One of Bioware’s most notable aspects is its rich storytelling, detailed characters, and branching plotlines. You could replay any of their games a dozen times and still have options you hadn’t yet seen. The Dragon Age series is no exception to this rule, with each game having several different origin stories to choose from that you can further develop and personalize throughout the course of the game. Having recently started another playthrough of Dragon Age: Origins, I was once again reminded how expansive their in-game lore is and decided to put together a completely subjective and totally unbiased list of the best origin stories across all three Dragon Age games.
Warning: There will be spoilers for the entire Dragon Age series beyond this point.
12. Cadash, Dragon Age: Inquisition
Playing as a dwarf in any of the Dragon Age games immediately locks you in as either a warrior or a rogue due to the fact that dwarves have no magical ability in the realm of Thedas. In Dragon Age: Inquisition specifically, the dwarf origin story immediately sets your character as being from the surface clan Cadash. Sent as a Carta spy to infiltrate and observe the conclave, Cadash becomes the Inquisitor after stumbling into Corypheus’ evil plot. While there’s nothing wrong with this origin story per say, there’s nothing exactly unique about it either. With the exception of The Descent DLC, the series as a whole doesn’t spend too much time focusing on dwarves which leaves me feeling like something is missing every time I choose this origin story.
11. Trevelyan, Dragon Age: Inquisition
Opting to play as a human in Dragon Age: Inquisition means you stem from the Trevelyan family of Ostwick; depending on if you play as a warrior/rogue or as a mage, you are either promised to the Chantry or confined to a Circle respectively. While playing as a noble would allow you to capitalize on connections and wealth, the events of Inquisition take place so far away from your family and home that it ends up having little impact on the story. Playing as a mage gives you a bit more insight into life in a Circle—but even then, it is not as detailed as the mage storylines you can explore in Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II.
10. Dwarf Commoner. Dragon Age: Origins
Dragon Age: Origins splits up the dwarf origin stories into two factions: noble and commoner. Opting for the latter route forces both you and your sister into the service of a crime lord known as Beraht. While you perform menial tasks and errands for Beraht, your sister is educated and beautified in hopes of becoming desirable enough to be impregnated by a dwarf noble. Eventually, the dwarf commoner gets caught up in Beraht’s schemes and faces one of two choices: become a Grey Warden or face exile. This storyline is one of the few origins where the player character starts from the absolute lowest rungs of society, so it warms my heart to see them become the Hero of Ferelden and make something of themselves.
9. Hawke (Rogue or Warrior), Dragon Age II
Dragon Age II takes a slightly different approach to its origin story, with the player character having the same predefined race, family, and general plot regardless of any options you choose. The only main differences are which class you play as and which of your siblings survives the journey across the sea to Kirkwall. While witty, sarcastic Hawke is my all-time favorite Dragon Age character, the rogue and warrior class options in Dragon Age II do nothing special for the storyline—hence coming in at #9 on this list.
8. Dalish Elf, Dragon Age: Origins
One of the more frustrating origin stories available to players, creating a Dalish elf will once again lock you in as a rogue or warrior. Traveling across Ferelden with your clan, you live a nomadic lifestyle and harbor mildly racist and classist views about humans and city elves alike. While traipsing through the woods one day, you and your idiot friend Tamlen decide to explore some ancient, and obviously haunted, ruins. One thing leads to another, and the player character is infected with the darkspawn taint. Of course, after that, your only option is to waste away or risk becoming a Grey Warden—and thus the Hero of Ferelden is born. While this origin story gives plenty of great insight into the lives of Dalish elves and sets up the series for some interesting lore surrounding Eluvians, the fact that Tamlen essentially causes all of your problems drags its score down.
7. The Magi, Dragon Age: Origins
This origin story is the only real opportunity for players to get an inside look at life in a Circle tower. My first time playing this story, I remember how completely unfair life as a mage seemed with templars constantly breathing down your neck about blood magic and possession. Even your mentor, First Enchanter Irving, seems to harbor a lot of the prejudices sprouted about mages and encouraged you to spy on your friends lest they are a maleficarum. Of course…your best friend Jowan does end up being a blood mage, but that’s hardly the point! By the time your mage is recruited into the Grey Wardens, a lifetime of service fighting darkspawn seems like the more merciful option when it is compared to living the rest of your life in the Circle.
6. Adaar, Dragon Age: Inquisition
The Adaar origin story in Dragon Age: Inquisition offers the first opportunity in the series for you to actually play as one of the grey-skinned, horned mercenaries known as Vashoth. Despite being born outside of the Qun, playing as the Adaar origin gives you a unique perspective on the Qunari and Tal-Vashoth that were introduced in previous games. This origin allows you to play as any class and adds a layer of intricacy as you must navigate being the Inquisitor of a holy organization while being one of the most feared and hated races in all of Thedas. This origin also gives you specialized dialogue options that help you dive deeper into the Iron Bull’s story and provide you with valuable context about his work as a Ben-Hassrath spy.
5. Lavellan, Dragon Age: Inquisition
Like the other potential Inquisitors, the Dalish Lavellan was drawn to the Conclave due to its impact on Thedas; your clan wanted to know about the outcome of the Mage/Templar war and how it would affect them. While elves in general are looked down upon by human society, Dalish elves in particular are regarded as a wild and even barbaric people. Dalish elves have their own religion outside of Andrastianism, making you even more at odds with the rest of the Inquisition. The fact that this is the only origin story that allows for a Solas romance also adds to the intricacy of the plot lines and further complicates things at the end of the story in the Trespasser DLC. Being a Solas-romanced, Dalish elf, Inquisitor sets the stage for a tumultuous and potentially heartbreaking story when Dragon Age 4 is eventually released.
4. Dwarf Noble, Dragon Age: Origins
Electing to play as a dwarven noble is another infuriating origin story, simply due to the fact that you get screwed over by pretty much everyone you know and meet. Being the favorite child of King Endrin, the story starts with a feast celebrating your recent appointment to commander. However, things only go downhill from there. Your older brother, and heir to the throne, Trian is a prat who is potentially plotting to remove you from the succession order by any means necessary. Your little brother, Behlen, turns out to be a prat who was actually planning to remove you from the succession order by any means necessary. Thus, you go from being a favored and honored member of dwarven royalty, to being an exile stripped of everything in a matter of hours—becoming an exile even strips you of your family name. While it i depressing to watch your family tears itself apart, you do get to revisit Orzammar after becoming a Grey Warden which helps redeem this storyline.
3. Hawke (Mage), Dragon Age II
As I mentioned earlier, Hawke is one of my absolute favorite Dragon Age characters. The fact that they are a normal person, who just so happens to get swept up in the undercity of Kirkwall, gives them a relatable likability that is often missing from the “chosen one” trope that is so common in fantasy. Throughout Dragon Age II, regardless of what class you choose, Hawke will be faced with renegade templars, blood mages, and demons galore—if you choose to play as a mage, this only adds a layer of complexity to an already morally ambiguous story.
The fact that apostasy is outlawed in most of Thedas, and that Kirkwall is particularly harsh on mages, makes a Mage Hawke running around shooting fireballs at people especially ironic. I mean, you had a public duel with the Arishok for crying out loud! How did the templars not just kick down your door and arrest you?
2. Human Noble, Dragon Age: Origins
Playing as a human noble is one of the more brutal storylines in Dragon Age: Origins. You start off as the second child of the Teyrn of Highever, and as such you greet Arl Rendon Howe as he meets with your father—as both families are planning to amass their armies for the fight against the darkspawn. Since this is a Dragon Age game, however, nothing can go as planned and your character wakes up in the middle of the night to find their family under attack and their home burning.
Arl Howe decided that a Blight is the best time to expand his lands and that slaughtering your family is the best way to do just that. Despite watching your parents sacrifice themselves to save you, being a human noble has a number of perks that allow you to take sweet, sweet vengeance later in the game. Most notably, you get to brutally murder Rendon Howe. You can also romance your way onto the throne via Alistair as a female, or Anora if you play as a male. While a crown doesn’t quite make up for losing your childhood home to someone you thought was an ally, it is certainly a step in the right direction.
1. City Elf, Dragon Age: Origins
Full disclosure: The city elf origin was my very first playthrough of a Dragon Age game and it will always hold a special place in my heart. That being said, there are still dozens of reasons why I gave the #1 slot to this origin story. Growing up in Denerim, the player character is relatively poor and is forced to accept abuse from humans on a regular basis. Even on your wedding! A local lordling decides to crash the festivities, threatening to rape all the women in attendance, and generally causing a nuisance.
Your cousin Shianni (rightfully) knocks him over the head—but this sets off a chain reaction that throws the alienage into chaos. When the lord returns, he then kidnaps several elf women, including the city elf if you chose to play as a female, and drag them off to the castle where Shianni is presumably raped in retaliation. As if that is not bad enough, once you rescue the women and fight your way out of the castle, the city guards apparently do not know the meaning of a fair trial and immediately condemn you. There is not even a hint of justice for the atrocities the noble humans committed against you and your people.
When you return to the alienage later in the game, you find out that your people have only been treated worse in the time since you left. The sheer brutality of this origin story makes it one of the most horrifying and emotionally charged options across the entire series, which is why it has earned the #1 spot on this list. While racism against elves is explored in the other Dragon Age games, none have the same visceral detail that is shown during Dragon Age: Origins.