Saturday, June 26, 2021

The State of Dumped, Drunk and Dalish—and Upcoming Expanded Content!

Hello, you!

I hope this finds you well. 

I wanted to update you on some new changes you'll see to my blog here, and on future plans for blog formatting and organization, as well. I'm gonna be doing some new things here!

Cleanup and Organization

First off, I know there's a lot of content here to try to wade through, and it's a little confusing, so I've done some housecleaning to try to make stuff easier for you to find.

I've now organized Dragon Age posts by topic, and in smaller groups so that you can more quickly find what you're interested in. 

These new categories include:

  • Useful Dragon Age Lore Analyses
  • Dragon Age Trailer Analyses
  • Dragon Age Interviews and Transcripts
  • Solas: Character, Goals, Romance
  • Iron Bull and the Qun
  • Friends, Enemies, Companions (Analyses)
  • Personal Updates, Silly Stuff and Flights of Fancy
  • Additional Dragon Age Analyses (Alphabetical)
  • Dragon Age Fandom Links...

Eventually (see way down) I will be mirroring this blog onto a section of my new website that will enable me to sort everything in a more logical way, but I hope this helps in the meantime.

Dragon Age Content Going Forward

I also wanted to let you know that I am going to be committing to at least two Dragon Age posts per month going forward. It's really important to me to maintain that.

With this in mind, here are some post topics I have in progress:
  • Cole at the Crossroads (Spirit or Human)
  • Leliana Character Analysis (arc across all 3 games plus Trespasser)
  • The Choices of Thom Rainier
  • Meaningful Banters: Viv Plays Tamassran
  • Solas's Romance, Part 5 (THE WORST DATE EVER)
  • Fenris Analysis (Dragon Age II)
  • Alistair: The Hidden Prince
  • Plus tons of "Trespasser" character analysis
But what do YOU want to see that I haven't covered yet—or that I haven't covered enough? I know I have characters I haven't addressed yet, and I will get to each of them! Eventually.

I am also going to be putting a lot more work into my poor barely launched YouTube channel, so more on that later, and I hope to be posting some video versions of my most popular posts here, as well as some interviews with other Dragon Age fans and analysts in our community that I will release as videos and podcasts. So, lots of great stuff on the way!

Going Beyond Dragon Age (New Content)

Meanwhile, I'm kind of excited and nervous to announce that I am also going to start posting new content on here that is not directly applicable to Dragon Age. 

This doesn't mean I'm gonna stop writing about Dragon Age—never! But I have a lot of thoughts about a LOT of things, and they are interests shared by a lot of you folks, too.

So let's talk about more than Dragon Age! 

With this in mind, I am going to be regularly adding columns about Critical Role—all heavily spoilered posts, and on all campaigns past and present, and which will eventually move to its own section.

Note: I'm working on a new website that will encompass Dumped, Drunk & Dalish as well as my upcoming Critical Role analyses and other fandom writings, so thanks for bearing with me until I get that done.

Other fandom subjects I'll be writing about here will include a bunch of potential topics past and present, just wherever I see resonance to current news or reason to reexamine:

  • Mass Effect (all games)
  • Loki
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • Gaming
  • Supernatural
  • Killing Eve
  • Community
  • Shadow and Bone
  • Marvel Movie Moments and Characters
  • Doctor Who
  • The Witcher
  • Penny Dreadful
  • The Mandalorian
  • The Magicians
  • Into the Border Lands (and other streamed TTRPGs in addition to Critical Role)
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Fandom ships and shipping
  • Fictional Villains (and Why Are They So Damn Hot?)

(Yes, more bullet points. I can't help it. They're so ORGANIZED! Sigh.)

Meanwhile, I'm gonna talk about my health stuff again for a few moments, so bear with me below. Or skip to the next section! I won't judge...

Inspirations and Motivations (the Point of All This Stuff)

So here's the thing. As you probably saw from my earlier post on this, I almost shuffled off this mortal coil back in March when I went into heart failure. And it was one of those things that happens where (if you're me, anyway), you go, HOLY SHIT, I HAD SO MUCH I WANTED TO WRITE ABOUT! I'm not kidding. I was pissed.

There's nothing fun about lying on a gurney near death and thinking about all the things you didn't get to say or do. It affected me very powerfully, and still affects me now—and I swear, I know, I know, I keep talking about it! I promise this is the last time! But this is important for me to share because it is what has inspired me in these latest blog changes going forward.

Over the past three months, I've had to learn how to walk all over again, I'm still on oxygen, and after hours of physical therapy, have only just graduated to using a cane for short distances. Recovering from this has been the hardest thing I have ever done. I never knew exhaustion that went all the way through muscle and bone. I never knew that simply walking across a room with a walker would feel like hiking a mile. I'd never imagined a level of tiredness so deep that I didn't have the mental or physical energy to write a text. That trying to keep up with my freelance work would feel like scaling Everest (because I'm a freelancer, I was working the day I came home, as best I could, to try to keep myself afloat). Even writing short e-mails and updates was challenging. 

The tiredness was just all-encompassing. My first month home from the hospital, I was so tired that I fell asleep constantly and hilariously everywhere—living room, kitchen, bathroom (overshare! BUT SO FUNNY), dining table, at my desk, during Zoom meetings (luckily I wasn't on camera, wasn't snoring, and evidently only nodded off for a few seconds at a time). Seriously. Everywhere. 

But slowly I've gained back strength, and man, has that been humbling. I will never, ever again take walking or mobility or independence for granted. The first time I was able to walk in the hospital? I cried. Because I'd spent seven days contemplating the very real possibility that I would need months of rehab before doing so again, if I ever would at all. So—on the positive side, every step forward since then has been literal, and something for me to celebrate.

Although heart failure is a permanent condition on some levels, there's a lot I can do, and have been working toward, to get to my best possible prognosis. My physical therapists are fantastic people and making them proud has been a huge achievement for me. Thanks to this effort, and their help, eventually I will be back to nearly full health and mobility, and will ironically also end up in my best physical shape of the past decade or so. It's awesome! 

Except for the scary statistics emphasized by my Terminator cyborg doctor a week ago. Not to get maudlin, but while I'm doing great and working really hard to recover physically, the fact is that while I'm young for congestive heart failure (it was a perfect storm of combined factors exacerbated by lockdown—watch your salt intake, peeps!), it doesn't change the fact that 50% of people with my condition are dead in the first year. 80% of those diagnosed with it die within five years. 

Meaning, I have a 2 in 10 chance of seeing 5 years.

Freakages and Flailings

Did I freak out about these statistics? Yeah. I did. I'd already done a hell of a lot of soul-searching over the past few months, and this just kicked me into an even higher gear of evaluation and goal-setting. 

So if I seem to be a little all over the place lately—if I seem like I'm oversharing right, left, and center, well—apologies. But yeah, I am. And I'll probably keep doing it. Because I just want to be however I am. I want to be a little more honest. I want to cut down on the bullshit that doesn't matter. I want to enjoy whatever time I have and do so being myself and expressing myself. I want to champion wonderful people and causes, I want to be brave, and kind, and engaged. I want to end every day knowing I did my best to live fully.

Please know that I'm going to work really hard to stick around, but no matter what, I want to write things I'm passionate about, that I care about, and that are fun to discuss and analyze. I'm also going to be working a lot harder on my outside stuff—my fiction (including fanfics), plays, et cetera. 

I don't have kids, so my words are the only legacy I have, and they mean a lot to me. I want to be remembered.

Expanding Horizons

So that's part of it. I want to write and discuss all these characters and ideas we all bond over, and I hope some of these new topics will be fun or interesting for us to discuss together, too!

The other part of this is that I really want to earn people's support in a bigger-picture way, if they want to act on that support (no pressure!). Meaning, stuff like Patreon or however else you or anyone wants to support or share my work. I have not been a good Patreon artist thus far, but that is changing NOW, and if you already support me, hang in there, and I will come through for you with stuff that's only for you. 

Ultimately, I've spent two decades prior to this like most freelancers, writing content I was extremely proud of, but that didn't touch my heart. I've waited long enough. The more I write, I hope, the more  I will connect with all of you as well as new audiences. And, if I earn it, the more support I'll get. Everybody wins!

I am passionate about magic, about genre fiction in all its forms. I love fantasy. I love other worlds. I want to play them, watch them, read them, write them, and explore them. And then I want to talk about them with fellow fans and friends like you.

So I hope you'll support me and come along.

A Little Magic in a Stressful World

Thanks for this chance to update you, and for bearing with me on this very strange, scary, yet often wonderful journey over the past three or four years. You have no idea what it means to me to have gained your attention and readership, as well as (in so many cases!) your friendship and support through some difficult and dark times. 

The past few years especially, as we've all battled COVID restrictions, fear, isolation, and more, I have watched the Dragon Age community come through for each other, mourn losses, show kindness, and share lightness and humor when we all needed it. I've watched Dragon Age writers and artists tirelessly answer questions even when the questioners were rude or dismissive (luckily, a minority). I've watched Dragon Age team leaders champion the fan artists among us every single day. And I've been so humbled by how many at BioWare have supported our celebration of Dragon Age Day and helped us achieve our fundraising goals even when many of these people were exhausted already from work, deadlines, and COVID.

So we're in a pretty comfortable little corner of our fandom at the Herald's Rest, and I feel lucky to be a part of that. Those of you who read or follow me, you're amazing. And you're the reason so many of us in our community (including me) got through lockdown as semi-unscathed as we did.

Ultimately, I hope the blog updates and changes mean you'll stop by here more than before, not less. But we'll see how it goes—and I hope you'll let me know your thoughts on what I can improve, what I can add, and what would mean most to you.

Thanks as always, and take care out there...


Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Dragon Age Answers to the Batman Question... (NSFW)

Warning: NSFW implications and scenarios galore.

So you know that Batman bedroom scenario that had Twitter spontaneously combusting the other day? You know the one. About whether or not the Dark Knight would take a tour, ahem, downtown on a night with Catwoman. Otherwise known as The Greatest Conversation in the History of Twitter?

I thought it would be naughty fun to address this via Dragon Age characters, so see my takes below. I saw this discussed in a few places casually on Twitter, but want to shout out to Squonk, who posted a conversation that inspired me to do my own take on this. 

Note: Depending on their sexual orientation, let's just say that we're asking whether the character would take that tour with a partner of their appropriate gender.

Another Note: I forgot a few people! Bethany! Krem! A few others! So I've added them. Along with a few stupid comments that I forgot originally, so I hope they're good for a laugh. Many thanks to readers Rob and Kirsty for the reminder!

I'm probably gonna be sheepish I wrote this, but it was fun, and we all need a little fun in the world right now. So, onward!

The Warden
The world's ending any minute now, I feel safe in saying they absolutely would.

Would have to be talked through it, probably also with diagrams, but sure. He would blush afterward and also send flowers.

She's a bard who loves women, and who is highly skilled in the arts of the bedroom. What do you think? Those smallclothes would be off faster than you can say... smallclothes.

Definitely would, but I'm kind of thinking she'd be one of those "I gave you five minutes, now give me an hour" kinds of foreplay types. 

Hell, yes. He's Qunari—while they're repressive and disturbing as a whole, they do seem to be a culture that is very sex-positive even if aromantic, and during his time as a Companion he's totally doing the Qunari equivalent of visiting Europe, anyway. Don't @ me.

I think he'd be willing, but the question is—would he stay conscious long enough? I just don't see that happening. Nope.

Not... yet? I think she'd be willing, but I think she's had lousy luck so far (it's why I ship her with Zevran after he flirts with her in Origins, since he would absolutely rock her world). Let's be real—her previous sexual escapades were probably all hasty stolen moments in various dusty dark corners of the mage tower. And they never lasted more than four minutes at a time. (And now I'm depressed.)

He finds the question hilarious, and has over two dozen favorite approaches and techniques, some of which both begin and end with an erotic massage. And yes, it would be ridiculously awesome.

"What a bizarre and useless question about those stupid, soft and fleshy beings."

Loghain Mac Tir
Nuh-uh. I don't think so. Look at all that tension. This is not the face of a man who's ever had a really happy sexual experience. Or given one.

"Nobody ever asks what I need. Nobody ever asks if I'm a caring, gentle and considerate lover. Nope. It's all, 'Whine, whine, whine! Why'd you have to bring the Darkspawn? Blight, Blight, Blight!' and I'm sick of it."

Yep. You'd have pretty great sex, he'd be generous and satisfying, and then you'd look out your window and his moving van would already be parked right there at the curb. Still, there are worse trade-offs. I'm just saying.

"Are you being humorous? No. This question is immaterial and a waste of time."

Nathaniel Howe
I'm kind of seeing Nat as the sexual equivalent of a middle-of-the-road steak dinner. Like, nothing super-creative there, but the arrow would find its target. (Oh, that was really bad. Really, really, really bad.)

She'd be funny and caring, one of those "rogue in the streets, stole your sheets" types.

Yes, but it would be tense, passive-aggressive, and slightly perfunctory. And she wouldn't call you afterward.

Teagan Guerrin
No. Just look at what happens to that man from Origins to "Trespasser." That is the face of a profoundly disappointed person right there. Nope. Never a single fun night in his entire life. What a waste of Hot Young Teagan! I blame Isolde.

Yeah, I'm thinking a definite yes on that one. Duncan was a bit of a rascal in his early years, so this is not a guy afraid of a trip to the Deep Roads, is what I'm saying.

All three colors are a resounding yes no matter what. Blue Hawke spoons after, Red Hawke doesn't. If it's Purple Hawke, there would be brief spoonage and then probably something humorous like farts or hiccups.

Based on his adorable uptightness and his panic during even basic flirtation scenarios, I'm gonna go with a soft no on this one. I'm not saying he wouldn't eventually get there, but he'd definitely need to meet the right woman (thousands immediately raise their hands to volunteer). He's spent a lot of his life focusing on work and guilt, so to me his romance in Inquisition just makes me think there's not a ton of reach and flexibility in that corner of his life as yet.

If you could get past the subtly terrifying "I'll probably kill you when I'm done" aspect of Flemeth's sex life, she was probably a total blast as well as wickedly creative in her day when it came to romantic shenanigans. Absolutely yes.

"Oooh, aren't you funny, you!" (Cheerfully and promptly demonstrates superior technique on the person asking the question. Bonus points if it's Catwoman.)

Of course he does, he's got a great imagination and is actually famous for writing blushworthy fictional romantic torrid scenarios.  And I'm sure he's had his share of opportunities, trysts, and admirers. 

And yet, in Varric's ongoing day to day life? It's a bit tragic, as his primary experience seems to have been with Bianca, and that is just really a waste of all that dwarfly sexiness. My question is, does he practice on the person, or the crossbow? Or... both?

See also Cullen. That's a no. 

Absolute yes. Classic example of  someone who doth protest too much. Nobody reads that much Swords & Shields who isn't gonna be secretly delightful in the kip.

Yes, and it would be very intense and dramatic. He'd probably get glowy at certain moments.

"Did I miss something dirty?" My favorite thing about Merrill is that she is a paradox—an innocent who is completely free of sexual hangups, very much like the character of Jester in Critical Role, Campaign 2. In all seriousness, I always kind of ship her with Isabela, so yes. 

The Arishok
Absolutely would, and I'm not gonna say anything else because, anyway... yeah. (I'll... be in my bunk.)

Oh, no no no, my Andrastian ears and whiskers, no. Nope. Nope. Nope. Not ever. Or at least—not after his vows! Before is another matter entirely.

Tallis would combine the Qun's no-nonsense sexual wisdom and technique with a sweet, funny, sparkly running dialogue that would either be annoying or adorable, or probably both.

Would be willing, but he'd also be the type to get someone interested down at The Hanged Man and then he'd complain and complain and complain for so long that they'd get that fixed expression on their face, escape when he paused for breath, and Carver'd never realize he just lost the chance to hook up. Poor grumpy bro.

Hmmm... she's very proper and sweet. But she's also incredibly empathetic and wants people around her to feel joy, so hey, this would be one way for her to do that. I'm just sayin'. So Bethany's a yes.

I'm gonna say no. And all of Kirkwall will pay just because she couldn't find a healthier way to relieve stress.

He's got this sort of slinky, super-feline quality to him that makes me think yep. Also, yes, part of me kind of ships Orsino with Meredith because he's probably exactly what she needs in the bedroom department. Just think, he could have saved the city with a daring proposition and a few glasses of Antivan wine!

The Inquisitor
Oh, depending on your character build and preferences, sure. And the Mark could also be an added bonus in certain scenarios. Sorry/not sorry.

He's thousands of years old, dating back to one of the most decadent, hedonistic eras in an intensely magical world, and for extra fun, he can paint the dream world of the Fade to be anything he wants it to be. In other words, there is nothing the Dread Wolf hasn't done in the sack as long as it's adult and consenting, and I'm talking genders, participants, etc. Nada. He's had the world tour several times over, and by now, he knows what he likes and knows how he likes it. (Confirmed preferences include dominating, er, focus, and probably lots of booty stuff. And don't forget the 'dominating focus.').

(stares into middle distance)

Wait, where was I?

ADDED NOTE: I can't help it! I keep picturing The Iron Bull and Solas making a trip to the store for bondage supplies, and then sharing notes on which materials they find most effective.

"But what about this stuff?" asks Bull. "It's great for adjusting tension, and it's on sale!"

"Nonsense," replies Solas. "It tangles easily and has no flexibility at all."

"But it's on sale!" cries Bull. "I could tie up half of Skyhold!"

"Nevertheless," says Solas. "It is important to be discerning in these matters if you wish the object of your affection to be satisfied." 

"Little asshole," grumbles Bull. "Everyone's satisfied with The Iron Bull."

"Undoubtedly," says Solas. "However, to keep it that way, I would go with my rope, not yours."

(Sorry. We now return you to your original posted content.) 

The Iron Bull
Oh, gosh, I don't know. You think? (hysterical laughter) Personally, I'm guessing for Bull that third base is practically his version of a good night kiss. 

ADDED NOTE: I keep visualizing this scenario in my head and it's been cracking me up for a few days now—Bull on the porch at the end of a date, and instead of a good-night kiss, just going right in for third base, and his date going, "Oh! Oh, my. Okay. Um, let's go inside." Although let's face it, anybody who ends a night with Bull with a kiss on the porch  just missed out on one of life's great moments, anyway. Sheesh, people.

But honestly, the best summation I can give of Bull's scenario is from my friend SeekerCat5500 over on Twitter, who wrote, "There's not one aspect of his lover's body that Iron Bull wouldn't dine on like a starving man at a feast."

She's not wrong. Also, woof.

(stares into middle distance)


Handsome, smart, sweet, and dryly funny, I feel like Krem is basically perfect, so let's just say that I think he would be generous, attentive and very successful in this situation. However, I'd also guess that he'd have probably had a few insightful conversations with Bull, who would have given him lots of humorous advice on technique, combined with a few combat metaphors ("Don't rush right in! Vary your responses! Occasionally go for the unexpected, where they're weakest!" etc.) 

She'd be a little bit impatient, she's got things to do and people to see and bad guys to shoot with a spell arrow: "There. No, there. No. Right there. Yes. No, you're in the wrong spot. Yes!" And at some point, she'd say the sexual equivalent of, "It's a bow." But dirtier.

Grim would grunt mysteriously a few times, then jump right in and make the recipient pretty happy in a businesslike fashion.

Shite, nobody even needs to ask this question because of course she does. In this scenario she is definitely Sera was Ever not Sera was Never.

(He pauses thoughtfully for a full minute)
"I don't think those two things go together. But also, you should talk to ______ because they think of nice things when they look at you, and then they smile." 

I think it could go either way. I'm gonna say, Blackwall, no. But when he's free to be Thom Rainier again? I'm gonna go with yes on this one. I think he'd be a people pleaser.

Scout Harding
Yes? I don't know. Sure, in a happy demi scenario with a trusted companion? 

"Oh, darling, how funny of you. Anyone approaches within a foot of that part of my body and they get a permanent case of Winter's Chill."

Yes, and everyone's curtains go up in flames. If you know what I mean, and I think you do.

Let's face it, with his clever moods and "words of the day," our sly barkeep is quite the cunning linguist.

Bram Kenric
"Oh, goodness, well let me see, I've been so focused on getting tenure, so this is a bit awkward. It certainly isn't like any of the  more scholarly descriptions I've read in books. It's a bit daunting, to be honest.  However, I'm willing to give it a try. Wish me luck!" Then at some point in the proceedings, he would injure himself on the bedpost, pass out, and require at least ten stitches.

Svarah Sun-Hair
"Ah! No. Wait a moment. Your tongue is as clumsy as a hold-beast's. It appears to me that while you are willing to please, you perhaps require further proper instruction. I will provide it. Begin again."

Look, say what you will about Corypants, but he's got to be an absolute dervish in the sack. Anything goes. He's totally got one of those bedrooms with weird colored lights and stuff too. And don't forget the striped stockings!

No, I feel like she's a gentle ace who would probably rather not go there. But that she's very romantic in her own way and with the right partner.  

"Yes, ma'am, thank you, ma'am, a little higher? Sure. No, hold on. Left? Wait, was that a good sound or a bad one?"

Jim (Cullen's Attache)
Oh absolutely. He's still writing torrid fanfiction about the day when Cullen finally succumbs to his forbidden secret passions and realizes their love.


What's your take? And what did I get wrong? 

Meanwhile, I regret nothing.

NOTE: Just a friendly reminder that if you enjoy my blog, tweets, or Dragon Age analyses, I'd welcome a coffee on Ko-Fi or some support on Patreon.

Love, Lies and Lyrium: Speculations on Varric's Role in Dragon Age 4

VARRIC: There's always someone bent on breaking the world...

You know that third Dragon Age 4 trailer that I took forever to analyze, and that I just posted about last week?

Well, going through and updating it over the past few weeks made me do some thinking. And a lot of that thinking was about our storyteller dwarf Master Tethras, whose character analysis I just posted a few weeks back before the latest big teaser trailer run-through.

For me, as for many, one of the most exciting things about that new teaser trailer for Dragon Age 4 was the immediate revelation that it was narrated by none other than Varric Tethras himself—which is a pretty good indication that Thedas's bestselling novelist is going to be returning for our next adventure. Especially as he even specifies, "I've got your back" as the trailer winds down.

As I mentioned, I feel like this is a clear indication that Varric will most likely serve as an advisor to our next hero in Dragon Age 4—he may even be our main point of contact, although I believe Dorian and hopefully Maevaris will also be present. As I also mentioned, I don't think Varric's going to be a Companion, although he may very well have a special guest "tag-along" quest, as Cullen did in Dragon Age Inquisition.

But I think there are some other exciting big-picture conclusions to be drawn from Varric's presence, as well.

Varric's Nemesis

Varric's narration in that latest trailer isn't just important because it lets us know that Varric will be back—there's another really deep, almost mythic aspect I want to bring up here, which is that, for Varric, more than for any other character in Dragon Age, red lyrium is his nemesis.

Varric was there when that very first red lyrium idol was found in the remains of the ancient thaig in the Deep Roads in Dragon Age II -- the lyrium idol that seemed to start red lyrium's deadly growth across Thedas. That red lyrium idol first destroyed his brother Bartram and then maddened and destroyed Meredith. This in turn led to widescale death and carnage across Kirkwall, and which endangered Thedas beyond.

Then Corypheus's rise to power in Dragon Age Inquisition took the effects even further, and through a corrupt network, evil army, and demented mining strategy, red lyrium began to show up in almost all corners of Southern Thedas as the Inquisition waged its battles. Varric then discovered the devastating truth that Bianca had unknowingly facilitated a secret red lyrium mining operation in order to maintain access to her study of the red lyrium. Even as Varric worked do destroy as much red lyrium as possible across Thedas, Bianca's brilliant scientific mind had discovered the truth -- that the substance is what happens when regular lyrium becomes infected with the Blight—and that red lyrium is, in ways she can't quite understand, actually alive.

While Bianca hadn't meant to doom the world or contribute to the rise of Corypants, it's still undeniable that she knew she was doing some pretty shady stuff, and that the red lyrium was incredibly dangerous.

Varric knew it too. Which was why he sighed his usual catchphrase, which also held a world of hurt behind it: "Well, shit."

The Infection Spreads

Because red lyrium is somehow alive, this seems to make it easy to use to "infect" a landscape, and in Dragon Age Inquisition, Corypheus made sure it was sown across Thedas. The deposits grew and multiplied quickly, and were easy to mine and transport, since red lyrium (unlike regular lyrium) can be mined by anyone, not just dwarves. Red lyrium was also shown to be insidious and easy to use to corrupt and infect people, since it didn't even require ingestion, and people could be infected simply through close proximity (which is what appeared to happen to our imprisoned companions in the alternate future of "In Hushed Whispers.")

Varric never forgot his brother Bartram's poisoning and destruction from red lyrium (either mentally or physically, depending on our choices in Dragon Age II), and that chapter of his life

In Knight Errant, upon finishing his trip to Starkhaven (attending Sebastian's birthday celebration in order to help Vaea get Marius and Tessa out of prison), Varric discovers upon departure that red lyrium may have now spread to Tevinter.

Tevinter Nights, meanwhile, shows that Varric has continued to work actively for the Inquisition despite his day job as Viscount. He's the one who oversees the investigation on Genitivi and friends' research into the nature of the ancient elven pantheon, according to "Genitivi Dies in the End," and who receives the report (a nice detail to look back on as Varric is obviously very much aware of "The Dread Wolf" and his identity as of the new Dragon Age 4 trailer). It's also Varric who calls in a favor to get the Carta Assassin to attend the meeting with Charter in "The Dread Wolf Take You." The Assassin's tale is also directly tied to the danger of red lyrium, and he starts by referencing Bartrand and Meredith, then talks obliquely about Bianca's research and revelations, and that Varric was responsible for the Carta-approved quarantine to try to keep it contained.

Then he gets specific: A Dalish elf contacted them who wanted the red lyrium idol from the heart of Meredith's fossilized red lyrium form (for Solas), and here's where Varric and Solas's stories and agendas converge:

...But the elf keeps at it. He’s learned it from a dream. Some old legend of his people says the idol is in her body, and if he gets it out, he can free his gods or something like that...

...We’re about to kill him, not because we’re cruel, you understand, but anybody who is that determined to dig around in a statue made of lyrium needs to be put down before they get a bunch of people hurt, and then the elf pulls out a potion and says it will soften the raw lyrium and weaken its magic for a bit, so we can get to the idol inside safely. We pour a little of that potion on some lyrium for a laugh, and damned if it doesn’t work just like he says.

In hindsight, what's really interesting about this beyond the fact that Solas and Varric's stories have just converged again in the unlikeliest of ways, is that Solas has very little dialogue about red lyrium in Dragon Age Inquisition, period. Beyond expressing a healthy caution for being in its proximity, he says few words about it and expresses no curiosity at all. 

However. He does have the following extremely telling conversation with Cassandra about Corypants:

Cassandra: Solas, what do you think this Corypheus actually is?
Solas: A darkspawn, as he appears.
Cassandra: But what of the orb he wields and the dragon he commands? This is no ordinary darkspawn.
Solas: His true advantage is the red lyrium. It is corrupted by the Blight as he is, thus taps into its power twofold. Whatever he was before, that is what makes him dangerous now.


And this ties directly in with the stories of the Carta Assassin and all of the others at Charter's table in Tevinter Nights as they converge to provide us with the revelation that Solas desperately needed the red lyrium idol, and that he's going to use it in his ritual or enchantment to tear down the Veil and restore the ancient empire of his people. The idol—and the red lyrium—are going to provide him with that "true advantage" and of course, just as he said, make him more dangerous than ever.

The fact that Solas ends the story as resolute and sorrowful as ever to move forward with his plans doesn't bode well for Thedas in Dragon Age 4... or Varric in his determination to contain the threat of red lyrium once and for all.

A Sorrowful Dwarf in a Lyrium-Blighted World

It's exciting and surprising that Solas's biggest strategic antagonist in Dragon Age 4 may just be our own Master Tethras, once again waging a war against a toxic red crystal that harkens all the way back to the days of Mythal and the Evanuris and Solas, back to dwarves and titans, back to stolen titan's-blood and the beginnings of the Blight... (No wonder the Blighted red lyrium is confirmed by Bianca to be alive... isn't lyrium already alive, if we think about it? The titans lived, even if they may have been monolithic, biologically exotic creatures of mountain and stone... they were alive, and it certainly looks like we may be in for a reckoning in Dragon Age 4.)

And it all makes perfect sense, if so. As we get those additional glimpses of the next chapter in Dragon Age, it's obvious that red lyrium is back again, and worse than ever, in Dragon Age 4. For this reason, Varric's presence in the trailer is not only exciting, it's also potentially tragic. 

As of the end of "Trespasser," Varric was uncomfortably ensconced as the lovably irascible Viscount of Kirkwall, grudgingly ruling the city where he was born—the city he loved, even when he didn't want to. He felt a responsibility to the city and its people, and demonstrated in his conversations with the Inquisitor that, like it or not, he was a pretty damn good ruler, and he was keeping his city safe. He seemed pretty set where he was—even inviting the Inquisitor to come out and live there if they have a yearning to (an offer that warmed my heart, because Varric can't help turning friends into family everywhere he goes). He doesn't seem like someone who's going to go on extended adventuring again anytime soon.

But now I think everything's changed. 

Thanks to the teasers and trailers, the red lyrium we glimpse in Dragon Age 4 doesn't just look like a creepy malignancy to be wiped out here and there—it looks like a plague, a crimson cancer that's overrunning Thedas, destroying fields, forests, and even perhaps cities.

Which means that for Varric, Dragon Age 4 is going to be more personal than ever. I suspect he'll be more invested and passionate than we've seen him so far, for that reason. No more attempts to be neutral. No more reluctance to choose a side, to be the storyteller and not the hero. As I've mentioned before, this is something that writer Mary Kirby has always navigated skillfully when it comes to Varric, balancing that sense of charm and intimacy, that Varric is our friend, with that equal truth that he's just as cool and calculating as Leliana and Bull in some ways, and far more similar to them in his abilities to compartmentalize than people may be aware of.

It's personal. And if it's personal for Varric, that means he has more to lose than ever. But those moments also can come with a curious sense of freedom, which is why I want to bring up my other theory for the next game: when it comes to love, I think Varric may finally have let go of the past.

Closing a Door on the Past...

The revelation that Bianca was aware of the red lyrium operation in Dragon Age Inquisition, and keeping vital information about that fact from Varric, ends her visit to Skyhold with a tense confrontation between the two in which Bianca both apologizes and justifies her actions, and in which Varric seems both deeply disappointed and tired. The Inquisitor can step in, choose a side, or ask them both to step back. 

Bianca plays it cool as always, although we can see how much Varric still means to her. She threatens the Inquisitor if Varric comes to harm, and even during the mission to the Deep Roads, she invites Varric to stop by for another tryst—another few stolen moments for the lovers among dozens over the years.

Still, he's unhappy as she departs, and from the conversation that ensues with the Inquisitor, it's apparent that this is a big moment for Varric, and I think it's about more than just choosing a side or seeing the big picture here.

I think it's also about his heart. 

Right here is when I think Varric starts to let go of Bianca permanently. At long last.

Hearts and High Stakes

My bet is that Varric's discovery of Bianca's role in Dragon Age Inquisition finally caused him to break free from her, and that—at last—all those people who wanted their chance at romancing the guy with the best chest hair in Thedas may finally get their chance.

This is why I don't just think he'll be an advisor in the next game, following the tried and true "Cullen" Dragon Age path from soldier to commander—I also think, as with Cullen, that finally Varric may in fact... wait for it... be available.

After all, this is a formula that's worked for BioWare in the games in the past—popular game characters evolve from romanced companions to advisors or compatriots, or vice versa, as we've seen in the case of Leliana, Cassandra, and Cullen, and that we'll witness again next, I suspect, with Dorian (who I'm betting will be an unromanceable advisor), and Varric. If I'm right, Varric won't just be laying his traps and pulling on those spiderwebs, he'll also—I swear to Andruil—be available for those patient Varric thirsters wanting to finally swipe right.

It makes narrative sense to me, as well. The next game is going to hold the highest stakes for Varric in many ways since it all began back in Kirkwall. And yet we'll be dealing with a new protagonist and a new cast of Companion followers, which might daunt some players missing the camaraderie of their old friends at Skyhold. So if it does happen as I expect, Varric will be one of those returning characters who would provide an anchor, a sense of continuity and family for returning players, and his romance would further add a natural yet necessary element of emotion and high stakes very quickly into the equation, as well.

This scenario also worries me as someone who adores Varric and doesn't want anything to happen to him. Let's face it, if Varric were Ahab, then red lyrium would be his white whale. It's literally touched, altered or destroyed almost everything he loved. Will he defeat it? Or will it sink him at last? If it does, I can almost guarantee you that he'd simply die with a wry smile and an appropriately literary and witty observation as his last words. 

The sad part is, Varric will have had years in which to compose those words, because I think some part of him always knew that the fight wasn't over, and that because he was there for the discovery of red lyrium in the beginning, he would have an additional part to play in the end, as well.

That's why Dragon Age 4 may very well hold the highest danger for Thedas's most popular novelist yet—and the biggest threat not just to his life, but to his heart.

Will Varric make it through? Time will tell.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Dragon Age 4 Trailer (Game Awards Teaser), Shot by Shot Analysis


Hello, brave Thedosians!

Here's another late and potentially useless Dragon Age 4 trailer analysis by me, this time of the 2020 Game Awards Dragon Age Official Teaser Trailer posted on December 10, 2020.

What do we already know? We know Solas will be back from the previous trailers, and that red lyrium and that central Dread Wolf conflict are going to remain paramount. From the recently released book BioWare: Stories and Secrets from 25 Years of Game Development, we know that Dragon Age 4's primary setting will be Tevinter, and from the hints of writers like Patrick Weekes, that the main story will explore the imbalance of power along with a hero who has none. 

We've also gotten confirmation fairly recently that there will NOT be a multiplayer element this time around, and that the hero will not be the Inquisitor, but as always, will be someone new. Although I absolutely think the Inky will be back as a guest participant, probably very similarly to Hawke's appearance in Inquisition (although I'm guessing it may even be a guest first-person appearance, given the potential romance resolution).

So here we go!

Fade from black.

We hear the SOUND OF a blade being drawn.

Now we see some atmospheric frescoed images on walls: Close-ups of a spiky red figure with golden eyes and mouth, and a very distinctive crown/helmet. And look at those distinctive "veins" of gold running through her. Veins of Titan blood -- lyrium. Or corrupted blood -- Red Lyrium.

And who's the figure? It sure looks like Red Lyrium Meredith to me! She's even holding a big old sword that sure looks like Meredith's Red Lyrium sword Certainty—at least, the later depictions of it.

Now, another interesting thing to note here is that Certainty used to look like the image above, as of Dragon Age II and even Inquisition. But later BioWare art depicts Certainty as looking like this spikier image below, as seen in this art from Heroes of Dragon Age. And that thing's a dead ringer for what the figure in the latest fresco is carrying.

So my long-winded point here (sorry!) is that I think this figure is meant to echo both the Red Lyrium idol figure and also Red Lyrium Meredith, both important facets of where the story began. And, of course, Varric was there for all of it.

But more on that farther down.

Meanwhile here's another old friend, what looks to be a symbolic representation of Corypheus, old Corypants from Dragon Age Inquisition. It's just a guess, but the big red shards of lyrium sticking out of the head are very distinctive, and of course, we saw that same motif with Cory's mug. And here, Cory's holding up that orb that caused all the trouble to begin with, way back in Dragon Age Inquisition's inciting incident, leveling the Conclave and splitting the skies of Thedas. Here, however, I'm pretty sure we're seeing that orb's destruction, and as with Meredith, we're seeing Corypheus's final defeat as the orb breaks.

Notice that the only gold on this image is on the orb itself, not on Cory. So the use of the gold seems to imply a magical or magic-infused item. 

All of the images on the walls flicker in firelight or torchlight, just like they did a few years back when we saw that first fresco teaser with Solas.

And then we hear a wonderful, familiar voice. It's our old friend Varric!

Varric: I've faced tyrants and would-be gods. 

Well, that certainly includes Meredith and Corypants! So -- nicely done, BioWare.

Varric continues.

Varric: Seen friends lose life and limb.

(First off, you can practically hear the Inquisitor wince from here.)

Meanwhile, this image shows up, and it absolutely stumped me for the longest time until I flipped it upside-down. Then, hello, mysterious figure!

Now let's look at a clean, graphical version that's much easier to analyze -- I've cropped and rotated this version from that BioWare banner version they posted.

It's pretty exciting, because I do believe we're saying hello to one of the Evanuris here.

While I could see this possibly symbolizing Andruil, for me the details mean this is absolutely Ghilan'nain. Notice the shape of the head, which is exactly like what we see in the clearer concept art from BioWare of that giant centipede (hey, who does that remind us of again?) -- we first glimpsed a bit of it in the last trailer, farther below...

But also, beyond the head shape, that matches between both figures, look at the wavy lines that fall from the goddess's head -- these have historically, in the frescoes, symbolized magic. Here, however, while I still think they're symbolic of magic, they also kind of resemble physical strings hanging off her helmet -- seaweed? Ghilan'nain is certainly heavily associated with the sea!

Meanwhile, her pose is calm and serene, arms crossed in the manner of Egyptian sarcophagi. Is she sleeping here? Or imprisoned?

Our first glimpse of giant centipede, above, didn't reveal some important clues. However, in the more fully revealed concept art, sure enough, that centipede has a humanoid, female torso (and FOUR arms)!

This ties to Ghilan'nain again -- the giant monstrous centipede form, the rise from the ocean depths (don't forget that Ghil created many creatures of the ocean, and when she killed all of those animals for her ascension, she left the creatures of the "deep waters, for they were too well-wrought"). Then "Horror of Hormack" brings it all full circle with that distinct smell of "brine" and the sea as the Grey Wardens delve deeper into the ancient mysteries in the forest (and eventually, in the ancient elven monster-shrine). And let's not forget the crackling lightning and "vengeance of the gods/goddesses" aspect, and of course as we can see, that unmistakable headpiece. 

Let's also not miss that note from the BioWare 25th celebration, which notes, "The Evil Gods have Thedas in their sight and only heroes can stop them." Which certainly implies gods (plural) and evil ones, at that. I'm definitely becoming convinced that monster-maker Ghil and her onetime lover, the merciless Andruil, qualify.

Next, we see that male godlike figure I mentioned off to the right, as follows:

Once again, let's FLIP this sucker for a really good look.

And even better, here's the cleaned-up graphical one from the improved version posted by BioWare, which I've cropped and rotated as with the previous one.

The Mysterious Male God...

Now, to me, this image of the male god at right implies a rather kingly image that resembles the robe-wrapped god figure we saw in one of Solas's frescoes in "Trespasser." 

The shape of the head or crown here, meanwhile, is one we have seen a few times in some of the ancient statues and frescoes, although I haven't found a common thread on those yet. I do think the shape of the head against the golden circle behind it heavily remind me of the sun, and of course, Elgar'nan is in fact the one who played the "sun god" among the elven pantheon.

Now remember that fresco I mentioned from "Trespasser?" Look at this image here -- a male god wrapped in a robe, emanating darkness. Above his head? A golden "sun" of magic.

However, as always, nothing is certain, so it could also be the frequently mentioned Falon'din. The reason it may be Falon'din is that Falon'din in some ways echoes Solas and could be seen as representing a dark mirror of Solas -- not a freer of slaves, a Prince of the Fade, but instead as a tyrant enslaving and killing millions for fun, the dark King of the Dead. Is this who will awaken, and challenge Solas?

Or will it be both of these, seeking vengeance? 

And if so... what will Mythal do, if her wisp is ensconced presumably and symbiotically in her new physical identity? (Morrigan. It's gonna be Morrigan.)

Varric: But there's always someone bent on breaking the world. 

Cue the darkness, and BioWare logo glowing against a sunburst.

A New Cast of Characters

Then our view of a blue, cloud-swept sky pans down to reveal what may be a desert—or beach? And a bunch of spiky-armored animals like giant turtles, which approach threateningly as our view goes down to the armored feet of the hero. (Side note: I love turtles and their little old-man faces. If we have to kill them, I'll be a real wimp about it in-game!)

The fact that this figure is wearing armor means that it could be that Grey Warden we've caught glimpses of in our past trailers, perhaps Davrin? And if it's a Grey Warden, that means this is more likely a desert than a beach, especially given our pretty clear concept art of what I believe is Weisshaupt in the previous trailers. Which would mean this is still probably in the Anderfels in some way, so I wonder if the "water" we see here is a mirage. Or a watering hole.

Next, a golden idyllic landscape seen through a central ivy-festooned, pillared archway. A delicate fence runs across the exterior of this pillared place. Through this main archway, meanwhile, we can see a still lake of water, with a city either on an island or peninsula above and through the water. Or, as I think is more likely after reviewing the rest of this trailer -- it's Antiva City and those are the more Venice-like canals David Gaider once referenced as inspiration for Antiva, which is mentioned as far back as Origins as being one of Thedas's most beautiful cities. Rising above the village, we can see a very pretty, very pointy castle, covered in molten sunlight. Rising steeply above the castle, we can see gentle, curving mountains.

Given what we see next in the nighttime shot, I feel comfortable with the Antiva City pick, just seen in glorious daylight. And it sure looks pretty -- it's got a downright fairytale quality. But notice in the above image that even in daylight, we can see rays or emanations of what are most likely magic coming from the castle. Is the castle enchanted? Magically protected? Or is this after some more harmful spell has been cast?

Crows and Rooftops

Next we see a gloved right hand gently swirling an etched golden goblet of wine. 

And... yep. We pull back to reveal a reclining figure on a rooftop at night, JUST at the very end of sunset beneath a streaked sky. The figure is looking down on this same castle from another, much closer perspective, and its windows glow against the darkness. The figure is hooded and dressed roguishly all in leather, but with wide sleeves and fancy details. 

As we pull back, we get an alternate view of our enchanted castle from the daytime shot, the spell clearly glowing magically in blue rays beneath the setting sun.

If it is Antiva City, I love this vision and its design. There's a touch of that Byzantine flair to the surrounding buildings -- sharp angles and corners, lots of delicate ironwork detailing, even in the arched glowing windows. Small, sharp balconied towers rising around the city -- but it's not super-ornate like I'd expect to see in Tevinter. And it's so much fun to see that Crow in the rooftops, lounging with those black winglike sleeves, enjoying the view from the heights. And of course, Antiva is also where the Crows originate, and we got a LOT about the Crows in Tevinter Nights. So does this once again hint at someone from those stories, like Lucanis?

Last but not least, if we zoom in really close here, I swear that's a crow and not a gargoyle -- definitely a bird -- jutting out from the building opposite the figure here, slightly to the right of center.

Another thing this instantly reminded me of was the wonderful art that was posted with one of the stories that BioWare released for Dragon Age Day back in December 2020. One of those, Mary Kirby's "The Wake," was about the memories of a drunk and bitter Illario as he looks back on good times with Lucanis the Crow, whom we first met in Tevinter Nights. Unfortunately, we quickly realize poor Lucanis is no more.

As here, the story's illustration shows the Crows on the rooftops of  Antiva City.

I love the fact that the art here sure seems to confirm those above Antiva City locations -- notice the pretty pointy castle in the background, and the "Crow" accents on the buildings (right down to the "feathered" shingles!).

"The Wake" may offer some additional clues as well—Teia as illustrated above sure reminds me of the popular concept image we saw of the pretty redhead with the sword in trailer 2. Surrounded by crows! 

In addition, yes, this is further proof that my last post on Trailer 2 aged badly, where I wondered if we might see Lucanis again! So maybe we'll see Illario? And Teia? It could happen.

Varric: No magic hand. No ancient prophecy.

Tevinter, Baby!

We cut (to drumbeats) to a MASSIVE city, very gothic noir here. 

Of course, this HAS to be Minrathous, right? Tevinter prime.

It's full-on night, and we can see what may be this (or another) city, rising in multiple towers and buildings on all sides, and high ahead. More sharp and pointed towers, ironwork, and other architectural details that in this context almost have a slightly Mandarin feel, while high above the glowing towers ahead, we see a floating, towered structure in the shape of a horseshoe (but rounder). I'm guessing the big floaty place is perhaps where the Magisterium meets?

We can also see spangles of glowy rune or glyph light punctuating the night here on all sides that are pretty obviously spellwork. Which makes perfect sense given that Minrathous has to be chock-full of magical castings 24 hours per day. Tevinter is built on magic and its citizens eat sleep and breathe it (or, well, its elite magical ruling class does). I love the look of these magical punctuations -- there's almost a neon Blade Runner punk noir feel to the way they punctuate the dark city walls and streets, appearing in blue and green at four different points, and with a pinkish glowing cluster of runes to the right.

On the right-hand side, near the pink glyph, we see a building from whose balcony we can see two visible tapestries, we can see what I'm pretty sure is the Tevinter symbol -- a stylized serpent in very dark red. Except here it appears to have been flipped horizontally? See the previous symbol for Tevinter (also used by the Venatori) at right.

More Clues to Companions...

We now see a different hooded figure -- we're close enough that we can see a scaled pattern on the hood, which has a bronze patina here. We can also see gold or bronze detailing on the figure's chest as they whip out a dagger that has a bird shape with downward facing wings as a hilt guard. Another Crow? Seems different from the previous figure though, and while I've been speculating on Executors and other exciting folks that we've glimpsed since "Trespasser," I don't feel like we're given enough information to know here yet.

Varric: The kind they'll never see coming.

As the figure finishes drawing the dagger, we cut to...

A horned figure in silhouette, running through an evergreen forest against the moon. We can see that they carry a leaf-edged weapon that at first appears to be a staff, but which is then revealed to be a bow. To me, this is most likely a Qunari figure, given the Arishok-like horns, and most likely the female Qunari companion we've glimpsed in previous DA4 trailers. If she's a companion for us in DA4, she's most likely a Tal Vashoth, although she could be another Adaar. 

But what a cool idea, if she is in fact a rogue? We haven't seen a Qunari rogue before. And this also backs up the previous concept art, in which she appeared to be wielding dual blades, as seen below.

Also, a magical "leafy" staff that delightfully turns out to be a magical, "leafy" bow? Somewhere, let's face it, Bull's Charger companion Dalish is smiling: Finally, It's a bow! (Yes, she's alive, you people who sacrificed the Chargers, yes you, I'm ignoring that entire alternate storyline. Bull is alive and well, thank you, and undoubtedly raising happy hell all over Thedas.)

A Pleasing Mystery

But what's the significance of this plainly magical and pretty obviously elven bow? And why does the Qunari wield it? To me the bow has to be Dalish -- it actually resembles the Dragon Age symbol of the Dalish as seen here at right.

So at some point, does this female Qunari rogue befriend the Dalish, who give her this bow? Or does she acquire it during her adventures with our new hero for Dragon Age 4? I can't wait to find out.

Meanwhile, Varric continues: We've got your back. I've got your back.

I'm going to detail what I think this means as far as Varric in the big picture farther down, but this definitely means he's going to be an integral part of Dragon Age 4, and the way this is worded means he's probably going to be a leader or advisor. Which fits perfectly with the way the games have gone so far -- I firmly believe that just as Cullen and Leliana became advisors in Dragon Age Inquisition, so now will Dorian and Varric become advisors to us in Dragon Age 4. It makes total sense.

A Familiar Image in a Nightmare World

The Qunari figure emerges from the forest and is faced with a tall, steep dark structure that appears to be coated in red-lyrium. Red lyrium appears to glow everywhere around them on the right-hand side, while ahead of them is a doorway (or broken eluvian?). Within the doorway or eluvian space, we see more red lyrium ledges, and a threatening figure crouched there ahead that shakes itself threateningly as the qunari raises her bow. 

It's only here that we see that her bowstring seems to be wholly magical (and how cool is that?) as is the arrow! This is exciting for me for a number of reasons—first off, the magic looks a heck of a lot like Rift magic. It's the same shade of green, the same buzzing, crackling energy. So is this another manifestation of Rift magic, now in Dragon Age 4? And if so, is this Qunari archer a rogue, or a mage—or both? As someone who prefers playing rogues and mages, and doing crowd control stuff versus melee, I would adore some kind of new combination class option here.

Varric: Demons. Dragons. Darkspawn.

The archer lets fly her magical green arrow and it flies (flashing green). 

The Vhenadahl

Now, before that sparkly green magic arrow reaches the figure's head, it's almost too fast to see, but if you pause it, we can see this very familiar landmark -- the vhenadahl that has featured in every single trailer so far, so it's going to be extremely important!

Here's that all-important fleeting glance:

And here's what we were shown in trailer 1 (this is the fully uncropped version by Nick Thornborrow), below. Flames, the vhenadahl, red lyrium, and magic. And now Solas, standing before that vhenadahl, that symbol of the elven people, as if to stop whatever threatens. It may be another clue that Solas will (as I believe) be redeemed in the final chapter. We'll see!

But what we also know from the above, pretty unmistakably, is what the earlier image below foretold -- that the vhenadahl would be burning in the flames of Red Lyrium, and that it may already be too late to save it.

And in trailer 2 here:

And here.

And here. Possibly? (If so, the vhenadahl is just out of sight but it really looks like the same location.) This concept art image looks a lot like the hurlock who's about to get shafted by the Qunari archer shortly (see a bit farther down) in this latest trailer, but here it's certainly a heck of a lot bigger. So is it the same creature? We don't know yet.

Which means we now know, from this latest trailer and the Qunari's run with the bow, that there's a forest nearby that leads directly into this space. And that this area, this land, and possibly all of Thedas, is horribly corrupted with Red Lyrium.

It's an interesting cycle of images which are, to bring it full circle, awfully evocative of this image from the Origins DLC The Darkspawn Chronicles.

So this tree as well as its location is obviously going to be a major setting in the new game.

I also think this is going to be a pattern we see a lot in the new Dragon Age 4 -- a return full-circle to earlier themes, moments, and settings, from both Dragon Age Origins to Dragon Age 2, to (of course) Inquisition and all of those DLCs. 

The arrow finds its mark, and after a heck of a lot more patient pausing, we can see clearly that this is in fact a darkspawn, a Hurlock Alpha. Who is now toast. Rest in Peace, sweet Hurlock Alpha.

Then our screen cuts to super-dramatic dramatic darkness. Boom.

Varric: Even the Dread Wolf.

What His Pride Had Wrought 

Fade from black on the fresco from the opening sequence, now seen as a MASSIVE red fresco painted with what looks like black, white, silver, and gold.

First, to help us really look closely at the mural, I'm gonna insert the alternative banner version of this from BioWare/EA, below:

So here we go. It's a lot less atmospheric, but a LOT easier to view and analyze!

First off, I've already talked earlier about those two bottom figures at left (Meredith) and right (Corypants), as well as those fascinating upside-down, possibly Evanuris, figures above each. 

Notice the positioning on the frescoes -- Meredith on the left, and above her, the upside-down female goddess figure in all her final Red Lyrium glory. Corypants is on the right, holding the orb even as it breaks and dooms him for once and for all, and above him, we see the horned upside-down god figure. 

There are a couple of things this parallel placement could mean -- among them, to me, that the female goddess echoes the vengeful or cruel aspects of Meredith (and which brought her down), but also -- her status in the story as very close to the discovery of Red Lyrium? Which would strengthen the belief of those who think that the goddess above her is Andruil, who may have brought the Blight up from the Void. 

And as far as Corypheus, what was his great sin? Pride and arrogance -- he wished to ascend to godhood, to ascend to the Golden City and confront the Maker himself. So what if that's Elgar'nan above him? 

I still think goddess at left is Ghil. Although I'm still divided on the god at right. 

The positioning of the six-eyed Dread Wolf's head (what I call the Pride Wolf) is really important here, because it's breaking like a dagger or arrowhead violently through a barrier or bubble covering the city below, as if... breaking the Veil? Destroying the Veil? 

More on this in a moment. First, let's look at the city itself.

Red City, Black City

Notice those red veins, so distinctive, in the city below the wolf, implying that the city has been Blighted or corrupted with Red Lyrium. Now look at the teeth -- the Dread Wolf's teeth here being red now seem to imply that the breaking of the Veil/barrier -- the Wolf itself (Solas, inadvertently?) has infected the city -- from the "bite" of the Wolf, to the lyrium now everywhere below. To emphasize this, we also see shards of red lyrium jutting out from the buildings themselves.

Or is this what Solas plans to do? I'll get to that when I discuss the metaphorical aspects farther down.

Meanwhile, there are two ways we can go with the city image -- it could be the Black City (and if we look at the actual fresco image farther down, we can see the underside, implying that it's floating. Which means, hello, Black City!

But as we look at those towers it's also easy to wonder if it's yet another doomed city we've been hearing so much about -- Arlathan. 

Ancient Wonders Lost

I've gone back and forth on the popular notion that Arlathan is simply the Black City, removed to the Fade from the circles of the living world. My question is still, then who removed it? Did it happen when Solas created the Veil? And if it is a doomed, Blighted version of Arlathan, can it be saved or restored to its former self -- purified somehow? 

Why, if it is Arlathan, is it filled with Red Lyrium? I remember the detail from previous Dragon Age lore that the Black City was so incredibly toxic and Blighted that people were infected just by approaching it in the Fade, before they even reached it.

It's easy to imagine that this "Blight" was of course Red Lyrium, which is in itself simply Blighted Titan's blood. 

Does this mean that the elves doomed themselves, as we've already discovered so many times from the revelations of Solas and "Trespasser?" For instance, did Andruil, venturing in the Void, bring back the Blight not just to Thedas (and, I believe, at least one sleeping Titan), but to the perfection of Arlathan itself, at the very height of the ancient elven empire? Was it, in other words, Andruil who doomed Arlathan -- and were Solas's actions at any point an effort by him to save it? 

What if, for instance, as King of the Fade, Solas managed to not only imprison the Evanuris tyrants, but to remove Arlathan into the Fade in order to protect Thedas and freeze it in stasis? If so, no wonder he slept for several thousand years afterward.

I always love imagining Arlathan because it reminds me of the stories of the rise and fall of Numenor from Tolkien's Akallabeth. I was always thrilled at that first doomed step by the arrogant Ar-Pharazon on the shores of Valinor... and then that rumble of doom as the Valar wreaked their vengeance, and the towering wave destroyed the jewel that was Numenor, sinking it forever -- innocent and guilty alike. (Including Hot Sauron, who was supposedly ridiculously attractive, although once killed by the wave, he was never able to inhabit a "fair and charming" physical form again.)

Was it as shocking and sudden for the people of Arlathan? I wonder. I'd love to hear Solas tell the tale!

Portents for Cities of Thedas

I also think there may be some really interesting foreshadowing happening here, implying the wholesale corruption and/or destruction of a major physical Thedosian city due to the Red Lyrium as well.

With that in mind, on the foreshadowing front, I think it's meant to represent Minrathous. Although it could be Antiva City, which looks so delicate in what we see here, and so beautiful. But my money's on Minrathous, because of the Tevinter element, and because this would certainly be one way to bring down Tevinter -- which let's remember is already seriously battling (and losing to) the Qunari as of Tevinter Nights.

But there's a larger metaphor here that's absolutely brutal. Let's look again at that image. The Dread Wolf tears or breaks the Veil. And Red Lyrium is loosed, infecting and possibly dooming the world. Once again? All because Solas insisted upon "fixing" his past actions. Is it an image of a future that is set? Or of a past that Solas is aware may repeat itself? After all, that Wolf is Solas and Solas is the Wolf. Thanks to Tevinter Nights, we even know Solas can inhabit that shape both in and outside the Fade itself.

So which part of the timeline are we looking at?

For me, it would be both appropriate and tragic if Solas's belief that tearing down the Veil will fix the world and bring back the ancient atmosphere of his people... when instead it's one more step toward utterly dooming all of Thedas. Just as before, with the orb and the Breach.

Solas needs to stop trying to fix things. Varric tried to tell him, but he never listens.

Eyes On the Past

As far as some kind of Veil obliteration or fragmenting (like we saw in "In Hushed Whispers"), I definitely don't think this is what Solas wants. But it would be interesting albeit terrifying if that's what happens. Worse even than what he fears—which is that the Veil's removal will benefit elven lives and biologies but hurt or even kill other post-Veil latecomers like humans, Qunari, and other races. 

I don't think dwarves are going to be impacted, personally, and I also don't think a clean removal of the Veil would do what Solas fears, although I do think it would flood Thedas with a torrent of spirits and magic, and unlock any magical potential currently dormant within people across Thedas, which would still create plenty of chaos. 

But it's Solas who has the power, and Solas who is key. Even those blue eyes on the Wolf (which appear silver in the actual video) echo directly back to Solas. As I've already mentioned, Solas is exclusively associated with blue magic -- from the removal of the Inquisitor's vallaslin, to the draining of Flemeth, to his petrification of the Qunari in "Trespasser," Solas's magic is always depicted as blue. We even see it in blue waves in those frescoes in "Trespasser" when he removes the vallaslin of the slaves he frees. And we saw it once again in the second DA4 trailer, with that gorgeous image of Solas and the Wolf.

Is this what the blue-eyed Wolf signifies? Solas's power, contained and uncorrupted? But if the teeth are red (corrupted), does that also signify that Solas will not remain corrupted forever? Remember that initial teaser, and Solas's exhausted, subtly changed voice at the end. Does Solas become infected as well, or deliberately infect himself? I'm guessing yes. (Y'all, there is no way this is going to end happily, but I promise to cry with those of you who need company.)

I also think there's another clue to the eyes here, as they remind me very much of the peering spirits from the Fade on his very first fresco way back in Skyhold. 

So perhaps the eyes symbolize Solas's divided nature -- his spiritual and physical self, his elven and wolflike guises, and even his hinted power to walk all worlds at once -- Fade, waking world, the ancient fastnesses in between. I'm sure there's more I'm missing here, but I think it's a noteworthy detail. 

What the differently sized pupils mean, however, I'm still at a loss -- I tried reordering the eyes according to size, reordering them according to pupil size, etc., while scanning a variety of images and all of Solas's drawings, and well, I give up.

The other potential plot option here is, of course, that it's very possible that either one or both of these Evanuris "gods" pictured breaks free from prison, shattering the Veil in Superman Forbidden-Zone style, and therefore they infect Thedas somehow. 

And Solas (ironically) has to stop them, possibly by repairing the Veil or putting that sucker back up.

The Dread Wolf's Wardrobe Changes

But back to our video, and my doomed future ex-husband.

Standing in the center, now robed in black, is Solas, whose back is to us. He's wearing a long black robe of what looks like black leather, with shoulders that are almost armor-like or epaulettes in gold-etched leather, and with spikes enclosing the robe at front. He looks like he's possibly wearing some kind of silvery brooch or fastener at his chest that also suggests a wolf-head shape, but I also may be reading too much into things. He does appear to be wearing a breastplate under the robes as well, so fingers crossed that the Ancient Armor of Elven Hotness makes another appearance. (Sorry.)

Meanwhile. It's pretty interesting that Varric refers to Solas by his true identity here, so obviously the Inquisitor talked to their companions after "Trespasser." I'm betting that every companion and major character close to the Inquisitor who's still involved in the Inquisition (or whatever they're calling themselves now) after "Trespasser" is now fully briefed on Solas's identity. 

This isn't really a surprise when you come to think of it, because we already saw that Charter knew all of the details as of "The Dread Wolf Take You," and she was respectful enough and scared enough of Solas's powers (that include that ultra-terrifying, silent and instant petrification ability of his) that she did nothing but sit utterly still and ask him for mercy at the end of the tale there. Which Solas granted.

The fresco presents that massive, familiar image I discussed above, here seen real and shadowed. image. Solas stands dead center, his head and shoulders within the teeth of the Pride Wolf's mouth. (Yeah. He's doomed.)

We zoom in closer. Notice Solas's left hand. (If you want to get super-poetic, he may even be thinking of a romanced Inquisitor, here.)

Just as we zoom in close, there's a cut to Solas in a closer view, now rendered in a more three-dimensional representation, as he glares forbiddingly at us.

As before in the very first Dragon Age 4 teaser from a few years ago, golden sparks are flying in the air between us and Solas, as if from firelight or torchlight.

It's interesting to note that as I noted above, Solas is first shown above as standing almost pensively with his left hand against the fresco, and when he turns, his hand drops slowly. He didn't appear to be painting, just touching it. This is significant to me -- I think this could be seen as a continuation of his regret or sorrow. As well as, again, the possibility that he is remembering his romanced Inquisitor.

But of course, with Solas, Pride wins in the end, and that's how he confronts us at the video's end.

We zoom closer subtly and Solas's expression changes a little -- he's not quite so scowly, and his eyes open wider. He almost looks like he's on the verge of a smile.

As far as Solas's new and updated, more three-dimensional image here, it's awfully early, so I'm not gonna nitpick too much. He looks fantastic in the big-picture sense, and that first glimpse from behind is electrifying. As far as his face goes, I'm divided—it's interesting because it looks completely like Solas, and yet also completely unlike him, too. I think my main complaint of what we get here is that the eyes are a bit too squinty, and for me his lower lip is too thin. His expression here is also definitely more openly villainous than anything we've seen from Solas so far. Even when he petrified the Viddasala in "Trespasser," he looked merely regretful, not arrogant.

It's not bad—it's arresting, and I don't hate it, but it will take some getting used to if that's our new Dread Wolf, especially since I'll have to mourn the gorgeous image they teased us with previously, of Solas striding along with the Dread Wolf at his side, exuding blue magic.

Cut to black again, and now that same ornate sunburst shape glows around the Dragon Age logo. I think that sunburst, by the way, is gonna be significant, but I can't figure it out as yet. (What's your theory?)

Varric then speaks the final, exciting words: This is YOUR story.

Yes, please!

The music surges. There's a nice subtly Eastern feel to the music here, almost Indian, due to the use of what sounds like a sitar on the soundtrack. Again, this vibes wonderfully with the new game's potential focus on settings like Tevinter for me, since I associate Tevinter with a mixtures of artistic influences that would include both Eastern Asian as well as central European and Roman.

Last but not least... there's that narration. Let's talk about Varric and what that narration could really mean... 

But you'll have to go to my next post for that! I'll post it shortly -- meanwhile, I'll look forward to your thoughts as always!

"Dragon Age: Dreadwolf" Predictions & Ponderings (and "What's in a Name?" Redux)

He doesn't call, he doesn't write, but finally, it looks like we might be hearing from Solas at last (2023?), as BioWare announces t...