Ash has been playing "Dragon Age" since the first game's release. She enjoys exploring and explaining the characters and the lore.
I am a long-time fan of the Dragon Age franchise.
For a while, I was one of what the fans would call "the old guard," meaning I worshiped the first installment (Origins), was obsessed with the lore, had been playing longer than anyone else, and was dedicated to the franchise.
By "dedicated" I mean that I bought and played and read everything released for Dragon Age (books, comics, miniseries). I pre-ordered games. I sat on forums discussing theories and arguing with other fans. I wrote cheesy fan fictions (some of which are still really popular to this day).
In short, I used to be a huge Dragon Age nerd. So why, you must wonder, have I turned my back on the series? There are several reasons, and unfortunately for me, playing Dragon Age 2 for the first time in years has only reopened old wounds regarding this beloved franchise and reminded me why I stopped caring years ago.
This is why I'm not buying Dragon Age 4.
Protagonists Never Get a Satisfying Ending
The protagonist never getting a satisfying ending is probably the largest reason why I'm just done with Dragon Age.
Dragon Age: Origins was never meant to have a sequel. Yes, it had an entire story outlined for it (and according to former lead writer, David Gaider, Solas and his shenanigans were always meant to happen), but no one believed the game would be the hit it is today, so a sequel wasn't seriously planned.
This resulted in the developers making the ultimate mistake of allowing the Warden to die at the end of Origins.
I'm not saying the death of a protagonist is a bad thing. My favorite ending, in fact, is the one where my Warden dies and has a funeral. I will never forget the scene where Alistair cradles the Warden's bloody, staring body and whispers words that send her soul to the Maker.
Such a scene had a great emotional impact for the player, as it allowed us to see how much the characters and the inhabitants of this fictional world loved our Warden and had better lives because of her. When I was younger and nerdier, I wrote several fan fictions about my Dalish elf's funeral and how her friends reacted to it.
No, the death of the Warden was a mistake because it forced the writers to begin fresh with a new protagonist.
As I outlined in another article, Hawke was a great protagonist and my favorite in the series. I think the series would have been fine if the writers had stuck with her for the rest of the games, instead of introducing a new protagonist for every game.
Every time fans suggest this, however, there are a group of fans who will chant like blank-eyed parrots,
"Thedas is the protagonist, not the . . . protagonist!"
But to me, this "explanation" is the dumbest thing ever. True, in classic high fantasy fiction there are plenty of examples of the world being the protagonist over the actual protagonist (I think the Earthsea chronicles are a good example of this) but in this case, Thedas (The Dragon Age Setting) being the protagonist is just a bulls*it excuse by the developers for their game being a clusterf*ck.
I have really come to hate that we are forced to have a new protagonist every game, while the old protagonist never gets to finish their story and is always left in a weird limbo.
Stuck in Limbo
Because of Dragon Age 2, the player is left wondering where the Warden is if the Warden survived the Blight. The Warden isn't like the other Grey Wardens, who mind their own business and ignore everything that has nothing to do with the Blight.
The Warden is a hero (at least most gamers played her that way). And when Cassandra and Leliana set out to find the Warden to make her Inquisitor during the events of Dragon Age 2, it only makes it more painfully obvious that she should have been there.
Finally in Dragon Age: Inquisition, it's revealed that the Warden wasn't around because they were looking for a cure for the Calling. . . .? That is so lame. And it makes the Warden look irresponsible and even crazy to be ignoring a giant hole in the sky that is literally threatening the world for something that is both selfish and impossible: there is no cure for the Calling.
In essence, a Warden who survived and even survived the events of the DLC Awakening had a pretty satisfying ending, only for that to be completely hand-waved by the events of Dragon Age 2 and the fact that they weren't there.
This is a large part of the reason why I just started killing the Warden. The ending they forced on her was completely against my Warden's character. As someone who romanced Leliana, it also fits into her character arc to have her lover die, given her crisis of faith in Dragon Age: Inquisition (in other words, losing her lover would add to her angst).
Alas. Why can't my lesbian characters ever get that happy ending?
Of course, Hawke didn't get a satisfying ending either.
She doesn't get to properly deal with Corypheus or the red templars. Some fans didn't care about that, but I did. I felt those elements were a part of Hawke's story and that she should have been the one to handle them.
Instead, her story is passed off to another protagonist, and like the Warden, she is given the option to die or mysteriously disappear while ignoring the world's very serious problems.
I played my Hawke as a greedy snarky as*hole who only cared about money, but deep down, she was still a hero and had a heart a gold. She would never ignore the threat of the red templars or of Corypheus while knowing she had the power to do something.
Her showing up at Skyhold was great to me for this reason alone, but her exit from the series was also frustrating. They didn't give her a satisfying ending at all.
A lot of fans enjoyed leaving her in the Fade and thought it was a good ending. Maybe so. I left my Hawke in the Fade because I thought it would make up for her releasing Corypheus, at least.
But what about the ending where Hawke lives? She goes with the Grey Wardens, which makes no sense, and then we never hear from her again.
Actually, I just remembered that Hawke can get a happy ending in the DLC Trespasser if they aren't left behind in the Fade. I haven't played this game in five years (so give me a break), but playing Dragon Age 2 recently jogged my memory.
I remember now that I was actually annoyed that Hawke randomly returned from the Grey Wardens with no real explanation beyond Varric joking that they probably walked out of the fortress with it blowing up behind them.
Still, at least Hawke and Isabela get a happy ending. I've always referred to Trespasser as a "Band-AID" because it was basically like a patch that fixed a bunch of broken storylines that should have been addressed in the base game.
Imagine paying for the epilogue slides for the end of Dragon Age: Origins!
Another thing Trespasser did was finalize Hawke's death in the Fade, thus wrapping up another loose end. When entering the shattered library, the Inquisitor can find a book that Varric only dreamed about writing. Depending on who is left behind in the Fade, the book speaks of their afterlife, which is basically them relaxing in a tavern, at peace and far away from the world's many troubles.
As I mentioned, I recently replayed Dragon Age 2, and after having Hawke defeat giant walking statues, ancient magisters, high dragons, and ten-foot blood magic abominations, it seems silly that she should die in the Fade.
Yes, the game makes it clear that the Fear demon is very ancient and can not be slain. If you take Solas into the Fade with you, he cautions the Inquisitor against trying to kill Fear.
But this is Hawke we're talking about, legendary slayer of big things. If anyone could kill an ancient demon, it's her! And even if she couldn't kill it, what was stopping her from escaping the Nightmare demon and wandering aimlessly until she found a rift? That's exactly what the Inquisitor does in the opening of the game! The Inquisitor escapes the Nightmare, wanders around, finds a rift, and leaves the Fade!
Ah well. Now that I've remembered this, I'm perfectly fine with leaving my Warden in the Fade. I usually make Alistair king and kill Loghain. And I've no attachment to Stroud so . . .
I remember the first time I came across the choice in Inquisition. I laughed because I didn't give a crap about Stroud. And neither did my Inquisitor, who didn't even know him. Easiest choice I ever made. And I borderline despise Alistair so . . . shrug.
People like to justify leaving Hawke behind by referencing Flemeth's premonition in Dragon Age 2 (that Hawke would fall into an abyss and learn whether or not she could fly). But I think fans need to remember that Flemeth's prediction was written during a time when the developers thought Hawke was going to be the Inquisitor. Once that changed, Flemeth's prediction became obsolete, so that anything could happen to Hawke, really.
Speaking of Stroud and my Inquisitor's complete indifference about his fate, that's another thing I hated about Inquisition. Seeing and interacting with the friends of your old protagonists while you're playing a new protagonist . . . really sucks. I like to refer to this as a "shattered narrative" because that's exactly how it feels to play a new protagonist over and over in the same series. . . . Like the narrative is being shattered.
I was always friends with Morrigan back in Origins, so getting to Inquisition and having her be an ass to me and having my Dalish Inquisitor hate her (forever f*ck that temple of Mythal quest) . . . that was hard. And it almost made it feel pointless that I made friends with her two games ago if my reward now is to be treated like s*it by her anyway.
Also, Morrigan's introduction at Halamshiral was just written badly. She comes down the stairs and the Inquisitor is smiling at her like she knows her . . .why? Because the player knows her. Except it makes no sense because the Inquisitor doesn't know Morrigan at all!
When Morrigan comes down the stairs, my Inquisitor should be going, "Who the f*ck are you?" Not grinning at Morrigan like an old friend. Especially after Leliana's grim warnings.
We are experiencing the world through the inquisitor's eyes. So why are these scenes playing on our feelings instead of theirs?
Inquisition was rife with this kind of awful writing, writing where the writers tried to get a reaction out of the player and the audience rather than the Inquisitor herself. We are supposed to have a reaction through the Inquisitor, through her perspective and her feelings.
Another good example of this crap was Bann Teagan.
Bann Teagan was a fan favorite back in the days of Origins, so it isn't surprising that he was used to play on our heartstrings in Trespasser. He appears in the DLC all angry at the Inquisitor for still having troops on his land. I mean . . . he's beyond angry. He's outraged.
It makes no sense. Mostly because it . . . just isn't consistent. First, the Inquisitor has open communication with the crown in both Orlais and Ferelden. If they wanted her troops to pull out, they could have damn well said something years before. I know Alistair was king in one playthrough and I had a war table mission with him. Communications were open.
And second . . . there was no reason for Teagan to be so cartoonishly furious except for the drama. What was the Inquisition doing aside from protecting his people? Were they bullying civilians and demanding food and supplies, like real life soldiers of old? What, actually, was the problem?
I'll be honest: it's been five years since I played Trespasser. But I don't recall there being any legitimate reason for Teagan to be so mouth-foaming angry except to play on the player's feelings.
I call this bad writing because, again, it's inconsistent. The Inquisitor deals with annoying nobles all the time. Hell, they've been doing it for two or three years by the time Trespasser happens. So why are they so upset about Teagan, some noble they aren't even friends with? Because we, the player, are expected to like Teagan and have been friends with him as the Warden. That's why.
Don't misunderstand my criticisms. I'm not "upset" that old beloved characters yelled at me (I don't even care that much for Teagan, to be honest). I am legitimately bothered by the crappy writing in what used to be pretty well-written and consistent games.
I think people who read my game articles aren't aware that I'm actually a novelist and I actually have a degree in this stuff. If I make a mistake, it's a typo. I don't need a grammar lesson. And I actually care very much about writing and the craft.
To be fair, most videos games aren't written well and they're not supposed to be. But I think I was drawn to Bioware games in the first place precisely because they were written better than most games. To see their writing taking a down curve is . . . sad.
So yes, while Inquisition did have some great quests such as Here Lies the Abyss and Wicked Hearts, Wicked Minds, there were still instances (Stroud, Morrigan, Teagan, and God help us, Corypheus) that were written poorly and I'm going to state my opinion.
Deal with it.
And the fact that Stroud is such an easy choice (and thus renders the attempt at drama laughable) makes it all the more obvious that the Warden was supposed to be the warden that appeared for the quest. We were supposed to play with our three protagonists and then make the heart-wrenching choice to sacrifice one of them.
But to be honest? I'm glad it didn't work out that way. For one thing, the drama during the Fade sequence felt too contrived, and I'm glad my Warden wasn't tangled up in that mess. Again, it was written badly. It made no sense to leave someone behind while the others fled. If the Fear demon was so powerful, why couldn't it have stopped all of them?
Instead, Fear just patiently sits there while the Inquisitor tries to decide who to leave behind. In my head I could imagine my snarky Hawke humming the tune of Jeopardy, it was that bad. (Giving myself serious Harbinger flashbacks, too.)
They made the demon too powerful to be defeated by one of our protagonists for the specific purpose of forcing this poorly written drama. Just . . . Ugh.
For another thing, I didn't want my Warden to come back. I liked seeing Hawke in Inquisition, but it was bittersweet because I knew all along she should have been the protagonist, not the Inquisitor's subservient lackey. I looked at my Hawke standing on the battlements, arms folded, knowing that Skyhold should have been hers.
Especially after all of Merrill's stories to Hawke about Mythal (Flemeth) and the Dread Wolf (Solas). Hawke can even ask Flemeth about Morrigan, who later would have been her advisor, had she become Inquisitor as planned.
When she first meets Hawke in Dragon Age 2, Flemeth (Mythal) muses that it must be fate . . . because Hawke would have met Flemeth again in Inquisition after drinking from the Well and becoming her herald and/or letting Morrigan drink. In fact, according to the developers, the Well of Sorrows quest was supposed to be a Dragon Age 2 DLC.
After the Well, there's an entire discussion with Flemeth in the Fade during which Morrigan pleads for the life of her son. The conversation Flemeth has with the Inquisitor implies that she is done helping the world and is passing the torch, so to speak, to the Inquisitor.
In other words, Hawke would have been the new Flemeth/Mythal. The new legend always there to save and protect Thedas. Instead, we have this shattered narrative where a new protagonist keeps taking up that role. . . . and so Flemeth's speech to the Inquisitor and these implications lose all their (awesome) meaning when the Inquisitor is forced to step down in Trespasser (and Hawke is forced to step down in Here Lies the Abyss).
And let's not forget Cassandra's crush on Hawke for defending Isabela in a duel against the Arishok, which was possibly setting them up for a romance. Even having Cullen and Samson around would have made more sense with Hawke.
My Hawke was a mage and argued openly with Cullen about his anti-mage mania, while she pitied Samson and got him his job back with the templars. Those were her characters, and her stories, and her choices that she should have had the option to address in Inquisition. Instead, all her relationships and story lines are handed to the Inquisitor like sloppy seconds.
Hell, even Varric, Hawke's best friend, is given to the Inquisitor! True, he stays a Hawke fanboy to the end, and the Inquisitor is never really his friend, but even he is symbolically passed along. It's the Inquistor, not Hawke, who gets to meet Bianca. And it's the Inquisitor, not Hawke, who gets to see the older, tired version of Varric.
To me, "Inquisition Varric" is the real Varric. He's Varric without the constant "veil of jocularity," as Shale would put it. He's real. He's sometimes serious. He's thoughtful. He's tired. He's sad.
The Inquisitor sees the real Varric but Hawke never does. I can't speak for angry or diplomatic Hawke, but when snarky Hawke and Varric are together, they are both always wearing a mask, always joking around, always deflecting and pretending everything is fine. It's something that Carver actually scolds them both for in the DLC Legacy. They are like too big silly kids, afraid to stop bullshitting and face the world.
To be honest, I think it's precisely because Hawke isn't around that Varric is finally himself in Inquisition. He hides his fears and worries to protect and support Hawke, and Hawke mostly seems to do likewise. But in my opinion, it would have been interesting for Varric's character to finally be real with Hawke in Inquisition. And it would have been interesting for snarky Hawke to take off their mask and do the same.
This opportunity was missed when Hawke was scrapped as Inquisitor. Instead, we played a different character, one who was worshiped by Varric, who (sigh) is supposed to be so cool and unique because he hates his own culture and is Andrastian. But if Hawke had been Inquisitor, it's clear that her seeing the real Varric for the first time was the writer's intent (David Gaider, not Weekes. Gaider wrote Varric, even if he wasn't lead writer for Inquisition).
I mean . . . It's clear Dragon Age 2 was building Hawke up to have a reunion with these characters and explore new plot lines for each relationship. It's sad that it never happened.
The Inquisitor Might Be Worse Off
Ironically, Trespasser gave Hawke an ending while screwing the Inquisitor out of one entirely. It's remarkable that Bioware meant for it to wrap up the Inquisitor's story (they seriously have stated this) when the DLC, if anything, leaves the story hanging wide open.
Yes, the fact that the Inquisitor loses her arm is a huge signal that her story is done. Except it's not. We learn in Trespasser that Solas was the real threat all along, and since we enabled his rise to full power, we are responsible for stopping him and saving the world—as the Inquisitor puts it—"again."
And even though the connection between the Inquisitor and Solas is acknowledged in the DLC, the developers have still decided that this is the end of the Inquisitor's story. They would much rather stick to their "Thedas is the protagonist" B.S. than actually give us a protagonist who has a full and satisfying arc.
So the Inquisitor will likely be a NPC in the next game (God help us all) who mentors and/or hires the new protagonist to hunt down Solas. And instead of cleaning up her own mess, much like Hawke, she will pass it on to someone else.
And given the way the mage-templar war was resolved in six seconds at the beginning of Inquisition, I don't expect that Solas is going to have a remotely important role. His threat will probably be resolved one hour into the game, with no interaction between him and the Inquisitor (poor people who romanced Solas. Trespasser was clearly the end of the romance) and the new protagonist will then move on to facing the qunari threat.
If I can say one thing that's good, it's that at least my Inquisitor gets to be with her romance, instead of being another tragic lesbian death. Unless, of course, the developers change their mind (poor Josephine) and have her die dramatically while trying to stop Solas.
As it stands, the Inquisitor didn't really get an ending. They can choose to disband or keep the Inquisition, and the DLC ends with them vowing to stop Solas.
To me, that is not an ending. It's a cliffhanger.
Maybe Bioware Just Can't Write Endings
So that's three protagonists so far that have been left hanging. Why in God's name should I want to do this again with the protagonist of Dragon Age 4?
The fourth installment is supposed to be about a qunari invasion. I can predict exactly how it will go: the new protagonist will stop Solas in the first hour of the game, then stop the qunari and their new Arishok (Sten from Origins) only to discover their apostate companion had a secret plan that causes more chaos, and then the resolution of this companion (who has a personal connection to the current protagonist) will be passed off to some other protagonist to deal with.
It's insane. But if you think about it, that's pretty much been the formula of the last three games. The only stark difference in the three games is Morrigan, who was the only apostate whose secret plan actually helped you.
I can't imagine why I should want to do this again: create another character, play them for hours, and then watch helplessly as their ending is left to hang.
People are always screeching that Dragon Age is not Mass Effect, but at least in Mass Effect I got to play the same character in all three games, while romancing the same character for three games (the choice to romance someone else always being there), which made the games more meaningful than if I had been forced to keep playing someone new every time.
Also, playing the same character for an entire series will not somehow ruin roleplay (I've seen this argument too, and it's tiresome). Mass Effect started out a classic roleplaying game, so Shepard could be male or female and had three psychological profiles and three pre-service profiles, as well as Paragon and Renegade dialogue choices, all of which could be used to define her.
It was amazing to play a character whose choices carried over with consequences, who evolved throughout the series, who could romance the same character (or dump them and pick someone new for delicious drama). It was a pretty awesome roleplay experience, actually. And for this reason, Mass Effect will always be my favorite video game series of all time.
There's a rumor that Bioware was actually going to kill off Shepard permanently and have us play as a Cerberus agent in Mass Effect 2. They were very smart not to do this. I would have stopped playing the series right there. (And in hindsight, I wish I had stopped playing Dragon Age after Origins.)
What Bioware did with Shepard is not something to be cast aside. It is something that could be improved upon. Because to be honest, by Mass Effect 3, Shepard had stopped being our character and had become a predetermined character with auto-dialogue. But imagine a video game series where the character was always yours from start to finish? Where your choices mattered and your romances carried from game to game, making them more meaningful (or trashy and amusing).
The argument that a new protagonist helps new players enter the series is silly. New players aren't stupid. They can figure out the game and the lore by playing an established character, just as they always have in basically every other rpg ever (The Witcher is a great example of this. Also, again, Mass Effect).
No, the reality is, Bioware fu*ked up by giving us the option to kill the Warden in the first game, so now we have this confusing mess of a series. Having to play a new protagonist isn't Dragon Age's only problem, it's just one of many.
Or maybe we're just screwed either way. Because as lousy as the ending for every protagonist in Dragon Age was . . . it was still better than the ending of Mass Effect 3.