Stop me if you've heard this one before: An upcoming game is going to present you with many moral decisions, and the choices you make will have a dramatic impact on the story, how characters react to you, and, of course, the ending. It's a deliciously tempting scenario that probably sounds more than a little familiar, given the recent spate of games hyping their particular take on the gimmick, but the disappointing truth is that the moral options we're given usually boil down to save the puppy or eat the baby. Now here comes Dragon Age: Origins, promising, once again, that we're going to be asked to make agonizingly difficult decisions whose effects will ripple throughout the game world. And you know what? I think they've actually pulled it off.
This week at GamesCom, BioWare showed off just one of Dragon Age's turning points, a choice the player faces that's anything but a nice, clean puppy/baby path. Your main goal in the game is to assemble an army to fight the Darkspawn, gathering the different races together to form a unified front. You soon discover that the king of one of the sole remaining human armies is deathly ill, poisoned by Darkspawn. Only one thing will heal him - the Urn of Sacred Ashes, which holds the mortal remains of Andraste, Holy Prophet of the Chantry. To put this in perspective, the Urn is to Dragon Age's Chantry is sort of what the Holy Grail is to the Catholic Church.
The trek to reach the Urn is tough enough; it's become the centerpiece for a cult that is, shall we say, passionate about protecting it. But hacking your way through zealots is the easy part - the real challenge comes once you finally reach the Urn. You can simply take a pinch of ashes, leave the Urn in place, and return to heal the king, but consider for a moment: The ashes can heal anything. With them in your possession, you're all but immortal. An army that had the Urn would be practically unstoppable. A particularly sobering thought, given the proximity of the Darkspawn. Can you really afford to let that happen? Destroying so precious an artifact as the Urn would be tragic, of course, but it would make sure its immense power never fell under the control of the forces of evil.