Game Play | Dragon Age: Origins | Lothering
Lothering is where Dragon Age: Origins really feels like it opens up for the first time, despite it still being part of a required introductory sequence before the player can choose where they want to go. Still, it gives you a good idea of what to expect with a nice mix of character stuff and action.
Saying that, playing as a human noble means you miss out on a sequence because you start with a Mabari hound. As long as you found the flower for the Ostagar kennel master to heal the sick Mabari, you'll get an extra scene where you fight some Darkspawn chasing one of the hounds and it joins your party at that point instead.
Either way, the next thing any player will see is a cut-scene set in Denerim, the ruling city of Ferelden, where Loghain has declared himself regent to his daughter, Anora, and demands the other lords follow his lead. Bann Teagan, who will feature more later, stands up to the Teyrn and leaves the country in what feels like a cold civil war.
For Elissa, her story picks up as the group travels along the Imperial Highway and runs into some bandits preying on those fleeing the nascent Blight, who reveal that Loghain has blamed the Grey Wardens for King Cailan's death and the Darkspawn victory at Ostagar.
There's a brief scuffle, but it's over once the bandit ringleader is defeated, begging for mercy. Elissa gains some petty revenge by taking all the money he'd stolen from the refugees, but lets them live - no reason to kill them now they're no threat at all.
There's some regret over that decision when Elissa finds a murdered knight to the side, finding notes about something called the Urn of Sacred Ashes and mentioning a researcher called Brother Genitivi - again, sowing very early seeds for later in the game.
From there, the group head off the Highway and into Denerim, but only after Morrigan and Alistair have had the first of many bickering sessions. The mood is not improved when a Templar guarding the entrance to the village warns them that Lothering is doomed with the region's soldiers now in Denerim, so to not stay too long.
Elissa and the group head into the local Chantry, where they meet the Templar in charge, Ser Bryant, who informs them that Arl Eamon is ill and has sent his knights out across Ferelden to find the Urn of Sacred Ashes in the hopes that it can heal him.
They then speak to Ser Donall, one of said knights who is in Lothering to use the Chantry's library. It turns out he was travelling with the dead knight found on the highway and accepts what you found on the body before saying that he's going to have to return to Redcliffe, Eamon's castle, empty-handed.
The group then heads to the tavern, where they find some of Loghain's men who had been searching for them. A Chantry sister, Leliana, attempts to defuse the situation, but a fight brakes out that is over once the leader surrenders and is told to take a message to Loghain: the Grey Wardens know what really happened at Ostagar.
After they leave, Leliana properly introduces herself and insists on joining them in their battle against the Darkspawn - saying that the Maker sent her a vision. Pretty much the entire group thinks this is a little weird, but she proved she could fight and they aren't exactly in a position to turn down help.
Continuing to explore Lothering, they find an imprisoned man named Sten - member of a race known as the Qunari, who are engaged in a constant battle with the mage-run Tevinter Imperium to the north-east as they seek to spread the word of the Qun across the world.
It turns out Sten is in the cage because he murdered a family - a crime to which he readily admits guilt and, while not remorseful over his actions, believes his death at the hands of the approaching Darkspawn horde will constitute some form of atonement for the deaths.
For what I think is probably the only time in the game, both Leliana and Morrigan agree that Sten should be freed, although for different reasons. Elissa agrees, reasoning that they could use the help of a giant warrior like the Qunari against the Darkspawn.
They ask for his release from the Revered Mother of the Chantry, who reluctantly agrees to pass the Qunari into the custody of the Grey Wardens. They let Sten out and he is all to eager to fight the Darkspawn, preferring atonement through ending the Blight rather than dying in a cage
The final story-related moment in Lothering is encountering Bodahn Feddic and Sandal, two dwarves, being attacked by a group of Darkspawn on the Imperial Highway. Elissa and the others save them, but - while thankful - they think hanging around Grey Wardens won't be too safe and so choose to leave. This decision won't last.
There is a lot more to do in Lothering, as it's side-quest central compared to anything else so far. There's nothing else particularly central to the actual plot of the game or to any of the main characters, but they're still fun and do give you a chance to try out your new companions in combat.
There's also enough interaction with the locals to start defining your character a little more and to get a feel for how you want to play the game. You can already start being a total dick, a saint, or anything anywhere in-between - Elissa's going to be quite pragmatic, so will be flexible depending on what actually produces the desired end result that she wants.
Lothering also provides a nice introduction to how the rest of the game feels in microcosm: there's a set area for interacting with people and learning new information; and there's a more open area for fighting bandits and monstrous creatures. A nice mix to ease players in before progressing onto the main story areas - although still a couple of posts away for this series.