Tricks, Treats, and Feats: Gifting in Dragon Age: Origins

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.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. simpleek says:

    I admit that the first time I played Origins, I cheated here and there, looking up certain things. I actually didn’t want to mess up at certain points, especially with Alistair. Some may not have liked the gift giving option in the game but I thought it was loads of fun! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      See, when I first played, if there were any guides to gifting, I wasn’t aware of them! They sure would have helped, though. I really was confused by the vague gifts, and I know that I accidentally gave some gifts to the wrong people. But that was just part of the learning process. (During my most recent playthrough, I absolutely used a gift guide – didn’t want to mess things up with Alistair at all!)

      I know the idea of gifts in the game is a little hokey, but it’s still a unique way to help foster relationships between characters. It helped make DA:O just that much more special, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Haha the gift thing was interesting, especially because you could really spam it and it sort of just looked like the Warden was bribing everyone to be friends with him/her. I did like the idea, and especially liked the implementation of the “special” gifts that gave insight into the characters/opened up more story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      That’s so true! 🙂 I do remember at first collecting all those funny-named drinks to the point where I had six or seven, and then once I realized they were for Oghren, I gave them to him all at once! It did seem like I was trying too hard as his “like” meter rose, but the game didn’t mind. (And neither did he!) Gifting in the game was an interesting system, if not a perfect one.

      It might have been nicer to see the addition of more personal gifts, like allowing a handful to each character instead of just one, but…I suppose that would have just meant that the game’s writers would have had to come up with more dialogue! Ah well. What we got was nice touch, still.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    When it comes to the idea of making “friends” in a game, BioWare outdid itself with the gifting system in Dragon Age: Origins. Alright, maybe that’s me being a little fannish, but it was something different in what is, essentially, a straightforward RPG. (Actually, the game is anything but “straightforward,” but you get the idea.) In this Virtual Bastion post, I looked at this at this little trick to getting people to like you (even more) in the game.

    Like

  4. Drakulus says:

    Dragon Age Origins is one of the best games I’ve ever played. A true masterpiece. I played when it first released on the 360 and there were no guides to help me out too. I stuck with the mistakes I made and corrected them in my next playthrough :).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      Yup, that’s just how we had to do it back in the day – do what you could the first time around, and then do better the next! 🙂

      Having had my head in all things Mass Effect for a couple years now, I had forgotten just how intricate and textured a game DA:O was. It’s got its own amazing story, and I love playing through it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Drakulus says:

        I’ve played through Origins at least 30 times.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. cary says:

        Go on with your bad self! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

Add to the Discussion!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s