Friday, November 18, 2022

Karen Wiesner: Fiction Series So Big, They Cross Multimedia Platforms: Dragon Age Series, created by Bioware and David Gaider

Fiction Series So Big, They Cross Multimedia Platforms:

Dragon Age Series, created by Bioware and David Gaider

by Karen Wiesner

In this article series I'm calling "Fiction Series So Big, They Cross Multimedia Platforms", I plan to explore supernatural fiction series that sometimes had their beginnings as books but branched out into other types of mediums, like videogames, movies/TV series, board/card/role-playing games, and music. In each individual article that I hope will introduce entertainment connoisseurs to some incredible fiction or components of similar themed stories they might have otherwise missed, I'll discuss the origins of the series elements as well as my individual experience with the various types of media, which will be presented as a kind of review of the series.

In this second installment, we'll cover the dark fantasy Dragon Age Series created and developed by Bioware, a Canadian videogame developer and its lead writer (until 2015), David Gaider. Gaider is credited with the majority of the lore for the setting of these multi-faceted stories. In addition to being the head writer for the first three, main series games, Gaider also wrote two prequel novels to the first game and a follow-up novel to the second game. He was the lead writer on The Silent Grove comic series and it sequels Those Who Speak and Until We Sleep.

In this sprawling fantasy series, the popular videogames spawned novels, comics, graphic novels, multiple webseries, an anime film, gorgeous music, and role-playing games.

Which Came First?

Dragon Age takes place on the fictional continent of Thedas. The first videogame was Dragon Age: Origins with multiple downloadable content additions (DLC) that enlarged the scope of the original story and its memorable characters. Released in 2009, it's widely considered to be one of the best videogames of all times (as are all the installments to this day). The story follows a recent recruit to the Grey Wardens, a legendary order with the mission of saving the kingdom of Ferelden from being wiped out by a monstrous race of subterranean-dwelling beings called Darkspawn. Every few hundred years, these creatures come to the surface and awaken an Archdemon (a corrupted Old God of the Tevinter Imperium in the form of a powerful dragon) to lead them in an event called a Blight--the single biggest threat to all Thedas civilizations. The Grey Wardens and the Dwarves' Legion of the Dead are all that stand between the world and certain annihilation.

Origins was followed in 2010 by an enormous expansion pack called Awakening that takes place directly following the end of the original game, continuing with the main character from the first game in a new campaign set in a whole different section of Thedas. Awakening alone added nearly 22 hours of very enjoyable, additional gameplay.

The sequel to Origins came in 2011: Dragon Age II centers around the eldest of the Hawke family, a Blight refugee forced by Darkspawn hordes to flee their home and settle in Kirkwall, where the character drags itself up from nothing to become a champion of a city in the midst of turmoil and political unrest. In the process, the character influences all of Thedas with decisions made and actions taken. Dragon Age II received six downloadable content packs. In one of them, Legacy, Hawke investigates a Grey Wardens prison overrun with Darkspawn, confronts his or her father's actions in the past, and must face off against Corypheus, a character who becomes central in the third Dragon Age installment: Inquisition, released in 2014.

Inquisition highlights the organization of that name tasked with restoring peace and order to Thedas after being ravaged by a demonic invasion. The Inquisition follows its leader, "the Herald of Andraste", an individual unintentionally given the power to seal Fade rifts that bring the demons into Thedas--the Fade being the realm where corrupt souls dwell. Several adds-ons and DLC expanded the main story. One in particular, Trespasser, creates a bridge to the next installment in the series. Dragon Age: Dreadwolf, the fourth in the series and a direct sequel to the previous game, is currently under development and will be set in the Tevinter Imperium region of Thedas and focused on Solas, who was a companion of the Herald of Andraste in Inquisition. The tentative release date is late 2023.

Several spinoff games (no longer available) included the browser games Journeys (2009) with a tie-in to the first game; Legends (2011), a tie-in to the second game; Heroes of Dragon Age (2013) drew on plotlines from existing games; and The Last Court (2014), which was set between the events of the second and third games.

The fictional world of Thedas--the only continent in the known world--in DA is inhabited by a variety of humanoid races. One of the largest themes in the games and books focuses on social classes, political dynamics, and the power struggles between the races and factions. Humans dominate and have the respect of most of the population. Elves are considered second class citizens living in overpopulated "alienages" within human cities or as slaves of Tevinter Imperium magisters. Some elves (the Dalish), wanting to reclaim their cultural heritage, live apart in nomadic settlements.

Dwarven society centers around the caste system and a form of ancestor worship. Dwarves are divided into two types: The underground variety with access to entire cities they've built below the surface in what are called the Deep Roads, and surfacers who are treated by undergrounders with deep suspicion.

The Qunari hail from far north settlements in Thedas and are a race of tall, large, physically robust humanoids with varying skin colors and sometimes horns. Converts to their civil religion are called "the Qun". Individuals born outside Qunari society are called Vashoth, and those who abandon Qunari teachings become "Tal-Vashoth" (traitors).

Magic-wielding characters known as mages have access to the Fade. Demon possession is a constant concern and those who give in to it practice forbidden "blood magic". Mages in southern Thedas are forced by The Chantry (the fictional organized religion or church of the realm) to train in colleges called Circles of Magi. Human mages are either kept in the Circle or, in Tevinter, are given free reign with the most powerful becoming magisters. Dwarves can't be mages, and the elves who live outside Chantry control are part of the Dalish clans. Qunari mages are called "Saarabas" (dangerous things) and are kept leashed with their mouths sewn shut. The Chantry's military wing is called the Templar Order, and they seek out and subdue "apostate" mages. Seekers of Truth acts as a check against Templars.

In addition to two comprehensive guides that offer detailed lore, character studies, geography, races, religion, magic, and cookbooks of the DA universe (released 2013 and 2015), a concept art volume (2014), the following fiction releases are available:

1)    Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne by David Gaider (2009) is a novel prequel to Origins and tells the story of the Orlais rebel Maric and his unlikely ally Loghain (from Origins).

2)    Dragon Age: The Calling by David Gaider (2009) is another Origins prequel in which King Maric (and his son Cailan from Origins) pushes for the return of the Grey Wardens to Ferelden.

3)    Dragon Age: Asunder by David Gaider (2011) takes place after DA II and follows a rogue mage (Rhys, mentioned in Cole's storyline within Inquisition) trying to clear his name of murders committed within the seat of Templar power, the White Spire.

4)    Dragon Age: The Masked Empire by Patrick Weekes (2014) details the ruthless, fashionable game of Orlais politics and Empress Celene (from Inquisition) of Orlais's rise to power.

5)    Dragon Age: Last Flight by Liane Merciel (2014) follows an elven mage who becomes a Grey Warden and finds a secret diary uncovering the dark side of the Grey Wardens, which led to the tragic demise of griffin riders.

6)    Dragon Age: Hard in Hardtown by Mary Kirby (2018) is written under the pen name Varric Tethras, one of the games' most iconic characters featured in both DA II and Inquisition. Varric is an author within the Dragon Age Series, and his popular crime-noir drama, Hard in Hardtown, is frequently talked about in the games.

7)    Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights (2020) is an anthology of 15 short stories by various authors that cover a gamut of topics, including Grey Wardens, Mortalitasi necromancers, Dalish elves, and Antivan Crow assassins.

There are also several DA webcomic and comic series published, many of them focused on the best known and loved characters of the series: Flemeth, the Witch of the Wilds and her apostate daughter Morrigan (both of whom made appearances in nearly all game installments); Nathaniel Howe (Awakening and DA II), Alistair (Origins and DA II); Varric (DA II and Inquisition); Isabela (Origins and DA II, though she looked radically different between the two games); and Fenris (DA II).

Tabletop role-playing games exist set in the DA universe. An anime film adaptation called Dawn of the Seeker (2012) focused on a young Cassandra Pentaghast (of DA II and Inquisition) and is still available to watch on Hulu. Warden's Fall (2010) introduced the events covered in Awakening, detailing Kristoff's journey to the Blackmarsh. In 2011, the webseries Redemption premiered a day before the release of DA II DLC Mark of the Assassin, in which the character Tallis, played by actress Felicia Day (the voice actress in Mark of the Assassin and also writer and co-producer of Redemption) is sent by the Qunari to recapture a Saarabas. Absolution, a Netflix TV series slated for December 2022 release, will feature new characters set in the Tevinter Imperium.

A Review of the Various Medium Components Available

My first experience with Dragon Age was Origins. My son was into videogames while growing up, and we had this one, though no one really played it much. I tried several times to play the Xbox 360 version but found the controls clunky so abandoned the game before getting very far each time. Then I played Inquisition, which was one of three games we bought after we got our first Xbox One console. Everything about Inquisition is exquisite--amazing characters, story, gameplay, etc. It's a huge game with at least 200 hours of gameplay (compared to about 90 for Origins and 60 for DA II). The sheer amount of things to do in the game can be a turn-off to those who don't like a huge to-do list in-game. I do love that kind of thing because it makes sense that. in an inquisition, in order to gain followers, you need to go into each area you want to ally with and fix their problems. There's a certain logic to it, even if it does sometimes seem like too much at times.

DA games aren't linear, which is a good thing to me. I tend to hate linear games, though hybrid ones that have some linear, some non-linear elements are acceptable. I also love that you can decide what class of character to play (male or female warrior, rogue, or mage) and also decide your race and background (across all of the games, you can play as a noble or commoner human, Dalish or city elf, noble or commoner dwarf, or Qunari). Incidentally, in a weird DLC, The Darkspawn Chronicles, you can also play as Darkspawn…you know, if you don't mind being a traitor to everything! Each class, race, and background are unique and, especially in Origins, the merging of those unique storylines can really show you all perspectives of the story. In each game, you get to customize exactly how your character looks, which is one of the best parts of getting these games started. There are also romance potentials in each game, all usually chosen from your companions, which accompany you on various missions undertaken throughout the game. Who you choose to bring with you (2-3 per mission in each game) can really change the perspective and even the outcome of the quests.

After playing Inquisition, I was sold on the series, so I knew I had to go back and play the others. Origins wasn't easy to get used to, but, once I got past the class/race/background origin story and became a Grey Warden, I embraced the old-style gameplay pretty quickly.

Dragon Age II is very different from the first, the gameplay mechanics much smoother. The first two games have complicated companion scaling systems. Main character's actions, dialogue, and/or the giving of gifts can provide approval or disapproval. When added together, you'll either end up with a friend or an enemy who eventually has to make a choice about continuing to support you or to abandon you and your cause. It is possible to secure the loyalty of most companions (except in DA II, where you do have to make a choice between two of the characters whether you want to or not), but it can be hard to maintain loyalty with everyone, particularly in II where a stacking bad rating could mean a member in your party will rebel against you in the end (and you'll have to kill him or her). All across the board, DA II falls into morally obscure territory, and I've spent countless hours talking about the "ethics and politics" of the events in this story with fellow gamers.

I've now played all unique classes, races, and backgrounds of Origins, DA II, and Inquisition with and all expansions countless times. I love how the DLC for each game, particularly Legacy for DA II and Trespasser for Inquisition, segue into the next main game. In fact, you really won't get the full story any other way, and, as in the end of the main campaign in Inquisition, you're left with almost a false impression of what actually occurred if you only play the main game. Only by undertaking Trespasser following the events of the main game do you learn the true nature of who and what brought about the Inquisition. Crafty of the developers, considering how many people I know who skip the DLC!

For completionist gamers, you can find my checklists, chock full of tips and tricks, for DA games below:

Origins and all DLC as well as the Awakening expansion:

Dragon Age II with all DLC:

Inquisition with all DLC:

I ordered Books 1-5 in the Dragon Age series while I was playing through the games the first time. The writing of each of these was the highest quality, and finding out backstories behind events, characters, and settings in the games was intriguing, really making the whole series feel like a complete world. I'd love to see full games or DLC created for each of the books. Even if you don't play the games (which would be sad because it's such an interactive way to experience the stories), the books for this series are well worth reading for any dark fantasy lover.

That brings us to the music of Dragon Age. While the haunting "Leliana's Song" and "The Dawn Will Come" are probably the songs almost everyone who's played the games know best, all the soundtracks from the main games and the DLC contain breathtakingly gorgeous music. Highly recommended! You can listen in here:

Whether you're a dark fantasy book reader, gamer, lover of TV and movies and music, I highly recommend Dragon Age Series in all its multimedia facets. Each component is worth whatever time and monetary investments you make.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150+ titles and 16 series. Visit her here:

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