Inquisition Diaries #7: Wither the Wardens Wander
SPOILER WARNING: These diaries will contain spoilers for Dragon Age Inquisition (DAI), as well as its predecessors, Dragon Age: Origins (DAO) and Dragon Age II (DA2), and may also contain spoilers from the tie-in materials. If you’re new to this whole Dragon Age business and want to know what the hell I’m going on about, please visit my little Dragon Age Primer to learn a bit more about BioWare’s fantasy roleplaying video game series. Not able to devote the ridiculous amount of time into leading the Inquisition yourself? Then join me on my noble journey!
PREVIOUSLY ON INQUISITION DIARIES: Corypheus crashes the breach closing party, and the village of Haven is destroyed. The faith of the Inquisition is shaken, but with a helpful song, everyone gets back on their feet and marches off to find Skyhold, their new home.
One of the biggest disappointments for Dragon Age fans when we learned about plans for the third instalment was the confirmation from BioWare that our Champion of Kirkwall, Hawke, would not be the main character. We knew that, like the Grey Warden from DAO, Hawke had mysteriously vanished after the events of DA2, but, unsurprisingly, Varric knew all along where his friend was.
Now Hawke is back and offering her services to the Inquisition based on her experience with fighting – and supposedly killing — Corypheus. This is one of those moments where I pause to appreciate what I hope is the brilliance of BioWare when it comes to DAI’s planning and implementation. Due to the Frostbite engine that the powers the game, players’ previous saves from DAO and DA2 could not be imported directly into DAI as usual. Instead, BioWare created The Keep, where saves could be tweaked to your desires, and you can even listen to the entire tale of your Hero of Ferelden and your Champion of Kirkwall. But when it comes to the optional content, such as Legacy, from which Corypheus spawns, some of them do not have “did not encounter” options. In other words, it was a sneaky way of ensuring that the Corypheus content could be dealt with, without the player actually playing it, and without revealing the DAI story plans prior to launch.
You get to spend a little time in character creation to bring your original Hawke to life. She explains that she left Kirkwall in hopes of taking some of the heat off of city by dividing the Chantry’s forces as they hunted for her. She mentions a few of her companions from DA2, most notably her love interest, Fenris, who is most likely tearing the world apart to find her, or drinking himself into a stupor. This was not wise planning, Hawke. But anyway, Hawke has a “Warden friend” who can help. Oh boy! Do I get to have my Warden in the game too?? Nope. It’s Stroud – who is still pretty cool, but … I miss my Warden.
Unsurprisingly, Cassandra is table-flipping pissed about Hawke’s appearance, considering she spent all of DA2 sifting through Varric’s “Tale of the Champion” to learn where Hawke was. After breaking up the fight between the seeker and the dwarf, Cassandra confesses to Lerenne that the entire reason for her going to Kirkwall and questioning Varric was because she had hoped Hawke would lead this Inquisition, considering what the woman had accomplished in Kirkwall. Cassandra manages to find some consolation in the fact that Hawke would most likely have died at the Conclave (yeah right – my Hawke would have brokered peace between the mages and templars, AND kicked Corypheus’ ass), but still beats herself up for not being up front about why she wanted to know everything about Hawke. This is a bit of a retcon, but an acceptable one. I still wish I could have had Hawke as the Inquisitor, but at least I get to see Hawke again.
Before missioning up, I take the time to explore Skyhold some more. One of my new duties as leader of the Inquisition is to judge the bad guys. First up is Alexius, the Tevinter magister that tried to steal away the mages for Corypheus and the Venatori cult that follows him. There are a few options, including execution, but my Inquisitor is pragmatic with her punishment, and chooses to make him research magic. Execution wasn’t good enough for a man who wanted death, and he is clearly too brilliant to simply toss away. Leliana promises to keep a tight watch on him, so I’m sure this decision won’t come back to bite me on the ass.
Chatting with the other companions leads to some interesting moments. A few companions want Cole gone because they believe him to be a demon. He is, in truth, a spirit that has some how made himself human without possessing a human host. A spirit called Command later identifies Cole as “Compassion.” He has the unique ability of not being seen, simply because people seem to forget he’s there. However, it is implied that people who are very compassionate are able to remember him, as with his friend Rhys, who finds him during the book, Asunder.
Cole is hanging out at the infirmary, watching people die. Morbid, certainly, but if you listen closely, you realize that he’s hearing their thoughts as they pass. One man, he says, will die a slow and painful death, and Cole offers to put him out of his misery, but Lerenne stops him, explaining that the surgeons and healers could find a way to help him if he gives them a chance. Cole doesn’t quite understand, but agrees, finding other ways to help people around Skyhold, but demanding that Lerenne promise to have Cullen or Cassandra kill him if he ever makes the mistake of killing when it is not appropriate. Subsequent wanderings through Skyhold offer conversations where strange things are occurring — daggers stolen and stashed in a barrel, plums left to rot on window sills, turnips thrown into a fire. Walk around later and you can hear the apparent solutions to this problems, such as a man talking about a soldier finally dying after a long, painful struggle, but saying that he could smell his mother’s turnip stew before he passed on.
In his new office, Cullen reveals that he has decided to quit using lyrium. It is a volatile substance mined by dwarves and refined to fuel mages’ abilities. As a templar, Cullen was given lyrium in order to enhance the talents that gave him control over the mages he was meant to guard. The addiction to lyrium is the last tie he has to his former templar life, but this isn’t exactly the best time for rehab. We also learn in a separate mission with Varric and a woman who happens to have the same name as his beloved crossbow, Bianca, that the red lyrium currently used by Corypheus to corrupt people is actually alive and has been infected by the darkspawn taint.
Vivienne and Blackwall both express their concern about the losses at Haven and the inadequacy of the Inquisition, while Iron Bull takes Lerenne around in disguise to see what her people think of her and this Inquisition.
And finally, Solas, the one companion I never thought I’d want to hook up with, yet I am fascinated by the character’s abilities and his knowledge as both a mage and an elven historian. Yet he seems to flip flop on how he feels about the elves themselves and whether or not he counts himself among them. He takes Lerenne into the Fade to re-enact various moments in their recent history, but Lerenne has other things on her mind.
Eventually, Lerenne heads to Crestwood to meet up with Hawke and her Warden friend. The place is plagued by undead and one of the first skirmishes involves a pair of Grey Wardens fighting off risen corpses to save a young elf. Lerenne learns from the Wardens that they are hunting for Stroud, the traitor. My daughters, aged six and nine, joined me for this adventure. To be clear, this game is not intended for a young audience, but my husband and I are comfortable with letting them watch more mature things as long as we are with them for discussion. We are big on teachable moments, and this one pleased me as the girls delved into the mystery of the undead and the mayor’s secret. Turns out the undead are refugees and some villagers who were drowned by the darkspawn during the Blight ten years prior. Darkspawn are pretty mindless creatures, so the mayor’s claim that they managed to crank the dam to flood the village is immediately suspicious. We also learn that the refugees were sick with an incurable plague – blight sickness. I spelled out the clues for my daughters, and they rightfully guessed that it was the mayor who had herded the sick villagers into a cave and flooded the village, killing them, along with the remaining darkspawn, in order to prevent the darkspawn and the disease from spreading.
The girls recently watched Maleficent, so I used that for reference when explaining how there can be two sides to a story, and how people can do bad things for what they think are the right reasons. Or do bad things because bad things were done to them. It doesn’t condone the bad, but it’s important to understand why. DAI really came through for me on this lesson by giving me an opportunity to hunt down the mayor and judge him for his crimes, which I made sure to have my girls present for. They allowed him to speak his case, deliberated between themselves, and then sentenced him to exile.
Back on track, Lerenne meets Hawke, who has been very patiently waiting at a cave in the north. There, Stroud reveals that a group of Wardens, led by Warden-Commander Clarel, have been hearing the Calling. Grey Wardens were formed to fight the darkspawn by becoming the enemy – that is, drinking a potion concocted from darkspawn blood that connects the Wardens to the darkspawn and the archdemon that leads them. It makes them uniquely capable of defeating the archdemon, though it is at the cost of their lives. Surviving the Joining ritual means cutting short their lifespan. When the end is nigh, Wardens are no longer able to resist the “call” of the taint that infects them, and they usually head into the dwarven Deep Roads to kill the darkspawn that hang out there until they succumb. Corypheus is able to mimic the Calling, with limitations, and has manipulated Warden-Commander Clarel into believing he has the answer to ending the Blights once and for all.
Lerenne follows Stroud and Hawke to the Western Approach where the Warden fortress called Adamant is located. It is a place where the veil is very thin, making it easier to cross into the Fade. It first made an appearance in the book Asunder, along with Cole, who does not want to return there. So I take him with me.
In a cutscene, we learn that a Tevinter magister and Venatori leader, Livius Erimond, is manipulating the Grey Wardens in the name of his unnamed master. Using forbidden blood magic, they plan to seek out the old gods and kill them before they can be corrupted into archdemons, thereby ending the Blight forever. Blood magic involves the use of, well, blood to perform greater feats. The more the blood, the bigger the magic — which usually means demons (and this is why the Chantry is so strict about monitoring mages). The Grey Warden mages are sacrificing the warriors in order to summon and bind demons.
Grey Wardens are considered heroes when it comes to ending the Blights and are known to use whatever means necessary, but they can be a little too focused on the ends in order to justify the means. Human sacrifice ought to be a red flag, but those Blights do kill a lot of people…
Cullen leads the Inquisition army, complete with trebuchets and battering rams, on an assault on Adamant Fortress, and the soldiers battle against Grey Wardens and demons. The mages are hopelessly lost, but the warriors will listen to reason. When Lerenne and the group make it to the courtyard where Clarel and Erimond are hosting their blood magic ritual, Lerenne manages to cast doubt in Clarel’s mind, simply by mentioning Corypheus’ name, which, I guess, Erimond has never spoken before. Erimond seals the deal by summoning the Elder One’s blighted dragon. Clarel finally realizes the error of her ways, and attacks the archdemon.
The archdemon munches on Clarel for a bit, but with a last burst of magic, she sacrifices herself to stop it.
Instead, the Keep crumbles beneath everyone’s feet and, in desperation, Lerenne uses her mark to open a portal to the Fade, the realm of spirits and demons.