I wasn’t an RPG gamer. I started out, aged 11, with a Gameboy (Tetris and Super Mario), and moved onto sims and strategy games. I heard good things about Dragon Age: Origins though, so I gave it a whirl.
My first warden was Elissa Cousland. I gave her olive skin and bright red hair, and then I met the rest of her family; it seems I had added adoption to her origin story.
Things went downhill from there: I left Sten in a cage in Lothering; killed Zevran (because he tried to kill me first); only got high enough approval for Leliana’s companion quest (she took this to mean we were dating); didn’t know I could change my companion’s armour; didn’t bother talking to anyone unless it was obvious I should; Alistair stormed out when I recruited Loghain; Morrigan deserted when I refused the Dark Ritual; and I eventually abandoned the game enroute to Fort Drakon as Loghain, Leliana, Wynne, and Elissa kept dying due to shoddy armour (or a chantry robe in Leliana’s case), a dearth of healing potions, and my failure to level Elissa up enough. And this was all on Casual.
That playthrough was frustrating in many ways, but the story captivated me. I cried when Elissa was forced to leave her parents. The brutality of the Joining was unexpected. I agonised over the right thing to do at Redcliffe (I went with blood magic because I didn’t know I could get help from the Circle – Alistair never forgave me). I was furious with Anora for leaving me to get captured. And I agreed with Riordan’s logic that Loghain should take the Joining.
I made decisions; my companions reacted unpredictably and I dealt with the consequences. Instead of following a predetermined path I felt like I was making up the game as I went along.
Determined to beat that pesky Archdemon, I started again (this time with the help of a walkthrough) and guided Lyna Mahariel to victory; many wardens have followed in her footsteps, each with a unique story.
My original Elissa was deleted long ago and I now have a ‘perfect’ canon Elissa save in its place, but I still remember that first socially inept Elissa fondly. She taught me how not to play RPGs.