Spoiler warning for Dragon Age: Inquisition. Continue at your own risk.
Possibly the hardest decision in not only Dragon Age: Inquisition, but perhaps the entire Dragon Age series (past and future) or Bioware games in general, is choosing between saving Hawke or the Warden.
Basically, Hawke and his/her Warden friend join your party as you work to clean up the giant mess the Wardens have made. An arch demon appears, destroys a tower, and the entire party falls to what would certainly have been their deaths had the Inquisitor not been able to open a rift to the fade.
Thing is, once you are in the fade, it’s hard to get out. And at the end of the line, you have to choose who is going to stay behind and help cover your exit (the game warns that character will likely die). While the inquisitor and party make it through, whoever is left behind doesn’t make it out before the rift closes.
That decision, for lack of a better word, is hard. So much so that I’ve read youtube comments of people explaining they turned the game off and didn’t come back to it for days while they weighed the options.
Who the Warden friend is depends on your choices from Dragon Age: Origins. If you decided not to make Alistair king and kept him with the Wardens, he’ll be the one with Hawke. If you spared Loghain in Origins, he’ll show up. And if you killed Loghain and put Alistair on the throne, you’ll get Stroud… a mostly random Warden character who shows up briefly in Dragon Age 2 (if Alistair isn’t a Warden).
Some would say those who chose between Hawke and Stroud were lucky, but even that decision can cause some pause. For one thing, whoever the Warden friend ends up being, they are the only Warden with enough sense to realize the Wardens' desperate plan is completely nuts and they continue to search for answers even after the other Wardens turn on them. That certainly sounds like a Warden you want to keep alive. Not to mention, the Wardens are going to need someone to help them rebuild after this whole fiasco, and who better to do it?
But then, there’s Hawke, who (even if you hated) you have hours invested in. You spent all of Dragon Age 2 following Hawke around, developing love interests, saving Kirkwall, being right in the middle of the mage/templar war that started this whole mess, and hanging out with Varric… sweet, charming, lovable Varric. Can you just let your own player character die? And are you willing to face Varric’s gut-wrenching broken heart afterward?
Those choosing between Alistair and Hawke have the worst end of the deal. For one, Alistair is a direct link to original game. You spent just as many hours with him as you did with Hawke. The choice to keep him a Warden and not make him king probably came about because you liked having him around and didn’t want him to leave your party. Finally, the two of you are reunited, he and Hawke fighting gloriously side by side right up until you get gut-punched into deciding whether or not he kicks the bucket.
I was in the Loghain group, and the choice wasn’t any easier. I spared Loghain in Origins (a choice that seriously pisses Alistair off) because more Wardens were needed and because I was interested in that character. Now, in the fade, watching Loghain and Hawke fight side by side, gaining insight into the history between them, I finally see that choice starting to pay off. And suddenly I have to decide whether or not to kill him?
I’m the type of player who likes to know what my choices are ahead of time, so I was aware of this decision before I came to it. I knew who I was going to kill long before I started the quest, but even so, when it came time to choose, I agonized over it.
On one hand, Hawke has a family and friends, people who s/he cares about and who care about him/her. S/he has a reason to live. Loghain is a lone Warden with little who care for him given his treachery in Origins. And as a Warden, his life expectancy is lower that Hawkes. So, Hawke should live, right?
And yet, it’s Hawke who steps forward and tells his/her Warden friend they have to go on, that the Wardens are needed to help rebuild. It’s s/he who declares claim over staying behind. Corypheus is personal, and s/he wants to make this blow. So I left Hawke behind for a story decision: It’s what Hawke wants, and the Wardens have to rebuild. Hawke’s story with Corypheus comes full circle and Loghain lives on to fulfill the purpose he was spared for in Origins – to help the Wardens. For me, it makes sense, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy about it and that I haven’t spent my own time grieving and wondering how the hell Fenris (my Hawke’s romance companion) is going to pull himself back together.
I have been in actual tears.
And apologizing to Varric. I have spent so much time apologizing to Varric.
It’s a devastating choice - even if you try to pick yourself up with the speculation that the game’s prompt the chosen character will “likely” die means they might come back in future games. There’s no right or wrong here. Each player has to decide for themselves which way to go. Which choice hurts less? Which one makes the most sense? Which one (if either) can you live with at the end of the day?
I both curse and applaud Bioware for making me feel so much.