Dragon Age: Origins Updated Hands-On - The Origins of the Dalish Elf

We explore the origins of the wandering elves of Ferelden in Dragon Age: Origins.


Dragon Age: Origins

Dragon Age: Origins is the fantasy-themed role-playing successor to developer BioWare's previous fantasy games, Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights. The game offers different stories for your character's race, as well as a few different backgrounds. Trust us, we know. We've played it. If you haven't already, be sure to check our previous stories on the human mage origin (including basic interface and level-up information) and the dwarf commoner origin. Once you're finished, return here for GameSpot's final origin session, the Dalish elf.

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The elves of Ferelden, which is the realm of Dragon Age, aren't exactly like the elves you've seen elsewhere. They aren't noble, wealthy, or keepers of thousands of years of lore. Instead, they're a nomadic people who are recovering from having been enslaved for generations by human beings. In fact, the term "Dalish" comes from the race's former home, The Dales, to which the elves fled after emancipating themselves from human subjugation...only to again be attacked by humans and scattered like the wind. Though you can also play as a "city elf," which is a low-born city dweller in human lands, the Dalish elf origin makes you a member of a nomadic tribe that is mistrustful of humans and quick to nock an arrow when trouble arises.

You begin your adventures with tribemate Tamlen, a hotheaded elf who has apprehended a trio of humans in the forest. Both you and he have the harmless peasants at the point of an arrow, and after a brief interrogation, you learn that there's a cave nearby full of strange elven artifacts inscribed with elven writing. This is an unheard-of phenomenon because elf history has been recorded only verbally for as long as your character knows. You're given the option of either killing some or all the peasants or letting them go (as it turns out, no matter what you do, the humans later take umbrage to your threats and force your tribe to pick up stakes and move on) and then joining Tamlen to explore the cave.

The Dalish elves have chosen a hard life of wandering, and you can choose to play either as a fighter or a rogue.
The Dalish elves have chosen a hard life of wandering, and you can choose to play either as a fighter or a rogue.

The cave lies in a forest clearing and is guarded by a handful of wolves--nothing too tough. Inside the cave are giant spiders, which, again, isn't anything too tough, though thankfully, we played as a rogue character (Dalish elves can be fighters or rogues) to navigate the deadlier parts of the cave. Like with the dwarf commoner origin, there is absolutely zero story difference between playing a Dalish elf fighter and rogue, except that fighters are a bit better in combat and rogues have access to thieving skills. Like we said, we're glad we chose to play as a rogue this time around--it's possible that BioWare intended Dalish elves to be rogues more than anything else. (Either that, or all the deadly fire and poison gas traps in the cave, as well as all the locked treasure chests in both the cave and the Dalish home village, were put in by accident.)

After navigating the dank and murky caves and disabling some of the traps, we came upon a corridor strewn with what looked like human corpses that suddenly, and shockingly, actually got up and attacked us. After slaying them, we entered the passage they were guarding, which housed a gigantic mirror. Neither our character nor Tamlen could help examining the mirror until distortions on the strange mirror's surface led to an explosion that flung us out of the cave. We awoke briefly to see Duncan, the courteous grey warden, standing over us and then awoke again at the village to find that Duncan had dragged us back to safety while Tamlen was nowhere to be found. Hmm.

Do you think there might be something to this magical mirror sitting in the middle of a monster-infested cave?
Do you think there might be something to this magical mirror sitting in the middle of a monster-infested cave?

The Dalish elf village is a small community of portable dwellings and caravans where elf children play under the watchful eye of the elder elves. Everyone, including you, answers to the keeper--the leader of the tribe and keeper of the tribe's magic. Like with the other origin stories, you can speak to several characters in the village to learn bits and pieces of the game's lore. For instance, you can meet a city elf who has joined your Dalish tribe and is trying to get accustomed to going native. You can also speak with the kindly elf woman who raised you after your parents died, though their death remains a mystery. Or you can speak with the village storyteller and relate the Dalish history to a crowd of bored-looking elf children. However, your task ultimately has you heading back into the forest in search of Tamlen with a keeper-approved fledgling wizard and an eager elf warrior.

Our second time into the cave was a bit different from our first visit. We were attacked by darkspawn warriors armed with swords, bows, and even magic spells, though with our extra muscle, we got along just fine. However, not all the darkspawn corpses were left by us. Several corpses were there already, and when we reached the mirror again, we found out why. The grey warden Duncan had already fought his way into the cave and explained that the mirror used to be a magical portal used by the fallen Tevinter Empire, but it had since fallen out of use and been corrupted by the darkspawn. With a mighty blow of his sword, the grey warden shattered the mirror and then encouraged us to head back to the village to give up on Tamlen who, like us, had become ill as a result of the darkspawn taint in the mirror. Deciding that we were never really big fans of Tamlen, or his haircut, we followed Duncan's advice and skipped back to the village.

All paths lead to joining the grey wardens in Dragon Age: Origins.
All paths lead to joining the grey wardens in Dragon Age: Origins.

As it happens, the humans we'd threatened earlier sent word to their village to have the elf settlement flushed out, so the tribe was in the process of preparing to move, while Duncan was, perhaps unsurprisingly, in the process of recruiting us by explaining to the keeper that we'd fallen under the spell of the darkspawn and only joining the grey wardens would save our character's life. After performing a cursory mourning rite for Tamlen (again, the haircut), we said our goodbyes and headed out into the horizon with Duncan as a new grey warden.

This concludes GameSpot's coverage of the origin stories in Dragon Age. Stay tuned to the site for more updates in the near future.

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