If you’ve played even just a few hours of a recent BioWare game, you know that one of the developer’s hallmarks is personal interaction. As a character in one of its games, players are given opportunities to interact with NPCs and teammates to varying degrees, from skin deep to much deeper. The ability to personally interact with the game world around your character turns the game into more than just a matter of winning, or getting from point A to point B to point C in one piece. These interactions can change the way a game is played, inasmuch as they can alter the outcome of the game itself. And with each game or game series, BioWare has provided different means of interaction. In this post, I’ll be looking at of the interactive tricks the team included in Dragon Age: Origins – gift-giving.
Anyone playing Dragon Age: Origins for the first time today has a plethora of game guides available to them, but way back when the game was new, I was rather confounded by the addition of “gifts.” Having played Mass Effect previously, interacting with people in DA:O occurred automatically. As I met and sought out new companions, I talked to them as much as I could. I learned who they were, how they felt about important aspects of the game’s world (demons, politics, magic, and such), and what they wanted from me as the “hero” and out of being on my team. Some characters were free and open with their thoughts; others were tight-lipped and required some wordly maneuvering to get them to share (or, if you chose your words poorly, completely shut down). While some interactions, individual and group, resulted in nothing, some ended with the distribution of positive “like” points or negative “dislike” points. It followed that the more positive points you garnered, the more a character liked you. If you were mean or made “bad” choices, your alignment fell into the negative.
I initially found that the like-dislike scale was pretty easy to decipher. Some characters were very obviously aligned to like the hero, while others were more defensive. But sometimes, the choices weren’t as clear, or I missed a key phrase uttered by a companion during a mission, and I ended up upsetting someone. And that was bad especially if I was trying to gain a particular teammate’s favor. But rather than write those bad choices in stone, the game had an ace up its sleeve in the form of gifts.
Throughout the game, the hero acquired gifts, some randomly found and some bought at vendors. The first time I noticed that I had several gifts in my inventory – seemingly odd objects such as mirrors and statues and gold bars — I wasn’t exactly who there were for, and the game didn’t say, and I ignored them. That was, until, I took a closer look and noticed one in particular, “Alistair’s Mother’s amulet.” I couldn’t have told you where I had gotten it from, but there it was sitting my inventory with a bunch of other pink-marked “gifts,” just waiting. When I next took a break in camp, where all companions were available for chatting, I scrolled through my inventory until I found the amulet. I then started switching teammates, and that’s when I first noticed when a gift was highlighted, an option was lit to give that gift away. So with the amulet, which seemed obviously attributed to my Templar, Alistair, I stopped on him and chose to give it away. A touching conversation ensued, and I was handsomely rewarded with a bunch of “like” points. Aha! So the gifts were just that – gifts to give to your companions in order to gain their influence. With the trick revealed, I suddenly wanted to give ALL THE GIFTS!
But there was still the small matter of not really knowing to whom to give each one. A small number were evident, like meaty bones for your Marabi warhound or grimoires (tomes of magic) for the Witch of the Wilds Morrigan or a flower called “Andraste’s Grace” for your chantry rogue Leliana (and that was only because she happened to mention it was a favorite of hers). But who was I supposed to get a white runestone or a totem or something called “Legacy of White Shear?” Thankfully, the game didn’t leave me completely hanging. If I gave a character something they really liked, I was either rewarded with positive points, further conversation, or in some cases, an extra quest. If I gave a character something that turned out to be nominal, I only got a single positive point. And if I tried to give a character something they truly did not want, they said so in phrasing nothing short of please get that thing away from me. So the trick to gaining influence was actually two-fold: gather and give gifts, but then give those gifts to the correct person.
After considerable trial and error and further getting to know my companions, I eventually succeeded in giving away most of my gifts properly. Turned out that Alistair liked runestones quite a bit. The totem was meant to go to my tacit Qunari warrior Sten. And if you didn’t know it, “Legacy of White Shear” was actually a drink, and no one liked to drink more than the warrior Dwarf Oghren. Aside from adding to the nature in personal interactions in DA:O, these gifts went a long way in helping me repair a few relationships. For instance, my character and the assassin elf Zevran initially had a tough time liking each other. But his tune changed for the better after I gave him a number of silver and gold bars.
Dragon Age: Origin’s gifting system was a brilliant trick hidden in plain sight. It wasn’t necessarily a new or revolutionary game mechanic, but it provided a bit more dimensionality over simply providing “good” and “bad” conversation options (the likes of which drove games like Mass Effect). It also put a different spin on collecting, a regular RPG trope, by giving players weightier reasons to complete missions, seek out hidden treasure, and thereby get the most out of the game. It’s unfortunate that BioWare significantly altered and lessened this gifting system in the series’ sequels, but that only served to make DA:O’s gifts all the more memorable.