Mark Plays ‘Dragon Age’: Leliana’s Song DLC

In the Dragon Age DLC “Leliana’s Song,” I finally meet Leliana during a flashback sequence, and what are you doing to my heart. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to play Dragon Age.

“Leliana’s Song”

Ah, the source of some of the strangest interactions I’ve ever had with a fandom! While I admit that I definitely could not have gotten the same thing out of this DLC as anyone who had Leliana as a party member, I appreciated this story all the same. I know that this may have provided this character with some crucial backstory that wasn’t in the main game. That’s probably the intention of it. So for me, this was actually my first introduction to Leliana. Throughout my entire playthrough of Dragon Age, I never once used a bard or Bard skills, though a small number of my party members at one time had Bard skills pre-programmed in their tactics. Because this DLC was only a couple hours long, I didn’t get all that much experience with a bard, so I think I’ll reserve any judgments on that until I actually get the chance to play as one.

So Leliana! She’s funny. And kind of infectiously joyous, too! I was a bit confused about the set-up to this DLC because it throws you right into the middle of the story, and then you get these little flashes to introduce the other characters:

Which reminded me of all the cutscene introductions in Borderlands. You know which ones I’m talking about? They look like this:

Oh god, I love Scooter so much. OKAY, THAT’S NOT THE POINT. This is the point.

Is…. what…. is that…. my god, the queer subtext is rapidly becoming text. I know this game allows you to romance any other gender, but because my game is a bigot and I could never seem to trigger a romance no matter how many times I gave stuff to my companions and talked to them, it was pretty cool to finally see this on screen. Of course, the one time this finally happens for me, it’s in a story that is most ABJECT TRAGEDY.

But until the DLC’s story got to that point, I was actually kind of unimpressed with “Leliana’s Song.” The missions were simplistic, none of the fights were challenging, and I failed to see the point of the “game” that Marjolaine wanted Leliana to play. Plus, a lot of what I had to do was just mean. Granted, practical jokes played against the nobility hardly have me thinking about the moral implications of my actions, but putting that one dude’s “Suspect Underthings” on the Chanter’s Board seemed cruel. So did planting stolen things on that drunk dude. I didn’t know who these people were! Then I had to start killing people, and burying soldiers in the ground and –

Ooooh, pumpkins!

Anyway, things started to get more serious once I went inside the Arl’s palace and it was clear that the “papers” I had to plant were some shit, y’all. Orlesian seal? Why? WHY WOULD YOU HAVE ME RISK GETTING CHARGED FOR TREASON? Even my companions recognized that this was kind of fucked up. But what could we do? Marjolaine was in control, and it wasn’t appropriate to disobey her. However, this seemed like a pretty terrible risk to take. Well, and there was the whole jealousy thing, since Leliana caught Marjolaine sneaking off with a soldier. Hey, world, can we retire the promiscuous and inconsiderate bisexual trope forever and ever until the end of time? Thanks. Aside from being degrading to bisexuals, it’s so fucking boring. I’m tired of stories revolving around it.

OKAY, MOVING ON. I suspected that Marjolaine had done something to get out of this little game we were playing. Our escape (initially, at least) was too easy, and then it was extremely fucking hard. Oh my god, that Master who was hiding out in the room with all the Mabari? FUCK THAT DUDE. He killed my whole party FOUR TIMES before I was able to use Sketch’s spells to paralyze him. And then THIS DLC GETS REALLY FUCKING DARK SUPER QUICKLY. Like, again, I wasn’t surprised that Marjolaine betrayed Leliana. Then there’s that scene where she stands behind Leliana, over her right shoulder, and you know that Leliana is going to get arrested and WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU JUST STAB LELIANA??????  No, what the fuck??? From this point on, “Leliana’s Song” becomes far more interesting to me. How was Leliana going to get out of this?

With the help of someone Marjolaine screwed over in the past. Someone convinces Leliana to escape for her own good, giving her a key and a dagger. So, I set out to rescue my companions! I found Sketch first, and then picked up a new companion named Silas, who was rather grateful that I saved him. It was time to get Tug and –

I am throwing my hands up in the air. What the hell, y’all? What is this DLC???? Oh my god, this is so fucking brutal, I swear. There was one moment that made me laugh, though. I freed a prisoner named Adaia, and she said, “Thank you, girls!” Hell yes, you’re awesome, Adaia.

Can we talk about this, though?

There are quite a few fantastic images in this DLC, and this is one of them. “Leliana’s Song” is about how this woman was betrayed by someone she loved and how that has affected her worldview. In this scene, it’s like she can’t even continue to find out what’s waiting for her. She’s lost Tug, and she is in so much pain. So it’s understandable that she’s not all that friendly to Mother Dorothea, despite that she was the one who saved her. (Twice, technically!) I think that’s largely because Leliana is still in shock from such a traumatic experience, and now Dorothea is roping her into another mission. Like, can’t she heal? Grieve? Must she keep going? Her friend ALLOWED HIMSELF TO BE KILLED TO SPARE SKETCH’S HANDS. Give her a break!

Regardless, Leliana pressed on, making her way up to where Marjolaine and Commander Raleigh were waiting for a rendezvous. After fighting a dragon (and totally annihilating it, btw we are awesome), I chose to have Leliana spare Commander Raleigh’s life. This wasn’t her fight. I did, however, allow Silas to kick him off a cliff HELL YEAH.

The final image of this DLC is a haunting reminder of what Marjolaine did to her former friends. It’s left unsaid what ultimately happens to Marjolaine, but I didn’t have Leliana kill her. But come on, y’all:

IT’S A REVERSAL OF THE STABBING SCENE. Ugh, my goddamn heart. If anything, “Leliana’s Song” just made me want to replay Dragon Age so that I could finally have Leliana as a companion. OH GOD, I WISH I HAD THE FREE TIME.

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36 Responses to Mark Plays ‘Dragon Age’: Leliana’s Song DLC

  1. Passing by says:

    All that rather mean stuff is basically what being a bard entails in Orlais: spies and infiltrants masquarading as minstrels or other musical entertainers.

  2. Yeah, Leliana's song is a dark piece of DLC for a character who is arguably the lightest of all the DA:O companions.
    It's not amazing but it's pretty good and helps us understand Leliana a bit better (even if she is portrayed very differently than in the main campaign here.

    • Passing by says:

      Bs pbhefr, ol gur gvzr lbh zrrg ure va Bevtvaf, fur'f n ynlfvfgre naq gelvat gb trg njnl sebz ure cnfg.

  3. Eliestav says:

    Yeah, the world of Dragon Age is remarkably cool with same sex relationships. Especially for a medieval fantasy setting.

    • Passing by says:

      I would attribute that more to Bioware being ok with same-sex relations rather than the setting: it's been an element in everyone of their games since Jade Empire. The only reason it's not in Knights of the Old Republic is because of LucasArts.

      • Eliestav says:

        I have played Dragon Age(s), Mass Effect, Kotor, and seen my roomate play jade empire which he recomends strongly. And it impresses me alot more in dragon age, because a lot of writers think that if their setting has elemts coming from medieval europe, it has to have the same social attitudes as medieval europe. So it's a lot more interesting to me when that's averted, than it would be in a sci-fi setting.

        (Jade Empire is Wuxia, which is nowhere near as oversaturated, and I personally am not as familiar with the genre trappings, so it could be equally impressive there, but I wouldn't know)

        • Passing by says:

          I was going to say most same-sex relations only occur amongst party members, when I remembered most of these games have at least one NPC example. DA:O has Branka and Hespith, but this relationship is only spoken of by Hespith and Oghren, and I can't really extrapolate Dwarven society's general stance of the subject from there, nor the human's. One could say that the Qunari can form emontional bonds, bordering on the romantic, regardless of gender or sex, but since they have a hard line dividing personal relations and sex, I am not sure it "counts".

          What I am trying to get is, all we get to see is individuals in a private moment. If I saw at least one same-sex relation that isn't concerning someone trotting around in armour and armed to the teeth, or happening in the isolation of long abandonned tunnels, and nobody is making a fuss about it, then I can agree it's generally accepted.

          • Eliestav says:

            Wade and Herren are a gay couple. The Pearl employs Prostitutes of both genders and can be bought with either gender. The Human Noble origin allows you to sleep with either Iona or Dairren before Howe's attack, and either one can be seduced by either gender. When you're captured in Fort Drakon one of the ways of escaping is seducing the male guard, even if you yourself are male. And while both Zevran and Leliana are homosexual options, they have previous relationships outside the party.

            If Bioware wanted it in the gameplay, they would justify in the lore.

          • Passing by says:

            I seem to have forgotten about that…

        • elenuial says:

          Upon first reading, I interpreted your thoughts as, "Queerness is way more impressive when it's done by white people, compared to Asians." I'm pretty sure that's not what you meant (at least, I hope not), but it's really easy to read it that way.

          fwiw, queer relationships in Ye Olde China were probably of about the same standing as medieval Europe, which is to say that it's a very broad period and it depends on the time and place in specific. I do think people working in white fantasy tend to reinforce heteronormative and misogynist ideas in their worldbuilding, but I think that speaks more to the writers and contemporary culture than anything. Perhaps a lack of imagination, too. I've long felt that fantasy has tended to trend conservative as a genre.

      • Marz says:

        The Old Republic is supposed to be getting an update to allow same-sex relationships.

  4. Sydney says:

    Another storyline I'm damn tired of is the use of rape as the universal tragic backstory. Note the placement of the bloodstain on the ground while Leli's unconscious in her cell. (She obliquely mentions it when she talks about this in Origins as well.) On top of usually being handled in one of two or three stereotypical ways, it's just unnecessary this time. Was the story not tragic enough without gratuitous sexual violence?

    • Eliestav says:

      Considering it's barely hinted at, and I didn't even consider it until you said it, I have a hard time calling it gratuitous.

    • elenuial says:

      Unlike the other poster, I saw what you saw right away. That image was haunting and has remained with me since. However, like him/her, I'm not sure I agree that it could be considered gratuitous. Although it was obvious to me, I can see how others could miss it, and it is largely a silent, visual thing.

      Similarly, although I agree that the trope you mention is generally bad and I prefer not to see it, I don't think it's in play here. Leliana is not a tragic figure because of the sexual violence she experienced. She is not even wholly tragic, and the tragedy we do experience with her in Origins is largely the result of her feelings/interactions with Marjolaine. Certainly, Leliana does not dwell on her experience, and it doesn't cripple her or stop her from living the life she wants to lead–which is largely what is going on when that trope is happening (i.e. "I am a broken woman because someone raped me long ago, and I need a true man to fix me" etc.). It's barely hinted at in Origins, and again only as a footnote to the issues that concern her: her feelings regarding Marjolaine.

      Was it necessary to include that element in Leliana's experience? The writers didn't *have* to write it that way, admittedly. Still, I find it hard to believe that a man like Raleigh wouldn't do that given the opportunity. I think that haunting shot with the bloodstain is a good compromise between verisimilitude and depicting sexual violence in what would certainly be a gratuitous way were it actually shown onscreen.

      • Sydney says:

        But that's why I mean it's gratuitous. It adds nothing to the story or to her character; the authors just raped her because "that's what happens to pretty women who get captured".

        • arielleswiftknife says:

          Personally, having played through the game and each DLC once already, the placement of blood spatter and blood puddles is pretty random in a lot of places. I almost wonder if it isn't meant to imply rape, but merely that she was badly injured and has since been tortured (which is what I took it as when I played through this DLC).

  5. Ryan Lohner says:

    Leliana's personal mission in the main game involves Marjolaine sending assassins after her, to preemptively stop the revenge that Leliana wasn't actually planning on.

  6. Wei says:

    "Several contracts have been set up for this night, including revenge, larceny and simple chaos. Marjolaine is sure that you will meet and exceed her expectations. That’s why you’re her favorite."

    Since I have way too many feelings about Leliana, and knew how it had to end, when I started the DLC and saw that I almost started crying. Ughhh. So rough. I'm happy that Mark enjoyed this, even without having Leliana in the game. She's rather different here.

    I wonder a lot about how much Leliana really enjoyed this lifestyle, and how much of it came from affection for Marjolaine. How much Marjolaine really cared for Leliana, or if she really isn't capable of that type of attachment. How much Origins!Leliana misses that lifestyle, even if she doesn't want to admit it. DOES ANYONE HAVE THOUGHTS.

    This DLC isn't the most challenging or that creative, really, but it gave me so many feelings that I have to really enjoy it. It just leaves me kind of sad.

  7. Hexe says:

    Hell yes, you’re awesome, Adaia.

    Of course she is! She is the City Elf's mother after all. :D

  8. Cafa says:

    So about Adaia? It's easy to miss if you haven't played the origins a few times, but that's actually your Warden's mother; they talk about her a lot in the City Elf origin and depending on what you say to your dad he might give you her boots at the start of the game.

  9. Jae says:

    Meanwhile, my playthrough of DA:O glitched and Leliana had this heartbroken conversation with me near the end as if she thought I'd been in a romance with her and dumped her. Um… oops.

    (I would have been willing to romance her in a different playthrough, but I was otherwise occupied and NEVER STARTED HER ROMANCE with that particular Warden. At all. Girl, stop being so clingy! :)

    • Hexe says:

      Yes, that happened to me, too. Numerous times. It's so easy to romance her on accident. I stopped speaking to her entirely when I wouldn't need her in my party on this particular playthrough. Her dialogue wasn't that interesting anyway once you heard all the bard tales.

    • accidentalbeard says:

      She seems to really like doing that! Leliana tearfully confronted me about my relationship with Zevran as if I'd been cheating on her, even though I'd been careful *not* to pick any romance-inducing options with her this time through. It was pretty awkward. I want to do a playthrough where I romance her some time, but it's odd to have that trigger when I've specifically been trying not to romance her.

  10. Passing by says:

    Speaking of homosexual, lesbian and bisexual characters: I saw a Let's Play of the FMV game Phantasmagoria 2, which features a gay man named Trevor Barnes. The game itself is rather bad, but out of the entire cast (including the protagonist), Trevor is the nicest and most likeable person around and, despite this coming from the early nineties, I feel he's been portrayed rather fairly.

    Also, someone was able to find his actor and conduct an interview!

    • Ryan Lohner says:

      And the main character is bisexual. Unfortunately, he only realizes this shortly before Trevor is killed, so the people behind the game didn't have to do anything with it.

  11. cogsandcurls says:

    Speaking as a bisexual girl, I didn't get the same "ugh bisexuals are so promiscuous, amirite?" thing from Marjolaine's actions at all, and I think it's interesting that that's what Mark got from it. Maybe I'm judging it on the context of knowing she's one among many bisexual people in Thedas, many of whom are fiercely monogamous, maybe it's the fact that I'd spent a lot of time talking to Leliana by the time I played this DLC, but that moment, to me, was Marjolaine acting like an Orlesian bard, *not* any kind of statement about her sexuality. I guess it might be a little problematic that the only active Bards we ever meet are both girls, and so it plays into the "women, use your charms to manipulate people for personal gain!" problem a smidge, but that's a different conversation, I think.

    I will say that this DLC got five times more interesting to me once I actually sat down and realised Dorothea's significance in Thedas. I love Leliana but that was the crowning moment of the DLC for me.

  12. EmberQuill says:

    I didn't get the promiscuous bisexual vibe from Marjolaine, although I think that's mainly because of the conversations I had with Leliana about bards. They use whatever skills are at their disposal to get the job done, and seduction is one such skill. The fact that Marjolaine is bisexual in addition to being a promiscuous bard is probably just an unfortunate coincidence.

    It's really unfortunate that you missed out on Leliana in Origins, though. This DLC would've been a lot more fun for you if you'd had her in your party. And (ROT13ed in case you ever replay Origins with Leliana in your party) Yryvnan qrsvavgryl tbrf ntnvafg gur cebzvfphbhf ovfrkhny fgrerbglcr. Juvyr, lrf, fur jnf nyfb n oneq ng bar cbvag, fur'f punatrq fvapr gura nf fur vf abj n fvfgre bs gur Punagel. Fur'f abg rknpgyl vaabprag, ohg V qba'g guvax fur jnf rire jvgu nalbar nsgre Znewbynvar. Naq lbh trg gb zrrg Znewbynvar lbhefrys, jura fur naq Yryvnan unir bar svany pbasebagngvba va Qrarevz. Naq fur'f gur bayl cnegl zrzore jvgu jubz lbh pna unir n yrfovna ebznapr. Naq gung ebznapr vf cenpgvpnyyl fdhrr-vaqhpvat. Naq ure pbairefngvbaf, rfcrpvnyyl gur fgbevrf fur gryyf, ner ernyyl vagrerfgvat.

    She's my favorite Origins character, so I was so sad when you left Lothering without her.

    ME3 spoilers: V ernyyl pna'g jnvg gb frr Znex'f ernpgvba gb Pbegrm. Rira vs vg'f fbzrguvat nybat gur yvarf bs "Tbqqnzavg vg'f nabgure tnl punenpgre jub ybfg n ebznagvp cnegare!"

    • accidentalbeard says:

      [ME3-related] PBEGRMMMMM! Vs nalguvat jnf tbvat gb trg zr gb cynl n znafurc tnzr, vg jbhyq or uvz. Znlor fbzrqnl!
      V'z fnq gung snaqbz qbrfa'g frrz cnegvphyneyl rkpvgrq nobhg uvz; znlor V whfg zvff gur Pbegrm pbagrag haqre gur uhtr sybbq bs znafurc/Xnvqna. Pbegrm naq Genlabe obgu jrer terng nqqvgvbaf gb ZR3 naq V jvfu gurer jnf zber snaqbz ybir sbe obgu bs gurz.

  13. Nora says:

    I guess now is the time to mention that I basically had to stop reading all the Mark Plays Dragon Age posts because it always just ended with me feeling agonized about him missing Leliana. Well, that was after I finally looked up a walkthrough and realized that he'd missed her; at first I was just all like, "but when is he going to find Leliana tho?!?1"

    It's not true; I really had to stop reading because I haven't finished Dragon Age because (possible character relationship spoilers ROT13'd just to be safe) V unq tbggra vagb n eryngvbafuvc jvgu Nyvfgnve orsber V ernyyl tbg gb xabj Yryvnan naq bapr V qvq, V ernyvmrq V'q engure or jvgu ure ohg V pbhyqa'g orne gb yrg Nyvfgnve qbja orpnhfr ur'f ernyyl n fjrrg thl naq fb V whfg QENZNDHVG.

    • TrampyMcBitca says:

      V unq tbggra vagb n eryngvbafuvc jvgu Nyvfgnve orsber V ernyyl tbg gb xabj Yryvnan naq bapr V qvq, V ernyvmrq V'q engure or jvgu ure ohg V pbhyqa'g orne gb yrg Nyvfgnve qbja orpnhfr ur'f ernyyl n fjrrg thl naq fb V whfg QENZNDHVG.

      Lrnu. V pbhyqa'g orne qhzcvat uvz, ohg V yhpxrq bhg orpnhfr V unq n tnzr fnirq whfg cevbe gb fgnegvat gur eryngvbafuvc jvgu uvz.
      V qvqa'g ernyvmr gung lbh pbhyq ebznapr punenpgref ng nyy (yrg nybar barf bs gur fnzr frk). Fb V jnf dhvgr unccl jura V fgnegrq hc n eryngvbafuvc jvgu Nyvfgnve. Vg ynfgrq nyy bs nobhg 5 zvahgrf. Bapr Yryvnan gbyq zr gung fur rawblrq gur pbzcnal bs jbzra, V pbhyqa'g erfgber gung cerivbhf fnirq tnzr snfg rabhtu.

  14. Peter says:

    Well, I'm glad Mark still enjoyed it! I can't really say I know what it would be like to play this DLC with no knowledge of Leliana, because I thought she was just ~awesome~ in the main campaign. But, I suppose the story is interesting enough on its own to get a player invested, and I also think that the DLC is executed very well.

    I agree that it's problematic that Marjolaine is depicted as a bisexual person using her sexuality for Nefarious Purposes, but conversations with Leliana in the main campaign give some context that suggests Marjolaine's betrayal is informed far more by her profession than by her sexuality. This context also implies that not all bards are bisexual women (of course, it's still true that the only bard NPCs we meet in the game are bisexual women).

    And now excuse me while I go get really excited because

  15. elenuial says:

    I just want to say how much I adore this DLC. It took Leliana from a character that I liked and turned her into a character that I love and adore. People complained that it recycled so much content, like the Denerim markets, but I don't care about seeing a different kind of pixelated dungeon. It's about the writing, direction, and relationships, and in these areas this DLC excels.

    I also love the formal considerations, too. It was a unique experiment, in that it completely removed the Origins pc from the picture and let the player see and experience a part of the world that doesn't revolve around them for once–and in the meanwhile, we got to understand better and experience different facets of a complex character from the original game in a unique way. It's a shame it wasn't received so well. As a result, Bioware has said that releases like this in the future will be unlikely. That's a bummer.

  16. arielleswiftknife says:

    I've recently gotten into DA:O (like two weeks ago) and it occurs to me that a lot of Leliana could be considered incredibly similar to Aly in the Trickster books of Tortall. Y'know, being a spy and an assassin and just generally flirty and peppy and strawberry blonde….. (Mark Reads is typically where I lurk on these sites, but I'm expanding now that I've found he's watching Supernatural and has played DA.)

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