Lee has been playing "Dragon Age" since the first game's release. She enjoys exploring and explaining the characters and the lore.
Previously, I wrote an article about the Dalish origin in Dragon Age: Origins, and it turned into a bit of a novel when I started ranting about the Dalish lore in Inquisition. I realized it would be better to write an entirely separate article about why Dalish fans were and are so angry about . . . basically everything that happened in Dragon Age: Inquisition. So here we are.
Some things to keep in mind: I haven't played Inquisition in five years, so I don't remember everything about it. And even though the game pissed me off enough that I decided to stop buying BioWare games after it, I am not writing this article from a place of anger. Really, I'm past my anger by now. I'm just explaining what's going on. In other words: don't shoot the messenger.
To be honest, I was still angry about the end of Mass Effect 3 when the third Dragon Age installment was released, so that meant I was very skeptical of BioWare and this game was never going to stand much of a chance with me. Unfortunately, I was right. What happened in Inquisition was just the straw that broke the camel's back.
Lavellan Was a Doormat
After playing a Dalish Warden who took no nonsense from anyone, getting to Inquisition and playing a spineless Dalish who let people trash talk her culture was . . . a little jarring. In other words, playing as Lavellan sucked.
While I love how relevant Lavellan was to the plot, it was little more than a happy accident, given that Hawke, the protagonist of Dragon Age 2, was supposed to be Inquisitor. This meant that Lavellan faced a lot of racism and bigotry regarding her faith and culture, as said comments were originally supposed to be directed at a human Inquisitor (which, by the way, would have made them no less racist).
An elven character realistically facing bigotry when they're written to be a minority in a fictional world is fine. Fine. But it sucked to play Lavellan because she never stood up to anyone, never defended her culture and beliefs, and never really . . . had a spine.
Much like Lavellan, the Dalish Warden faced a lot of hatred and intolerance. But unlike Lavellan, she never took crap from anyone. Anyone. The Dalish Warden did not give a damn. Are you a king? I don't care, human lord. Are you the arlessa? I don't care. I will kill your son. This is your fault anyway!
There's a scene in Redcliffe during the events of Dragon Age: Origins where Lady Isolde calls the Warden "impertinent," and the Warden shoots back with "Impertinent for an elf, you mean?"
There was nothing like that in Inquisition. Nothing. When Lavellan and her people are insulted, she just stands there and takes it. This is largely because, once again, Inquisition was designed for a human protagonist who wouldn't have cared about racist comments directed at elves. Dalish fans know why the roleplay sucked. Doesn't mean we aren't allowed to be pissed about it.
Going back and playing Origins will just make you angrier (ha ha). Mahariel never stood there like a wooden puppet and allowed people to insult her or demean her culture and beliefs. Especially not her damned followers! When Leliana makes some ignorant comments about elves, the elven Warden will call her out. When Oghren says stupid things about you being an elf, again, the elven Warden can call him out.
Meanwhile, in Inquisition, Dorian will lecture Lavellan about how elven slavery is just fine and dandy, while she is not allowed to really argue back or make him see reality (this is made up for in Trepasser, as a number of things were. Hindsight is 20/20, eh, BioWare?). Vivienne calls the Dalish savages who kill mage babies. Solas mocks and demeans the exact same aspect of your culture that Alistair (ironically, a subconscious bigot) praised two games ago (the Dalish tree-grave custom).
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I mean, it's one thing to have random NPCs being bigots to your face (that is expected), but to have the people who are supposed to be your friends doing it unapologetically? Yikes. It's incredibly isolating and makes for a really unfun game.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is so wildly different from Origins, it's like two different companies developed it. The Inquisitor is a doormat who stands there in silent anger while Sera laughs in her face about the vallaslin. Meanwhile, the Warden would have pulled the murder knife and stabbed Sera in the eye.
. . . Just. Wow.
Everything About the Temple of Mythal
Lavellan's spinelessness aside, I think one of my biggest issues with playing Lavellan in Inquisition was the entire temple of Mythal sequence. It was more poorly written than perhaps anything else in the game, including the abysmal Here Lies the Abyss quest. The quest was hastily slapped together at the last minute, and it shows.
First off? After spending the entire game being annoyed by Morrigan, you arrive at the temple of Mythal, and the first thing you receive is a lecture on Mythal from a human. You. Lavellan. The First to the keeper of your clan. Receives a lecture on Mythal!
Hell, even non-mage Dalish know who Mythal is! It's especially jarring if you do a playthrough right after having done Dragon Age 2, where Merrill, formerly a keeper's First, rants about Mythal and Fen'Harel non-stop for the entire freaking game.
There's no reason in hell Lavellan shouldn't know who Mythal is. And even if we were playing Hawke (as it was originally planned) it still doesn't make sense, because Hawke knows Merrill, had been to one of Mythal's altars multiple times, and would have stumbled across something about the elven goddess in the ten friggin' years she lived in Kirkwall! (Elven ruins were all over those mountains.)
It was like someone who knew nothing about Dragon Age wrote the entire quest.
As I said above, the quest was sloppily and hastily patched to include various races, while also rewriting the scenes that were meant for Hawke. This is why the human Inquisitor is written to be clueless about Mythal (while Hawke wouldn't be) but unfortunately, they forgot to add race-specific dialogue to the scene.
Just one of many instances that prove Dragon Age is full of sloppy, rushed writing and lore contradictions. And all of this because they decided to scrap Hawke as the protagonist.
None (ok most) of these problems would have existed if they'd just kept Hawke.
Another thing that bothers Dalish fans? Morrigan was 100% wrong about everything she said in the temple. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. And yet, every time Dalish fans complain about having been lectured by her, there's a group of anti-Dalish fans who insist that it "makes sense" for Morrigan to know more about the Dalish than an actual Dalish.
. . . Except she doesn't. And people who say this obviously didn't bring Solas to the temple of Mythal. If you bring Solas during What Pride Had Wrought, he and Lavellan combined spend the entire quest angrily arguing with Morrigan about how wrong she is about the temple.
The entire time, Morrigan makes comments about the Dalish hunting humans for sport, among other offensive crap (not all Dalish do that . . . ) while also insisting she knows everything about the elven gods. She is wrong on both fronts. Yet she arrogantly insists that she knows more about the elves than actual elves.
The hilarious thing about this is, Solas is wrong about modern people and the Dalish are wrong about the ancient elves. But where they are both experts (their own freaking people), they are both being told to STFU by a human! Solas is right about the ancient elves and Lavellan is right about the modern Dalish, but Morrigan repeatedly tells both of them they are wrong.
The most annoying quest . . . ever.
We all know that Morrigan was wrong about the ancient elves and the Well of Sorrows because it's shown in the game. But anyone who romanced her as a Dalish also knows she doesn't know anything about the Dalish, and whatever she does know came from a book she stole from a Dalish clan during the DLC Witch Hunt. Yes, I'm sure she studied more since then. And yet, she was still wrong during the quest.
If you romance Morrigan as a Dalish in Origins, you can talk to her about shapeshifting. She is surprised that the Dalish have shapeshifting magic and even intrigued. The fact that she didn't know about it shows how little she knows about the Dalish. Whenever she speaks of elves during Origins, it's with praise, and she tends to speak of elves in general, not just the Dalish (because you can romance her as a city elf).
It's sad how they changed Morrigan. In Origins, she loved the elves and had respect for them, even while acknowledging their flaws. But by Inquisition, she reads a little about elven history and does nothing but complain about them and put them down as fools . . . Like basically everyone else in the entire game.
It was really hard to get to Inquisition after romancing Morrigan as a Dalish only to see her crapping on the Dalish and the ancient elves both (she has crappy comments about Skyhold, kills Abelas, etc) and giving misinformation about them. And on top of everything else she does to piss Lavellan off, she has the gall to demand the right to drink from the Well of Sorrows, as if she, a human, were more worthy than Lavellan, an elf.
I was glad when Lavellan was able to say "It's my heritage!" but the hostile and aggressive way Morrigan tells you that you aren't worthy is enough to make you hate her (if you didn't already). And if you do drink from the Well, she mocks you later about becoming bound to Mythal and complains over and over that she should have been the one to drink . . . Ugh.
It is insulting on so many levels. And it sucks to have it coming from a character you romanced and were invested in. It's like Origins made me love her character and Inquisition made me hate her.
And come to think of it, I suppose the same could be said for Cassandra. I loved her in Dragon Age 2, but as soon as you get to Inquisition, it's appalling how racist she is toward the elves and their religion. She's tolerant but still wildly disrespectful. And saying she's tolerant isn't much.
Tolerating something you hate is just quiet bigotry.
The Three Mage Rule
This is something that really pisses off Dalish fans, myself included, because it's a retcon that has no other purpose than to make the Dalish look like monsters who kill babies.
Back in Dragon Age: Origins, you can talk to a Dalish mage named Lanaya who tells you about Dalish customs concerning magic. She will tell you that Dalish with magic are descended from the purest of the Dalish who ruled the Dales. They are literally freaking royalty and this is why they are treasured by their people. (So Mahariel, the child of a keeper, is a descendant of royalty, and Lavellan, a mage, is also a descendent of royalty.)
Also, we learn from Velanna in the DLC Awakening that breeding magic back into their race is of the utmost importance to the Dalish, so they protect their mages and breed them together in the hope of making more. There were so many mages in Lanaya's clan that she had to compete to become the keeper's First!
Then in Dragon Age 2, we discover that Merrill was traded into her clan because they were low on mages and needed more. This was not a balancing of three mages but a desire to have more mages for the sake of breeding more magic into their race.
Merrill is a powerful and very intelligent mage (all evidence to the contrary) and this is why it's such an infuriating thing to her clan when she not only leaves them but starts dating Hawke, a human. Whether Hawke is male or female, Merrill will not be able to pass her magical talent along and strengthen her people.
If Hawke is male, Merrill is even more conflicted, knowing that any children she has with Hawke will be human children with elf-blood. She expresses this concern to Garrett Hawke multiple times.
So then we get to Dragon Age: Inquisition, where Lavellan meets Minaeve, an elven mage. The two of them get to discussing magic, and at one point Lavellan says, "A pity you aren't Dalish."
What happens next? Minaeve gets furious and bites Lavellan's head off, harshly tells her that the Dalish kill mage children and don't allow more than three to a clan because more would draw templars. When there are more than three mage children, they send them into the forest to die. (Rather than, say, trading them off to another clan, like Merrill's clan did.)
Minaeve herself was given a pack of food and sent off into the forest by a Dalish clan when she was just a small child. This is why she's so bitter and (wrongly) takes it out on Lavellan. This is also before Lavellan becomes Inquisitor, so there's nothing she can do about it. (How convenient.)
Minaeve's story kind of reads like a deliberate subversion of Lanaya's story. Because Lanaya was a city elf and a mage child who was rescued by a Dalish keeper and adopted into his clan. Minaeve was a Dalish mage child who was kicked out by her clan . . . It directly contradicts everything we've been told.
Lavellan can argue that her clan isn't like that, but basically every character she brings it up to will insist that Lavallen's clan is the only decent Dalish clan in existence. Vivienne, Solas, and Minaeve all insist that the Dalish are barbaric monsters who kill mage children. This, after all this lore build up about the Dalish scrambling to preserve their magic.
It felt like this retcon had no purpose except to make the Dalish look terrible and to remove them as a solution to the mage problem and/or as proof that mages can live free without supervision. So in other words, the rewrite just further vilified both the Dalish and the mages.
And worst of all? Lavellan alone bears the entire brunt of it. Lavellan and the Dalish fans who play her are basically told (by the characters, by the lore, by other fans) that the Dalish are monsters and to STFU and accept it.
Because it's not just the fact that the three mage rule exists. It's also the way it was executed. You're set up for two games to think the Dalish can handle magic better than the Circles, so even your Dalish character is just going by what we, the player, knows. But the dialogue with Minaeve sets them up to come off as a superior asshole who goes "A pity you aren't Dalish like me!" only to have a character bite their face off.
Something that was just ignorance on the part of your Dailsh is twisted to make them look like they are arrogant. And this ignorance (not knowing about the three mage rule) was forced on us and our character because of the rewrite. So we/our characters get chewed out for something the developers decided to change.
In other words, players are punished for being misled by the developers.
While it makes sense for characters themselves to be racist, the lore itself goes out of its way to make the Dalish and the elves in general out to be savage idiots who deserve whatever bad things happen to them (including, appallingly enough, slavery).
Red Crossing was the elves' fault.
The elves didn't help with the Blight so they deserved to have the Dales invaded with the Exalted March. Why, oh, why couldn't they just be Andrastian like Ameridan, The Only Good Dalish NPC? (This was the reasoning in the DLC Jaws of Hakkon.)
The ancient elves were slavers who fought each other so somehow, they deserved to be enslaved by humans. (This was the implication in Inquisition.)
Yes, there's no such thing as an innocent empire, and it would have been unrealistic for the ancient elves to have a perfect society. I'm not contending that. I'm contending the fact that everything we know about the elves is awful. Everything. BioWare clearly had no more interest in depicting them as actual people, with any sort of worth whatsoever.
And it just goes on and on.
The elves are responsible for creating the taint, since Mythal spilled titan blood and exposed it to the air (turning it red).
So elves are responsible for the Blight. (It's kind of hilarious if you go back to Origins and Flemeth lies to your face about being just an old woman who knows nothing of darkspawn . . . )
Elves made the griffons go extinct. (Look up Isseya, the elven mage.)
The Dalish tattoos are slave markings and the Dalish are stupid for clinging to their own culture and not knowing everything about their history after a thousand years of slavery and conquest. Hell, there are even characters (Sera and Varric) designed to sneer on anyone who embraces a culture that's non-human and non-Andrastian.
Is it wrong that indigenous people don't become Christians and embrace white culture? Is it wrong that indigenous people would rather worship their own gods and follow their own culture? Are the gods of indigenous people just demons???
At this point, it's abundantly clear that BioWare is a Christian developer that thinks paganism is evil blood magic and demon worship. But of course, only if elves (aka minorities) are doing it!
In Dragon Age: Origins, paganism wasn't depicted as something evil. It was just different. But again, this was only if humans were pagans.
Morrigan wasn't the most morally upstanding person, but that had nothing to do with the magic she practiced. If anything, her worship of the Old Gods (whether she realizes it's worship or not) is what saves the Warden's life at the end of the game!
The Dark Ritual turned out to be harmless and yet more proof that blood magic isn't evil. It became seen as evil because so many mages used it for dark purposes.
Meanwhile, the Chasind are pagan humans who are depicted as generally nuanced and normal. They have legends that revere Flemeth and even rescue the Human Noble Warden's brother, Fergus, after his caravan is attacked outside of Ostagar. They are depicted as a generally decent, normal people. Why? Because they're human.
Then fast forward to Dragon Age 2. Suddenly, paganism is evil, but only because Merrill, an elf, is doing it!
In Dragon Age 2, Merrill's entire arc is about how stupid and wrong she is for clinging to the past, working with spirits/demons, and using pagan magic. The Christians in the game (Anders, Aveline, Sebastian) berate her constantly, and by the end of her arc, she has lost her keeper to a demon and possibly her entire clan, and is scolded by Hawke and every character in the game for it.
And why? Because she had the gall to "cling to the past" by following her own people's magic and traditions. Meanwhile, characters like Flemeth and Morrigan, instead of being told to just "get over it" and conform to human/Andrastian culture, are praised through legend and song for rebelling, clinging to the past, seeking revenge, working with spirits and demons, etc.
Then we get to Dragon Age: Inquisition and meet the Avvar, a barbarian people who practice paganism: they worship spirits and fully embrace the use of magic and spirit possession, and guess what? It's seen as benevolent.
Why? Because the Avvar are human. They aren't evil savages like the Dalish, who toss out mage babies into the cold! Oh, no. The Avvar cherish and protect their mages!
And according to the DLC Jaws of Hakkon, they even know how to undo spirit possession, separating a spirit from the host again. Meanwhile, Merrill doesn't have a clue how to help Anders in Dragon Age 2. Humans are so much more clever and kind than those foolish elves!
The Avvar are also given a lot of nuance as a people. Some of them are likeable while some of them are assholes. Some of them are good, while some of them are evil. Unlike the Dalish, who are constantly depicted as foolish, irrational, and insufferable.
Given that elves are coded as minorities and humans are coded as white people, how is any of this not racist?
For brown people playing these games, this is all bigotry that we've heard about our ancestors before. So it isn't lost on us in a video game.
It would be one thing if BioWare hadn't openly stated that the elves were analogous to real-life minorities and indigenous people. But they admitted it (the Navajo, for instance, referred to themselves as "the People" in the same way the elves do, as well as a thousand other similarities with historically oppressed groups). Then they (cowardly) backtracked on Twitter, insisting that the parallel wasn't supposed to be "exact." Couldn't even admit their mistake or acknowledge that they might have some biases against First Nations peoples that were ingrained in them and showed up in this game.
The developers at BioWare are Canadian, after all, and the First Nations people up there face a lot of bigotry. In fact, some Inuit have a tradition of sending their elderly off to die when they get too old and sick to keep up. I have a feeling the developers were basing the three mage rule on this, but it backfired because it glaringly contradicts everything about the Dalish and magic we've been told for two games prior.
What the developers seem not to realize is, what the Inuit do is necessary given their environment and resources. What the Dalish do is just unnecessarily callous.
Genocide is also a repeated feature of the series. Because slaughtering indigenous people is . . . fun?
In Dragon Age: Origins, you are given the option to slaughter a clan of Dalish elves alongside a pack of werewolves. These elves are completely innocent in the circumstance and most are in no condition to fight back. Half of them are dying of a disease inflicted on them in revenge by the werewolves and the Lady of the Forest, who screech about Zatharian attacking them, innocent people, for being savages while they prove him right by . . . attacking innocent people?
Later in Dragon Age 2, the daughter of one of the elves seeks revenge on the scummy werewolf humans who killed her mother. Of course, if the guy she accuses is an actual werewolf, he's presented as innocent and the elf has no right to take revenge on him . . . Even though he's one of the people who killed her mother. Try and protect him, and the elves will irrationally attack and Hawke will be forced to kill them.
If the man isn't even a werewolf (meaning the Warden sided against them), the elves will still go nuts and attack. Because they are always presented as violent, irrational, savages in Dragon Age. They always attack the protagonist for no effing reason. Leaves me feeling as if these white writers really think their ancestors were innocent and indigenous people just . . . randomly attacked them?
Then Merrill's clan will also irrationally attack Hawke at the end of Merrill's character arc if Hawke doesn't blame Merrill for everything that happened. It makes no sense and the entire clan is presented as insane (see above).
The Dalish are depicted as irrational so many times, the fans just kind of accept it. If the Warden steals from the Dalish in Origins, for instance, the Dalish will send hunters to kill them. Fans have referred to the Dalish as crazy and irrational for this, completely disregarding the fact that the (human) Denerim guards will also try to kill the Warden (not once but three times) for picking pockets in the market.
In a world like Dragon Age, thieves are often executed. Daveth, a guy who dies during your joining, was recruited into the Grey Wardens after nearly being hung for picking pockets. There's nothing irrational about killing thieves in this world given the established lore. But because the Dalish have been depicted as nutcases so many times, fans attribute everything they do to lunacy.
In Dragon Age: Inquisition, Lavellan can lose her entire clan in a dumb tabletop mission, and there is zero acknowledgment of it (except, of course, much later in Trespasser).
And finally, the Inquisitor can choose to just slaughter their way through the ancient elves in Mythal's temple. But even if they side with the elves, we are still treated to a very graphic scene of a templar burying a blade in an ancient elf's head.
I'm not saying the Dalish should never be killed or whatever. I'm saying that we are often made to kill them in situations that a) make them look irrational or insane or b) they are helpless and should be helped by us or c) simply exist as an option because slaughtering people who are trying to defend their own land is . . . fun?
Never once in Dragon Age have we gone through a village of humans (coded as white people) and just slaughtered them all for fun. Yes, the protagonist can leave people to die (Redcliffe, Amarathine, etc). But there's a difference between some pragmatic choice where you abandon people and actually going through and putting them to the sword. There's usually a justifiable reason for one (abandoning the village) while the other (straight up pointless slaughter) is just . . . evil. And yet, it's never really depicted as evil.
It reminds me of the sequence in Mass Effect where Shepard has to fight her way through innocent settlers who are being mind controlled by the Thorian, an evil ancient plant. Rather than just slaughter innocent settlers, Shepard has the option to knock them out with gas. Doing anything else is wrong, and the game actually acknowledges that.
Meanwhile, Dragon Age doesn't seem to see slaughtering civilians as wrong unless they are non-Dalish. City elves always seem to be depicted with a lot of empathy. Back in Origins, you could kill a bunch of city elves to gain power for the Warden, but it was presented as an evil thing to do. By Inquisition, city elves are still depicted in a sympathetic light (Briala, Minaeve) while the Dalish are now just straight up evil and stupid. Why? Because they are analogous to real indigenous groups.
Yes, other groups in Dragon Age are repeatedly killed. Mages. Templars. . . . .Darkspawn. But those groups are not constantly depicted as idiotic and irredeemable or continuously in an unsympathetic light. Even after the events of Dragon Age 2, there's still room enough to pity the mages and the templars and see them as people. Hell, even the darkspawn in the DLC Awakening are given some humanity.
But never the Dalish!
The Inquisitor is not allowed to be evil in Inquisition. Unless, of course, they are slaughtering elves. Which is kind of presented as not evil at all. Solas is the only person in Inquisition who cares if you do it.
There's also a codex in Inquisition that romanticizes the slaughter of the elves of the Dales during their last stand. The poem presents them as tragically beautiful but irrational and crazy for (gasp!) defending their homeland rather than laying down arms when told and simply allowing the Exalted March to happen.
The codex always made me a bit sick. As if the people who wrote it think the indigenous that were slaughtered were crazy and stupid for not just bowing to their "superiors" and letting their land be invaded.
Mass Effect is such a different series, it's amazing. But I suppose that's the result of two different teams working on the games. Yes, Patrick Weekes was brought over to Inquisition from Mass Effect, and he is now the lead writer of Dragon Age. But given the way Inquisition turned out, I'm starting to wonder how different Mass Effect might have been if he had been lead writer . . . (I'm thinking not good).
Shepard semi-quotes Saren in Mass Effect 3 when she says to EDI, "Is submission preferable to extinction?" The entire series was about the different races getting over their petty crap and learning to work together. Basically, it was about overcoming racism. Meanwhile, Dragon Age seems to be about normalizing it. That codex . . . ugh.
You could argue that the codex was written by a racist character existing in the world, but when none of the racist characters are ever challenged, it leaves you thinking the writers . . . agree with them.
And as I said up higher, Lavellan is the only Inquisitor whose entire world is torn apart like this.
Yes, the dwarf Inquisitor is left to question the Stone, but we still don't have as much information about the dwarves to completely write off their culture. If anything, Stone Sense is proven to be real in their DLC The Descent.
Yes, the entirety of Tevinter culture was blasted and lampooned as having been stolen from elves. We also learn that the Tevinters lied about conquering the elves at their best. Instead, they moved in and set up shop in their ruins (this is a direct analogy of actual European history but no one would believe me if I spoke about that. Just know that there are statues of black people in Europe . . . just as there are elven statues in Tevinter. And of course, no one knows why. No, I'm not a "hotep." I'm implying that white Europeans built over ancient ruins).
And, yes, the human Inquisitor gets egg on their face when they learn they weren't sent by Andraste, but Andrastianism itself is never proven to be false. Also, there's a lot of room left to speculate whether or not the Inquisitor was sent by the Maker.
BioWare has said they will never disprove the Maker. And I believe this was said because Andrastianism is (obviously) just an analogy for Christianity. Meanwhile, the other non-human religions are based on non-white religions, so it's a-okay to completely trash them.
A lot of non-human races in fiction are depicted as analogous to non-white human races in real life (their religions as well), so I don't even know how to pretend it couldn't be the case here. It feels very much like it is.
And that nasty feeling of seeing brown races torn down as irredeemable savages who worshipped demons and did blood magic is something that stays with you when you play Inquisition as a brown person.
Yes, there were ancient non-white cultures that were into dark magic and blood sacrifice, etc. But . . . so were ancient white people. Yet they continuously present themselves as good Christians who are better than us and thus must either convert us or eradicate us.
It's honestly hilarious when more blood has been spilled in the name of Christianity than possibly any other religion on the planet.
If you've read my Dalish origin article, then you know I don't expect the Dalish to be depicted as perfect. What I expected was for them to be depicted as flawed people. Just people. They were like that in Origins, but then you get to Inquisition and nothing good is ever said about them. They're just evil now.
For the record, I'm black American (but I'm also Cherokee, so this anti-indigenous crap hit even harder). You're probably wondering why all the pictures of my Lavellan are white. It's because when I create a character, I want her to fit in the world.
The elves in Dragon Age are white (originally) because they are supposed to be a deconstruction of the elves in The Lord of the Rings (who are white). So instead of being these powerful, majestic, towering, glowing, angelic beings, the elves in Dragon Age are tattooed, tribal, oppressed, defeated, small, losing their magic . . . . I don't know. I just like going by the lore (which is why it sucks when it keeps changing).
So given how much I have loved and adored Dragon Age and BioWare games over the years, it's painful to play a game where people like me . . . aren't even seen as people but as one-dimensional monsters.
Gone are the days when I could roleplay a minority who stood up to bigotry. Now the story itself is slapping me down.
It Wasn't All Bad
While it was really hard (to be dramatic) to deal with all the racist undertones in Inquisition, there were still a few rare moments where it was fun to play Lavellan.
I remember how happy I was when Flemeth said something nice about the Dalish to Lavellan in the Fade. At this point, I had spent maybe forty hours listening to every character in the game trash the Dalish to my unhappy character's face, or else uncovering more and more lore that made the Dalish and the ancient elves look horrible.
Meanwhile, city elves like Sera and Briala were depicted as correct and superior for embracing human culture, even if (in Briala's case) they were resentful about it and had little choice. The city elves didn't have "foolish pride" and were smart enough to submit, don't you know?
Unfortunately, Flemeth's "Dalish praise" scene is something you only get if Kieran exists. She basically smiles as she tells Lavellan that she does the People (the Elvhen) proud.
Lavellan will ask why she doesn't help. Flemeth then goes on to explain that she can't help, she's too weak. She then all but passes the torch by saying Lavellan will replace her (and perhaps already has).
For the Dalish Inquisitor, it's a pretty awesome moment. She basically receives the blessing of one of her gods at what is probably the lowest point in her life: she has just found out her religion is false, her gods were evil, her face markings are slave tattoos, and the ancient elves don't even accept her as a real elf . . . just as the Dalish (some of them) don't accept the city elves.
Honestly, for me, meeting Flemeth as Lavellan was the only good thing about playing Dalish in Inquisition.
All that said, I don't think BioWare is unaware that their unfortunate biases may have crept into the writing here.
Trespasser was the final DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition, which was released one year after the base game. With it was released a soundtrack of wonderful bard songs, and among them were a few sad ballads about the fate of the elves.
The song The Slightest Ones in particular (aka "Mercy for the elves," a very beautiful song) always left me with the feeling that BioWare noticed all the Dalish fans were pissed about the racist implications in Inquisition, so they released the song as if to say, "We done goofed up. We're sorry."
There's also the fact that in Trespasser, Sera stops being a relentless di*k to Lavellan, a few characters apologize about your dead clan, some of them actually ask about Solas if Lavellan romanced him . . . All of this was sorely lacking in the base game.
Also, Varric gives Lavellan the key to Kirkwall and makes her entire clan nobility (or something. I can't remember).
It was a really nice and sincere attempt to make up for all the ugliness and sheer neglect Lavellan fans had to endure in the game. Like I said above, I think BioWare was sincerely sorry and wanted to do better. But for me, it's too little, too late. I don't trust them not to keep making the same mistakes. Aside from the racism, there are a heap of other issues in Inquisition that were all repeated in (ugh) Andromeda and I'm just . . . done.
Brown people who pay for their games and invest in their stories deserve better than to have to endure endless insinuations about our perceived inferiority. I can only hope that BioWare learns from this mistake and does better in the next installment of Dragon Age.
Not that I'll be buying it.