Thursday, June 2, 2022

"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 the official title of Dragon Age: Dreadwolf!

Hello, fellow Wardens, Hawkes, Inkies, and vhenans! It's been too long.

Today I wanted to start out with a tribute—to you, the fans, like me, of this rich and satisfying game series. Because oh, the sufferings we in the Dragon Age fandom have known! While the community can be warm and welcoming, the blanketforts soothing, the novels and comics tantalizing, it's been a long, long (I mean looooong) time since the release of the lovely Dragon Age: Inquisition DLC "Trespasser."

Seven years. SEVEN YEARS.

But I don't say this in complaint, but simply to note the patience and unwavering love of our fandom for the world of Thedas. Have we given up hope? No, we have not. We have talked, analyzed, wondered, and even (ahem, some of us) blogged to occasionally obsessive degrees. We've theorized and bonded, we've used this time to replay and rethink, and in some cases (mine, for instance) to even reexamine our own hearts, minds, and orientations in the real world ("Dragon Age: Helping thousands to figure out which letters of the alphabet apply to their own sex lives since 2009!") We have also, of course, fan-fictioned and fan-arted our little hearts out, and that's also something that always helps to further enrich and explore this world of Thedas we love in so many little ways.

But my point is, we've never given up hope. And over the past year or two, not only have we had some exciting new hints, trailers, and announcements, but today we've been given a further delicious morsel from BioWare with the announcement that the official title of Dragon Age 4 is, at last, revealed to be Dragon Age: Dreadwolf.

Like everyone else, I'm excited at this new development, not just because we get more info, but because it's official. It's not something we're thinking "maybe-might-be" about, it's BioWare feeling good enough about their progress to share, "Hey, here's where we're at!"

Which is a beautiful thing after all these years, and further progress from the lovely and tantalizing trailers we've already been given.

Potential Hints from BioWare

In BioWare's official blog post on the new title, their language includes some interesting tidbits that may be worth further examination.

Here's what they say (boldfacing is mine for occasional emphasis):

Solas, the Dread Wolf. Some say he might be an ancient elven god, but some say not. Others say a betrayer of his people…or a savior who now seeks to rescue them at the cost of your world. His motives are inscrutable and his methods sometimes questionable, earning him a reputation as something of a trickster deity—a player of dark and dangerous games.

First off, I love that the very first aspect of Solas slyly addressed here is the age-old "Is he or isn't he a god?" reference. Because, while our darling boy likes to say that he isn't and wasn't a god (and neither were the Evanuris), let's face it, I think my Inky's erstwhile elven boyfriend doth protest too much. I wrote more about this here, but essentially, I'm at the point where, if I were sitting across the chessboard from Solas, I'd go, "Dude, you're totally a god."

I mean, there's humility and then there's obfuscation and/or deliberate misdirection. He is thousands of years old (potentially tens of thousands). He was powerful enough to cast a spell that changed the entire face of the waking world and which divided the spiritual/magical realm of the Fade from the physical one. He has unprecedented powers in that spirit/dreamworld of the Fade, and can manipulate it almost endlessly to either reflect what he desires (walking the Inky through a teasing dream) or in which he can revisit an endless panoply of notable past events across all of Thedas—and even cross realities to sample the fiction and stories of other universes.

And after his tragic sacrificial power-up from Flemeth, Solas's powers have grown exponentially, in ways that I suspect are not so much an evolution as a return to his most powerful origins. As of "Trespasser," he could petrify enemies into stone with an eyeblink, and his spellcasting was so powerful the explosions were visible from miles away by the pursuing Inky and their party. He cures the Inky and removes the poisonous Mark (and her forearm, unfortunately) with a twist of his fingers.

As of Tevinter Nights, however, his powers had grown even greater. On a practical level, he had done exactly what he had suggested as strategy to Sera (for her Red Jenny organization) way back in the Inquisition days, expanding his network of spies (already impressive in "Trespasser") on dozens of missions and quests across Thedas. He had effortlessly infiltrated and thwarted Tevinter, the Qunari, Orlais, the Free Marches, the Carta, and all of the other leading powers of the land. Now using armies of spirits as well as elves (all notably missing their vallaslin slave-markings), Solas's operations were terrifying, efficient, and brutal. The body count was high, and people often died screaming. He wasn't kidding when he told the Inky that he didn't want them to see what he would become. No wonder Charter, at that crucial moment in "Dread Wolf Take You," simply and quietly begs him for her life. He is very capable of taking it—and yet the compassionate Solas we knew as Companion is the one who responds, spares her, and asks her to apologize to the Inquisitor yet again.

We can waffle about words all day, but what it comes down to (and what that added "deity" reference I think sneakily reminds us) is, Solas is a god. He may not like that title but his powers are certainly and arguably godlike. And he is a contemporary of gods with similar staggering powers, and something tells me we're going to need Solas's abilities to save the day.

Because have you seen what's coming at us in DA4? The Evanuris look like they're breaking out of that Phantom Zone (or at least some of them, like possibly Ghilly and Andruil?), and oh man, from the concept art they are downright mythical in form and power, and oh, they do not look happy. Between Solas and those estranged ancient buddies he punished ages ago, it certainly looks like we're going to see Thedas become their Thunderdome in DA4.

Bonus points if Solas greets Ghilan'nain with, "Is that a trident in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?


"Antagonist" versus Villain

My friend Stephanie noted an interesting detail in the further language of the new title announcement that I think is also worth exploring—the fact that Solas is carefully described as our "antagonist."

Whether you’re new to Dragon Age™ stories or you’ve experienced them all, using Solas’s namesake no doubt suggests a spectrum of endless possibilities on where things may go. But at the core of this, like every past game, is you. If you’re new to Dragon Age, you have no need to worry about not having met our antagonist just yet. He’ll properly introduce himself when the time is right, but we did hint at his return when we announced #TheDreadWolfRises back in 2018.

What's important about that? For me, it's another subtle reminder that we're not looking at a pure villain (Solas is one of the richest and most complex characters in fiction for me, period). "Antagonist" strikes me as a milder term than "adversary," for instance, and it is certainly notable that he is not described as our enemy or nemesis. Instead, to me it's another signifier that he's sitting across the chessboard, he's someone we may be striving against, but there's still a lot of room in such a scenario for more sophisticated story and character exploration.

Because, and this is key for me—if Solas wanted to go full-dark and villainous, he could already have done so at any time. Instead, what I think we're seeing is twofold:

• He's a careful and strategic leader, a chessmaster who wants all of his pieces in a row before springing the final trap; and/or

• He's having trouble actually taking final action

That's what I think. 

The Matter of the Veil

Why isn't the Veil down as of Trespasser? Will it already be down when DA4 begins? It's certainly a possibility (and of course if so will immediately dismantle my argument, although I would be both thrilled and horrified at that reality). 

I mean, keep in mind, I firmly believe the Veil is doomed no matter what Solas does—it's falling apart. The "Veil is thin" EVERYWHERE in Thedas. And, of course, it's more and more apparent to me that perhaps it should come down. The Veil is an artificial construct that it's arguable should never have existed. 

Expanded: With that last thought in mind, what if the whole situation is a misdirection of epic proportions?

Hear me out.

Ironic Outcomes and Potential Wild Cards

Solas fears disaster if he brings down the Veil, and in "Trespasser" openly speaks of his assumption that when he pulls the Veil down, the result will be a hellscape, a "raw and burning chaos" in which many of the peoples of Thedas suffer and die, including many he loves.

But, well, what if he's wrong—again? I mean, let's face it, Solas has already been wrong several times before. A lot. And on a scale that spanned a continent and lots and lots of millennia.

The Veil is an artificial and failing construct. It was a feat of magic that nearly destroyed the world—and it did utterly decimate the elven people Solas was trying to protect.

So what if the greatest irony of this situation is the realization that, in the end, Solas is fated to  use those godlike powers he now possesses to remove the Veil (that never should have existed in the first place), to balance the aftermath  and minimize the destruction or metaphysical tectonic shift that occurs and ultimately heal Thedas afterward? What if Solas could do that and Thedas is whole again so that magic has its natural place? 

What if Solas's action means, in the end, no hellscape or nightmare world, but instead a restored symmetry between the magical and spiritual worlds at last? The sweet-moving and magically balanced world of effortless magic that he envisioned so long ago in Haven is a possibility, however remote. And in the big picture, perhaps it is a balance that would remove the dangers of Abomination from mages (who would no longer be siphoning high-pressure magic from a dangerous and trapped demonic/spiritual dimension? If this were the case, sure, magic would still be dangerous, but the removal of the possibility of Abomination would instantly defuse much of the age-old conflicts between mages and Templars, for instance.

Do I think this will happen? No, honestly, I don't. But it's a pretty damn cool thought to me, so I had fun envisioning it.

Unfortunately for me, I'm not seeing the potential for a beautiful and harmonious magical world in DA4. It looks pretty dark, and pretty broken. Red lyrium everywhere. 

What's most intriguing for me about the glimpses of DA4 so far is that it appears to depict a world with a shattered Veil, not an absent one—one similar to that of "In Hushed Whispers." A world in which Solas has apparently allowed himself to be corrupted with red lyrium... deliberately? Or is it a nightmare vision warped in the Fade? 

Of course, the other outcome could simply be that Solas, as I've argued elsewhere, ends up healing/saving the Veil, stabilizing Thedas for another chunk of millennia to come.

Or maybe Mythal comes flying back in and tilts the entire damn chessboard, puppeteers a Well-drinking Inky (or Morrigan, although I already think she'll be Mythal's willing new carrier), and enacts a master plan that brings down the Veil, the Evanuris, the world, and changes Thedas once and for all? Because she is totally gonna do that. Or try. Never underestimate a woman still screaming for vengeance in "a reckoning that would shake the very heavens" even after tens of thousands of years! Mythal doesn't play around.

The great thing is, I'm not really invested in any of these outcomes to the extent that I'll be upset or disappointed to be right or wrong. I just want to see what BioWare gives us. Either way, I'm certain that one aspect of the outcome will be Solas's final and belated realization that none of this situation was his to fix. I'm expecting our Pride Wolf/Demon/Spirit/Companion here to get one massive reality check and much-needed dose of humility by the end. And no matter what happens, I can't wait to find out.

"Antagonist" and "Savior"

But back to that presentation of Solas's role: I do think the words "savior," "antagonist" and "trickster" are further reminders that Solas isn't going to be our main villain, which I still think is going to be one of the Evanuris, with some nice sub-bosses also occurring among the Tevinter and Qunari forces as they struggle for world domination (a nice magician's trick to serve as a distraction from the real conflict), as well as from the red lyrium-corruptions we're seeing in those last teasers and concept art reveals.

And I know I'm wearing those rose-colored Solasmancing glasses, but I also continue to think that, as in Trespasser, Solas isn't going to damn us all, but save us in the end, using his spirit and elven armies to definitively end all conflicts in a way that will hopefully prevent bloodshed and restore a future for both elves and spirits within Thedas going forward. And that he'll probably do so at the cost of his own life (at least temporarily, not permanently—we already know "the first of [his] people do not die so easily"). 

My personal suspicion is that the Inky will be present as a potential helpmate or antagonist on the scene, most likely as a guest NPC like Hawke was in Inquisition, although my hope is that we will actually get an Inky-POV segment to provide real and satisfying closure for those of us who romanced Solas, as well as for those who just hated his everloving guts and want to take him down up close and personal—an equally large contingent! Let's not forget that key "Kill or Redeem?" question that ended "Trespasser."

Meanwhile, last and certainly not least, what does the new title signify? What hints or portents can we find in this simple, single new compound word?

I've got a few ideas.

What's In a Name?

Finally, there's the title itself. And as I dive in on this part, I'll point out the obligatory warning that I may be (and probably am) wrong here. Which will be amusing when all is revealed!

But y'all know that I love to overthink everything, so this may just be me being a doofus, here. I have already overanalyzed all the nuances of Solas's name here, for instance.

But for me, the use of "Dreadwolf" as a compound word in the title is significant. Why isn't it "Dragon Age: Dread Wolf?" That would certainly seem to be the most obvious approach.

But it's not. It's two words that for the first time in this universe for us, are now one. Which again makes me wonder about the joining of two things... two worlds. Fade and reality. And taking us symmetrically back to the ritual of the Grey Wardens... the "Joining?"

My guess is that "Dreadwolf" will be the name of the operation the Inquisition (or its remaining forces/advisors) launches in opposition to Solas. It may be the new term that refers to his agents or followers—"dreadwolves." I also think the one-word name here may also become the actual name for the shape-shifted giant wolf that we now know Solas can become at will, as of Tevinter Nights. As in, "The Dreadwolf appeared," or "The Dreadwolf knows," etc. Perhaps it is simply a further evolution of Solas's name—once a mockery he wore as "a badge of pride," now once more become at last, a term of nightmare.

It brings us full circle, if you think about it. Back in Origins, the "Dread Wolf" was the ancient terror and villain of the Dalish, whose beliefs Solas later mocked in Inquisition. What if, in the ultimate irony, the Dalish were right, and Solas's final form is in fact a twisted and corrupt entity like the one we see in his final "Tower" tarot card in Inquisition? (Or something new entirely, just as the lingering "Regret" demon hinted at in TN's "Callback?")

Several have pointed out that "Dreadwolf" is also an anagram of "Fade World," but that's the case whether or not it's two words. I do think that the compound word means something more, is absolutely intentional, although that emphasis on "Fade World" certainly further hints that the Veil may already be down in DA4 and that red lyrium nightmare we've glimpsed may be the result.

Of course, the other possibility—and one I love considering—is that all of DA4 may very well take place in the Fade itself. And may even take place in another time-shifted alternate universe like that we saw in the red-lyrium-soaked "In Hushed Whispers." I still think that quest, more than any other, holds the key and clues to what DA4 may present to us—the parallels are too numerous, to me, to be accidental.

Regardless, it's great to get news of my erstwhile Fade boyfriend again (the ex my Inky shares with thousands), and I'm definitely excited to see what BioWare has in store for us.

In the immortal words of Sondheim, as Red Riding Hood's song goes, we all know how to avoid wolves:

Mother said, "Straight ahead."
Not to delay or be misled

But just like her, I want to be misled. It's been seven years since "Trespasser," so give me that twisty path through the trees—give me complex scenarios and questions and even more complicated answers. I want to get lost in the forest—and Dragon Age: Dreadwolf looks well on track to let us find and confront our Wolf at last.

What do you think of the new title? What implications do you see there—and what am I missing?

NOTE: I have added and expanded the "Ironic Outcomes and Potential Wildcards" and "What's in a Name?" sections as of 6/3, where I talk about the Veil falling and the "joining" of "Dread" and "wolf" into one word, because I realized I never addressed my main point, which is that I increasingly think the Veil should come down. Also, until my friend Amy reminded me, I totally forgot to include what I think will happen with Mythal. Oops! 

With that in mind, many thanks to @Idunasappl, @Kira_Sekai1980, @Neildoenn, @Dragon_Age_Fans, and @AmyJPetty for reminding me of these additional points I wanted to address.

"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...