Games
An Ode to Alistair: Love, Lust, and Loss in Fereldan

If you’ve not played Dragon Age or Dragon Age II, you might want to avert your eyes. You can’t tell a good love story without some spoilers, eh?

Alistair

Alistair. From Bioware’s Dragon Age: Origins.

I’ve been playing video games for the better part of my life, and through the years, I’ve certainly had my crushes. So when Dragon Age came out, it was bound to happen. Having played World of Warcraft for quite some time, Dragon Age was a revelation. My brain had been filled with so many fantasy novels, medieval dalliances, and general chatter regarding all things dragony and sword-like, that being able to play a video game in which, ostensibly, I was the center attraction in a marvelous world… Yes, crack. I can’t even tell you how many hours I put into the game. But I can tell you that I played through three times.

And I only fell in love once.

First I was a dwarf warrior, but I didn’t last long. The second time I played was was an elf mage. It was marvelous, riveting gameplay, and I had a very delightful relationship with Alistair, the reluctant Grey Warden and would-be king (there was something devious and devilish about convincing him to bed me, considering he was an ex-Templar). All was glorious (save for the looming Blight). And he looked great without his clothes on.

Then something terrible happened.

I found out that after all my work (i.e. lots and lots of conversation, questing, and gift-giving)  trying to get Alistair to marry me, he wouldn’t. It all came down to the fact that I was an elf, a detail that would have seriously been appreciated twenty or so hours of gameplay earlier (I mean, Zevran was so much easier). As Alistair explained in that cocky, darling little British accent, it was hard enough that the king was going to be a Grey Warden. Asking the people of Fereldan to accept me as their queen was simply too much to ask.

So, instead of finishing the game (I was very close to the end) I decided to make a human rogue just for Alistair. It’s a very hard thing to articulate, but the truth of the matter is that I had an abiding crush on the character. Alistair just made me a little giddy sometimes, and I absolutely had to be his wife. I wasn’t just going to be his elf mistress! It was no longer about my character, it was clearly about me. (I’m happily married, I might add… but a girl can fantasize, can’t she?)

Of course, in the end, I was able to secure Alistair’s hand with my rogue. After all, my elf mage had done all the hard work. I have to admit: even though I was scheming to marry someone completely fictional, I honestly cared. I cared so much that in the end, when the game ran out of things to say, I was a bit furious. The mechanics of the game interfered with my emotional response, and I felt a bit cheated.

Also this. … what?

Well, time heals all wounds. And, like a good gamer, as soon as Dragon Age 2 came out, it had to be mine. Even though in many ways the game is an improvement over the other – with far smoother combat and a better range of responses to questions – the scope of everything has been scaled down. It’s  scaled down so much that my favorite part about the first game – the relationships – has all but disappeared. To quote the immortal Heart: “What about love?”

Yes. Love. So, let me tell you about Anders. My mage, in this game, decided to pursue Anders. Those who played the expansion of the first game will recognize him. (In all honesty, I had no idea he was even interested in women. But there you go. He was kind of cute, definitely British, and had a certain cocky air. And most likely I chose him because he reminded me the most of Alistair. He was also not a beardless dwarf like Varric or a mage-hater like Fenris. Talk about choices.)

However, instead of being able to strike up a conversation whenever I wanted like in the original game, the sequel insists that I only interact with certain characters in their homes. If, and only if, they have quests, that is. No casual banter, here. This makes conversation with your significant other little awkward, to say the least, not to mention the rest of your companions.

Anders, who has arrived with a rather complicated past, and somewhat controversial political views, is no easy egg to crack. But once I did a bunch of stuff for him, found him some items, and initiated the correct lines of dialogue, we pronounced our love for one another.

Hunky dory, right? Not exactly. In the third act, I finished one quest for him and he informed me that the relationship was over. No real explanation, just that he knew he would “break my heart”. I had no option other than to walk away. (Well, personally I had other options. Which was to say some choice words to the Xbox.)

I was a bit miffed, but even moreso when I returned my character back home. In spite of the fact that we were, for all intents and purposes, broken up, he hadn’t left my house. He  simply lingered on the staircase. Oh, he had changed his clothes. Now he looked more emo than ever. But when approached he only repeated the same line of dialogue over and over again, and never moved.

Anders. So not Alistair. Also, kind of stalkery.

Yeah. Creepy, right?

While I certainly have to give Bioware props for being very forward thinking in their portrayal of characters and sexuality, this aspect of the game was a grave disappointment. The truth is I settled for Anders. With Alistair, I never felt that way. He was someone to conquer. To flirt with. Someone that, in spite of the game’s shortcomings and the fact that he wasn’t even a real person, I felt as if I had been through something with. As the conclusion of DA2 came to an end I saw that my “romance” was nothing more than a plot device, and I had no desire to play it differently.

Yes, love is fickle. Especially when it isn’t real at all. I only hope that in the future companies like Bioware think really hard about what makes their games special. Sure, Dragon Age 2 was fun. But it felt like an arcade game, not an epic fantasy with a good heap of romance. I still miss Alistair. Not only the one in the first game, but the one in my head who, like in so many things, really was the better version.

 

Natania Barron

Founding editor Natania Barron is a geeky mom, an author, a Gryffindor, and a Took. She tweets about writing, cooking, life, and other mysteries at @nataniabarron.

35 Comments
cjm

April 15, 2011 10:05 am Reply

Im glad you found this game fun, but in all honesty this game was a total waste…not fun, totally on rails and way to many cutscenes, If i wanted to watch a movie I would…..Watch a Movie….I play games so that Im playings something not watching something….When will the big studios learn that Cutscenes are DEAD and large open worlds are the only way to make a game these days.
Id rather spend another 100 Hours in 2007′s Oblivion than 2011′s DA:2….P.U.

Scott Schulz

April 15, 2011 11:20 am Reply

Yes, you certainly fell foul to the dungeon master’s unmovable plans for the plot by choosing Anders. I found the relationships with the female companions far more satisfying. Isabella and my female rogue fell into bed about as fast as possible, but it was clear that Isabella would never commit and we were both fine with that. And so I turned my attention to Merrill who was much more ready for a relationship. Honestly, the desparate kiss before the final battle was right up there with that of Jade Empire’s for swoon moments. The sex was fairly ludicrous (though, Isabella’s moment of finding yet one more concealed dagger is pretty cute) , but the romance was quite satisfying.

Chantelle

April 15, 2011 12:34 pm Reply

I too developed a crush on Alistair, one that had me replaying the end if DA1 over and over until I had the best ending possible worked out. The emotional attachments inDA2 weren’t nearly as satisfying.

My attraction to Alistair did result in some really strange moments while I was playing DA1. See, my DH likes to watch me play, and it didn’t take long for him to clue in to my growing crush. The slow wooing of Alistair started happening when DH was out of the room. :-)

Susan

April 15, 2011 1:21 pm Reply

I definitely formed an unabashed crush on Alistair, and loved DA1. I’m currently playing DA2 and agree completely, the romance seems forced and an aside rather than a driving force in the game. Le sigh.

Danielle

April 15, 2011 2:55 pm Reply

OMG..YES!!! You soo get it. As a just turned 40 wife and mom I thought I was out of my mind by crushing on a video game character. I mean, I survived Evercrack, how could i fall into this? Thank you for proving that I am not nuts (or at least the only one)! I just finished playing DAI for the billionth time in order to have all the right choices for DAII. I am bummed that the romances are not up to par. I am really hoping for something good in DAIII. Awesome posting…Geekmoms are awesome..go us!!!

Auroram

April 15, 2011 3:15 pm Reply

Bioware actually managed to hit my two types pretty squarely with Alistair (awkward, adorkable sweetie pie) and Anders (passionate, romantic revolutionary). To be fair, Anders isn’t actually breaking up with you during that “break your heart” speech; he’ referencing… something else, but he will stay with you as long a you let him. Which I guess doesn’t matter if you don’t like him, heh, but I did. ;-)

But I totally agree with you about wishing you could interact more freely with them. That was a bummer. But I still loved the game.

Sara

April 15, 2011 3:29 pm Reply

I can’t say how many times I romanced Alistair.. and it was funny to read your awesome post, because my first charachter was an elf mage (I couldn’t stand to lose my fellow warden, so I choosed to let Anora rule), and my second was a human rogue, who had only one purpose: marry the prince :D
BTW, you nailed it. I agree with EVERYTHING you’ve said! And I’m going to play DAO another time, with the excuse to freshen up the whole story, but the truth is ..I need a rose! :)

Jessica

April 15, 2011 3:40 pm Reply

Anders was a disappointment. I am currently trying to get Fenris.

Saga

April 16, 2011 7:34 am Reply

I’m so very glad to know I’m not the only one who had a ridiculously huge crush on Alistair, and who did EXACTLY the same thing…. elf mage heartbroken, human noble rogue destined to be Queen on Ferelden.

Anders could have been such a great romancing option if they had kept a shred of the old character, but I guess going through what he did kind of changes a person.

I still can’t get into DA2 the same way I did in Origins or even Awakening, but I still had enough fun to run 2 rogues and a mag (dislike the warrior, will use a male Hawke to get one of the secret achievements on the Xbox since I can’t bring myself to be that much of a jerk consistently with a female Hawke)

Did anyone load up a previous save from Origins where you accept Loghain into the Grey Wardens instead of letting Alistair be King? There’s a very sad but funny encounter scene in DA2 with Alistair that can be triggered.

Nemui

April 16, 2011 8:43 am Reply

I am so glad that I’m not the only one…Even before Alistair showed up in my “life” I always wanted a man like him. So it was so predicatble that I got a crush on him.
At first I played an Elf Rogue right until the Landsmeet. Then it was “we can’t marry”. I instantly droped my Elf and started again as an Human Rogue. I married him and was so happy – until the game was over.
I really sank into desperation. I mean this IS freaky. I knew that you get the chance to see Alistair again in DA II, for a little Moment at least.

I found DA II very disappointing. The Story was lame, the Characters were not really interesting (and at least the Men are ugly or…Fenris) and the Armor….Omg I am really supposed to wear something like THAT???
And the other thing that pissed me off like hell was…why can’t I just wander around? It’s only about fast travelling to a point where you have questions for. You have no options at all. Only If you want to wander around in a City full with People you can’t talk with.

As a former Poster said I also will play Oblivion for another 100 hours…again.

Rowan

April 16, 2011 12:07 pm Reply

I was laughing to myself as I read this piece. All of it is/was so true for me! I totally agree with you Danielle! Nemui, you may be interested in a story written on the Bioware fan fiction forum. It was titled “Repercussions – complete novella”. The link is http://social.bioware.com/forum/1/topic/97/index/700332/1

It was a great story that wrapped up the game ending of “rule as rogue queen alongside Alistair” quite nicely.

Thanks for posting this. Maybe Bioware will take the hint with DA2.

    Rowan

    April 16, 2011 12:27 pm Reply

    Make that: maybe Bioware will take the hint with DA3!

Laniius

April 16, 2011 6:42 pm Reply

I… kinda fell in love with Alistair’s character too. And I’m a guy. A straight (for the most part) guy. So I made up a female character when I found out you could romance people. In being attracted to a character’s, well, character (instead of physical appearance) Alistair > Morrigan (When her bitchy “oooh I’m so evil” facade was pierced > Leliana

GirlyNerd

April 16, 2011 8:11 pm Reply

Yay! Thank god i’m not the only one with a crush on a make believe man from a video game! I also played through as an elf, though i was a rogue. When I got to the part where he told me he couldn’t marry me ‘cuz I’m an elf, I literally screamed at the mac “what the Fu@k!!!”
Then I immediately restarted as a human rogue and played through again.
I also was very disappointed in dragon age 2. Especially Sebastian. When i saw him i gave myself a high 5 and put a heart shaped target on his head. Unfortunately he turned out to be a prig with no sense of humor or romance. You fail Bioware.

    GirlyNerd

    April 16, 2011 8:20 pm Reply

    Also, I was making dinner one day and heard Alistair’s voice from the tv in the other room. I’m not to ashamed to admit that i ran into the room looking for him, turns out his voice is a dude from the show ‘ I’m in the Band ‘, which is some sort of nick show my kid watches. It kinda ruined the magic slightly.

Chrissy

April 18, 2011 1:04 am Reply

First, love the article. The relationships in DA:O were so much more fulfilling than the ones in DA2! I also loved Alistair, and made an elf mage on my first play through. When I found out he wouldn’t marry me no matter what I decided I would sacrifice myself to end the blight by slaying the arch deamon! Well when the moment comes the guy jumps in front and takes the final blow, I was so mad! I love that game for evoking so many emotions, including surprise and anger, and I think the relationships are a big part of it! Needless to say I started over with a human female noble.

Clariana

April 20, 2011 12:57 pm Reply

This is so where I am. I liked Alistair so much I ended up writing over 200K words of a FanFic dedicated to him…

Silverdrake

April 20, 2011 5:18 pm Reply

As another geek mom who played DAO and DA2, I agree with you 100%! Even the friend conversations in DAO had more to them than the little dribs and drabs we got in DA2. I felt like a lot of things in DA2 happened while I was out of the room, that the companions were having more fun when I wasn’t around.

On my first playthrough of DAO, I got into a relationship with Alistair a little too fast, so I pulled back and ultimately chose Zevran. But I had to play it again and see what would happen with Alistair. I’m going through with it as an elf mage (my favorite character to play), even though I know it will end in tragedy. Zevran seems really sad that I chose Alistair, so maybe he’ll let me cry on his shoulder.

Anyway, don’t feel silly about your character adoration – you’re in good company!

olly

April 20, 2011 6:50 pm Reply

RE: Alistair won’t marry my elven mage

He will stay in a relationship with her, though. Do you really need the bit of paper that says you’re married?

If you had listened to him when he said “Please please don’t make me be King! It’s the thing I have always wanted least!” and let him carry on playing Grey Wardens in Vigil’s Keep, or let Anora be Queen, then he doesn’t have any problems at all with being an elven mage’s boyfriend.

Celestina

April 20, 2011 10:06 pm Reply

Funny I felt I knew Alistair more in 6 months than I did 7 years with Anders. I liked the companion quests but I think I like just talking about random things at the campsite more.

Do you want to know why? Because it gave the characters DIMENSION, it made them feel like they had something more on their mind than the Blight 24/7. Pretty much all party banter in DA2 is politically charged pro-mage v.s. pro-chantry campaign. The characters seem incredibly 1 dimensional and one track minded, with the exception of Isabella and Varric. Because that’s ALL they can seem to talk about.

Conclusion: I miss Alistair.

Liz

April 22, 2011 1:04 pm Reply

Oh wow. Much the same trajectory through both games for me – I’m 35, very happily married, and fell for Alistair like…a pigeon with its wings ripped off. Like you, this necessitated a second play-through with a Human Noble Rogue *just* so I could play the romance through to a more satisfying, weddingy end. The crush was actually mildly embarrassing (although oh-so enjoyable – I’ve not felt like that since I was a teenager), such that I mostly played when my husband (much-adored, just not in ownership of a suit of armour) was out of the house.

I picked Anders for DA2 – only sensible choice, really, given that Sebastian is celibate, Fenris is a mage-hating, rage-filled male model from Fighting Fantasy, Carver is my brother and Varric is a dwarf who likes to keep it within his species. (Ever felt you’re being very carefully directed along certain plot rails?) And he’s very, minutely, reminiscent of Alistair, of course. I was hoping for some pale shadow of the Alistair experience, but wow, it was disappointing – the conversation engine inhibits immersion for me, I missed the depth that there was to all of the relationships in DAO, and Anders’ evolution from the kitten-loving sweetie in Awakening to the paranoid terrorist mentalist of DA2 was…unlovable, to say the least.

It is deeply, deeply pathetic, but the best moments of DA2 for me were Alistair’s very jolly cameo, and the appearance of Leliana. It was like seeing old, dear friends. With the possible exception of Varric and Aveline, I don’t feel anything like the same depth of relationship with the DA2 party.

I’ll probably still be buying all the DLC, though. (And The Witcher 2 is out next month, which will dampen the bitterness a bit, I hope.)

Cell1e

April 23, 2011 11:07 am Reply

Oh Natania you have said exactly how I feel about both games! Oh so glad to see that other women out there feel the same way as I do. I am happily married but had such a huge crush on the whole DA O love story, I played over 1000 hours, just to relieve those wonderful romantic scenarios and the story line. DA 2 was fun but didnt stir within me the same emotional attachment and response, the lack of character conversations and involvements was badly missed by me. I have replayed this a couple of times but have no desire to repeat the way I did with Origins. Great blog, I really enjoyed reading it and identified with it on every level! :D

Mimi

April 27, 2011 7:42 pm Reply

I very much agree that the lack of dialogue was a great loss. I didn’t really feel that myself, because I did my mourning in Awakening, where they seemed to have gone offensively cheap on the characters (Anders simply seemed like a more shallow version of Alistair), but when you look at it, at least there were more than ten minutes total of conversation in it. Playing DA2, I got the distinct feeling that my companions knew each other way better than they knew me, even after years upon years had supposedly gone by. It was like a series of speed dates, where you have to marry each other on the third or fourth. It’s probably affected how the characters were written too, since the small amount of time doesn’t allow much development. Instead we get archetypes, with Anders being the romantic hero, Fenris as the bryonic hero, Isabela as the maneater in love and Merril as the girl next door. It’s just too hard to fall for a character when the cliché shines though in that way.

That said though, the story in this game beats the hell out of the one in Origins, which could have been found in any fantasy work. With the tight schedule, I suspect that this was the trade off – put effort into the story at the expense of everything else, including the characters and dialogue. I really hope that they’ll put enough time into the next game to have both.

Andree

April 30, 2011 1:46 am Reply

I am laughing my head off at this story. I’m 41 and happily married and have thought about Alistair every day since falling for him in Redcliffe four months ago. I did the same as another poster, played mostly when DH was out of the house because I was so embarrassed about my crush. I hadn’t even known there were romances in the game. Other than this I’m really a very normal person! It’s so weird.

Agree with all the DA2 comments. Have not been able to get into the game nearly as much as DA:O since the friendships and relationships feel both forced and limited. Sad.

Lauren

May 5, 2011 1:18 am Reply

Thank you for posting! You so understand! I found your post after putting down the xbox controller during DA2 and thinking about Alistair (so I googled the lovely character).

Oh, Alistair, how could you leave us in DA2? I, too, was broken hearted when, as a mage in DA1, I could not marry Alistair. I didn’t replay, because with working full time and living with someone who really didn’t approve/understand my love for the game and everything fantasy, I couldn’t give it the time it involved. But, at least in DA1, Alistair continued to confess his love and how much he cared, even after the relationship was over! So special – must have had the hand of a female writer :)

Anders so far is quite boring and a little too wounded for me. I might try Isabella on another round for a bit of fun. Fenris seems too evil. We shall see. <3 We need to campaign for an Alistair in DA3, if there is one.

Catriona

May 9, 2011 2:58 pm Reply

So glad I’m not the only one! I just got DA last week and haven’t been able to get Alistair out of my head. I’m playing a human rogue, but didn’t do the ‘hardening’ so I’m going with not choosing him to be king. (Yes, I looked ahead. I was so worried about what might happen to him if I did something wrong!) I’ll probably do ot properly, marriage proposal and all, on a later playthrough.

Dawn

May 15, 2011 3:16 pm Reply

I’m 36 & happily married & was also heartbroken with the ending of Origins as an elven mage! The 1st time I let Loghain become a Grey Warden & supported Anora as queen bec/ Alistair insisted he didn’t want to be king. I was sure he’d forgive me after the final battle, but no, he ended up a bitter drunk. I was shocked & dismayed!

Luckily I had saved my game just before the Landsmeet, so I went back & killed Loghain & supported Alistair as king. Then he tells me he has to break it off bec/ I can’t provide an heir! I felt all the maudlin misery of teenage first love.

I played through again & kept Alistair as a Grey Warden beside me, but then ended up downloading a mod that allowed me to change my character’s origin story to human noble so that I could marry Alistair on my final play through. I floated along on that happy ending for a while.

I am still angry that Alistair would only marry a human noble though…after all we’d been through, and me becoming the Hero of Ferelden, it seems so prejudiced that he’d refuse to marry an elf. And surely the people of Ferelden would accept their hero as their queen!

Anyway, I was as entranced by the story as all of you, and am sorry to hear that DA2 is so lacking by comparison as far as the personal relationships go. I just started Awakening & like Anders so much that I’ve been wondering if Alistair will find out if I cheat on him. Heh. Terribly fickle, I know! But Alistair’s not around & I’ve become addicted to having someone who’ll romance me.

Unfortunately, from reading your posts, it sounds like Anders turns out to be a disappointing choice in the end. I’m wondering if I should even bother with DA2…who needs this kind of heartache in their fantasy life???

Liraine

July 10, 2011 11:50 am Reply

Ive read your story and I totally agree with you! The first time I was playing as elf mage… When I first met Alistair, I thought “another stupid guy”… But then I spent some time with him and… Oh I love him! I was ready to make him king… And and… He dumped me!!! I just wanted to be his queen… The rest of the game I just went quickly through, I was veeery furious… In the end, he sacrificed himself for me, he said, that he was sorry, he said that he still he loves me and I didnt get chance to save him. I want more freedom! But dont want to replay… (and tha achievment “grey warden commander – you ordered alistair to die” was very bad too… I wanted to SAVE him!!! I was ready to give my life for him (yes… even he dumped me, I couldnt let him die..) and the stupid game says I ordered him… that makes me angry)

and dont want to play DA II (I dont like the game from your comments about it, so I will save troubles and just have my fantasies :) )

Amy

January 2, 2012 4:59 am Reply

Truth is, how can one not love Alistair?! He’s just the best, that silliest of Grey Wardens! Aw.

I too went for Anders in my first DA2 playthrough, and I too felt weirdly disappointed by the his romance. It just.. was missing something.. I don’t know, it didn’t feel satisfying, it didn’t feel.. good, even.

That being said.. I don’t know if you’ve tried the Fenris romance, but I really.. really recommend it. I honestly hated Fenris’s guts throughout the whole of my first playthrough because he is just so adamantly hateful towards mages, but if you give him a chance (and maybe leave him out of any mage-related quests), I can happily tell you that his romance is.. well, not one to be passed over :)

    Amy

    January 2, 2012 5:00 am Reply

    Oh! And of course I love this article. You are just spot on about all the important aspects of DA:O and DA2. :)

Lori

January 22, 2012 12:20 am Reply

I started mine off, human noble rogue…. played the game, giving my warden my personality, and living vicariously through, lol… I fell in love with Alistair so bad, I have friends who make fun of me for crushing on Alistair! Dont knock him till u try him, lol! I am married, with a son, and on the young side, I guess you’d say… I’m 26, but instead of Jacob or Edward (who both have their creepy side), I love love love Alistair!!! He’s such a gentleman to be honest, I think thats why its so fun to flirt with him and be naughty :)

Kirstin

February 10, 2012 11:38 pm Reply

I am not a big fan of video games . . . I’ve started twenty or so and just let them go a half hour or whatever in. But DragonAge:Origins got me. I DID NOT SLEEP for two or three days as I spent every moment desperate to find out what happens. And Alistair is just a part of it. I am STILL in love with Alistair, two years later. He did and DOES feel real, genuine. Maybe it’s the voice acting. Because Morrigan hooked me too – and Wynne. They sound so unique, genuine, they had their very own personalities, through and through. I listen to Bethany in DA:2 and I go “Blah blah blah”; Anders is whiny, Merrill is annoying, and Fenris is the only one I like listening to but he’s a mage hater, as you mention.
I hope Dragon Age 3 can nail what Origins had. And I am so relieved to know that I am not the only one in love with a video game character. If only he were real!!

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February 15, 2012 9:01 pm Reply

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April 11, 2012 2:08 pm Reply

You got it. Fortunately for me I played a human noble woman from the beginning and as soon as I found myself caring a bit too much for a character with a fate is not totally in your control I started checking into possible outcomes. Hated to spoil the story for myself but been disappointed before. It is a shame that this game got it so right at first then lost it. I wonder if it ultimately suffered from someone in charge that got too involved in HIS vision of what should happen to care enough about the women who played this game. Inconsistencies in Alistair abound near the end. His refusal of an elven queen.. His apparent unconcern about the welfare of his “demon child” past it becoming an inconvenience to his rule.. It all leaves you wondering who this guy is and what did he do with Alistair. It also leaves the female player wondering what happened to the game developers in charge who at the beginning were writing his lines. I am going to miss Alistair, Zev, Wynne, Ogram, Shale and Sten. It’s pretty obvious that slogging through anything past Origins won’t get me much of what I enjoyed of this game and that is too bad.

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