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Evolution of Combat Mechanics in the Dragon Age Series




Another week, another article about Dragon Age. I realize it might be more topical to write about Mass Effect, but I can’t help where inspiration takes me, apparently. Last time, I talked about a particular topic in the series’ lore. This time, I’d like to discuss the crunchy side – the way the series’ combat mechanics evolved.

Dragon Age: Origins

Dragon Age: Origins was marketed as a return to the classical style of the western RPG, like Baldur’s Gate. However, the tactical side of the game was far simpler. There were only three classes, and the tactical considerations resembled a simplified single-player MMO game. You needed a tank – probably a warrior with a shield. Then someone to deal damage, so a warrior with a two-handed weapon or two weapons, or a rogue. Then a mage to cast spells, and of course to heal. Most of it was tragically uninspired and simple. But there was one layer to it that was truly innovative and noteworthy: the tactics screen.

Origins had a robust tactics screen, where the player could input commands for the AI to execute. It could be as simple as a mage healing someone under 50% health, or a warrior using a taunting ability when a weaker party member is in danger. Or it can be something more complex, like setting up “if this then that” operations. This allowed the player to take advantage of tactics and planning without having to babysit the whole team. In theory, if you spent the time inputting in the tactics, the party would more or less run itself.

So, how did it work in practice? …not well. The complex tactical settings couldn’t make up for the game’s relative simplicity and bad balance problems.

First, the elephant in the room: mages. By any metric, they’re devastatingly powerful. Their regular spells are powerful enough, but it gets worse if you use spell combinations. As such, the most optimal tactic is to bring at least two mages, and have them nuke everything, while the other teammates just keep enemies occupied.

Warriors’ and rogues’ abilities are very unimpressive by comparison. Many of them rely on chance, or being very specific in your skill point allotments. The two classes share some abilities – specifically, for dual-wielding and archery styles, but shields and two-handed weapons are exclusive to warriors. It’s actually possible to build a rogue who uses a shield, but also entirely pointless. The weapon talents tended to boil down to hitting enemies a little harder than they hit you, and not much else. The class-specific ones are a bit better for most character types, but in the case of rogues they take a lot of investment for basic-seeming abilities to become available. Examples include backstabbing disabled enemies and in-combat stealth, which are so elementary that it’s baffling that they aren’t default skills.

There are also more subtle balance problems, unrelated to magic. The biggest, one is that “tank” warriors find it difficult to do their actual jobs. Using heavy armor requires a large investment in strength, which prevents them from investing in attributes that help them avoid attacks. This means that, despite using shield talents to increase their defenses, a tank’s efficiency is reliant on the mage’s ability to heal them far more than the tank’s actual efforts.

This isn’t to say warriors and rogues are useless. You do need them, or at least warriors. But the point is that the combat is very decidedly mage-centric. It doesn’t only apply to the player’s mages, either. When an enemy mage appears, they’re always the priority target, because otherwise they can decimate your team with a single fireball or chain lightning.

The best way to quickly get rid of enemy mages are, of course, your own mages. There’s a combination of spells that are guaranteed to one-shot most mages, and knock half off a boss-level mage’s health. An equally cheap option is a glyph spell that blocks all magic within it and drains mana. If you thought that giving your warriors the Templar specialization will help… best abandon that hope quickly. Logic has no place in this combat system.

A frequent counter to this sort of criticism is that mages are meant to be powerful and feared in-universe. This is true, but you can give mages a unique role in both gameplay and story without having them smash the combat balance on one knee. I’ve also seen players claim the games (the first two, that is) are single player, and thus don’t need balance. This is an entirely erroneous argument. They are single-player, but they’re also party games; you have to manage the entire team yourself. If I play a warrior or rogue, I’d rather not play second fiddle to my mage companions. I should be able to play primarily as my own protagonist character regardless of what class I choose.

All in all, the combat in Dragon Age: Origins might seem varied and interesting at first, and to some degree it can be. It is simple and elegant, with a strong foundation, but there’s a lot of cracks in it. There is a ‘right’ way to play Dragon Age: Origins, and if you don’t know what it is, you can end up not being able to finish the game. Thankfully, these issues were less prominent in later titles.

Dragon Age 2

The second installment of the series proved controversial in more ways than one, and a big part of the controversy was how much it changed the combat. However, I personally think a lot of the controversy stems from aesthetics – tactically, it is not only similar to Origins, but also significantly improves on it.

What makes me say that? It comes down to improved balance and increased interplay. Mages no longer dominate play, and all three classes have their own tricks to pull off. While the game sadly keeps the warrior/rogue/mage division, each class has a more consistent niche. Warriors who use shields are still tanks, but those that use two-handed weapons stand out from rogues with their focus on attacking many enemies at once.

Mages no longer dominate encounters with their spells, but they’re still essential for their ability to strike entire areas, support and heal. Healing is also not as absolutely crucial as it was previously– it’s possible to run encounters without a mage, or with a mage who can’t heal. Rogues remain the heavy hitting damage-dealers they were before, but then this class seems to be the easiest to balance in the entire series.

Spell combos return as cross-class combos, which is a major upgrade. Each class can inflict a specific status effect – warriors stagger, rogues disorient, and mages make enemies brittle. The other two classes can exploit those statuses for massive damage and debilitating effects. Well, mostly the former, unfortunately, but it does result in having to combine different classes’ abilities. This leads to a better sense of cooperation between the party that’s deeper than “warrior taunts bad guys and mage heals the warrior.”

The abilities themselves are more engaging both visually and functionally, particularly for warriors and rogues. There’s still plenty of talents that boil down to pure damage, but there’s also far more movement across the battlefield, area effects, ways to recover stamina, hide or cause enemies to miss.

In terms of character building, ability trees are actual trees now, rather than straight lines of four abilities each. Warriors and rogues get more abilities that are independent of the weapons they use. The most welcome change is unique specializations for your companions, not just you – this means that I could actually make my Fenris different from my Hawke, even though they are both warriors with a two-handed weapon.

The tactics screen remains the same, but there are subtle changes to the general feel of the controls. They shift from the 3/4th overhead control of Origins to a third-person scheme where you focus on Hawke. This combines with the flashy cinematic aesthetics of the combat to make it seem like the game is more of a hack ‘n’ slash than it actually is. The quicker animations are certainly a godsend after Origins‘ slow, ponderous swinging and half-hearted poking.

While I believe Dragon Age 2’s combat is the best in the series, it’s by no means perfect. It clings to the genre restrictions the series chose to burden itself with, like the outdated, limited class scheme. I mentioned only two types of warriors before, because warriors can no longer dual wield. Rogues can only use daggers and no other melee weapons, while warriors now can’t equip bows. Granted, only dual-wielding warriors are an actual lost option – rogues who use anything but daggers in melee, as well as archery for warriors, were mostly there for show. But it’s not very commendable to remove less-optimal options, rather than make them work. It’s not like Origins had a lot of possibilities for warriors and rogues to begin with.

Furthermore, Dragon Age 2 shoots itself in the foot with its encounter design. As if worried that the faster animations would make the game too quick, the designers ruthlessly padded every fight. Every random encounter (of which there are many) will involve at least two waves of trash mobs, which come out of literally nowhere. The more serious enemies have inflated health pools that makes fighting them a lengthy grind. It’s especially bothersome in the early game, where you only have a few abilities; it means a lot of auto-attacking while you wait for the cooldowns to end. Later on, you can combine your talents and spells to produce enough damage to punch through the bloat… sometimes.

There’s a lot of solid work to Dragon Age 2‘s combat, but it’s very much a diamond in the rough.

Dragon Age: Inquisition

The latest game in the series takes the evolution of the combat in a different, strange direction. It resembles Dragon Age 2, but it also does not.

Inquisition follows from Dragon Age 2 in that it makes the combat even more action-oriented. The action-like feel of Dragon Age 2 came from camera angles and controls. Inquisition explicitly moves towards action mechanics. The controls are much more geared towards controlling your Inquisitor only. There are many more abilities that require active timing, like blocking and parrying. There are far fewer active abilities for all classes, and you are restricted to a set number of slotted abilities rather than having access to all of them at once.

What it results in is a game that straddles the fence between a more traditional tactical RPG, and an action-RPG like Dark Souls or The Witcher. But it’s not actually either of those.

Visually, Inquisition seems to strike a balance between Origins‘ dreadfully stiff animations and Dragon Age 2‘s high-action, slightly ludicrous style. It’s still firmly in the realm of improbable moves, but not to the degree Dragon Age 2 did it. Archery rogues, especially, no longer cause a rain of arrows to fall down, or send an arrow straight through the battlefield. Two-handed weapons are back to their pathetic state from Origins, because there are enough people who have no idea how they work, but think they do. They’re effective – just horrendously ugly.

Inquisition is also the first game in the series to introduce multiplayer, and I think it might be the source of the new direction. The controls are suited for commanding a single character, with every other party member also being under the control of a living person. This might not be such a big problem if it weren’t for the gutting of the previous games’ tactics screen. You can set some party behaviors, but it’s a pale shadow of what it was before.

Which, unfortunately, makes for a very chaotic combat experience. The AI simply isn’t smart enough to use all its abilities well, so combat requires the player to take a very active approach. So you control your Inquisitor and hope the AI doesn’t get itself killed. Picking your companions’ abilities is driven by what the AI can effectively use, rather than actual usefulness. For example, it makes archer rogues a lot better than dagger rogues, since an archer doesn’t need specific positioning.

The game does make some marked improvements, however, and the major one is healing. Spells that restore health are gone; you can only regain health by drinking potions, which come in limited supply, and can only be refilled at camps. Healing spells are replaced with more barriers and guard abilities. Mages apply barriers, which then act as an extra layer of health. Guard is generated by warriors and acts similarly, with the difference that it doesn’t disappear by itself.

This shifts the focus from refilling missing health to actively mitigating and avoiding damage, which is a welcome change. It’s still not perfect – it’s easy to generate so much guard that many battles become trivial. But it’s a step in the right direction.

I spoke dismissively of the multiplayer, but it does seem to break some of the single-player’s rules. While characters are divided into the warrior/mage/rogue categories, they get their own ability sets – only two each, but much larger than the single-player ones. More importantly, these trees can mix and match abilities from different sets, and even different classes.

Going Forward

Where would I like future Dragon Age games to go? First off, they need to decide what they are. Tactical RPGs, action RPGs, or something entirely different? Inquisition awkwardly tries to be both, and it really doesn’t do it any favors.

I think staying as a tactical RPG would serve the game series best. If it did return to this root, it should look back to what Dragon Age 2 got right, and what it didn’t. The improved balance and interplay was good; needlessly padded encounters and unnecessarily flashy animations were not.

The games could do much more than just stick to what worked before, though. What they really need to do in order to achieve their full potential is to break away from the traditional combat mechanic restrictions the genre imposes on them. The Warrior/Mage/Rogue division is stifling and arbitrary, particularly for warriors and rogues. Neither “warrior” nor “rogue” really mean anything. However, you can’t get rid of the class system altogether, because the series probably wouldn’t work with an entirely classless system.

Classes that more accurately describe the role that the character plays in their team would be a better design choice. More fighting styles for non-mages would also be an absolute necessity for the combat to work. More varieties of magic than “wave a stick around and make magic happen” wouldn’t hurt, either; being a mage needs to mean more than just being able to cast spells. The Knight-Enchanter specialization is a step in the right direction for this, but it just needs capitalizing on.

I don’t hold out much hope that it will happen – BioWare is very wary of backlash. But it’s something I think could help make combat in the games something to look forward to, rather than a tolerable distraction in between the story moments.

Michał is a natural meddler, driven to take fiction apart and see how it works. In The Fandomentals, he examines fantasy and gaming with a critical, and somewhat cranky, eye.



The Arcana is a Nice Visual Novel Experience





The Arcana is a visual novel available on mobile since 2017 developed by Nix Hydra. It takes place into a fantasy world inspired by the tarot game. It’s free-to-playish (more about this later). And you know what? It’s quite good. No really, I like to play it, I care about the characters, and I want to know what is going to happen. So I thought I will write something about it today.

The Story

In The Arcana you are the amnesic apprentice of the magician Arsa. Your master (and maybe more) is forced to leave the city and leaves you in charge of his (your) shop with his familiar, the snake Faust. Not long after his departure, two characters come to visit. If I don’t remember the precise order of their visit they are respectively the Countess of Vesuvia, Nadia, and an ‘old friend’ of Arsa, the plague doctor, Julian Devorak. Both wanted to talk to Arsa but accept a tarot reading from you. After you have given them an ominous reading, Julian leaves. Nadia asks you to come to the palace to offer you a job.

This job turns out to be helping her solve the murder of her husband, Lucio, who was murdered three years ago. The main suspect, who confessed to setting Lucio on fire before escaping his prison, is Julian Devorak. He has recently been spotted in town. You must resolve the affair and catch the perpetrator before the masquerade, the first one since Lucio’s death.

From here you will go trough Vesuvia, crossing path with other characters, and uncovering a real rabbit hole of mystery. And trust me the mystery is really catching.

Oh and you will pick a romance… that’s kind of important too.

The Characters

Of main interest in The Arcana are its story and its characters. This is perfectly normal, after all this is the point of visual novel. But even for the genre The Arcana really has a colorful, endearing cast.  You will always be happy to come back to these characters. The main trio is particularly good.

From left to right: Arsa, Nadia, and Julian.

Arsa is certainly the most stable of the three. He knows who he is, he knows that he loves and cares about the protagonist. Unsurprisingly, he is the only one who remembers what happened three years ago. One of the great things about him is that he is confident, both about his ability and about who he is. He might have some hesitation about his relationship with the narrator (but for good reasons).

However, I will say that he is a bit uncertain about the way to go forward. What “happened” to Lucio certainly concerns him, but the way you follow with him is confused. There is a lot of going back, going away, trying to face the problem, deciding not to for now… It doesn’t make Arsa’s route unpleasant, quite the contrary. I think it makes it more interesting. The way to go isn’t always straight (pun intended), and that is a good thing, as it reminds us that even confidant people can hesitate.

Nadia is a more straight forward character. Despite a facade of confidence and authority, Nadia is insecure and wants to do the right thingTM. There are multiple reasons explaining this insecurity, including an amnesia that probably allows several members of her court to take advantage of her. Her desire to be a source of authority and to be right, because she loves this facade, could lead her down a path that ends up making her cold and hard. But Nadia is a good person who cares for her people. Having a strong person that needs reassurance about her capacities and future was a really good idea for The Arcana.

Julian is a bit of a mess, and this is an understatement. He is a bit of a masochist, definitively a poseur, and genuinely lost. To the point where he ends up hurting people around him, people that care about him. He is deeply convinced that unhappiness is the only thing waiting for him at the end of the story, despite his obvious medical talent and general niceness. This leads to one of the most violent roasts that I have seen in a long time, but not underserved.

In addition, the cast of secondary characters is amazing. I can’t wait for Portia and Muriel’s route. Especially since I am convinced that Muriel knew the protagonist. But there is also Lucio… Oh Lucio… What a colossal dick… I find myself wondering why no one set him on fire sooner. (Actually, maybe Lucio got the most violent, literal ‘roast’ I have seen in a long time, but once again not undeserved.)

What a piece of shit… Even your wife threw away a ring you gave her.


One of the other great thing about The Arcana is the diversity presented in the game. As you have probably noticed, two out of the three love interests are POC. Everyone is bisexual, too. But that’s not the only thing. The protagonist lacks a canon physical appearance, so they can be who you want them to be. And I say they because the game lets you choose their gender… Or rather favorite pronoun. You have the choice between, she/her, he/him, and they/them. This is such a nice and clever thing to do. Everyone can play as they want, and it makes the experience more inclusive.

I have to give another point to Nix Hydra for design. The world of The Arcana is particularly well designed to work with this inclusivity. Vesuvia makes me things about the Silk Road—it has a Middle-Eastern vibe (and the ambiance music helps).

Unfortunately, this is the only picture of one of the backgrounds I was about to find easily.

The fact that there are characters coming from everywhere and from a lot of different ethnicities continues to enhance the Silk Road impression.

Another good thing is that the universe is tolerant. Like I have already said, all three romance option are bisexuals. But everyone in the city is okay with same-gender romantic relationship. And there aren’t any comments about anyone’s ethnicity, either. You know what? This is truly refreshing.

The Main Problem of the Game

The Arcana is normally playable in three days. What I mean by that is that any update can be played rather easily with daily bonuses. However, that only works if you are okay with being robbed of every cute moment and of the majority of the illustrations. Yeah a good part of the illustration are guarded behind a wall of “pay a certain amount of coins.” You can win coins on a daily basis, but not that much in real time. So how do you get enough coins to unlock everything?

Well you pay for them with real money. Micro-transactions are unfortunately way too common today.  And that’s why I might have made some mistakes in my presentation of the game. Thus far, I have only played everything once… Because my background refused to let me spend money on something I could do another way. It’s not that I am cheap… It is that the paying system isn’t:

Please keep in mind that this is in euros.

I don’t mind that creators make money out of their creation, that is perfectly normal. However, this is a bit much. With 2 000 coins you can buy four books, and four books is the equivalent of an entire romance route. For now. The routes aren’t over yet. And there are three of them! 43.99€ is more expensive than brand new 3DS games in my country!

Yes, Nix Hydra has considerably increased the daily bonuses recently and they have doubled the amount of coins you can buy for 43.99€. But still. I will probably only have played the integrality of The Arcana in four years. That’s okay, the game is still lovely, and it does not tempt me into spending so much money. But still, it casts a gloom over the general game experience.


My free-to-play experience with The Arcana is pleasant enough for me to recommend it to you. It is a nice visual novel and if you like the genre you will have a good time. However, if you have trouble not spending money on micro-transactions, don’t start the game because the experience will be really frustrating for you. Except if you are very rich… In that case, throw some of that sweet, sweet money toward Nix Hydra. Be the renaissance art patron you always wanted to be.

Images Courtesy of Nix Hydra

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From Alistair to Cullen—Fairytale Romances and Dragon Age

Angela D. Mitchell



Spoiler Warning for all of Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age II, and Dragon Age: Inquisition

Cullen: The way that I saw mages… I’m not sure I would have cared about you. And the thought of that sickens me.

Let’s talk Dragon Age romance. Emotions! Chocolates! Kisses! Flowers! Not to mention those itty bitty little pieces of stomped hearts and emotional shrapnel!

Sorry… I’m still recovering from Valentine’s Day. (I would have published this analysis then, a few weeks back, but I was still weeping and locked in a fetal position…)

I heard someone say recently that RPG romances actually elicit the same reactions in the brain that real romances do. I have no idea if that’s scientifically true, but when it comes to Dragon Age, it certainly feels true.

For me, as for many, RPGs tap into emotions that can be intriguingly close to real. We play a character for what can be dozens or even hundreds of hours. We flirt with other characters. They flirt back. And eventually declare their love. We love them back. And often, not just via avatar; it’s not just my Inquisitor, for instance, who loves Solas, or Bull, or Zevran, or Anders, and all my other romanced characters. I absolutely love them, too. And in a way, that’s more personal and less remote than, say, my crush on Aragorn when rereading The Lord of the Rings. Because let’s face it, Aragorn doesn’t look right over at me and proclaim his adoration back. In an RPG romance, however? Yeah, he totally would.

And that’s where they get you.

It’s both embarrassing yet visceral how emotional that can be. And each choice in an RPG like Dragon Age further ensures that our choices will make us unique, make US worth the love and accolades from our chosen objects. No matter that thousands of other people have lived it—you can know this intellectually, yet emotionally, the game relationships still feel all too real, immediate, and personal. It’s one of the greatest lures of the gaming world, that sense that YOUR playthrough is the only one that truly matters, and it’s intoxicating when accomplished by a team as talented as Bioware, for instance, on the Dragon Age series.

Predictable Patterns

However, when you’ve played your share of RPGs, as I have, you can also kind of get jaded; lulled into certain patterns. You especially become used to the romances going a certain way: you flirt with your potential love interests, they’re charmed, bold, or bashful, and they flirt back. If you’re playing a good (or “paragon”) character, you won’t break their hearts and they won’t break yours. There’s not a ton of suspense—they will love you. It’s assured.

You then progress through the game story, and eventually there are heart-eyes and kissage, followed eventually by a scene where you finally spend the night together in pixellated soulmate bliss. Well, hey, for a moment or two.

Aaaand… Fade to black.

And, well, basically, that’s it. You got your happy ending, or, alternatively, basically, what I call, the phase that is “Welcome to the End of Your RPG Romance.”

Alistair’s romance in Dragon Age: Origins can vary from the sweetest fairytale imaginable, to a grim and cynical outcome, depending on your choices.

“Someday My Prince/ss Will Come…”

First off, there can be something really reassuring about the less complicated romances. They can be terrific fun, and a welcome change from real life.

The base template for me on this in Dragon Age, for instance, will probably always be Alistair’s romance in Dragon Age: Origins (DAO), at least, as I had played it. I’d ended up with a triumphant female elf Warden wandering off hand in hand with a Grey Warden Alistair after defeating the Archdemon and waving goodbye to a pregnant Morrigan. (Note: You can get an even happier ending if you played a female human noble, because then you can marry Alistair, he becomes King, and you ascend the throne alongside him to become his queen.)

I’d liked the Alistair romance, although it hadn’t quite been my cup of tea. It had seemed a little adolescent and predictable to me, even though it was (being Bioware) also indisputably charming. Alistair is a funny, sweet guy, he’s an exiled prince who gives a female Warden his inexperienced and vulnerable heart, and it’s all seriously adorable. The moment when he gave my poor sweet Warden a rose remains a milestone for me in my memory of my first DAO playthrough.

Or… Not…

However, Alistair’s romance isn’t actually predictable, though. That’s where I was wrong. It can end in half a dozen different brutal and tragic ways. So I was truly amused later to realize how many different choices I’d actually happened to luck into that had resulted in that bright and sunny fairytale ending!

I mean, come on, this is Bioware. I was stupid. Sunny endings, I should have remembered, are… rare and precious. Never a given.

But I was careless, and had innocently assumed my Disney outcome was the norm. (Really? Was I ever that young? Evidently I was. Once.)

But my entire awareness of that moment (and happy ending) was actually a lie, and, as I’ve noted, it wasn’t the only possibility at all. Ironically, Alistair’s romance most definitely isn’t happy-happy. It isn’t “someday my prince will come.” It can, in fact, end in incredible bleakness—with the Warden dumped, left, abandoned, or dead, and with Alistair despairing and drunk, executed, or heroically dead from his own fatal blow against the Archdemon.

Flipping the Formula

I’d had no idea of this in my first playthrough. I only began to realize its possibilities in discussions with other Dragon Age players I know.

And I’d definitely had no idea that an Alistair playthrough could be so much more complex and dark. The first time I played Dragon Age: Origins, my Warden had encouraged Alistair not to become King because she wasn’t a fan of people being pushed into roles they didn’t want, so she inadvertently ensured that they got their happy ending out of simple selfishness. Which was even more ironic because, for me, I didn’t actually think my Warden protagonist’s romance with Alistair would even last. She’d had conflicting feelings for assassin Zevran (then broke it off because poor Alistair was really difficult to break up with, honestly), and had also had a wordless if doomed yearning for Qunari warrior Sten (at least in my own headcanon).

So I got my “Disney Prince” romance even if at the end I kind of went, “Oh, sweeties… it will never, ever last,” to the couple I ended up with.

It’s All About the Formula

Still, the standard formula’s pretty timeless and proven throughout the ages. Flirt, kiss, sex, happy ending, boom. Done.

Cassandra’s romance is a charming opportunity to see the lighter, sweeter side of one of Thedas’s toughest warriors.

This fairytale type of formula means that your typical romance often takes up a fraction of the game story, while also hitting those predictable necessary romance points… the courtship, the glances, the kiss, the sex, the aftermath (if there is one). Most formulas in fact eschew the aftermath and just end the relationship there in a haze of assumed present and future bliss. This always disappoints me, because of course, relationships don’t end with sex, and they actually get a lot more interesting after that point.

Romances adhering to this formula in Dragon Age might include, depending on story arc, the following characters:

  • Alistair
  • Leliana
  • Merrill
  • Cullen
  • Josephine
  • Cassandra

However, of course, this being Bioware, any one of the above romances can end sadly and even tragically as well. It just depends on the choices you make. Alistair, Leliana, and Merrill can all end up abandoned or dead at the hand of the very person who loves them, while Cullen’s romance can also end in one of the most heartbreaking revelations in the Trespasser DLC, depending on your choices for him. Josie and Cass survive no matter what, but they may do so with some serious broken hearts.

Thank goodness, though, it doesn’t have to go that way. So if you go for the fairytale, and you make the choices that support true love and sweetness, you’ll usually get it in the above scenarios. Alistair’s, Leliana’s, and Merrill’s romances are more innocent, and Josephine’s is positively Disney Princess (and utterly adorable). Cassandra’s is lovely, and provides a glimpse of her softer side. My only complaint about hers is that it’s a bit light on content, and it’s pretty much set forth according to that formula where the story’s basically over after the sex.

Cullen’s deceptively complex romance actually explores Cullen’s journey across the entire Dragon Age trilogy, while giving him a chance at love and atonement.

Romancing the Templar

Cullen’s, meanwhile, is probably my favorite of the fairytale romances in Dragon Age, not least because it doesn’t end with the hookup, but instead actually explores Cullen’s journey across the entire trilogy. It’s especially satisfying if you romance him with a mage, since Cullen’s story back in Dragon Age: Origins began with a traumatic experience that left him with a bias that he was still working through even in Dragon Age II and on into Dragon Age: Inquisition (DAI).

In DAI, Cullen is wrestling with a search for redemption based on over a decade of backstory if we’ve played the entire trilogy. His emotional inner conflicts result in a romanced relationship with the Inquisitor that can be really rich and poignant, as his feelings for her are depicted in a lovely and often wordless progression of simple, believable little moments (both funny and sexy) that genuinely communicate intimacy. As his romance evolves, we’re shown Cullen’s more vulnerable side, as well as how deep his sense of religious faith really is. I remember being surprised and moved at a simple scene near the end in which Cullen simply embraced the Inquisitor and held her, expressing for the first time how deeply he feared losing her.

There are plenty of other happy romances in Dragon Age, but they’re not as straightforward. Bull’s, for instance, is sexy, funny, and surprisingly edgy, but it’s also somewhat cynical and cold, at least at first. Solas’s romance (while achingly emotional at levels that are practically operatic) is certainly not the guaranteed happy ending most players may be going for.

The romances described here, however, meet the basic needs of the formula and provide a general prospect of romantic happiness for those who make the right choices.

If you want hearts and flowers, in other words? These romances are a good place to start.

I’ll be taking a look at some of the romances that don’t really follow that fairytale formula in the near future… and, from Solas to Bull to Zevran and Anders, which ones in that assortment that I loved most. But what about you? Do you prefer the fairytale romance formula, yourself? Or something a little more complex and real?

Meanwhile, don’t mind me. I’m heading off on my War Nug, back to camp where I can drown my lonely sorrows in a few of my beautiful and decadent Valentine’s Day chocolates. (I got them on sale!)

Images courtesy of Bioware

This article is a reprint (with minor modification and expansion) of an article originally published by Angela D. Mitchell on

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The First Female OWL Player is a Struggling Team’s Best Chance





Stage one of the Overwatch league’s left many teams disappointed with their results, but none more so than the Shanghai Dragons who finished at the bottom of the league with a devastating 0 – 10 record.

While esport castors and fans alike praised Chao “Undead” Fang and Weida “Diya” Lu for their individual skill, and for the team as a whole improving since the start of the season, many still maintain that a 0 – 40 season record is still a very real and very scary possibility for Shanghai.

In the recent signing period, the Dragons acquired three new Korean players: Eui-Seok “Fearless” Lee (Tank), Gi-Hyeon “Ado” Chon (DPS), and (by far the most publicized) Yeon “Geguri” Kim (Tank).

Geguri will not only be the first female player in OWL, but one of a small handful of female players across all professional esports. Early on in her career she was accused of cheating because her Zarya play is just that good. She proved her mettle (and put the rumors to bed) by filming her hands while playing during a live stream.

General managers throughout the league had faced heavy criticism from fans at the start of the season, as not one of the twelve teams in the league recruited Geguri, a player who, statistically, was better than a large handful of male tank players that did get signed to teams. The accusations of sexism became even more damning after the Houston Outlaws’ staff cited a lack of female facilities at their training HQ as part of the reason for not taking her on.

So, Geguri got a team (and even one that wouldn’t make ludicrous excuses!) and the Shanghai Dragons got a badly needed injection of skill. Looks like everything worked out, right?

Well, yes and no.

Sadly Geguri, Fearless, and Ado are all still trying to get their american VISAs, a process that could take several more weeks, meaning they are currently unable to play.

Meanwhile, stage two has so far been equally unkind to the Dragons, losing both of their games in the first week. Many remain doubtful that the team, even with the roster change-ups, will be able to advance out of last place. Analyst Christopher “Montecristo” Mykles was notably skeptical that the addition of the Korean players will be able to have a significant impact for the Chinese team but added “I don’t think it’s going to be that bad” when asked about the prospect of a 0 – 40 season finish for them.

Until then, OWL fans will be praying to the gods of RNG (VISA paperwork is controlled by RNG, right?) that Geguri will soon be taking her long overdue steps onto the pro stage.

Image courtesy of Blizzard

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