Thursday, August 31, 2017

Everything Changes: Examining “In Your Heart Shall Burn”

My poor Inquisitor, way back in more innocent times when
the biggest question on her frazzled mind was to wonder why
Solas and Bull weren't flirting back.
When I first played Dragon Age: Inquisition, way, way back when I was a sweet Summer child who had no idea that she was about to fall into the biggest gaming obsession of her life, I’d spent maybe two dozen hours in the Hinterlands (jaunting occasionally over to the Storm Coast and Val Royeaux), picking elfroot, inadvertently blasting unwary wildlife, flirting with a disapproving Solas and an absolutely unimpressed Bull (thus far), and running screaming from a variety of bears. And I'd been having a blast. Life was good.

However, my advisers kept wanting me to move forward. They kept hinting that I really should take on that next quest, "In Your Heart Shall Burn."

I was skeptical. Was my game already drawing to a conclusion? What if I didn't want to end the game? What if I wanted to keep running around the Storm Coast and the Hinterlands? What if I liked running from bears, Templars, and rude apostates? So my Inky kept putting off “In Your Heart Shall Burn” until even sweet Josie was basically sending daily memos, Leliana was bombarding her with Raven-mail (even though her tent was just steps away from the Chantry), and poor Cullen just looked more clenched than usual. Even his hair.

Now, yes, I could have simply found a walkthrough that would have told me my game was nowhere near ending, but I don't like looking for help on new playthroughs, and was determined to muddle through alone (this is also why I emerged from "Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts" later on with the worst approval rating Orlais had ever seen). 

"Well... shit."
But in my defense, I could tell the quest was a big one, and I wasn’t ready to leave Thedas yet. Silly rabbit. (This is a great example, by the way, of how dim I can be for a relatively smart person.)

However, finally, after more horrible fruitless attempts to flirt with Bull (and Solas, ahem), after I’d exhausted all my conversations at Haven, I had to admit defeat. It was time to close the Breach. 

It was all so easy at first. Too easy. I closed the Breach, my Inquisitor survived, and she had her first nice bonding moment of friendship on the rooftop with Cassandra, as they watched their happy little Havenite friends dancing around like Ewoks. All was right with the world.

Then the darkness descended down from the mountains, the sky went black, and Corypheus showed up with a cast of thousands.

Losing Haven

Speaking from the big-picture, gaming perspective, right here is where everything in Dragon Age; Inquisition changes. 

We don’t really need Cole’s warning (although I always love it when he arrives here, since I usually play as a mage supporter)—we can see it for ourselves. Whatever happens after this, things will be different. For one thing, it's quickly apparent that Haven cannot possibly survive.

It’s a legitimately terrifying milestone in the story of Dragon Age: Inquisition, because the situation is visibly, absolutely hopeless. The Inquisition cannot hope to match the forces arrayed against it here. They can only hope to stand as long as possible—and that’s before the freaking dragon shows up.

Cullen at his most courageous and adorable. This scene
immediately caused me to add him to my "People I Must
Romance" list. With little hearts and sparkles.
With this in mind, watching the reactions of our trusted friends and companions in this terrible moment is poignant and touching—Cass is outraged and ready to fight; Bull makes light of a heavy situation (“I guess celebratory drinks are on hold?”), as do Sera and Dorian; Solas is predictably quiet and calm, Josie’s visibly rattled but determined to stay composed. Cullen, however, is at his best—cool, capable and in control. He assesses the situation, tells us the best strategy for fighting the first wave, and rallies the troops and mages to fight (“For the Herald!" he cries. "For your lives!”). It’s a gorgeous and downright cinematic moment that also undoubtedly fluttered the hearts of Cullen-shippers all over the world. I mean, I was dead-set on romancing Solas or Bull, and I wasn't a Cullen-shipper. But, darn it, my heart fluttered too.

The next events happen fast. We fight through several waves of bad guys and use our trebuchets, and thing are almost looking up. Until Corypheus’s dragon arrives (“Aw, that’s just messed up!” cries Bull, and I almost feel for him, because nobody loves dragons more than Bull, and now he can’t even enjoy this one). Then Cullen pulls everyone back behind the exterior gate. 

“Just make them work for it,” he says intensely, and our brave band proceeds to deal out damage and save as many beleaguered villagers as possible.

Saving the Villagers

I love this part where we save the villagers because it's a moment that echoes one of Solas's first comments to us, where he wonders "what kind of hero we'll be." This is one of those instances where you get to paint your Inquisitor's portrait in bold strokes. Do you save all of the villagers, just some of them, or do you leave them all behind and run for the gates? It's all up to you.

Me, I love saving the villagers, although in my first few playthroughs not everyone made it, and I was surprised at my own sadness at discovering (after his death at Haven), for instance, that grumpy apothecary master Adan had actually liked my Inquisitor after all. Evidently his grumpiness was reserved only for those he actually cared about. Which reminded me of myself, and then I was sad all over again.

Back to saving the villagers: I’m not really doing a strategy guide here, since my focus is always more on character, story and analysis, however I will point out that it’s much easier to save the villagers if we start with Harritt on the way back to the gates (mind blast, explosive shot or warrior smash to help him get his hammer back). Then SAVE (and save after each ensuing rescue), go up the stairs to the right and rescue Lysette, then run back left to the burning building to save Seggrit (the easiest way is to go up the ladder, over on the beam to the roof, then down, saving him and then bashing/blasting the door open from the inside).

After that, a lot of guides tell you to go help Flissa at the tavern – DON’T. Instead go forward, up, and to the right, accessing Solas's area from above, and rescue Adan and Minaeve as fast as possible. This is much easier to do this way (you get more time before their area goes up in flames), and it ensures that wonderful Minaeve survives the ordeal, along with her beautiful Irish accent. 

THEN you can run straight forward to the Tavern to trigger and rescue Flissa, and after that, your party can return to the front of the Chantry to rescue Threnn, and you’re ready to move on in the story.

If your rescues are successful, by the way, you get a ton of XP per villager. And if you rescue all six, you’ll get a big “Greatly Approves” (+20) approval boost from Varric if he’s with you, as well as solid Approval (+10) from Viv, if she’s in your party, as well. (And how interesting is it, by the way, that the fearsome Madame de Fer cares so much that we saved those lives? It’s a subtle character detail and a welcome reminder that Viv, too, has a heart. It's chilly. But it's there.)

Roderick’s Redemption

Chancellor Roderick ends up not only redeeming himself
and saving the village, but he actually demonstrates a
sense of humor even on his deathbed. That's hardcore.
Once back in the Chantry for another meeting, Chancellor Roderick Asignon arrives, mortally wounded (as Cole helpfully points out, "HE'S GOING TO DIE"), and winning back my heart already when he snarks back, “What a charming boy,” in response. 

But seriously – this is a great character note. Roderick has been a puffed-up, annoying antagonist so far, a zealot who was all too willing to send the Inquisitor to execution or imprisonment. But we also see here that, deep down (way, way deep down, as Sera would say), he’s actually a good man who truly believes. He simply let his arrogance and pettiness get in the way.

I love this kind of character detail, because it’s yet another way I consider Dragon Age: Inquisition to be as much a playable novel as it is a game. Pretty much every character offers at least some shades of grey—even Corypants, once or twice—and Roderick’s unexpected and moving arc here is both believable and complex.

But before that, we get this fabulous little glimmer of sly comedy:

Cole: I’ve seen an archdemon. I was in the Fade, but it looked like that!
Cullen (frustrated): I don’t care what it looks like. It’s cut a path for that army!
Cole: The Elder One doesn’t care about the village. He only wants the Herald. (to us) He wants to kill you. No one else matters, but he’ll crush them, kill them anyway.

A slight pause.

Cole: I don’t like him.

Cullen’s face is just hilarious here.

Cullen (bewildered): You don’t like – what?

Then of course things get serious again, as Cullen tells us point-blank that the situation is not survivable, but that suicide-by-trebuchet might at least deal a significant blow against Coryphennnus’s forces.

"If This Simple Memory Can Save Us..."

“We’re dying,” says Cullen flatly. “But we can decide how. Many don’t get that choice.”

At this point, Roderick tries to speak, and it’s very poignant that he can’t do so – he’s fading fast (and kudos to the art and animation team here, because poor Roderick’s bruised, drawn expression just kills me in this scene). He simply raises his eyes weakly, then looks to Cole, and Cole, reading his thoughts, speaks effortlessly for him.

Cole: Chancellor Roderick can help. He wants to say it before he dies.
Roderick (rallying): There is a path. You wouldn’t know it, unless you’d made the Summer Pilgrimage, as I have. The people can escape. She must have shown me. Andraste must have shown me, so I could… tell you. It was whim that I walked the path. I did not mean to start; it was overgrown. Now with so many in the Conclave dead, to be the only one who remembers… I don’t know. If this simple memory can save us, this could be more than mere accident. You could be more.

It's a quietly moving, wonderfully performed moment by Roderick's voice actor Christopher Godwin. Even if the Inquisitor responds a little less sympathetically than I would have liked (her “What are you on about, Roderick?” is pretty funny), but she can be forgiven considering the massive force that is about to crush her and all of her companions. Either way, she checks the idea with Cullen, who suddenly looks a lot less depressed as he agrees that they can definitely get the villagers to the path.

“But what about your escape?” he asks. The Inquisitor, being the honorable and brave (if clumsy, in my own Inky’s case) person that she is, valiantly doesn’t reply, and Cullen’s expression is immediately regretful and sad. He pauses for a moment in acceptance, not knowing how to respond. This entire conversation features just lovely pixellated acting, as well as voice acting (Jonny Rees is terrific as Cullen throughout the entire game, and this is definitely one of his most nuanced and layered moments). It’s even more moving if you’re playing the beginnings of a Cullenmance and he's realizing he's about to lose you before anything even started (which means you’ve also survived all of Cullen’s staggeringly awkward responses to your flirtations and have my sympathy). 

“Perhaps you will surprise it… find a way,” he says. Silence. Then Cullen moves on like the terrific commander he is, organizing the evacuation of the villagers behind Cole, who helps Roderick slowly lead the way. 

A giant army. Aaand... now there's a dragon. That's great.
That's just great. Game over, man, game over!
As he leaves, Roderick turns to the Inquisitor, and it’s a lovely final note that ends any hint of antagonism between them. “Herald, if you are meant for this… If the Inquisition is meant for this, I pray for you.” And off goes poor Roderick to his lovely and surprising redemption (with Cole almost certainly reminding him every few steps that he’s Going To Be Dead Soon).

Then Cullen turns back to the Inquisitor and details that the trebuchet will need to be ready on their signal. Then he looks both heroic and determined as he says, “If we are to have a chance – if you are to have a chance – let that thing hear you.”

(And yeah, okay, I admit it, this was definitely the scene in which I immediately added Cullen to my to-romance list, and yes, I may have mentally doodled "Mr. and Mrs. Cullen Rutherford" on my mental spiral notebook for 30 seconds and then decorated it with little hearts and glitter. Because, woof. I mean, I’m only human.)

But then Corypheus enters, pursued by a dragon, and everything changes yet again.

(Please check out part two of this post here. Thanks as always for checking it out!)


  1. I love your blog! I'm a would-be author, but also a huge DA fan, so it's great to find someone else who writes original fiction and loves Dragon Age. This whole section of the game is probably the most scary, and heart-pounding. It's good writing.

    P.S. I think the Cullen fandom refer to his voice actor as 'Greg Ellis' popularly, though I suppose this other name is one he uses, too, in places. Not sure which name is his true name, though.

  2. Thanks so much, Cathy! I'm so glad you're enjoying it -- you made my day.

    On Cullen's voice actor -- Jonny Rees evidently had to use "Greg Ellis" originally for several years, but has said he prefers to use his real name now that he can.

  3. That pixelated nuanced moment shattered my damn heart. I was in love with the man from his first stutter. Watching his face, the realization, the loss, and the control being forced back in to place as he watches my infuriatingly blush-inducing Inquisitor leave to face her almost certain death... How do they do this? How is it possible? Playable novel, indeed. Hearts and sparkles forever!

    1. Oh, that's so true! Cullen is a wonderful, rich and believable character, and I love his journey through the entire trilogy. It's just so satisfying if we've played the first two, and have seen him when he was younger, weaker and broken, then watching him slowly grow into himself and into command (DA2) and then in DAI, I feel like he is now who he was meant to be -- strong, principled, kind, cautious, and absolutely determined to be his best self.

      Watching his struggles against his own fears and prejudices through the trilogy are really moving, and he's a fantastic romance in DAI -- I thoroughly enjoyed romancing him with my Cullenmancer (she had to be a mage, of course). And his reactions to each and every flirtation are things of awkward beauty. Literally.

      And mind you, he went through all that, and it was like the universe rewarded him... with +100000 HOTNESS. Sheesh. I remember starting DAI and just staring at him for seconds at a time (maximum heart-eyes). But it was even better when I realized he had evolved so much and was such a genuinely good person here. Jonny Rees's gorgeous voice acting is just the icing on the Cullen cake.

      And best of all, Cullen's one of those people who seems utterly oblivious to their own beauty, which is why Cullen at Halamshiral in "Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts" is the best thing ever. He's just so confused by everyone's palpable adoration. It's a hilarious contrast to Dorian (whom I also love), who would of course run deliriously into his own arms if he could.

      Thanks again for reading, and commenting!


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