*MAJOR SPOILERS AHOY*
I'm a complete and utter tool. "Farm your garden for you as you inexplicably don't want to? I'll be happy to put off saving the world to do so!" This is my usual bend over backwards nice guy coming to the fore in RPGs. If it sounds vaguely good and helpful I see it as my sodding duty to make the game world a better place, just for the few occasionally times those nice deeds come back to gently squeeze rather than kick me in the buttock. I've always wanted to be the bad guy, but I just don't have the heart. It makes me afraid I'll hurt the game's feelings by not doing as it wants me to do. But then Dragon Age comes along and pisses all over that for me.
Now, Dragon Age is not the first to tell a dark fantasy tale with ambiguous moral dilemmas. Even though I've not played it I'm told The Witcher beat it to the pip on numerous fronts in sadistic fantasy creatures. But Dragon Age has felt so personal to me, and I've actually felt real sadness and torn even if my avatar wasn't in the slightest bit fussed.
My origin was the Dwarf Casteless, where you start off in the slums with an alcoholic mother and a sister who your crime boss is prettying up to pimp out to some dwarf lord. It's a very class orientated struggle, and so compelling that for a good time after it takes the game a while to pick up again. Every choice you make it feels like you're the Good person doing bad things just to survive, and all the nice gestures you try just end up landing you in a big heap o' shit. Show mercy to a guy? Turns out your boss had a spy nearby that turns you in. Defend advances on your sister? Your moneyflow is threatened to be cut off. Luckily your more street wise friend Jevek manages to worm your way out of it for both of you. I really grew to like Jevek, as even though he's thug he will banter a few jokes back and forth on the plight of your situation. Long story short, after a series of events you end up in your crime boss' personal jail with Jevek and have to fight your way out together, killing the boss in the process. You have to leave or be executed, so stuck between a rock and a rock you accept the invitation to join the Grey Wardens. Jevek had to stay behind but he's not guilty of the same crimes you were, and your sister had found a nice nobleman to marry her way up the class ladder. So off you trot.
Throughout all of this I had no real idea what was going on up in the higher echelons of the Dwarven society. My world view was attempting to get through day to day, with no time for contemplative politics to really filter down to my level. Some time later, fully Grey Wardenified, you return with your new party trying to recruit the dwarves to battle the great evil blah blah. Turns out there's a large power struggle occurring as since you left the old king had died and contention for the throne goes between his one remaining son and a popular lord.
Of course, it is up to you to help push events one way or the other. And the game leaves you with a beguiling sense of moral ambiguity over who you should be supporting. At no point do you get to directly meet either of the candidates before deciding who to side with, so all your information comes from gossip and hearsay. This is new and intriguing to me, as rather than the usual "I spoke to him and he's obviously the slimy bastard and that other guy is the virtuous leader" I had to judge them on distorted public perceptions. "Prince Bhelden promises to upheave the Caste system." "Lord Harrowmont is an old fool who won't change with the times. He hates Castless." Ok so the Prince it is then. "Prince Bhelden murdered his brothers and poisoned his father" "Lord Harrowmont was beside the king when he died, and was nominated ruler by him over his son." Urm, well the Prince sounds a bastard. Lord Harrowmont all the way baby. "Hi brother, I've just had my child by Prince Bhelden. Look at how well he's treating me and mum!"
That last piece of news especially sent things topsy turvy. If I side with Lord Harrowmont, I'm effectively killing my own nephew and the comfortable life of my kin. But Prince Bhelden seems a power-hungry toad. Reluctantly I go to see what the quest is to win the Prince's trust. "Lord Harrowmont promised the same land to two differing noble families for their vote. Here's evidence that we'd like you to show both of the families." Ok, so that makes me feel a little better. Lord Harrowmont was just another side of the same coin then. I set out and convince the first family, a snooty noble lady, to withdraw her vote. I then seek out the second, who turns out to be an amiable wise dwarf that cracks wise and is hated by the rest of the council for wanting to abolish the Caste system. But a good person like this supports Lord Harrowmont? I'm getting confused again.
And the game doesn't stop pulling punches. Just before going back to the person who issued me the letter giving quest I went into a library of some kind. Hoovering up all the dialogue trees I could find I ended up talking to the head remember and given an option to show him too the letters. "These are cursed fakes!" he cried, telling me that "such a contract was made, but with differing terms for both parties. There was no underhand dealing going on." Uh-oh, so Lord Harrowmont really was squeaky clean. I think I can salvage it as there's a dialogue option saying "I think I'm going to go have a word with the person who gave me these". So I just go over, accuse the quest giver and the moral choice will become clear right? Wrong. Turns out all I can do is tell him I did the quest successfully. I could restart right now, but that would ruin the premise of the game I felt. I made my choices on evidence that was there, I needed to stick by it.
I finally meet the Prince and he really is an oily bastard, but he got his family royal jewels to somehow impregnate my sister so I can't kill him in good conscience. But evil and ambitious as he is, he also wants to make some big changes for the better so that his name will be remembered positively. So he really is no more Castes, whereas Harrowmont would follow in the footsteps of the old king propping up an incredibly broken system.
I'm sliding down a slippery slope of conflicting moral interests here that somehow, this game has made me care about. It only gets worse as good friends betray you, the underhandness gets worse and there's much, much death. Because of me. And that is why Dragon Age makes me regret pretty much all of my choices, and so far doesn't seem to be relenting. I love it.