Dragon Age Meta Preview: Legends vs. Reality

Based on patron votes in June, I completed this analysis by taking a close look at legends and the reality behind them in the Dragon Age series! To say I was excited is an understatement if I’ve ever heard one. There are some concepts involved here, such as the vallaslin of the Dalish, but I’ve chosen to focus on four people who were made into legends in Thedas:

  • The Inquisitor
  • Hawke, Champion of Kirkwall
  • The Dread Wolf
  • King Maric

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Remember, there will be spoilers for all games here (plus side books/comics).


1.) The Inquisitor

“This kind of runaway opinion forms an image of the Inquisitor as a legend that they personally can’t shape.”

Although the Inquisitor’s exact story varies based on the player’s choices, their experiences are more or less the same in a broad sense and highly talked about across Thedas. For example, whether your Inquisitor approves of being called the Herald of Andraste or not, people will call your Inquisitor that. The decision to allow it to happen is largely up to Josephine and the rumor mill, not the individual Inquisitor. This kind of runaway opinion forms an image of the Inquisitor as a legend that they personally can’t shape, and since it’s not just the Herald rumor going about, their legend quickly separates itself from reality.

In the words of Scout Harding in the Jaws of Hakkon DLC: “Every time you’re more than just a person to someone, you’re also… less… than a person to them. They don’t see that a real, normal woman fought the Avvar and killed that dragon. And they certainly don’t know about your strange fixation with elfroot.”

2.) Hawke, Champion of Kirkwall

“There were plenty of story quests that Hawke could have absolutely declined to get mixed up in, only they did.”

And as for how Varric knew that about the Inquisitor’s legendary status, Hawke is really the poster child. They weren’t thrown into heroics by circumstances and given no other choice like the Warden or Inquisitor. When Hawke saw something they could help with, they did. And they got to a place where they could help in those situations because they wanted to provide a good life for their family. The Champion of Kirkwall really became a legend at their own expense because they chose to get involved each and every time they could have sat things out. That makes them a very different kind of hero than the other two Dragon Age protagonists that were forced into it by events outside of their control.

Yes, the Blight forced the Hawke family out of Lothering, and Hawke couldn’t have controlled that. They had to work as an indentured employee for a year to get entry into Kirkwall in the first place too, which they didn’t have any say in. But there were plenty of story quests that Hawke could have absolutely declined to get mixed up in, only they did.

3.) The Dread Wolf

“A large aspect of The Dread Wolf… is that only he could walk among the gods and the Forgotten Ones alike. This… meant he could deceive both of them without either one interacting.”

The legends of The Dread Wolf, or Fen’Harel, are not all that favorable. He was believed by the Dalish to hate kindness and wisdom above all else, and he was rumored to have snuck through the Fade into a Keeper’s dreams to twist them against their clan. The Dread Wolf has power that can affect the whole world according to his tales, from the Veil to the stars. He is willing to injure himself to get away with his misdeeds, and he’s apparently had some aversion to dogs, haha.

But a large aspect of The Dread Wolf’s in-world lore is that only he could walk among the gods and the Forgotten Ones alike. This ability meant he could deceive both of them without either one interacting, using their mutual trust of him to betray both sides. He is a highly superstitious figure for the Dalish with some seeing him as completely evil. Of course, the truth of his actions is more nuanced and complicated (although still terrible).

4.) King Maric

“Whatever he wanted for his life, Maric had no other choice but to rise to the throne.”

To give Origins a little more love, we’ll go into King Maric, otherwise known as Maric the Savior as the legacy left behind by his deeds. He freed Ferelden from Orlesian rule and restored his family to the throne with the help of some of his closest friends. His accomplishments there quickly made him legend across Ferelden and whatever he wanted for his life, Maric had no other choice but to rise to the throne. As he described it in the Dragon Age novel by David Gaider, The Calling:

“I had to go on, because Ferelden needed me. I married a woman who was in love with my best friend, because Ferelden needed me. And when she died I kept going, despite the fact that everything in my life felt empty, because Ferelden needed me.” He looked at her again, his eyes sad. “Everything was because Ferelden needed me.”


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Dragon Age Analysis: Grey Morality

SPOILER WARNING FOR ALL THREE GAMES AND THE TRESPASSER DLC

Dragon Age: Origins: The Grey Wardens

As an organization, the Grey Wardens themselves are rife with grey morality (no pun intended). The main reason is that, despite offering a societally approved purpose to those who are outcasts otherwise, they are also bolstering their ranks by preying on marginalized groups through their desperation for survival or acceptance. For example, elven volunteers are particularly common in the Wardens because they accept everyone. Their only options otherwise in most regions are: 

  • To live in perpetual poverty in alienages and risk a violent death there anyway (with the threat of entire alienages being purged due to the actions of one elf or stories like those from the [tw: implied sexual assault] fugitive elves in Dragon Age 2)
  • Save up enough to move out of the alienage at the almost guaranteed risk of having your house burned down
  • Joining the Dalish, if even permitted to do so (as with half-elves, who have trouble joining, or elven mages, who pose a risk of drawing in demons)

Dragon Age 2: Hopeless Extremes

One of the common complaints about Dragon Age 2 is that the choices are typically bleak and don’t significantly change the outcome more often than not, but this is actually a strong part of the game’s narrative, realism, and atmospheric grey morality. 

In game design terms, the lasting theme of being between a rock and hard place is depicted in non-zero-sum situations over the course of the game. The main point of these situations is that there is no clear winner or loser. There’s a real chance that no one will win, per se, and the best case scenario might be very unlikely and still not ideal. The most probable outcome could just be losing less than you might have otherwise. Not all choices in this game are plainly wrong and show their awful results upfront, as opposed to selling Fenris back to his former master. Most aren’t that clear, and you won’t know the consequences until it’s too late.

Even in the choice to be a mage or warrior/thief, the player is unwittingly sentencing one of Hawke’s siblings to death. To keep the party balanced, becoming a mage will result in Bethany’s death and choosing a warrior/thief class will lead to Carver’s death. The beginning of the game was a tutorial in more ways than one, preparing the player for increasingly grim events with little to no warning accompanying the originating choice.

Dragon Age: Inquisition: Perception of the Inquisitor

There are more player choices in this game than I can shake a stick at, but I’m keeping with the theme of focusing on the world state above all else. Still, because of their number, we can’t avoid mentioning the decisions made by the Inquisitor throughout the game. In fact, that’s the backbone of what I’m highlighting here as the depiction of grey morality across Thedas. From the moment the Inquisitor catches the public eye, their societal perception exposes the personal interest behind every opinion about them.

As such, no one entity in this game can lay claim to pure moral goodness. Individual bias is always a factor there. First, everyone is furious and looking for someone to blame. The sole survivor of a nightmarish tragedy that killed so many others is a convenient outlet for that. But once it’s discovered that a feminine figure was seen in the rift behind them and word spreads of the Inquisitor stopping the Breach from growing, they’re labelled as the Herald of Andraste.

As soon as the Inquisitor could offer something to benefit the people, their reputation improved drastically. This kind of response is the key focal point of morality and even godhood in Dragon Age: Inquisition. The Inquisitor goes from universally hated to publicly beloved in one event, and with it, they’re granted the power to accept an almost divine standing among the people. But that reverence is not unconditional, even if it’s refused by the Inquisitor.

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