24 September 2012

A Witch And A Pirate: Dragon Age's Morrigan and Isabela

(Note 1: Last week I wrote about Mass Effect's Miranda Lawson which seemed quite popular so here's my take on Morrigan and Isabela, my primary love interests in Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2 respectively.)

(Note 2: There are spoilers for both Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2, you have been warned.)

The Witch of the Wilds.

Morrigan: "Beauty and love are fleeting and have no meaning. Survival has meaning. Power has meaning."

Quotes like this make it easy to form a view of Morrigan that's both unfavourable and dismissive. Unfavourable because, taken on it's own, this quote does not generate a particularly attractive picture of the woman who said it. While attitudes towards Morrigan can be dismissive essentially because it can be assumed that this is who she is. Or is it?

Maybe, but I would argue that there's more than meets the eye. Morrigan had a harsh life - that much at least is difficult to dispute - growing up in the Korchari Wilds with no-one bar her mother for company cannot have been an appealing childhood. 

Keep in mind as well that Flemeth raised Morrigan so as to take control of her (thus continuing Flemeth's immortality of sorts). Is this an excuse for her harsh outlook? Perhaps not entirely, but it goes a long way towards explaining it. 

Morrigan I knew would be my love interest early and I freely admit her rather impractical attire may have contributed to that decision but there was more to it before long. This particular quip for instance:

"We now have a dog and Alistair is still the dumbest one in the party."

Many were surprised by the quality of the banter between companions in Origins though I think Morrigan perhaps had the sharpest tongue (and I do appreciate an acidic humour) and Claudia Black did a fine job bringing Morrigan to life as her voice actress. 

Even so when the Witch of the Wilds espouses tales of her friendless youth and her trips into 'civilisation' coupled with her continued unease and unfamiliarity with the urban centers of Ferelden it is perhaps understandable that she withdraws into herself - to the extent that even her tent is more outside the Warden's camp than it is within it. 

Let's not forget that at the climax of Origins she comes to you and offers to save your life. Her plan may seem mad but how many went through with it? How many gave her an Old God as a child? Morrigan, as anyone who has played Origins knows, flees and even the Witch Hunt DLC does not lead to a permanent reunion but the fact is she came to the Warden and saved his life even if you didn't romance her - that, I think, speaks of a character who is more than she might initially appear.

Of course, it could be part of some scheme in her war against Flemeth but still, it was a brave decision to take the soul of an Old God and place it in her own child.  

Morrigan's absence in Dragon Age 2 was grating and while I do expect her to return in Inquisition it will likely not be as a romance-able character (I suspect BioWare will have some sort of show-down between her and Flemeth and there is the issue of the god-child if you went along with her plan). 

Morrigan can seem both cold and heartless, I can (and do) appreciate that viewpoint, but as with many of BioWare's characters there's a lot going on if you dig deeply enough.
So yes, this happened...
As I've said I would have liked to continue my relationship with Morrigan in Dragon Age 2 but that of course wasn't an option and so my FemHawke turned her eyes to the Rivain Rogue Isabela.

If you've played Origins chances are you'll have already met Isabela in the Pearl but here she's a full companion. I think perhaps one of the most telling moments in the relationship between Hawke and the pirate queen of Thedas comes after the death of Hawke's mother.

She's uncomfortable offering you her sympathies - that's immediately apparent - and Hawke knows it too. Yet she offers her condolences nonetheless. Isabela is well aware of what's expected but I think it speaks volumes of the bond between them that even in her despair Hawke is aware of how uncomfortable her partner is. I think it's also reasonably safe to say she's never been quite so unsure of herself as she is with Hawke.

The relationship between the two characters is generally not as clear cut however as it is in that moment. Upon entering the fade in the side quest Night Terrors Isabela succumbs to the allure of a desire demon who promises her a ship. 

"I like big boats and I cannot lie. You fade demons can't deny!" she exclaims in reference to Baby Got Back by Sir Mix-A-Lot.

And while she later apologises to Hawke the incident did occur nonetheless. Yet I think her return when you're fighting the Arishok makes clear that - if you're in a relationship with her at least - she is committed to it. Yes Isabela can turn almost anything into an innuendo and flirts outrageously with almost anyone but that's her character, it's who is she and neither Hawke nor anyone else should expect her to change. 

There is another incident I think that proves she values her relationship with Hawke more than she might be willing to admit. In the Mark of the Assassin DLC Hawke can casually flirt with the elf Tallis, if so (and you're playing as FemHawke) she'll remake "so the rumours about you were true." 

"Well, there's a lot of Hawke to go around. You just have to ask me nicely," is Isabela's reply which I believe demonstrates a form of relationship 'ownership'. If Tallis wants Hawke she has to go through Isabela which I believe reveals a relationship deeper than the pirate would care to acknowledge. 

As with Morrigan I do hope Isabela returns in Inquisiton and there is some sort of resolution. I no not expect her to be a romance option again or even a companion, which is a pity, her earthy humour was appreciated as much as Morrigan's cutting remarks.

Maybe I'm wrong about these character but they were well crafted and while they both might belong to certain stereotypes they are ultimately greater than the sum of their parts. In any event I'm looking forward to Inquisition and the companion my character will meet and fall in love with, whoever that will be, I just hope she (or he) can match those who have come before.   


  1. I would love to have both of them in my Dragon Age 3 party. If Mass Effect series can have recurring characters to join why not Dragon Age ?

  2. I am sorry, but until now I read your blog. I'm totally agreed with you as your thought and point of view was exactly the same as mine. I'm so happy that there were someone else who thought like me.

    Hope you can see this if you're still active.