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Dragon Age, breeding fangirls since 2009

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I think I have covered everything included in my spiffy header but for sad Merrill hovering in front of the death rift. Merrill is my current fangirl obsession, my favorite character from Dragon Age 2. As a warning, content below will feature spoilers, so tread carefully. Also, I might terrify you readers with the depths of my fangirl moments, so I think in my next post I will have to channel more rar Kadomi moments than mushy sop swooning over a fictional lovestory. My partner will be rolling her eyes hardcore when she’s going to read this. 😉

Dragon Age 2 is a game that has a very split reception. It’s rocking an 82/100 Metacritic score, but the user rating has it at 4.3/10, mostly because of its departure from traditional CRPGs like BG2, Morrowwind, etc. I love it because I appreciate its storytelling, despite it being very different from the storytelling in Dragon Age: Origins. I understand why oldschool RPG fans might be disappointed with its lack of depth, but I like the fast-paced combat, and I love that it reminds me of Mass Effect 2. I love the companions and their stories. I love Lady Hawke. The only thing I hated were the re-used locations. Seriously, that was suck, Bioware, never do that again. Replaying the same maps over and over and over again, without even fixing the minimaps that showed exits where there were none, that was uncool.

I have been playing Bioware games since Baldur’s Gate 1, and have been a fan of their storytelling forever and ever, despite the many similarities in all their games. I love their games, but I never had any interest in their characters outside of the game. Dragon Age: Origins had a huge fandom, with tons of fanfiction, mostly focusing on the shining beacon of characters, Alistair. I personally thought Alistair was cute but boring, and liked Morrigan far more, but I guess that’s because I am not a straight girl. In Knights of the Old Republic they first introduced the paragon/renegade bits of being either a saintly person, or a real hard-ass evil guy, and it’s a red thread in all games since then. This is actually changed in Dragon Age 2, replaced by friendship and rivalries with your companions. I find it quite interesting that in Dragon Age 2 your actions no longer shape your character personally, but shape the relationships you have with your companions. I did miss paragon and renegade bonus actions that you had in Mass Effect 2, it would have been nice to get something similar in regards to your companions at least.

As far as characters go, Merrill surprised me, like no other character in a Bioware game ever surprised me. When she first joins with Hawke and co., she’s this bumbling, rambling comic relief character, who is excited about muggings, and who totally ruins it when you try to be sneaky. She made me laugh a lot. She’s the poster child for the term ‘adorkable’. But her character’s story isn’t exactly light-hearted. She is leaving her clan of elves to move to Kirkwall, universally despised by everyone in her clan as user of the forbidden blood magic. Soon after moving to Kirkwall, she starts focusing on rebuilding the Eluvian, an ancient elven relic that was formerly used to communicate between clans. I don’t really know the backstory as I never played the Dalish elf origin in Dragon Age: Origins, but apparently the Eluvian corrupted a Dalish friend of Merrill’s, Tamlen. She started using blood magic in her efforts to restore the Eluvian and remove its taint. Eventually, she will ask Hawke’s help to get a tool from the Dalish, and you as Hawke get to decide if you give it to her or not. I didn’t. I thought her obsession with the mirror was not good for her, and my Hawke was the caring kind.

Well, let’s just say that Merrill is very unhappy with that. From that point on, no matter what you do, you will gain rivalry continuously. Bring her a present? Bam, +15 rivalry. Say something nice to her? Bam, +10 rivalry. It confused me to no end. I did not understand at the time that declining to give her the arulin’holm means you are locked into rivalry with her. But it makes absolute sense. There is this one person you trusted in, you cared for, and he/she denies you the one thing that you want more than anything in the world. Would you not afterwards think that everything else is just them mocking you? Wouldn’t you turn bitter? I would.

If you have flirted with Merrill just once before this whole thing goes down, you are now pursuing something that I think is unique to Dragon Age 2: rivalry romance, short rivalmance. You can either have a friendship or a rivalry romance with all those characters, afaik. I am definitely sure about Fenris and Merrill. Relationship angst in its finest form, or as Falric in WoW says so nicely: fear, so exhilarating, despair, so delicious. I won’t spoil Merrill’s story more, but shit goes down, and if you make the wrong decision (like I did), shit will get REAL. Merrill will freak out and kick you out of her house and will tell you she never wants to see you again. I was devastated. I felt my Hawke genuinely cared for her. But Merrill will find you to make amends, and so you can get a happy ending with her. As far as Dragon Age 2 allows such. Here my confusion about Merrill turned to understanding and a sort of awe. To me, this relationship was now more emotionally touching than any other in-game relationship that I have played so far. And here I thought Liara from Mass Effect 2 was it for me so far, but nuh-uh. When Merrill breaks down crying, admitting how wrong she was and then destroys the Eluvian, that’s some impact right there.

I have to give credit to the voice acting, I think Eve Myles of Torchwood fame really made her come alive. I started watching Torchwood just to hear that voice again, and let me tell you, Gwen in Torchwood sounds veeeeery different from bumbling Merrill. Also, Gwen is a flaming idiot where Merrill is not. Ahem. Big kudos to Eve Myles!

I am dipping my toes in Bioware fandom now, by lurking in the Merrill Appreciation thread over in the Bioware forums, full of friendly folks who revel in each piece of Merrill artwork. Just like me, most guys there are facing the same issue though: Most Fanfic Writers are Girls. This means that you can drown in hundreds of Anders/Fenris + Lady Hawke stories and find nearly none with Isabela and Merrill content. Lucky for me, there are authors like Heath Wingwhit who are hitting my niche exactly. Her/His story Gone pretty much hits it on the head for rivalry romance. I hope this lovely, and well-written story will find more readers, and of course that Heath will write more.

Thankfully I am not alone out there, am I? Come on people, surely you have that one character you have your fangirl moments over? I know at least two girls who are screaming that Kaidan will be back for Mass Effect 3. I am not alone, right? Please let me know, because I think sometime between playing Dragon Age 2 and now I turned 14 again. I shall leave you with a link to Merrill’s Facetome page. >.>

21 Comments

  1. All I have to add is that it’s a shame that I couldn’t make both Ashley and Kaidan stay behind to die to the bomb blast.. 🙂

  2. I <3 Anders. I don't want to read the fanfic cos I don't trust those fangirls to write him properly 🙂

    I have a thing for blond smart guys anyway, but the scene that blew me away was after your mother dies in game (sorry if that's a spoiler for people) and you're in your house, you get a scene where he walks into the bedroom, sits down beside you and tries to comfort you.

    After that, he wasn't just the love interest, he was the guy who was around to comfort my character after her mother died. That was a really strong emotional reaction for me.

    • I only played the rivalry romance with Merrill so far (working on friendship romance atm), and so when Hawke’s mother died, I had Aveline come over to comfort my Hawke. She had the highest friendship score at the time, and that was when I foolishly still believed Aveline was a romance option. I love her as a character too.

      I think your Anders reaction is probably the same one that I had when Merrill started rejecting my Hawke. Surprising impact. How do you feel about Anders’ actions in the end?

      • I figured he was up to something and was deliberately not giving me a chance to talk him out of it, but when it happened I was furious. But in the sense of, “Wow, for someone smart you really do pull some stupid shit sometimes. We’re going to sort things out here and then we really are going to talk.”

        And I was worried about him too, so there was never any chance I was going to kill him or boot him from the party. Couldn’t do that just when he really needed the help.

        Not sure how much emotional impact that part of the story would have if you weren’t attached to Anders already though.
        Spinks recently posted…Do people still dream of a virtual worldMy Profile

        • My Hawke was the epitome of goodie good, who would have been a paragon in every other Bioware game. She was with Merrill, so ultimately she kept Anders around, to redeem himself. I, as the player however kept thinking ‘The cray-cray is strong with this one, wtf’. 🙂

          Didn’t think he’d be quite that extreme.

  3. @Alan – That’s because you are such a total meanie. I only killed off Kaidan. 😉

  4. Yeaaaah, here’s one of those straight girls who is pretty much in love with Alistair. I mean, I am not 100% joking when I say that if he were real, and if my husband was okay with it, I would totally marry Alistair too. Lol.

    Bioware, particularly in Dragon Age but also in Mass Effect, has this strange ability to blast right by my first impressions and make me care very much for characters that I did not care for initially. In Dragon Age: Origins I started out by thinking Alistair was kind of “blah”, just there for comic relief. But over time I actually really started to care for him as a (virtual) person, and my Warden fell for him quite easily. Just like in real life, the more I got to know him and like him, the more attractive he became to me.

    In Dragon Age 2 I started off telling myself I was going to romance Sebastian because he has that wonderful accent and you really just can’t go wrong with that. And while I did end up surprising myself with how much I did grow to like him, it was Fenris who ended up capturing Hawke’s heart. I had absolutely no intention of my Hawke falling for him – she had an arranged marriage with Sebastian as far as I was concerned. But Bioware got in there and subtly changed my mind. (Seb also gets extra points for being a religious character in a game that I could truly like – while his faith was clearly a big part of his life, I felt that he was more than that and while I still see many people instantly hate on him because of the chantry, I thought he was a great character.) Meanwhile I was able to see beyond Fenris’ hatred for mages and I felt like he had very human (or… elven? :P) feelings and it made me (well, Hawke) feel closer to him.

    I am really excited to see Kaidan back in ME3 – it kind of broke my heart to see how he reacted to Shepard, and then to read his letter he sent afterward. I was hoping and hoping I’d get to see him again in ME2 but it wasn’t to be. However seeing him back as a squad member in ME3 is going to be awesome, and I can’t wait for the reunion between him and my (faithful) Shepard 🙂

    Yeaaah I am kind of obsessed. But for the most part, only Bioware games do this to me!
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  5. I’m a female, but I played a guy and romanced Anders. (I dunno, it’s a thing with me. I have long since stopped trying to figure it out.) I went with total “loyal, lovesick idiot” and stuck with him to the end, and I felt like such a goober for being touched when Varric mentions in the wrap-up of his story at the end that everyone left eventually, except Anders. Stupid Bioware, making me get all into it. *sniff*

    • I think there are a few girls out there who will play male characters and romance male characters. It’s probably much in the same vein how dudes like to play out girl on girl relationships.

      I was sniffly when Varric said Merrill stuck around. I will be sad if the companions don’t make it to the next game, much like I was sad that Liara played no real role in Mass Effect 2 until they released the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC.

      • I’m glad I’m not the only one who misses pretend people, lol. I even have a hard time responding to the ones I like negatively on a second or third play-through to see how differently things go. My husband, on the other hand, intends to have a Totally Evil and Nasty run when he’s done with the one he’s on now. I think I’ll just watch his, lol.

  6. I’m not that far into Dragon Age 2 but my favourite character’s are Merrill and Isabella. Both are appealing in different ways (Isabella unf) <3 Also, I do <3 Anders, his story is awesome so far!

  7. I’ve never played at character as brilliantly written as Merrill. I found her so exasperating at first but she really grew on me. This game has made me a total old fan woman. I too go to the bioware forums & I even go to deviant art to look at the Dragon Age 2 artwork. I will be starting my 4th play through soon after I finish DA Awakenings again. This time I wll make a male Hawke and romance Merrill. ( I’ve done Male Hawke/Isabella FemHawke/Anders and FemHawke/Fenris) I am doing Awakenings again as I wanted to re-explore Anders in that game again.

    • Yay, so glad I am not the only one. I am only on my 2nd playthrough, this time doing the friendship romance with Merrill. Then my 3rd playthrough is going to be Isabela. I never played Awakenings, because I was put off by bad reviews. I am really hoping that the DA2 DLCs will be more of a quality that the Mass Effect DLCs have. I can’t wait for the first one.

      Deviant Art has so much lovely Dragon Age artwork. There’s incredible talent out there.

  8. I was gushing like I could not believe over Anders, and I’m way out of the teenage age bracket hehe. My poor officemate had to listen to me talking about how sweet Anders was for days. Like Spinks, it really meant a lot when Anders was comforting my Hawke after she died.

    I’m going to start my second playthrough as soon as the patch comes out, just because I want the bugs to be fixed before I go through again.

    • I have no one to gush at, because my partner is still on her first playthrough, and my officemates aren’t playing, so I had to use my blog to gush about Merrill. Despite all its flaws, Dragon Age 2 has definitely done some things very right.

      Going to pick any special relationship for the 2nd playthrough? I heard most but not all relationship bugs are squashed in 1.02.

  9. As a red blooded American Male… I SOOO WANT A MERRIL PLUSH! ^_^ She is probably the most fun and yet deep character I’ve run into a game since my first time bumping my way through Final Fantasy 3(6) on my SNES (My favorite FF for characters…) I actually went for the full on friendship romance, helping her put the mirror together and everything, it is a rough emotional ride. 🙁

    However maybe it’s because I’m a guy, but I never liked Anders. Well, not DA2 Anders. Not because of his flirtatious nature (which I found fun) but because of his fanaticism to the mage cause. My first Hawke spent the majority of the game trying to do nothing more than make Kirkwall a peaceful place. Try to smooth things out between the Arishok, try to get the mages and templars to take a minute to look at things from each others POV. I was Hawke the Peace Keeper… and then Anders does THAT?! Sorry buddy, but that went against everything we had been working to do. While I was originally tempted to romance him on my female Hawke playthrough, I don’t think I can knowing what I know now. D:
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    • Merrill plush, make it happen! I’d buy one and cuddle it and love it forever. Isn’t it amazing how fun and lighthearted she seems, but there’s so much darkness underneath the surface? I am playing the friendship romance path at the moment, but I can only recommend the depth of the rivalry path, where she will actually destroy the eluvian for you.

      I don’t really mind that Anders comes on strongly, but if I ever play one of the male romances, it’s probably going to be Fenris. Anders is such a psycho, so possessed, and ultimately worse off than Merrill who he hypocritically rants at time and again. His actions in the end are quite a showstopper.

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