This year’s Dragon Age Day was a mess. Two of BioWare’s beloved executives quit, a voice actor for one of Dragon Age’s beloved characters personally attacked one of those executives on Twitter, and then went on an exceedingly unhinged rant on YouTube while performing as that character. The mess unfortunately overshadowed the only good news that came out of the day — BioWare released four new short stories set in the Dragon Age 4 universe.
As you may know, I am Kotaku’s resident Dragon Age scholar. I’ve read all four stories twice, cross referenced them with the Dragon Age wiki, and will now attempt to do my best soothsaying to explain to you all what they mean ahead of the Dragon Age 4 news premiering during tonight’s Game Awards. Spoilers for the stories ahead, so read them first before you continue.
— BioWare (@bioware) December 7, 2020
Don’t expect anything too profound going into these stories. Solas doesn’t appear, nor is he mentioned (so put down your knives, we’ll have our chance one day). Nor is any other character from the main Dragon Age series. But, if you’ve read the book Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights, some of the characters in these will be familiar to you.
“The Next One”
The first story, “The Next One”, is my favourite, and one I believe alludes to a new companion for Dragon Age 4. The story deals with Grey Warden Lawrence, who is undergoing the Calling — a phenomena all Grey Wardens experience when, at the end of many years of service, they start to transform into the very darkspawn they were created to fight. The afflicted wardens go into the Deep Roads, a twisted and sprawling labyrinth of ancient dwarven ruins, to kill as many darkspawn as they can before they’re either killed or finally become one. Lawrence, in the midst of his Calling, happens upon a dwarven survivor of a cave-in, Evka. Lawrence, though on his very last legs, promises that no matter how bad he gets, he will at least save Evka before finally succumbing to the Calling. Evka, in turn, makes her own promise to “save the next one” provided Lawrence keeps up his end of the bargain. In the end, Lawrence dies. His body then becomes possessed by a spirit of Perseverance who rips the giffron symbol, a signifier of his Grey Warden affiliation, off his chest and presents it to Evka as a reminder to keep her promise to “get the next one.”
The Grey Wardens are a prominent force in the Dragon Age universe and have been a companion in every Dragon Age game. I’m more than positive “The Next One” hints that players can expect to have newly recruited Grey Warden Evka in their Dragon Age 4 party.
“Ruins of Reality”
The second story, “Ruins of Reality” only interests me in that it alludes to where Solas might be hiding and what he’s been up to in the time after ripping off his best friend’s (or, Andraste help you, lover’s) arm at the end of the Trespasser DLC.
“Ruins of Reality” takes place in the Arlathan Forest. In ancient times, before the rise of the human empires, Arlathan was the capital city of the immortal and powerful elves. “Ruins of Reality” catches up with Strife, an elf recently freed from slavery in the Imperium, as he tries to recover a powerful elven artefact from the forest. But the forest doesn’t want to cooperate. The trees start attacking Strife, and his map — once praised for its accuracy — becomes outdated as the forest topography inexplicably changes and strange doppelgangers start following Strife and his companion Irelin. The elves are eventually able to recover the artefact, breaking its magical hold over the forest.
Arlathan was once the capital city of the elves at the height of their magical power. According to the Dragon Age wiki, ancient elves used magic in Arlathan to create elaborate pocket dimensions that “facilitated travel, were dedicated to one of the gods, or served as a repository of knowledge.” In order to facilitate his goal of returning elves to their former glory, Solas, an ancient elf himself, would want whatever powerful artifacts his people left behind — artifacts that Strife and Irelin have stolen for themselves (or perhaps have stolen on Solas’ behalf). While I don’t feel strongly that either Strife or Irelin will be companions in Dragon Age 4, I do think it’s likely they’ll make an appearance one way or another.
The next story, “The Wake”, gave me pause, because its short synopsis implied a beloved character might be dead: “Members of the Crows grieve the loss of a friend.”
However, the dead Crow — a member of an elite association of assassins — was not the famous Crow (and popular love interest) Zevran from Dragon Age: Origins, but another character from the Dragon Age extended universe — aka the books — Lucanis Dellamorte. The story focuses on Lucanis’ wake, attended by his cousin, Illario, and their assassin comrades. If you’ve read Dragon Age: Tevinter Knights you might remember Lucanis and Illario from the story “The Wigmaker Job,” in which things go awry when they try to fulfil their contract to kill an evil Tevinter blood mage.
For the majority of “The Wake,” Illario reminisces about his dead cousin and the story ends with him lamenting he has no one left to follow. It’s not mentioned how Lucanis died, though being a member of an elite cabal of assassins, one could guess. I think this is another one of those “here’s a new companion” teases as Illario, bereft of a moral compass, might find a new one in whatever the hell we’ll get up to as the main character of Dragon Age 4. That, or one of the side-quests brings us into contact with Illario as we help him figure out, then take out, whoever murdered his cousin.
One thing I mentioned in a previous “here’s what might happen in Dragon Age 4 based on this handful of breadcrumbs” article was that players are in some way or another going to visit the Tevinter Imperium for the first time. The final story, “Minrathous Shadows,” strengthens that possibility. The story features a showdown between a magister of the Imperium and a templar named Tarquin. The two sit down to an unfriendly game of cards in which Tarquin accuses the magister of black-market slave trading and illegal dealings with an outlawed cult.
“I have a contact,” Tarquin says. “Lady’s lightning smart, and she says that contains financial records for the black-market slave trade.”
I’ll bet every dollar in my bank account that “contact” is Maevaris Tilani — a magister who, along with Dragon Age: Inquisition favourite Dorian Pavus, is dedicated to cleaning up the rampant corruption in the Tevinter government. The story ends with the magister defeated, begging to be let go and demanding to know who her attackers are.
“We are the Tevinter you forgot,” they answer as the story ends.
Back in the four-minute behind-the-scenes video BioWare released for Gamescom, Patrick Weekes — the Dragon Age writer in whom some fans are unfairly investing their last hopes now that Mark Darrah is gone — said “What happens when the people in charge aren’t willing to address the issues?”
This final line of “Minrathous Shadows” suggests to me that part of our time in the Tevinter Imperium will be helping (or potentially thwarting) this new, as-yet-unknown sect of Tevinter citizens as they attempt to take on their hopelessly corrupt government. Basically, we’re going to take part in a Tevinter civil war. My initial gut reaction to a Tevinter civil war is “Fuck yeah! Fuck ‘em up!”
For a long time Dragon Age’s story focused on the plight of mages outside the Imperium where they are treated as prisoners from birth. Dragon Age 4 and “Minrathous Shadows” alludes to an opportunity to show us a society where that dynamic of a mage underclass has been completely reversed.
However! Knowing what I know about Solas’ (*spits*) plans to destroy the world as we know it by restoring the magical ancient elven gods to power, having everyone who matters occupied with a big-arse war within the biggest mage society in the land might be playing exactly into his hands.
Tonight’s Dragon Age 4 news might confirm the suspicions I’ve laid out here or refute them, rendering this whole thought exercise moot. I couldn’t care less if everything I’ve laid out here is completely wrong, though, because for the first time in almost six years, I’ll finally have new Dragon Age news to obsess over…Or at least, I hope I will!