When we last left off, the hero of our upcoming epic journey got taken down by a lazy backhand from an upstart noble who, while technically named Vaughn, we’re going to persist in calling “Von Dickface”. Because I enjoy the wordplay, that’s why.
Anyway, after a short loading screen, we’re treated to a shot of an Elven lady in another terrible-looking dress chanting “Maker keep us, Maker protect us” over and over. Almost like she’s feverishly praying for help. There’s a few things wrong with this, just within the context of Dragon Age Lore, but here’s the big one which always sticks in my almost-entirely metaphorical craw: it makes no sense with the religion as it’s established.
A big point with the Chantry is that the Maker straight-up abandoned the world when people
crucified Jesus Burned Andraste at the stake, and it’s through the repetition of the Chant of Light that they hope for Him to return his gaze to Thedas.
Long story short, this lady should probably be praying to Andraste, much in the same way people exclaim “Praise Jesus!” in the real world who should, by their own cosmology, probably be directing their praise Yahweh-ward.
(Jarenth Interjection: I think the place of Jesus in Christianity is maybe a *little* different, what with the whole Holy Trinity and all. But the point stands regardless. Back to the show!)
The other elves here notice I’ve woken up, and interactivity begins!
Ugly Yellow Dress (And I get it, it’s probably supposed to be cloth-of-gold or something, which strikes me as being a little bit outside the supposed Elven income bracket) gets possessed by the Exposition Fairy and candidly informs us that we’re locked in, doomed to wait until “That bastard is ‘ready’ for us”.
Now, someone with a little bit of martial training that leans towards the dirtier side of fighting — say, a rogue, for example — might come up with a bunch of tiny little plans here. Walk around, pick the lock on the door, take up hiding places amongst the room to spring an ambush the moment somebody walks through the door. Position ourselves so as to break the guard’s arm the moment it passes through the doorframe by slamming it into his humerus.
The game even gives me the opportunity to walk around the room and get a little bit of looting in, but I must have left my lockpicks in my other impractical piece of evening wear. Eventually, the other Elves turn to me and ask for a plan.
The door opens and a squad heavily-armed and armored guards stroll on in like they own the place. Okay, look, I *say* ‘heavily armed and armored’, but it’s all the lowest, tier-one stuff possible. And they’re still at the distinct disadvantage of being NPCs. I can take ’em.
Praying Lady stands up and demands the significantly larger group of guys in armor leave this gaggle of defenseless creatures they regard as absolutely inferior alone. Then they murder her. It’s not like literally everybody saw that one coming, though.
From here, things proceed rather quickly. All the other victims file out of the room, escorted by their own pair of guards, leaving me and two guys. Two! I can definitely take them! If only I had a bow or something.
The Brothers Thuggish advance on me, full of menace.
“That’s a good girl” they sneer, inching closer to my knee-based blunt force trauma creator when Soris bursts in through the door, wielding the Crossbow of Justice and the Longsword of Fuck You. The guards sneer at him. “A little Elfling with a stolen sword”, they taunt, advancing for him and reaching for their weapons.
In response, Soris bends down and just…
Andraste’s breath, Soris! I’m an archer. Archer. I barely know what to do with one of these.
Fortunately, that’s not entirely true. At this point in the game, I’m just barely better with a bow than I am in melee. Also fortunately, the game conveniently pauses right after the guards realize just how dead they’re about to become and allows me to equip whichever I like, so I could easily double-click the crossbow and go from there.
(Side note: future Dragon Age games will avert this issue by never having you without a weapon or by straight-up asking you, the player, which one you want to use.)
I don’t equip the crossbow because that would be *wrong*, and also because their impending doom is ever-so-slightly funnier this way. Murder with the tools you’re given, Elven Rogue Murder-Mama always told me.
What follows next is a bona-fide bloodbath.
Shortly after we viciously and mercilessly slaughter two stalwart and honourable guardsmen, we look through their pockets. It turns out, one of them happened to be *precisely* Soris’ size, so Soris gets a brand new, shiny suit of first-tier chainmail to protect his tender Elf-flesh in.
I shove the sword towards Soris. I image the words ‘what the fuck is up with this’ are plainly visible across Samantha’s brow, and Soris quickly gives me the crossbow.
He informs me, after I question him immediately, that Duncan (of the unique armour texture and orange name) lent him these weapons to storm the castle with. But unfortunately, he couldn’t come himself to get his slaughter on. Something about Grey Warden Neutrality.
Also: Samantha levels up! With her brand new and shiny second level, she picks up a point in each Dexterity, Cunning, and Strength: these are, of course, the three primary stats we’re concerned with. Dexterity covers our bow-based murder skills, Cunning boosts our Roguishness, and Strength governs the armor we’re able to wear. Occasionally, we’ll branch into Constitution, Willpower and Magic, but generally, these are the stats we’re always going to raise on our Protagonist.
And yes, Magic means something to non-mages: it makes restorative potions more effective. With enough Magic, we can use weak poultices to keep on ticking.
Gallivanting into the next room brings us to the Racist Cook, who orders us to stand fast and proceeds to threaten us – the armed and armored Elven strangers – while being himself completely unarmed. Of course, he does this by threatening to call the guards. This proves ineffective as the indentured servant-Elf directly behind him decides to get *his* murder on.
Our help runs off, which conveniently makes it so we don’t have to kill an unarmed civilian in order to maintain our element of surprise. Which is a nice thing for the developers to do for us.
Now, one of the cook’s objections was to our weapons. This is, I suppose, probably meant to be a clue that we should disarm before proceeding through the door to the next room, which is probably the hardest fight in the level. If you go in thus unarmed, you can actually circumvent the fight through the liberal application of poisoned brandy. No, I’m not kidding.
Somehow, I always forget.
Three off-duty guardsmen playing poker spot us moving through the next room and start asking questions.
Fortunately, Samantha downs the archer with a thrown knife to the throat, because throwing knives are like short, heavy arrows or something.
Even with one of the guards taken down and these guys being unarmored, this is a pretty tough fight, Soris even hits the deck during this fight despite being on a straight drip of health poultices. And yes, I am spending a lot of poultices on Soris for no reason, and I’m absolutely positive this won’t come back to bite me later.
Seriously, we’re going to be swimming in health poultices once we get a healing mage, guys. It’s no big deal.
(Jarenth Interjection #2: With enough gold, you can also basically buy infinite health poultices later in the game. The ‘spoon-drip healing drugs’ strategy stays relevant *fairly* long.)
Looting the bodies finally nets us what we’ve been looking for: an actual bow. Shortbow, tier one, but still a bow. Now, Crossbows are an okay fallback weapon for your Warriors and all, but shortbows have much better DPS by sheer virtue of being much faster. Longbows straddle the middle ground here in being slightly slower than shortbows, with a little bit better bang for your buck and much longer range.
Basically, we’re going to be packing a longbow as soon as possible, but for right now, the rules of Murdering Fools grant ownership of this bow to me.
Now, Denerim Castle is more or less a succession of doors in linear hallways, so we proceed to the next room.
Despite having armor and there being actually more of them this time, and bows not granting backstab damage, these particular guards ponder whether or not to keep me alive for their boss, von Dickface. They actually come to a somewhat reasonable decision… if they weren’t minor, nameless NPCs, that is.
These guys go down like chumps, despite their equipment and armor being superior to the guys in the previous room. Maybe the Poker Trio was the only group that actually ate breakfast?
Now’s probably a decent reason to explain why I’m still in my wedding dress, huh? Well, first and foremost, it’s always classy to get your murder on while wearing a white dress typically associated with joy and starting a new life. The blood-stained bride is a great visual trope, guys.
Also, the way that generating threat works in DA:O is kind of awesome. You see, wearing armor actually increases the amount of threat you generate. So Poor Soris the Encased-In-Armor over there automatically starts facing the brunt of the attacks, whereas the only piece of armor I’m wearing — mother’s boots — actually produces negative threat, more or less giving me free reign to rain down arrows. This would be super-useful if I was a melee rogue or didn’t pick up the melee archery skill, but why wouldn’t I pick up melee archery?
After the barely-a-fight, and before I can actually start looting corpses, Soris walks over to the deceased Nelaros.
Turns out, Nelaros had his wedding ring on. We’ll end up selling it the first chance we get.