is too long to be a side quest. Since it is essential to story progression, it is the "half" here.) Of all the main quests, this one is cloaked in the most in shades of grey. While certain decisions are clearly "good" or "bad," depending on your outlook, there is no true winner no matter what you decide to do. As an individual I love it when things are white and black, but grey storytelling is all the more compelling since it reflects reality. Ask me sometime about CDProjektRED's The Witcher. Now there is a game you can't win. No matter what path you take there are always unintended consequences. That, however, is another discussion for another day.  

As before, spoilers follow so continue reading at your own risk.

Enter the Keeper - Upon approaching the Forest's outskirts Perra are met by hostile Dalish scouts and ushered to the band's Keeper, Zathrian. Zathrian is an odd bird. He commences with a hostile attitude, changes to a we-can't-help-you-because-all-my-people-are-werewolves attitude, and then places Perra into a position where she must agree to bring him the heart of Witherfang. From the get go it is difficult to shake the feeling that something if off about the this Dalish Keeper. He is in desperate need of assistance since werewolves have attacked his hunters and thus significantly depleted the number of elves available to defend his camp. Despite his desperate need, however, when Perra approaches him a second time in search of information he seems very put out. Not only does he reluctantly share anything with her besides disdain for Witherfang, but he refuses to discuss the werewolves' history. The story, he says, is far too long. Considering that Perra has just agreed to place her life on the line to eradicate this threat from the Brecilian Forest, Zathrian's response is clearly an evasion technique. It is well known that the Dalish are a proud, private group, but once Perra's Warden identity is revealed all the other elves open up. Clearly the Keeper is holding something back. Thus it is with some reservation that our tanks, mage, and rogue enter the forest.

You Shall Not Pass - Perra has not gone far before confrontation arises in the form of Swiftrunner & Friends. Seething with hatred for the Dalish, Swiftrunner tells Perra to run. She may know little about the werewolves, but he declares her to know even less about the elves for whom she works. With conversation options ranging from "Begone, beast, or suffer the consequences" to "Then I'll turn around and go. No reason to fight", Perra chooses "I would prefer to talk to you. I mean you know harm." Between Swiftrunner's animosity and Zathrian's shady behavior, something is clearly afoot and she would prefer to reach the root of the matter as soon as possible. The werewolves have other ideas though. He would prefer not to fight her (yeah right) but Swiftrunner says he can't let Perra pass. Fighting ensues, and be it out of cowardice or something else the werewolves and their leader(?) disappear into the forest. So much for negotiations. Clearly information shall have to be obtained the bloody way.

Hoom Hrum Hmmm - Unfortunately as they progress through the forest, a magical barrier gets in their way. A quick quest with the rhyming Grand Oak (aka Treebeard) fixes this however, and Perra gains passage through the barrier. Soon there after they meet up with an old friend.

No Seriously ... You Shall Not Pass - For all his gruff, angry exterior Swiftrunner proves himself to be quite the softy. He doesn't outright attack Perra and friends, but after Perra reiterates her desire to simply talk he shoots her down once more. Oddly enough, he doesn't deny Perra simply because he is a cold hearted fiend (although he is a bit blinded by anger.) Instead he states that others have made such claims before and hints that believing those visitors did not turn out well for the werewolves. Through a short monologue he speaks of his devotion to Witherfang and tells of how she gave the weres their names. She must be protected at all costs.

Once Perra and friends progress past Swiftrunner into the Elven ruins, a cut scene of three more weres plays as the central wolf orders everyone to fall back. Perra is certain that she will face opposition once within the ruin's walls, but one thing is certainly confirmed. Zathrian was lying through his teeth. He described the wolves to be vicious, savage, mindless beasts blinded by their anger. He mentioned nothing about them being sentient and certainly never elaborated on why the wolves protected Witherfang. At this point Perra is quite certain that Witherfang is not just a leader but also the reason that the wolves are sentient in the first place. Why else would she have given them names? When Perra gets out of here she and Zathrian are going to have a number of very choice words.

Talking Would be Good - As most anyone might expect, a bloodbath ensued upon entering the ruins. Interestingly enough Perra did not actually face any werewolves until our heroes were three stories under the earth. Dragon? Yes. Various skeletons and undead? Goodness yes. Ghosts? Yes. Spiders? Yes ... and I HATE those things. Werewolves? Not on your life. In fact considering all the werewolves (rabid and otherwise) she'd slaughtered in the Forest proper, and all the hostility she faced from Swiftrunner, you'd think that the Elven ruins would be nigh teeming with the beasts. As a result most of the time spent in these ruins was mere survival, with little time actually spent on the mission at hand. Sure she had to find Witherfang for Zathrian (or atleast figure out what the heck was going on here). Since Zathrian had never mentioned ruins at all though, there was no guarantee that she was even in the right place. Well you know ... except for the fact that there was nowhere else on the gameplay map she could go.

Finally after reaching the third interior level, and fighting a few rooms of wolves, Perra and friends are met by three were emissaries. Perra learns that they speak for "the Lady" who is sick of all the death and wishes to parlay. Initially our hero can do nothing but snort in derision. Really? Hadn't she tried twice before to enter into conversations with Witherfang but was shot down instead? Why on earth should the wolves want peaceful negotiations now? Apparently Swiftrunner had been following a path not wholly endorsed by the Lady herself - one of violence. This could be an excuse to ambush Perra and friends, after all no one has been straight up honest here, but our hero finally says screw it. At this point her team has fought their way through a hostile forest and a hostile ruin. Should they find themselves in yet another hostile situation they can do it all over again. Lead on werewolf spokesperson, lead on.

One should also take a moment here to note that mention of "parlay" followed later by the term "acquiesce" brings to mind Pirates of the Caribbean.

Things Become Clear - Well goodness gracious. If the Lady, aka Witherfang, is no one else but a scantily clad forest spirit with strategically placed hair. She also goes by the name Lady of the Forest. Upon greeting Perra, the Lady, unlike Zathrian, comes across as an honest sort of being. Swiftrunner urges her to kill our merry men, but she tells him to shut it. After all, violence hasn't helped out all the much has it? The resulting deaths have only served to harm the very beings he had been trying to save. She emphasizes the fact that she means Perra no harm, but insists that there are things about the werewolves that Zathrian didn't tell our team. Since this is what Perra had been looking for to begin with, she goes along with the Lady's wishes to parlay. After all, our team can always change their minds should they begin to feel threatened. There is no need to relate the whole tale here since if you've played the game you already know it. The Lady does mention a number of key points, however, that significantly influence Perra's final decision about who she will assist at the end of this quest.

1) Zathrian is the reason that the werewolves exist at all. Centuries ago his son and daughter had been attacked by humans. They killed his son, raped his daughter, and when his daughter found herself with child she committed suicide. In retaliation Zathrian created Witherfang, bound her spirit to a wolf, and in turn she infected the humans.
Well if that just doesn't beat all. No wonder Zathrian had be cagey about the werewolves history! They were all his fault! Granted the wolves were not perfect. They were the ancestors of people who had committed a horrible act, and they had participated in a number of horrible acts themselves through the years. They were in no way innocent. The point here though is that if Zathrian was strong enough to fashion Witherfang to begin with, then by golly he is even stronger centuries later and could have solved this whole problem himself. Apparently being a Keeper means that one has access to powerful magics. It was very convenient for Zathrian to keep Perra, a dwarf who could never have access to magic, in the dark. Maybe Sten is right. Magic only seems to cause problems.
2) The Lady and the wolves have repeatedly asked Zathrian to negotiate with them and lift their curse, but after all these years he still turns a deaf ear to their pleas. Infecting his people en masse was their last ditch effort to make him listen. They hoped that honor would force him to finally give in to their demands so that his people might be saved.
Well Perra's opinions on this are rather straight forward. She is really ticked off. Not only had Zathrian hid the wolves' sentient nature from her, letting her team fly in blind, but he had conveniently neglected to mention the fact that the wolves had attempted multiple times to speak with him. There is always room for the Lady to be lying, but considering the bad feeling that Perra had about Zathrian from the beginning ... her heart says that the Lady of the Forest tells the truth.
When asked, Perra agrees to fetch Zathrian from the camp and bring him to face the Lady. Maybe the two of them can work something out with a mediator involved.

Things Become Final - The Lady should have saved her breath. Perra need not walk further then the ruin's entrance to find Zathrian. The Keeper himself was waiting there for Witherfang's heart. He claims that he did not tell our team about the ruins because he knew we would find them, and he had not wished to give Perra a history lesson concerning things that had no bearing on Perra's purpose. The Lady's story is confirmed. Perra makes her feelings on the matter quite clear, and Morrigan hits the matter on the head by accusing Zathrian of wanting to see if Perra had done his dirty work for him. No one is amused. Perra tells the Keeper to shut his gob and go see the Lady. She promises to protect him against harm as long as he doesn't instigate anything, and they yet again descend into the bowels of the ruins. Goodness it's like dealing with an obstinate child, and this "child" is centuries old!

Well the confrontation between the Lady and Zathrian went about as well as one might expect. Perra refused to cause problems. Swiftrunner declared his intentions to kill everyone ... again. Zathrian is aghast that Perra would defend the wolves when they threaten her too. (Clearly he has no idea what it means to be a Grey Warden when Logain is on your back.) Perra wishes everyone would just shut up, but the Lady has the best line of the night. If there is no place in our hearts for mercy, she asks, How can we expect him to have mercy for us? Apparently Zathrian has no mercy, or is simply so mired in his centuries old misery, for he throws Perra to the wolves ... metaphorically speaking. When Perra refuses to let him murder Witherfang, he paralyzes everyone but our merry men and unleashes an army of Wild Sylvans and Shades to attack. That my friends is the mark of an innocent elf - summoning evil demons on allies offering him protection. Not only does this display of power show that Zathrian has more than enough power to have dealt with the werewolf issues ages ago, but it also shows that there was no need for him to get our heroes involved at all.

Once Perra has rendered Zathrian nearly dead, he finally calls a truce and after much cajoling even owns up to his hatred and fear of dying. He's lived too long, he says, and he is too old to change his ways. His anger has soured and cemented itself as hate. The only way out of this now is to break the curse. After assurances from the Lady that this is what she wants (because she is tied to Zathrian by his blood) he sacrifices his life. The wolves transform into people, the Lady disappears, and Perra is left hoping that the Dalish won't take Zathrian's death too personally. After all, the only reason she got involved was because she needs allies to defeat the Blight.

If you look at this tale from Perra's perspective, then it really is a story of vindication and redemption. There is vindication for the werewolves who despite accusations had long ago learned to harness much of their feral nature. There is redemption for Zathrian who finally sacrifices his life to do the right thing. There is also a warning that one should never take take accusations at face value since another side of the story always exists. Had Perra charged in, insisted on slaughtering the wolves, and refused to parlay then a number of "innocents" would have died for something that was not entirely their fault. On the other hand, this quest reinforced the idea that one should not seek vengeance. Declaring vengeance for the wolves, and killing all the Dalish, would have resulted in the slaughter of many innocents. Not only that, but since Zathrian's death alone did not ensure the curse's repeal then Perra very well may have condemned the werewolves to an eternity in their cursed forms. Actions have consequences. Only time will tell if Perra's defense of the Dalish will effect her end story.

Coming Next - It's time for Perra to return home once again.

The vanilla Dalish faces really bothered me so zkahana's Dalish Elves Beautified mod is installed.


  1. I have to say, you make the game look brilliant. I might consider investing in it :)

  2. You really should give it a try. Like any RPG you get as much as you want to out of it. It took me a couple times to find the origin stories I could personally invest in meaning that I had a lot of false starts. It is a very rich game though, and sometimes it feels like I'm only touching the tip of the iceburg.