Saturday, October 5, 2019

Trespasser Turns 4: Celebrating 10 Favorite Moments...


INQUISITOR: We save Ferelden, and they’re angry! We save Orlais, and they’re angry! We close the Breach twice, and my own hand wants to kill me! Could one thing in this fucking world just stay fixed?

September 8, 2019 marked the 4-year anniversary for the Dragon Age: Inquisition DLC “Trespasser,” which is arguably the most impactful and tantalizing DLC of the entire game trilogy.

Personally, I still can’t believe it’s been four years… some part of me is still back there, honestly, listening to bard songs, weeping over the outcome for my Qun-loyal Bull, or still ruminating on that final conversation with my other digital boyfriend Solas, and enjoying the prospect of even more heartbreak to come.

From Origins through Inquisition, each chapter of Dragon Age has included a DLC that served as a tantalizing yet crystal-clear link to the next game. From Origins' “Awakenings,” to Dragon Age 2’s “Legacy” to Inquisition’s “Trespasser,” these DLC milestones provided a subtle step forward while presenting the issues and story elements that would be highly impactful in the next major release and a dramatic step in the game story.

I love all of these DLCs, from “Awakenings” and its bittersweet foreshadowings of darkness for some of its brightest characters (Anders) to the way “Legacy” pointed us directly into the bleakness and chaos of Corypheus in Inquisition.

But my favorite DLC so far has to be “Trespasser,” which provides us with everything we loved and hated about Solas in a single DLC, and which instantly paints him as someone who is both irredeemable in his goals and yet intensely worth love and loyalty (for many, at least) for the reasons behind his actions, as well as for his quiet and rather surprising continued loyalty to (and compassion for) the Inquisitor and the Inquisition.

Following are some of the most surprising and emotional moments in “Trespasser” for me… from joy to anguish and everything in between. Here goes!



1. The Time Jump

It's genuinely shocking to go into "Trespasser" and to realize that not only have two years gone by, but that our companions have gone on with their lives, often in poignant and significant ways. The Inquisition has grown, perhaps disquietingly so. Varric leads Kirkwall. Whether with the Inquisitor or Dorian, Bull and his romance have progressed in intimacy and commitment. Blackwall has found a newfound peace and purpose. Sera has found love as well as a newfound acceptance, regret and maturity. Dorian has come to terms with his complex family and heritage. Vivienne has settled back into her scheming, while still retaining her cold affections here and there.

We really get the sense that everyone has, well, lived, during the two-year gap. It feels real, and messy, and complicated, and I love it. For me, the one slightly sad element is that, unless romanced, the Inquisitor still feels a bit lost... in stasis. Committed to a larger goal that may no longer exist anymore.

My favorite aspect of all of this is the way the game story is actually daring to imagine a complex answer to the question: "Is the Inquisition finished? And if not... should it be?"


2. Oh, Teagan!

Feel free to fight me on this, but perhaps there is no outcome as unexpected or cruel for those of us who’ve been with Dragon Age since Origins as the revelation that Arl Teagan has gone, in ten brief years, from a sexy, elegant and supportive stealth hottie, to a bitter, twisted man prematurely aged and prunified by his circumstance. 

As a huge fan of Teagan in Origins (and who spent way too much time in that final Archdemon battle spamming heals and frantically making sure he was okay), I found myself mentally shrieking at him constantly in “Trespasser,” unable to process his loss of hotness (or empathy). Ultimately, I just ended up whispering “Who hurt you?” in answer to all of his bitter, nasty, political diatribes (even if he did, occasionally, have some genuinely good points about what, exactly, the Inquisition was still doing existing, for instance).

Also, that hat. That hat. Why, Teagan, why? (This is where I shake my fist at the heavens, as cinematically as possible…)

Honestly, I blame Isolde.

3. The Lost Worlds

Thanks to some gorgeous conceptual design and rendering, "Trespasser" gives us, at long last, an achingly beautiful rendering of what it might have looked like to walk way back in the glory days of Arlathan and the elven people. The ruins our Inquisitor navigates are stunning and regal, and are populated in bittersweet moments by flashbacks, books, spiritual memories, and are all the more painful because they offer a taste of something delicious we can't quite have for ourselves. We do not get to enjoy Arlathan. We just get these tiny glimpses. It hurts, and it's also wonderful.

4. The True Terror and Wonder of the Qun

Sure, we've heard stories from Sten, and (often heavily propagandized) from Bull. And we definitely saw the devastation on the small city-wide scale in Dragon Age 2's Kirkwall. 

But now, for the first time, "Trespasser" gives us a more expansive and terrifying real glimpse of the Qunari and its goals. We finally begin to understand that the Qun doesn't bend; it never bends. It pushes and pushes and either wins or it breaks.

For this reason, for me, there's always something extra-awful and sort of horribly lovely about our progress through the Darvaarad. Finally, as with the elven Fade, so many secrets unlocked and accessible! And yet, still so alien. As far away as ever.


5. The Missing Ones

It’s one thing to lose characters in Inquisition, depending on your choices. But if you played a colder, crueler or more insular Inquisitor, “Trespasser” can feel like a ghost town, an abandoned palace of emptiness. 

Depending on those decisions in both recruitment and in approvals, we may find no sweetly befuddling Cole outside the tavern, no teasing Dorian or Bull banter, no spa date with Vivienne, no surprising maturity and sweetness from Sera, and no warm and kindly update with Blackwall.

And if we chose to save the Qunari dreadnought in Bull’s loyalty quest in Dragon Age: Inquisition, sacrificing the Chargers to preserve an alliance with the Qun, then “Trespasser” is not only pretty grim, it’s downright depressing. With no Chargers, there is no lighthearted birthday celebration for Bull, no sweet Krem presence in the tavern, quietly protecting Bull’s blind spot, or (potentially, depending on your choices) romancing bard Maryden.

There’s just nothing. Nothing but Bull sitting alone at the bar, waiting for the moment when he sells his soul for good and all and his suffering ends. In the meantime, he does what he’s best at, and waits, drinks, and lies.




6. "Wait, We Get to Save a Dragon?!"

The revelation of the project entitled "Dragon's Breath" is both tragic and yet rewarding. We realize just how far the Qunari are willing to go, and it's doubly upsetting if we flash back to that conversation with Bull from Inquisition about the kinship the Qunari feel to dragons. It's one thing for them to fight a dragon free and clear and honorably; it's grotesque for them to harness and weaken one for their own aims.

As someone who always secretly hated killing the dragons (yeah, I'm one of those) in Inquisition, it's therefore doubly satisfying to be able to finally save one in "Trespasser." And that cutscene of the dragon smushing a fleeing Qunari warrior? Is glorious.

7. Everybody Loses Their Shit (Including the Inquisitor)

One of the biggest surprises for me in "Trespasser" was also one of my favorite emotional moments in the DLC. It occurs fairly late in the questline, when we’re nearing the end of the story, and in a terrific and very human moment, every single person in the room loses their temper. Including the Inquisitor. It’s a moment that shocked me when I first played it, because it’s the rare occasion in which our heroic, bright-eyed Inky goes full-on ballistic and has had enough with everything and everyone. But before she does? So does JOSIE.


It’s great drama, and it’s emotionally affecting because we haven’t seen the Inquisitor this way. Up til now, they’re arguably never out of control even during the most emotional moments of Inquisition. So the moment when our long-suffering Inquisitor, facing a scary and painfully disintegrating Mark, finally realizes their own mortality and simply loses their composure to their inner council of Josie, Leliana and Cullen is pretty surprising and powerful, and – best of all – it happens right after Josie absolutely loses it first (“Do you know what this has cost us with Orlais and Ferelden? They are planning to dismantle us as we speak! And perhaps they are right…”)

After Josie’s outburst, the Inquisitor’s Mark flares again, and they gasp, then actually scream in pain. Here, we can choose for them to react in confusion, in fear, in bravado, or (my favorite) with outright frustration:

INQUISITOR: Shit! Damn it! We save Ferelden, and they’re angry! We save Orlais, and they’re angry! We close the Breach twice, and my own hand wants to kill me! Could one thing in this fucking world just stay fixed? (They sigh, panting.) I need to get to the Darvaarad. You can all fight amongst yourselves once I’m… once I’m back.
It’s the first time the Inquisitor really loses it in the entire arc of their sufferings despite the Mark, and the moment is really beautifully played, no matter which Inquisitor voice you chose to convey it – Alix Wilton Regan, Sumalee Montano, Jon Curry, or Harry Hadden-Paton.

I especially love the final moments, when the anger fades, and they attempt to skip past the certainty that they won’t survive.

And from then on, there's this slight vulnerability to the Inky, taken right along down to that final run for the Darvaarad, when, once again, they admit to their companions (either in seriousness or as dark humor) that they're probably not coming back from this.




8. “Nothing Personal, bas.”

"Nothing personal, bas." Three words that will always resonate within the vast emptiness of my Dragon Age soul on its darkest night. (Well, those, and "Ar lath ma, vhenan...")

I always argue with those who characterize this as The Iron Bull’s “betrayal,” because to me that’s simply not accurate. While it’s devastating, Bull is betraying nobody here. In his loyalty quest (“The Demands of the Qun”), he asked us what to do, and unfortunately, in this specific Qun-loyal scenario, we answered “Bull, you must stay true to the Qun. No matter what the cost to you.”

Bull's answer: "Okay, bas" (Freddie Prinze, Jr. is a genius, because, with Qun-loyal Bull, that affectionate "Boss" nickname is gone forever... if we listen closely enough).

So that's brutal. Because Bull heard us, took orders like a good soldier, did exactly what we asked, right down to watching the slaughter of his entire found family (including beloved Krem), and then he predictably retreated back into the shell of himself for the sake of his own tattered sanity. My personal belief is that Bull himself died (or the best of him did) in that lonely final, devastating reaction punch after the loss of the Chargers back at Skyhold.

After that grief-stricken punch, my take is that our friend and companion Bull is gone, gone, gone—a shell going through the motions and pithed by our (and the Qun’s) demands.

It’s even worse if we read between the lines when “Trespasser” takes place, after this scenario, because the implication is that Bull has spent the intervening years back in the bosom of the Qun and (it’s heavily implied) under further brainwashing or “reeducation.”

Bull has, of course, potentially continued to romance the Inquisitor (or Dorian) for the sake of his calling, but coldly, without warmth. Until he is freed, rather ironically, by the Viddasala’s command, when he can at last take action against the Inquisitor who cheerfully ordered the killing of his family, revealing that to him they are not even worth the title of being called a basalit’an (a non-Qunari deserving of respect). Instead, the Inquisitor is just bas. A thing. And he can now, at last, unleash his grief from the depths and die fighting and feeling… something.

And, worst of all, still following orders. All the way to the death.




9. Solas's Confession... 

Surely there’s rarely been an RPG game conversation as cursed, complex, beloved, or debated as Solas’s final astonishing, bittersweet confessional in “Trespasser,” especially with a romanced (and dumped) Inquisitor. 

I'll be going through this in more depth later on as I finish analyzing Solas's entire arc (and romance), but for me, let's just say that his appearance in "Trespasser" is what great drama is made of, and entirely worth the wait.

It's a genuinely cinematic moment, and the BioWare artists and directors involved really deserve so many kudos here. The Inquisitor enters the ruined courtyard through the shimmering eluvian, confused and visibly shocked to find herself (if a romanced Lavellan) navigating a wilderness of grey motionless statues, Qunari warriors frozen in mid-attack. Trevor Morris's gorgeous music soars. As she makes her way through, we hear that voice we haven't heard since the steps above Skyhold, as Solas finally speaks—and the fact that it's been so long since we've heard it just adds to the impact of Gareth David-Lloyd's silken Welsh voice here. He speaks with slow regret and equal contempt (and who would have expected Solas's first words to be in Qunlat?). Just two short, devastating sentences: "Ebasit kata. Itwa-ost." ("It is ended. You all have fallen.") 

The Viddasala ignores his warning and attacks from behind, and in a casual blue flash of his eyes (not even bothering to look back), Solas petrifies her, freezing her in place and adding one more warrior to the silent forest.

And then he pauses, rather slyly. He doesn't turn around, and thanks to some superb character rendering and movement... it's so real for me. The little details. Like, I always get the palpable sense that he's using the drama, enjoying the moment and even savoring it. Then, with that hidden sense of wit and humor I've always enjoyed about the character, Solas glances aside, still mostly hidden from us, and says, simply: "I suspect you have questions."

And then he turns around, finally, to face the Inquisitor. 

And hot damn, he is totally working the ancient elven armor here. Every time this scene plays, several thousand loyal Solasmancers suddenly fan themselves then faint. So does Dorian.

Oh, boy. Where do we even start? And why is this segment only five to ten minutes long (or 15 if you linger over all the options)? I would have happily gone through, like, an hour of just finally talking to Solas. Or, who am I kidding? At least two hours. I would've bought an entire fourth Inquisition DLC that was just us talking to Solas in his Hot Ancient Elven Armor for hours. (By the way, "Hot Ancient Elven Armor" would also have been my preferred DLC title, although "Those Solas Thighs" would also have been a decent runner-up.)

Either way, we get the scene we've been waiting for, and after all this time, they talk. And Solas is finally honest. He reveals his ultimate plans, talks openly about his deceptions, and admits some of the darkest aspects of his motives. What makes this excruciating is that, of course, Solas also unveils his real self, past, sufferings, heroics, and more, right alongside his open commitments to actions that are both horrifying, short-sighted and grotesque.

Thanks to the care and delicate attention to detail by the Dragon Age writers in "Trespasser," and most notably by Solas writer Patrick Weekes, this moment is both satisfying and the very definition of complex. 

Solas is, by several accounts in past behavior, a hero, a freer of slaves and rebel against tyranny. However, his actions since his awakening (which, granted, were I believe highly affected by trauma) have certainly not been as clear or supportable, most especially in his deliberate conveyance of his Orb to Corypants), causing the Conclave explosion, as well as all of the devastation of the Breach and rifts across Thedas that sparked the events beginning Dragon Age: Inquisition.

To his credit, Solas was, and is, openly horrified by that outcome, and his work with the Inquisition was, I believe, his attempt to atone. 

But… his future plans are all the more frustrating and upsetting given the gentleness and romance of the scene with his romanced Inquisitor. And yet… Solas, who once disdained being called a god, who can now turn armies to stone with an eyeblink, who claims he is set on the path of death and cannot be moved from it... has nevertheless moved heaven and earth to both save Thedas from this latest Qunari threat, to protect the Inquisition and his former companions... and to save the life of the Inquisitor.

How do you react to someone who's saved the world three damn times right in the moment they've just confessed how they plan to singlehandedly end it?

So it’s an interesting conundrum, to say the least. Do we love Solas, or hate him? Thousands of fans eloquently defend options on either side. Do we choose to redeem him, or kill him, in the chapter ahead? It's not a given—one answer doesn't necessarily track with another here, as plenty of those I know who love Solas have, for instance, pledged to kill him if and when Dragon Age 4 shows up.

The genius of Dragon Age is that Solas knows that he is a paradox, and he expresses that knowledge, handing your protagonist a further weapon against him going forward.

I think that's my favorite element of this conversation. It goes against so many tropes in its own odd way; it's not a villain gloating, but a former hero mourning what he feels he will have to do. Instead, it's Solas going, "So, hey, schmoops, I haven't been totally honest with you, and there are things you need to know in the future so that you can fight me and have even the faintest chance of winning."

Solas may be the unexpected Big Bad of Inquisition and “Trespasser,” but he is also, so far, in this moment, the lonely and antiheroic Big Good. He can still go either way.

All we can do now is wait and wonder. And hope it isn’t four more years until we find out.



10. "I'm in the Book!"

Thank all the gods of Thedas for the never-ending prickly, adorable and complicated relationship between the Seeker and Thedas's favorite author.

Otherwise, those of us still weeping over Solas's final moments and that mournful epilogue would not have gotten the relief of Cassandra's inspired and ultimately delighted reading of Varric's tales about his years with the Inquisition, right down to fabulous impressions of all the characters (wonderfully and hilariously presented by Cassandra actress Miranda Raison) in the moment.

It's the perfect antidote to the near-operatic drama we've just endured in "Trespasser," and the perfect affectionate near-farewell to the companions we've all spent so much time with... a final reminder of what we loved about them... and what they loved about each other.

Perfectly embodied by Cassandra's overjoyed: "I'm in the book! I'm in the book!" and... "I am going to read the shit out of this."

As always (disgusted noises and all), once again, Cassandra is... all of us.


4 comments:

  1. One of my favourite moments that didn't get mentioned here is when you're talking to Solas at the end, if you sent the Chargers to their deaths, Solas is deliciously snarky about how things turned out with The Iron Bull. It's extra special because if you romanced him or were on good terms with him, it's quite unexpected. After in-game years of him being kind and thoughtful towards a romanced or friendly Inquisitor, it's a sharp reminder that oh yes, he can be an ass, and it's perfect.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Happy four years to trespasser! I love reading your blog and remembering why we call it Solavellan hell (one of the best romances in the series imo). Keep up the amazing work!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I am so glad to have found this blog. I'll be reading a hell of a lot over the next months =]

    ReplyDelete
  4. I really enjoyed this post! Let's see what else I can find. :)

    ReplyDelete

Soft Retcons and Krogan Valentines... (Dragon Age Day Interview with Patrick and Karin Weekes, Part 2)

As you know, I interviewed the dynamic duo of   Patrick Weekes , Lead Writer on the Dragon Age franchise at BioWare, and  Karin Weekes ...