Note: This build currently is only for the base game ending at level 20. I will update this to support level 30 when I beat the Awakening expansion.
Wearing a shield increases your character’s defensive capabilities, so this is the tank build. The emphasis is on keeping yourself alive while keeping all the monsters focused on attacking you. This way your physically weak mages and rogues in the back don’t have to worry about their health much. Ideally, all the enemies are attacking your resilient warrior.
Since your character will be taking most of the damage, they need to be healed. This is done in Dragon Age: Origins primarily two ways: health poultices and healing spells. Health poultices come in various qualities ranging from 50-200 health healed. Healing spells come primarily from the Creation and Spirit Healer mage spells. Potions can be used exclusively for most of the game, though healing spells will save money not having to buy health poultices. Only the toughest bosses do enough damage to really require healing spells, which usually is towards the end of the game.
There is a little bit of positioning involved when playing a tank. If you can put your character in a small choke point, the enemies will have a harder time getting to the weaker characters in the party. It is also best to pickup newly spawned enemies moving towards the mage or rogue in the party with one of the threat talents.
There is no level cap in Dragon Age: Origins, but enemies do not respawn and quests are eventually exhausted. At a minimum you can get to level 20 by the end of the game. You get 60 attribute points from your levels (3 per level) and 2 additional points from a couple Tomes of the Mortal Vessel, a rare consumable item. That gives you 62 points to work with.
The starting stats for Warrior are 14 Strength, 13 Dexterity, and 13 Constitution, so you need 72 attribute points to get the desired attribute scores. One of the quests in the Circle Tower allows you to get an additional 4 Strength, 4 Dexterity, and 2 Constitution. When combined with the 62 points, that’s 72 points. I recommend going to the Circle Tower at the earliest moment. It helps you to decide how many points to spend in Strength and Constitution. If you don’t, just remember to account for those free attribute bonuses: Get Strength no higher than 38 and Constitution no higher than 18.
It would seem that Constitution would be the best stat for a tank. You are taking a lot of damage. More health should help, but it ends up not working that way because of how healing works in the game. Each point of Constitution only gives 5 health and more physical resistance. You already get 6 health per level up and Strength also provides physical resistance, but the real problem is health poultices and healing spells.
You see, they only heal in static values not percentages. Even if you have 1000 health, the best health poultices still only heal 200 health. The extra health is nice at the start of a fight, but wasted in a long battle. You just can’t heal 1000 health fast enough to take advantage of it. Instead, damage reduction is better. That’s where Dexterity comes in.
Each point of Dexterity gives 1 Defense point. Defense directly reduces the chance that an enemy can hit your warrior. That is essentially the same thing as damage reduction. Dexterity also gives more physical resistance, so we make up for that part of Constitution. Still, some Constitution is nice, which is why I recommend getting it to about 20 points early on.
Since you will have threat boosting talents, you don’t care so much about doing high damage to keep enemies on you. That means Strength can be neglected a little bit. The only need for Strength is to equip the best weapons and armor. That takes 42 points. I hate when I get a new item but can’t use it yet, so I recommend getting Strength to 42 right after you finish with Constitution. After that dump all points into Dexterity for that percentage chance of avoiding an attack.
You get a specialization point at levels 7 and 14. The best ones for a tank are the Templar (+2 magic, +3 mental resistance) and Reaver (+1 constitution, +5 physical resistance) . Warrior defenses don’t help much against spells, so mages are very strong against your tank. The Templar talents give you a hand against mages. Reaver is also good since it gives really nice tank stats just for picking it. It also has a few really good talents for a tank.
Assuming you get to level 20, there are 28 talents points available. You get 22 from your levels plus 3 from completing major quests and 3 more from Tome of Physical Technique, a rare consumable item. I only found 24 talents necessary for the tank role, so you have extra points if you use the Tomes of Physical Technique. You can use those extra points to fill out some of the talent trees fully or use them on other party members. In addition, the Human Noble and Dwarf Noble origins give you Shield Bash for free, further reducing your talent points requirement. It is perfectly fine to play an Elf warrior though. There are more than enough talent points without that free Shield Bash.
Templar Talents (Specialization)
Righteous Strike -> Cleanse Aura -> Mental Fortress -> Holy Smite
These are the anti-mage talents. Warriors don’t normally have many ways to deal with mages, but the Templar talents really help. Righteous Strike is a passive talent that drains mana with every attack. This is really good against bosses. You can potentially drain all of their mana. The mage is then left with just their weak staff attack, and you can kill them quickly after.
Cleanse Aura is good for getting rid of all the nasty area spells mages like to use. Note that this also affects your own party members. If you have buffed them with any magical spells, the buffs will disappear. However, sometimes getting rid of debuffs on your party is worth it. It’s also good for getting rid of all the buffs mages put on themselves.
Mental Fortress is just a passive mental resistance bonus of 20, but that’s really good for a warrior. Mental resistance mainly comes from Willpower, but warriors don’t put points in that attribute. So here you get +23 mental resistance, a pretty good chance to resist a spell completely here and there.
Holy Smite is another amazing talent against mages. It drains mana, deals spirit damage, and then stuns the mage. It also does deals spirit damage and knockdowns to other nearby enemies. Overall, one of the best talents for a tank once you get it.
Reaver Talents (Specialization)
Devour -> Frightening Appearance
Devour gives your warrior health every enemy corpse in a small range around them. When fighting a boss, you will frequently have killed all the weak minions and just the boss is left. There could be 5-10 corpses around the boss and you get some health from all of them. Frightening Appearance is another good tank talent. It passively improves your core tanking talents of Threaten and Taunt but also has an active part to cause the target (in melee range) to cower in fear for a few seconds.
Powerful -> Threaten -> Bravery -> Death Blow
Precise Striking -> Taunt
For a tank the big talents here are Threaten and Taunt. Once obtained, Threaten should be always on in every battle. It gives your warrior enough threat from enemies, they usually go for your warrior instead of the other members of the party. Taunt is good when new enemies spawn that you want instant threat from your warrior. After getting Threaten and Taunt, Bravery and Death Blow are next on the list. They are both really good passive talents for any warrior. Precise Striking is not used for a tank, but you need it to get Taunt.
Weapon and Shield Talents
Shield Bash -> Shield Pummel -> Overpower -> Assault
Shield Defense -> Shield Balance -> Shield Wall -> Shield Expertise
Shield Block -> Shield Cover -> Shield Tactics -> Shield Mastery
Other than Threaten and Taunt from the Warrior talents, the Weapon and Shield talents are the main tanking abilities. Shield Wall is the most important one here. Once you get it, you will pretty much use it in every battle. I think the shield sustained talents were intended to be toggled based on the situation but Shield Defense and Shield Cover just don’t offer enough compared to Shield Wall to use them instead. You still need to pick them up to get later important talents though.
After you get Shield Wall, you can get some of the top row talents. These are all active talents you use in combat. All of them inflict status ailments on the target, if not resisted, except Assault. For this reason I would save Assault for last. Finally, just finish up by getting all the nice passive talents. These talents are give bonuses to your Shield Wall talent, making it really strong at the end of the game.
Assuming you get to level 20, you get 12 skill points. You get 6 from your levels and 3 more if you use the Tomes of Skill and Sundry, a rare consumable item. The only skills required for combat really are Combat Training line. These are required to pick the best talents, so get them as early as possible. All warriors get at least the first Combat Training skill for free, but Human Nobles and Dwarf Nobles also get the second rank free (Advanced Combat Training).
Survival skill is also nice for a tank since it gives a small bonus to nature resistance and physical resistance. Mages don’t use nature spells that often, but Rogue poisons are also nature damage and can be reduced with nature resistance. I don’t consider this essential though. The passive bonuses are pretty small, but you have enough skill points for it. Dwarf Nobles and Human Nobles only need 2 points for Combat Training with 4 extras they could use for survival. Other warriors would need to use 1 Tome of Skill and Sundry.
Just be sure to plan what skills all of your companions will take ahead of time. For the most part, there is no use in having multiple companions and your character with the same skills. Try to cover as many skills as possible with your party.
The basic idea for a tank is to keep the enemies attacking you instead of your party while soaking up all the damage with high health, defense, and armor. Threaten should be up at all times to keep enemies attacking your character instead of the party. You’re not there to do damage, just to take all the hits while your party does the damage. Shield Wall should also be up every battle to keep your defense and armor high.
A high health pool and damage reduction only go so far, so your warrior will need healing to stay alive in the longer fights. For most of the game you can survive only using potions, but there are a few bosses where a mage with healing spells is nice. Healing spells also give you the benefit of not having to craft or buy potions saving you some gold pieces through the course of the game. Potions can’t be used if your character is stunned, overpowered, or “crowd controlled” in some other way.
In the beginning of a fight, you should try to position your party as best you can so that your tank is between the enemies and your party. That way you can hit enemies as they run to the rest of the party adding threat to your warrior instead of the rest of the party This should get most of the enemies fighting you instead of running by to attack the weak party members. If there are many, many enemies, just use Taunt at the beginning. Taunt does not have a really long range, so try to use it when there are a bunch of enemies near the tank.
If the area has any choke points, you might even consider moving your whole party to take advantage of it. Frequently battles will pit you against enemies from all sides. You can many times trigger the battle, then run your party through a choke point to force all the enemies to go through choke point and your tank’s melee range. Sometimes enemies will not follow through a choke point, so you might be stuck fighting in the open with enemies all around. Use Taunt in this situation to get as many enemies as possible on your warrior. This will use not help against archers who are out of Taunt’s range, but that’s the best you can do.
Ideally, your warrior would have all of the enemies’ threat, but sometimes that is not possible. In these situations, it is best to prioritize which targets are dangerous (need to be tanked) and which targets are not (do not need to be tanked). Just as your party is made up of warriors, mages, and rogues, the enemies are made up of these as well. Overall enemy mages are the most dangerous followed by rogues and then warriors. If there is a mage around, you should do your best to get your warrior near the mage to attack it and get threat.
Enemy mages have three main strategies: focus fire one target, area spells, or disabling spells. Sometimes they will just use one of these, but other times they will use a combination. Focus fire is probably the most dangerous since they can easily kill a party member faster than the party member can be healed, but disabling spells can also be dangerous. If your tank is stunned, he can’t keep threat. Enemies may start attacking the weaker members. Or maybe the mage healing the warrior gets stunned and the warrior gets killed. Area spells are probably the easiest to deal with because of your Cleanse Aura.
Enemy rogues can be dangerous because of their stealth plus backstab combo. Sometimes the damage is high enough to instantly kill a mage, but your tank can generally Taunt them over fast enough they don’t cause too many problems. Enemy warriors are probably the easiest to deal with. Since they don’t stealth you always know where they are; they can’t sneak up on anyone.
Enemies can also have ranks. The most numerous enemies are just “normal” with white names, but there are also lieutenants with yellow names and bosses with orange names. These stronger enemies should always be tanked by the warrior. The party members can usually deal with a few white-named enemies attacking them, but the stronger yellow- and orange-named ones must be attacking the warrior. I still put enemy mages above lieutenants as far as danger potential, but bosses are definitely the most dangerous.
Additionally, try to use your crowd control talents on bosses, mages, and lieutenants such as Shield Bash, Shield Pummel, and Overpower. Anything you can do to stop them from attacking will keep your tank (and party) alive longer. Some bosses are completely immune to these, so you will want to use them on the regular enemies with white names. Only use these talents if you have the extra stamina though. You don’t want a bunch of enemies to attack your mage only to find you don’t have enough stamina to use Taunt. Try to keep a reserve of stamina for Taunt with any extra available for these attacking talents.
Stats to Look For
There are quite a few different stats you can find on items. A lot of items are unique with just the same stats every time, but it is still good to know which stats are good for tanking and which are good for doing damage. You will get some items best for dealing damage and others best for tanking. You want all the tanking ones on your character. Sometimes you might even have two tanking items to decide between.
By the end of the game you want Massive armor and Heavy shields on your tank because they have the most defense, armor, and missile deflection. Having gloves, chest armor, and boots of the same type also gives set bonuses, so try to use similar items in those slots. Set bonuses give various stat bonuses that are are all good. The set bonus is usually enough you don’t want to replace single items. Wait until you have the full set of better quality armor before switching over.
+x to all attributes
+x physical resistance
+x% healing to this character
+x mental resistance
The top 6 stats are great for countering physical damage. They will all help keep your warrior alive for a long time. Against mages it is good to have some mental resistance to avoid some of their spells. Extra healing combined with mage healing is also nice to make it even easier to keep your health high.
These are well rounded stats to face almost anything in the game. However, some bosses you will want different stats. For example, fire resist is critical when fighting dragon bosses. Once you’ve played the game enough, you will have memorized all the tough fights and what the best stats are. You can then carry the appropriate gear in your pack ready for that battle.
+x to all attributes
+x/y stamina regeneration (first number out-of-combat regen, second in-combat regen)
+x% critical / backstab chance
For the most part, you shouldn’t worry about offensive stats. It is always better to choose defensive stats for a tank if available. However, as a tank most of your damage comes from regular attacks. Strength is overall the best offensive stat for regular attacks. Besides increasing melee damage and attack, it also increases your physical resistance, a good tanking stat.
One of the annoyances with your character is that Threaten and Shield Wall reserves about half your stamina. You have to save the little remaining stamina for Taunt’s high stamina cost. Stamina bonuses from items will let you use a few of your Weapon and Shield damage attacks, but warriors don’t regenerate stamina very well. The Final Blows talent does give stamina for every kill, but your tank will do so little damage it is hard to get the killing blow. This is why it is nice to have some items stamina regeneration bonuses. This is less of a problem as your character gains levels, but still an annoyance throughout the game.
None of the other bonuses are critical. They are nice to have but not at the cost of losing defensive stats. You will have enough damage and attack from your strength, and critical chance doesn’t help that much because a tank’s regular attacks hit for fairly low damage.