Pick Your Poison
The NPC party members that you take with you during the course of Dragon Age Origins are incredibly important. Even the most powerful main character has no hope of winning the game alone. Each party member has their own unique traits, not only in terms of what they can do for you during tactical combat, but also in terms of the interactions your main character can achieve.
This party guide will go through all of the characters available in Dragon Age Origins and provide a summary of their abilities. I will also point out which NPCs I feel are most worthwhile, and which aren’t.
The first NPC you’ll pick up, Alistair is a junior Gray Warden. He is a traditional sword-and board warrior and is probably the best choice for a tank out of all of the party members in the entire game. This doesn’t mean you can’t turn him into a DPS warrior if you desire, but his stats and his first few abilities are much better set up for life as a tank and there are two other NPCs, Sten and Oghren, who can fulfill a DPS role.
Alistair’s defensive abilities are further bolstered by his skills as a Templar. As a Templar, Alistair can train in abilities that make him handy against fighting mages. This includes Cleansing Aura, which can negate all spell effects in an area, and Holy Smite, which does a large amount of damage and drains mana. These abilities further cement his role as a tank.
On the whole, Alistair is a great tank and one of the best characters in the game. He is particularly crucial if your main character is not a tank, as most of the game’s melee characters are slanted more towards damage-dealing.
The second NPC who can join you, Morrigan is an apostate mage. Basically, she is a witch, and her pre-selected abilities largely reflect that, as they are largely oriented towards debuffs and crowd control. With this said, Morrigan is received early in the game and her abilities can be built upon in numerous ways, so you can turn her into just about any type of mage you please.
No matter your party build, Morrigan is likely to be an important resource. Mages are very powerful in Dragon Age Origins, and Morrigan is one of only two NPC mages in the game. As a result, Morrigan is a common choice for any party. She is a particularly good choice for parties which choose more dastardly methods of dealing with problems, as Morrigan is far more open to such choices than the other NPC mage in Dragon Age Origins, Wynne.
You’ll meet up with Leliana in Lothering. She is the first rogue class NPC you’ll meet in the game, and because she is picked up early she is easy to mold into any role you choose. The pre-selected abilities are spread down both the Rogue and Archery paths, so she can be used either as a back-stabber or a long-range combatant or anything in between. With that said, the split in her skill trees does mean that Leliana is not the best choice for those who want to exclusively delve into a particular style of combat.
Besides being a rogue, Leliana is also a bard, which to be frank isn’t extremely appealing. The bard path’s effects are interesting, but don’t contribute much to Leliana’s ability to deal damage.
Leliana is an unquestionably good character, so she’ll play well in good parties. She is particularly happy with Alistair and Wynne around. Those who are looking for a NPC rogue but want someone with more flexible morals should consider picking Zevran instead.
Also met in Lothering, the mysterious and gigantic Sten is predictably set up to be a two-handed warrior. He is probably the most interesting NPC in the early game, and he has some of the most random and amusing quotes in the entire game. Getting to know him and pick apart his mysterious nature can be a game in itself.
As a result, I’m sad to report that Sten is a fairly weak character. He comes with no class specialization and he receives no specialization point at level 7. The vast majority of his stat points are placed into strength, which makes him a paper tiger who must be carefully babied in combat. But most of all, he is simply overshadowed by Oghren, another two handed warrior who does have a specialization. As a result, I can’t really recommend Sten for any party build.
Depending on your origin story, your dog can be gained in one of two different parts of the game. Dog is a Mabari war hound, a stout dog known both of intelligence and for great ferocity in combat. Since he is a dog, he doesn’t level in the normal way and doesn’t need to worry about equipment in the normal way, although there are a few special items which can he can be equipped with. Dog gets his own special line of abilities, simply titled Dog, which include some pretty vicious attacks like Overwhelm and Shred. Overwhelm in particular can rip a lightly armored opponent, like a mage, to shreds.
However, Dog ultimately suffers from the fact that he can’t be equipped with most of the game’s nifty items and a talent tree which is ultimately lacking focus. While Dog can do a decent amount of damage and can take a decent amount of damage, it is never really clear what his true role is. Others can certainly do more damage, and others can certainly tank better. As a result, he doesn’t fit into most party builds.
A resident of Orzammar who has run into hard times, Oghren is a hardy warrior with a decent heart and a mean streak. He is set up as a two handed warrior when you meet him, which means that he competes in space for a group with Sten. As mentioned, Oghren is undoubtedly the better choice. The reason for this is that Oghren has the berserker specialization. The main reason to keep a two-handed warrior around is to provide decent sustained DPS and very good burst DPS, and the berserker specialization assists with that.
And the jabs against Sten don’t stop there, because on the whole Sten and Oghren are not that different in terms of approval. This means that any party that runs with Sten would be able to run with Oghren. Given that, there is no (practical) reason to take Sten instead of Oghren.
You’ll meet up with Wynne during your attempts to help the Circle of Magi. Like Alistair and Leliana, Wynne is a character who is absolutely always thinking of doing the right thing. She is one of two mages in the game, and this attitude is one of the major differences between her and Morrigan. Wynne will be much happier in a morally righteous group and will quickly become angered if you make choices which are harmful to others or support the use of blood magic.
Besides her attitude, Wynne is also different from Morrigan in that she is more specialized once you pick her up since you pick her up later in the game. Her skills are slanted towards protection and healing, and she comes with the Spirit Healer specialization, which is one of the best specializations in Dragon Age Origins. Not all of the spells she comes with are great, but they’re not any worse than Morrigan’s.
On the whole, the choice between Morrigan and Wynne will be a personal one, as both are very effective. You can in fact keep both in the same party through the entire game – but you’ll need to be careful with your choices and liberally use gifts to keep them happy.
You’ll meet Zevran in the first half of the game – I won’t say too much about his arrival, as this would involve spoilers. Zevran is the game’s second Rogue, and if you want a Rogue who will be good at back-stabbing you’ll be happy to have him in your party. Unlike Leliana, he is set up much more directly towards the role of being a king in melee DPS. He comes with numerous great skills in the Rogue and Dual Weapons trees, and he comes with three levels in poison. He also has the assassin specialization which gives access to skills that can further increase damage.
Really, the only reason to not take Zevran over Leliana is his attitude. Zevran isn’t as blunt as Morrigan or as homicidal as Sten, but he isn’t exactly a nice guy in spite of his charming nature.
This post is part of the series: A Guide to Dragon Age: Origins
- Dragon Age Weapons and Armor Guide: Equipment Tactics and Data
- Dragon Age Origins Tactics: A Guide to NPC’s
- Dragon Age Origins Tactics: Runes and Enchantment Guide
- Dragon Age Origins Tactics: A Guide to Mage Spells
- Is it the Thought that Counts? Giving Gifts in DAO
- A Gaming Veteran's Guide to Dragon Age: Origins