Dragon Age Companions: Best to Worst

Things to know about this list:

  • This list excludes companions who only exist in DLC, companions who join your party temporarily just so they can die, Hawke siblings, and the “secret companion” from Dragon Age: Origins, mostly because I don’t want to go back and play them all.
  • Rankings are based on character development (in terms of story), character design (in terms of how the character fits as a game element), and how useful the character is in a fight.
  • This list contains spoilers for the whole franchise. Like, really important ones. Beware.

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Morrigan: Evil temptress who’s surprisingly fun to hang out with

Mage (Shapeshifter)
Dragon Age: Origins (also appears in Inquisition)

Morrigan is a classic femme fatale/evil temptress/sexy swamp witch spinning lies who swoops in when you’re feeling vulnerable and offers to make you a terrible and mysterious bargain that she refuses to answer questions about. In Origins, this comes as somewhat of a surprise, and constitutes one of the most important decisions in the game, massively changing the ending and (potentially) creating ripple effects that still matter two games later.

For someone who’s trying to win you over to her side, she’s also surprisingly quarrelsome, which usually makes her entertaining. She’s super mad at everybody all the time, and makes biting, sarcastic jokes at their expense. Her romance story – should you choose to pursue it – is the most turbulent, complex relationship in any of the games, requiring an expansion pack and a guest appearance in Inquisition to wrap it up. Her personal quest is that she wants you to murder her mom.

Dragon Age plays with the idea of having a villain in your party more than once, but Morrigan is a really successful example, and – although I question whether her outfit really matches with her lifestyle – she has the most memorable, specific character design of anyone in the franchise. Also, as a special treat for giant nerds, she’s voiced by Claudia Black.

On the combat side, Shapeshifting is a useless skill, but mages are over-powered in Dragon Age, and Morrigan is the offensive mage in Origins by default. With the right build, she can quickly become the most lethal member of your party and fight all your one-on-one battles for you.

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Anders: Surprise terrorist possessed by the spirit of justice

Mage (Vengeance)
Dragon Age II (also appears in Origins DLC)

Look. I’m not saying I want to hang out with this guy in real life, but Anders the most important character in Dragon Age II by a long shot, and he plays a much more central role in the A-plot of that game and in the overall story arc in the franchise than almost anyone else. Dragon Age II is about the simmering tension between mages and Templars in one particular city – tension that snaps in Act III, when Anders decides to blow up a church because he and the ghost living in his head can’t handle the blatant injustice done to mages anymore.

Anders was first introduced in DLC for Dragon Age: Origins, where he was, by far, the most memorable new character. Justice was also introduced in the DLC, as a spirit trapped in a living corpse. It’s weird that they’re sharing a body by the time Dragon Age II starts but, once you get past that, their story line resonates the most, thematically. Dragon Age II is, at its heart, a story about the hero who arises to stem the tide of corruption in Kirkwall – it’s just that Anders has a different idea of how to be that hero than the player does. He is the version of that hero who walks the darkest path.

Anders’ internal conflict is represented in his combat specialization tree, which is split between mutually exclusive branches for supportive and offensive magic. He’s the designated healer of Dragon Age II and, unless the player character is also a mage, he’s the only one who can revive fallen allies. Aside from making him almost indispensible, his specialization is also a good example of a game mechanic that dovetails with character and story.

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Iron Bull: Spy confused about which side he’s really on

Warrior (Two-handed, Reaver)
Dragon Age: Inquisition

Iron Bull is a Qunari spy who tells you he’s a spy, so that you’ll think he’s a cool, approachable spy, and probably forget that he’s spying on you. Unfortunately for him, he also seems to forget that he’s spying on you, because he’s been under cover so long that he’s starting to get attached to his new, made-up life. That inner conflict – which he’s eventually forced to resolve, one tragic way or the other – makes him one of the richest, most compelling characters in Dragon Age, as well as a super chill, light-hearted dude who may end up trying to kill you.

Overall, he fits the Terry Crews mould of a muscular dude who’s secure enough in his masculinity to not be toxic about it, but there are details that particularize him beyond that. He’s the only fictional character I can think of who manages to be both serious and not especially creepy about BDSM. Thanks to Freddie Prinze Jr., he’s also one of the only characters I can think of who clearly has a public voice and a private voice – a tonal shift that happens a lot in real life but is rarely depicted in movies or games.

Inquisition, in general, makes the Qunari a lot more interesting than they have been in previous games, and, because the developers solved a design problem from Origins, Iron Bull has the distinction of being the first playable Qunari character with horns. He is a much better introduction to the culture and lore surrounding Qunari than Sten (scroll all the way down to the bottom to learn about Sten).

On top of that, he’s amazing in a fight, partly because Reaver is the best, most bloody warrior specialization in Inquisition.

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Dorian Pavus: Evil wizard stereotype who is really a good wizard

Mage (Necromancer)
Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dorian manages to have a British accent, a twirly moustache, an ambiguous ethnicity, an interest in necromancy, and a father who rejected him for being gay, all without turning to evil. He is the anti-Dethmold, and the internet’s Dragon Age boyfriend.

Dorian is an involuntary expat from Tevinter, a country that basically only exists to produce evil wizards, and he has complicated feelings about his homeland. He’s also a loyal friend with incredibly good social skills and a specialization that lets him do weird, creepy damage to his enemies. He’s funny, he’s interesting, and he can make people explode.

While his design isn’t iconic in the same way as Morrigan or Iron Bull’s, his costuming and personality teach us some things about who he is as an individual as well as about Tevinter. We’re seeing his culture through him, not just because he’s describing it, but because of what resonates with him about it. The drama, the heightened emotional expression, the preoccupation with appearances, the celebration of magic that’s so rare in the game’s main setting – those things are about him, but they’re also about where he comes from, and it’s handled in a really skillful way.

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Cassandra Pentaghast: Religious detective crusading for truth

Warrior (Sword and Shield, Templar)
Dragon Age: Inquisition (also appears in Dragon Age II)

Cassandra is a Seeker of Truth, which is both the literal job title she has in the Templar Order, and a beautiful way to describe her personal philosophy on life: she wants to know the truth and she wants to tell people the truth, even if it’s ugly, and even if the church would rather lie. After appearing in the framing story of Dragon Age II, Cassandra is the one who actually declares an Inquisition in Dragon Age: Inquisition, before starting a personal journey to figure out how the Seekers and Templars were corrupted.

One of the most principled characters in Dragon Age, she’s staunchly religious and wholeheartedly believes in the Templars’ mission, but able to see that the church and the Order have strayed from the path. She’s also Nevarran nobility – and speaks with a distinct accent Miranda Raison created for these games – but turned her back on her titles to live the life of a warrior.

Cassandra is a solid party member in combat, especially if you end up fighting mages, but the main thing she has to recommend her is that she’s a “strong woman” character done well. She feels like a specific individual with opinions, ideas, and feelings rather than a workshopped idea of what feminism looks like. And she wears armour that actually looks like armour.

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Blackwall: Escaped murderer doing a Jean Valjean

Warrior (Sword and Shield, Champion)
Dragon Age: Inquisition

Blackwall ranks this high on the list because the plot twist in his story line is so deftly executed. He begins Inquisition as a taciturn Grey Warden who’s maybe not that forthcoming with intel but seems like a solid guy. That is, until half way through the game when he decides to do a Jean Valjean and save a condemned prisoner from death by confessing that he’s actually a murderer who’s been living under an assumed identity to escape justice for his crimes.

What’s cool about this plot twist is that Inquisition doesn’t try to make Blackwall’s crime okay. It’s very clear that he murdered a family in cold blood and dragged two innocent men into it, then let them take the fall while he disappeared into the woods and stole a dead Warden’s identity. Also, once you know what to look for, there’s a lot of foreshadowing that Blackwall might not be who he says he is, and some of it’s quite clever.

After the truth comes out, there are a lot of ways Blackwall’s story can end, including a bittersweet romance and an execution, among others. It’s genuinely hard to determine the right thing to do, and the right way to feel about him once you learn the truth. It’s challenging and disconcerting in all the right ways, and it makes him one of the most memorable characters, even if he isn’t super interesting outside of being a fugitive.

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Fenris: Former slave with magic anger management issues

Warrior (Two-handed, Tevinter Fugitive)
Dragon Age II

Fenris is a former slave who escaped his Tevinter masters after they did experiments on him that gave him special powers and erased his memory. He’s a surly, hard-to-please killing machine who is the cornerstone of any good combat strategy. He’s also on a journey of self-discovery that will leave him, at best, sorely disappointed in his only living relatives and, at worst, sold back into slavery by a player he should not have trusted.

One thing Dragon Age really nails is creating elves who don’t feel like they’re ripped out of Lord of the Rings, and Fenris is a great example of that. He’s got a deep, growly voice courtesy of Gideon Emery, an olive skin tone, and an action movie hero’s obsession with getting revenge on the people who’ve wronged him. When you combine that with his distinctive magic scars, he has one of the most unique and specific designs of any character in the franchise.

Unfortunately, despite being insanely good in combat, Fenris is also notoriously hard to form a relationship with, which means he’s likely to jump ship on you toward the end of a game – not because it’s an interesting plot twist but because, mathematically, he just doesn’t like you or hate you enough to stick around.

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Alistair: Bastard heir to the throne and repeat candidate for sacrifice

Warrior (Sword and Shield, Templar)
Dragon Age: Origins (can also appear in Dragon Age II and Inquisition)

As the bastard heir to the Ferelden throne and the player’s closest ally, Alistair is one of the most important characters in Dragon Age: Origins, and decisions about his destiny have huge consequences for the game. For the most part, he’s presented with a dumb-but-caring frat boy persona meant to endear him to the player ahead of some weighty decisions about who should rule Ferelden and who should sacrifice themselves to kill the final boss.

While the most likely outcomes are that he’ll either end up as Ferelden’s king or sacrifice himself to kill the boss, there are a few other options, including one where he survives Origins only to sacrifice himself heroically in Inquisition instead.

Dragon Age: Origins only really works if we’re attached to Alistair, and his characterization is successful in so far as most players will like him by the time they have figure out whether to kill him. As a general party member and combatant, he falls somewhere in the middle, and it’s likely that you’ll favour other warriors toward the end of the game. The need to make the player like him also means that Alistair often has no strong opinions and steps back to follow the player’s lead, which makes him a less interesting companion.

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Solas: Secretly the main villain

Mage (Rift Mage)
Dragon Age: Inquisition

Solas is the ancient elven god, Fen’Harel, who created the mortal world and now wants to destroy it. The reason he doesn’t rank higher on this list is because you don’t know that’s who he is until you finish the Trespasser DLC after the end of the game. During Inquisition itself, he just seems like a jerk who’s rude to everyone for no real reason, even as he creepily inserts himself into your dreams and gets bummed out because you smash a magic orb before it can kill everyone.

If you become friendly with Solas, or enter into a romance with him, you’re treated to a super sad story about how he deeply regrets having to slaughter you along with your kind but, alas, he must still destroy the mortal realm. The setup makes it seem like he’s going to be a villain in Dragon Age 4 but, even if he’s not, it’s a bold move to have one of your companions mastermind the evil plot you’re trying to stop.

On the combat side, Rift Mage is one of the worse mage specializations but, because he’s an elf, Solas can wear some unusually good armour as the game goes on. If the player character isn’t an elf, it’s also helpful to have him around for translation and diplomacy, since elves mistake him for an ally.

Cool trick to help you like Solas more: Remember that the elves pronounce his name “so-laws” and not “sole-ass.”

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Isabela: Sexy pirate who betrays you

Rogue (Dual-wield, Swashbuckler)
Dragon Age II (also appears in Dragon Age: Origins)

Isabela is a pirate who doesn’t wear pants and makes a cameo appearance in Dragon Age: Origins by inviting the player into an off-screen three-way. She is by far the most lethal rogue in the franchise, mostly because her Swashbuckler specialization offsets some of the defensive weaknesses of rogues, and because the AI makes good decisions about when and how to deploy her skills.

Like so many companions on this list, Isabela also betrays you part way through the game. At some point in Act II, it’s revealed that she stole the McGuffin everyone’s looking for, and she insists on delivering it to her buyer, even if that starts a war. No matter what relationship you have with her, she ditches you before you can take the McGuffin and runs off into the night. If the two of you have a strong friendship, she dramatically returns at the pivotal moment, creating one of the most entertaining scenes in the game.

In terms of design, her outfit is memorable for the wrong reasons (why the hell wouldn’t she wear pants?), but she’s a fun character and the double-doublecross livens up the story.

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Merrill: The littlest maleficar

Mage (Dalish Pariah)
Dragon Age II (can also appear in Dragon Age: Origins)

Merrill is a Dalish elf who’s cast out of her clan for practicing blood magic (the evilest kind of magic known to Dragon Age). There’s an intentional contrast between her gentle, unassuming manner and her willingness to casually call on the forces of darkness whenever she needs something done. Although she’s not as versatile as Anders, her specialization is stacked with offensive magic, including “Wrath of the Elvhen,” which passively deals damage to anyone nearby.

Merrill’s real skill, though, is passively dealing damage to herself. Her story is fairly straightforward and, like almost every story in Dragon Age II, it’s a bummer. In this case, it involves her killing her mentor because they’re in an argument about a mirror, and, depending on player choice, maybe also killing her whole clan.

While that story line’s shocking in its violence and tragedy, it also feels separate from the main plot of Dragon Age II – part of a suite of side-stories about failed relationships and isolation that make you feel bad but don’t develop the A-plot’s themes.

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Cole: Embodied spirit who tells people their own secrets

Rogue (Dual-wield, Assassin)
Dragon Age: Inquisition

Cole is the spirit of Compassion, trapped in a human body, and generally confused about the world. He has some of the very best dialogue in Dragon Age: Inquisition, and serves as an agent for exposition because he likes to read his companions’ minds and tell them about their sad memories. Overall, he’s a much more successful execution of the spirit-trapped-in-human-form concept than Justice was in Awakening.

Cole’s personal story is almost non-existent, but involves a difficult choice between his human and spirit selves that, much like his dialogue, mostly serves to teach us about the other characters around him. He explains to us that Varric wants him to be human and that his wanting it is one of the things that binds Cole the mortal world. Solas hates the mortal world and wants Cole to be a spirit. Cole doesn’t know enough to decide what he wants.

While he’s great at ferreting out people’s back stories, he only has medium utility in combat. Assassin is the best rogue specialization, and includes powerful offensive moves, but the AI hasn’t mastered dodging well enough to take full advantage of the dual-wield skill set.

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Wynne: Elder who is secretly dead

Mage (Spirit Healer)
Dragon Age: Origins

Wynne’s most noticeable character trait is being old and her least noticeable character trait is being dead. At some point after she joins your party, she reveals that, moments before you arrived at the Circle tower, she died fighting a demon that was threatening the junior mages. A guardian spirit brought her back to life (and gave her a special combat mode called “Vessel of the Spirit”), and now she knows that she’s on borrowed time and could die again at any moment.

Wynne doesn’t die, though (unless you kill her). She just hangs around talking really slowly and giving you advice. And, while it’s not a bad idea on its own, in practice it feels confusing to explore the idea of Generativity through a character who’s going to die soon for so many different reasons.

If you understand how to use it (and how to use the modifier you collect when completing Wynne’s personal quest), Vessel of the Spirit is a handy mode to have. Otherwise, Wynne’s main contribution is supportive magic, and her default specialization includes the game’s most important healing spells.

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Leliana: Religious spy who might believe in forgiveness

Rogue (Archer, Bard)
Dragon Age: Origins (also appears in Dragon Age II and Inquisition)

Leliana simultaneously has the most characterization of anyone in Dragon Age and also the most inconsistent characterization of anyone in Dragon Age. Inside Origins alone, the base game and the DLC can’t agree about what her back story is, and her personality and motivations continue to jump all over the place during the next two games.

She’s a streetwise criminal who found god during the lowest point in her life. She’s a strange, sensitive girl who’s following you because she had a vision. She’s a hard-hearted, pragmatic spy master. She’s an Orlesian courtier, obsessed with fashion and with playing The Great Game. She’s too naive to easily hide her emotions, and also a social chameleon, and a blackmailer. And dead, because you can kill her in Origins, but also alive, because she comes back in Dragon Age II regardless.

Depending on player choice, it’s possible to get a coherent story arc for Leliana – one where she is a criminal who found forgiveness in the church, was laughed at because she believed that god loved everyone equally, and then had the last laugh by becoming the head of the church – after either rediscovering her innocence or hardening her heart completely. But there are a lot of other narratives, too, and it’s hard to know how the games see her canonically.

In Origins, she is the least useful person to have in a fight, mostly because the AI makes poor decisions about when to change her weapon sets. Bard isn’t a bad specialization, but the reason she ranks this high on the list is the sheer amount of time that players spend with her.

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Varric Tethras: Author chronicling your adventures

Rogue (Archer, Marksman / Artificer)
Dragon Age II / Dragon Age: Inquisition

Varric is the only character who’s a fully playable companion in two games, and he also serves as narrator for Dragon Age II. In that game, he encounters the player character while planning a dangerous expedition to the Deep Roads with his greedy brother Bartrand. After Bartrand betrays everyone for the love of an evil red crystal, Varric’s personal arc involves dealing with the fallout from that, which can include killing his brother.

Varric’s story arc in Inquisition is brief but satisfying in that it answers some questions about his on-again-off-again paramour, Bianca, and the namesake crossbow he carries (which is the only weapon he can use in either game). Otherwise, he mostly occupies his time by asking other people questions about themselves, claiming it’s research for a book he’s writing. In both games, he also serves as a kind of moral centre – a good guy who just wants to know that his friends are okay.

Marksman is a fine specialization, specific to the Bianca crossbow, that makes Varric more formidable than any other archer. Artificer isn’t as useful, and being bound to a specific weapon can leave him underpowered during repeat plays of Inquisition (in which it’s possible to give yourself higher-level weapons early on).

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Sera: Foul-mouthed Robin Hood trying to avenge the poor

Rogue (Archer, Tempest)
Dragon Age: Inquisition

Part Robin Hood, part angry weirdo shouting at the sky, Sera is a polarizing character. She’s an elf who doesn’t like elves, and a prankster who deliberately tries not to hurt anyone with her pranks. Digging into her personal story reveals a few more layers below Loud and Weird, but being loud and weird is still her cornerstone.The observations she makes about classism – while true – also feel a little more obvious than usual.

In terms of combat, Tempest is a specialization that lets Sera augment her archery with potions that give her extra powers, mostly related to speed and defence. She’s also responsible for a war table mission that unlocks a grenade called “Jar of Bees.” That said, the only reasons you’d choose her over Varric are because she has a more powerful weapon, or because you enjoy listening to her dialogue with other characters. If you’re one of the players who finds her annoying, you hardly need her at all.

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Vivienne: Courtier who doesn’t tell you anything about herself

Mage (Knight Enchanter)
Dragon Age: Inquisition

Vivienne ranks this high because she’s got a cool hat and the most powerful mage specialization in Inquisition – one that lets her phase out of reality and reappear inside of enemies to deal massive damage. She gets almost no story line in the game beyond having a super old boyfriend, and mostly just acts like a cipher who calls you “my dear.”

Part of the issue is that, after Anders’ terrorism disrupts the status quo, Vivienne is one of the only characters who wants to get things back to how they were before, with no improvement whatsoever. It makes sense, because she was able to attain a powerful position under the old rules, but it also makes her seem heartless because she doesn’t care who else gets hurt. In the absence of getting to know her in any more meaningful way, that makes her kind of unpleasant.

Her incidental dialogue with the other characters is also kind of unpleasant, or at least not as interesting as much of the other dialogue is. She still plays things pretty close to the chest, but she’s also really mean. Not in a sly, sarcastic way, like some of the others are – in a brittle, condescending, tedious way that makes you want to tell everyone to stop talking.

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Zevran Arainai: Sexy assassin who bails on trying to kill you

Rogue (Dual-wield, Assassin)
Dragon Age: Origins (also appears in Dragon Age II)

Zevran is an Antivan elf who grew up in a brothel and is sent to assassinate you midway through Dragon Age: Origins. When he fails, he’s happy to let himself be absorbed into your party, at which point he becomes a decent dual-wield rogue, with the caveat that rogues are underpowered.

That’s where Zevran’s story pretty much stops. Despite being the son of a Dalish elf, he’s not very interested in any of your dealings with the Dalish, though he is the only character who ever calls the player out for saying something racist. He’s also the only character who readily jumps into a three-way with Isabela and the player.

Outside of that, Zevran is a one-note conversational partner who manages to turn every discussion into a come-on, but he’s also a trailblazer in that he’s the first in a long line of Dragon Age elves who break the Tolkien mould, and the first in a shorter line of bi male characters, which was still fairly unusual when the game was released.

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Oghren: Dirty-minded dwarf looking for his evil estranged wife

Warrior (Two-handed, Berserker)
Dragon Age: Origins

Oghern is a good example of a quest-specific character who hangs around your party for no reason after the quest. He’s first introduced in “A Paragon of Her Kind,” where he’s seeking his estranged wife, Branka, and, in terms of the quest itself, he has a clear role in the story – he’s there to be the person who still believes in Branka and advocates for you to take her side even after it’s clear that she’s gone off the deep end. It’s hard to sell the idea that you should support her, and the best way to do it is by first building the player’s relationship with Oghern.

After the Branka situation is resolved one way or the other, Oghern keeps hanging around – and even returns for the Awakening DLC, where he randomly also becomes a Grey Warden. Like Zevran, he’s a one-note conversationalist who turns everything into an off-colour joke that’s either funny or annoying, depending how it lands. He also fits the fantasy stereotype of a drunk, bearded dwarf who lives underground, even as other elements of Origins are trying desperately to challenge that idea.

Despite this, he’s one of the better warriors to have in a fight, partly because he comes with a matched set of armour and (depending on your level when you recruit him) a lot of two-handed weapon skills already in place.

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Aveline Vallen: Righteous captain of the city guard

Warrior (Sword and Shield, Guardian)
Dragon Age II

Aveline is a really good person, to a degree that makes her boring much of the time. In Dragon Age II, she’s a fellow refugee who joins the city guard and rises to the rank of Captain after proving her boss is corrupt. She spends the entire game trying to maintain order and do right by people as the city falls apart. Her personal quest is about how she doesn’t know how to talk to a guy she’s attracted to and, if you help her complete it, she ends up happily married.

The one interesting detail about Aveline is that, just after you meet her, she has to kill her first husband, Wesley, because he’s succumbed to a demon sickness called the Blight. After he’s dead, the only thing she has of his is his shield, which you can later sell or put into storage. If you do either of those things, Aveline becomes the only video game character I’ve ever seen who gets mad at you for heartlessly disposing of her keepsakes.

Aveline’s Guardian specialization mostly serves to make her better at absorbing damage, which suits her character but isn’t nearly as useful as Fenris’ ability to deal damage. It also seems like a no-brainer to side with Isabela when the two come into conflict, even knowing that Isabela betrays you – Aveline’s the kind of person who’ll forgive you no matter what.

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Dog: The only party member immune to knockdown attacks

Special (Mabari)
Dragon Age: Origins

Dog can actually have two different origin stories depending how you play: if you’re a human noble, he’s the loyal pet who follows you to the Grey Wardens after your family is killed; if you’re anyone else, he’s a Mabari war dog you rescue before the big battle in Act I. Either way, he’s the only party member who can’t get knocked down, which is a really big deal early in the game.

Dog obviously doesn’t have much of a character or personality, but he does have some funny, cute interactions with the other party members, particularly Sten. He also has a unique skill tree and the ability to increase his attack strength by peeing on things in the environment.

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Sten: Misogynist Other who kills people for not stealing his sword

Warrior (Two-handed, No Specialization)
Dragon Age: Origins

Sten is the first attempt at depicting a Qunari, and he comes across as a stiff, humourless Klingon who also looks like a vampire and codes as black in a way that feels weird given how few actual black people there are in the franchise. He has dialogue with every single woman in the party, individually, in which he tells them that women don’t have jobs and therefore they can’t be women, because they aren’t fulfilling their gender roles properly. When you first meet him, he’s in a cage because he killed a whole family that tried to help him when he was knocked unconscious.

The reason Sten killed a whole family is because he has a sacred bond with his sword and, when he woke up, it was missing. He’s not sorry he killed them, and he 100% believes they did not take his sword – it was just a crazy situation that ended in mass murder.

If you go to the trouble of finding his sword – which is a lot of trouble – it’s not even that good. He’s probably equipped with a better sword that you just picked up randomly somewhere. He’s the only character who doesn’t come with a specialization and he also doesn’t bring any of his own armour. You have to buy him an entire set of clothes so he can insult you. He is the worst.

Images: Screencaps and promo art from Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age II, Dragon Age: Inquisition; BioWare | March 11, 2019