But before I start a few things. To begin with this post has nothing directly to do with Star Wars: The Old Republic, instead it is about Dragon Age: Origins (specifically) and Mass Effect/Mass Effect 2 (to a lesser extend). It also contains spoilers regarding the endings of those games. Though I'll try to keep from being too specific (no 'how' or 'why', just 'what'), if you don't want (some of) the possible endings spoiled then it's probably best to refrain from reading this post. So with that out of the way, let's get going.
If you've played Dragon Age: Origins then you'll know that it's a story-centric game during which you're asking to make a number of choices with varying levels of consequences. Nowhere is this more evident that in the final choice of the game where you're asked to give your own (character's) life to save the world. There are other ways to do this as well, but each has their own drawbacks (and depending on earlier choices not all of them will be available). In essence, choosing to make the "Ultimate Sacrifice" (which is also the name of the achievement you get for the choice) is the noblest choice to make.
But of course that leaves BioWare with a problem. After all, they want to continue creating more games and (downloadable) content in the franchise for you to buy and play. There are, as I see it, several ways for them to deal with this situation and how to continue on from Dragon Age: Origins.
- The "Shadows of Undrentide" Method
Probably the easiest way for BioWare to deal with the matter is to pretty much ignore the whole thing. Give players a new main character to play, set it in an area far (enough) away from the previous game and have a new story that doesn't reference the old one. This is, roughly, what BioWare did with their first expansion to Neverwinter Nights.
Of course BioWare got a fair amount of critique for this decision from a number of fans (though personally I never had an issue with it). Most people wanted to continue with their character from Neverwinter Nights instead of starting a new character. This is certainly understandable; if you've got a good story then you want to see it continue.
- The "Mass Effect 3" Method
It is possible that, depending on the choices you make, your Shepard doesn't survive the end of Mass Effect 2. But just as you could import your savegame from Mass Effect 1 into Mass Effect 2 to see the consequences of the decisions you made in the first game, so too will you be able to import your savegame from Mass Effect 2 into Mass Effect 3. That is, unless your character dies (a story death) in the second game as BioWare have said that you can't import the savegame of a dead Shepard.
That makes sense. After all, Mass Effect is the story of Commander Shepard; if Shepard is dead then it's the end of the story. Additionally Shepard's death in Mass Effect 2 is more the result of failure instead of a conscious choice to give up your life for the greater good; as I understand it you only get it as the worst possible outcome with all your squadmates dead as well (you can see this ending on YouTube; as you can see Shepard only dies because there isn't anyone left to save him).
- The "Let's Ignore It" Method
Another way to deal with the potential death is by letting the story continue, but not dealing with the 'inconvenient' death at all. In this all the choices you made in the game are preserved, except that the fact that your character died is ignored and they let you continue to play your character as if nothing happened.
This, according to the official FAQ, is the solution BioWare seems to be taking for Dragon Age: Origins - Awakening. There is no story explanation, they pretty much just ignore the story. This makes one wonder why they would even bother including all the rest of the story, but I've got a feeling that that's just an artifact of the import method and that the purpose of this option is to have the same skills and stats as your old character.
The second solution isn't satisfactory either. Mass Effect might be the story of Shepard, but Dragon Age isn't, in my opinion, the story of the Warden. You can already see this from the fact that they're allowing you to play a different Warden (one from Orlais) in the expansion; one who never went through the story of the main game (instead of doing what Mass Effect 2 did and give you a Shepard who did go through the events in Mass Effect 1). A stronger reason for why it's unsatisfactory however is that where the death in Mass Effect 2 is the result of poorly made choices, the one in Dragon Age: Origins is the result of a very deliberate and valid choice. As I said, choosing to give your life is probably the noblest choice to make. That choice deserves to remain valid within the world.
And the third choice doesn't satisfy at all either. While it might be good to have the option available for those who just want to play the same character again and don't really care about story, it doesn't satisfy anyone who does care about story (which, presumably, is why the majority of people play BioWare's games to begin with). Sure, one could choose to play the new Warden, but that means that the story you experienced in the main game doesn't continue as you'll be left with the stock choices that they made. And playing your old Warden again is worse because with that the story goes out the window altogether.
Which leads us to the interesting phenomenon I started the post with. Over on BioWare's social forums people are clamoring to have their character stay dead.
Let us examine that desire for a moment; what is it exactly that people want? It is clear that people want to continue the story, continue in the world that they created through their choices. People want the choices they made to remain valid; what happens to Alistair, what the status is of the main areas you visit, etc. These things are important. Just not importing isn't satisfactory because it's likely that who rules the country isn't who it was when you played (and we know that this will come up in the expansion).
But having some excuse to 'resurrect' your character (and there are various options that BioWare could go with even if they've said that they want death to have meaning in their world and thus are unlikely to do resurrections) isn't satisfactory either because that invalidates the sacrifice that your character made. And it feels cheap to boot. How is it an 'Ultimate Sacrifice' if it isn't permanent?
So what people really want to do is import the decisions of their dead Warden, but play the game with a new character (namely the Orlesian Warden). Ideally people even want that the game makes some references to the noble sacrifice your old Warden made ("that other Warden who sacrificed his/her life to safe us was the greatest hero of our time" or such).
- The "The World Goes On" Method
The character remains dead and players get to play a new character (with a separate background story), but the decisions that the character made before their dead are still in effect in the world and still noticeable. This is perhaps the most realistic method, story-wise.
I just hope that BioWare cares as much about story as they say they do.
It must be noted here that all people have to go on really is that faq I linked to earlier, which certainly seems to imply that the only way to import a dead Warden is to pretend this Warden never died to begin with. The faq is particularly light on details regarding the new Warden you've got the option to play and it is quite possible that they'll take another possible approach; one that isn't quite the previous one, but could be good enough to serve:
- The "Knights of the Old Republic 2" Method
When you played Obisidan's sequel to BioWare's Knights of the Old Republic you couldn't import your savegame, and yet they managed to continue the story from the first one (for the most part). They did this by just asking the player what decisions they made in the first game. This could be done subtly as in KotOR2 by asking as part of the normal dialog, or it could be done blatantly by just bringing up a list at the start with "what choices did you make in the first game?".
Either way it worked in KotOR2 because the first game didn't have that many impactful choices to begin with (Revan's gender was one and being darkside or lightside was another, but I don't really recall any other big choices) and because KotOR2 only referenced the choices in a sideways manner (Revan was only ever mentioned in dialog). As such it might work in Awakening; ask the player about the main choices that are reflected in the expansion, but even so it might still feel like it's not really your world you created, but just some facsimile.
And most of all I hope that they'll allow the story of Dragon Age to continue if your Warden made the ultimate sacrifice to save the world, because the choice is too unique to just sweep under the carpet with a "let's just forget that the whole thing happened".
As one poster on the BioWare social forums said: "For the Ultimate Sacrifice choice to be meaningful, the dead Warden's world has to persist after his death."
* For some example; whether you save the Counsel or not doesn't really matter since you get no more than a few minutes of holographic time with them during which they treat you pretty much the same regardless of your choice. Whether you saved Ashley or Kaiden doesn't really matter because one will just take the place of the other in a brief cameo where they do nothing but scold you. Whether you saved Wrex or not doesn't really matter because if you didn't you just get a different krogan in his place. Whether you saved the Rachni Queen or not doesn't matter as all you get it a brief, cryptic message from an Asari without any followthrough in the rest of the game. Etc.