Dragon Age, Ma Vhenan: The Lore is a Lie

This is cross-posted from my blog on Gamasutra.

I’ve finally figured out how to talk about the root of my deep love for Dragon Age: Inquisition without spending an hour or more spoiling the story and lore of the setting for the listener. I stumbled upon this during a Skype call with someone completely unfamiliar with anything Dragon Age. My fumbling explanation gave him the mistaken impression that Inquisition went back on the lore established in the first two games, retconning things better left alone. But that’s not true. No, Inquisition gave us an extraordinary gift uncommon in any fantasy setting: it taught us that everything in the established lore is suspect.

The lore of the Dragon Age setting is and has always been expansive, more fully fleshed out than what we are shown in the games. I’m sure not everyone reads all the codexes (even if you like reading those, and a lot of people don’t, the sheer number of them makes it a tedious task), but even if you read only a fraction, there’s a lot to learn.

So much of the lore that was established in Dragon Age: Origins is reinforced throughout all three games. New codexes in the later games reveal some new details while reiterating things the player might already have known, if they’d been with the series the whole time. Inquisition does a lot of that, too. I read every codex I found (they make it easier in the newest entry by putting the text in front of your face every time instead of just filing it away in a menu) and enjoyed revisiting the lore and learning some new things.

Context matters!And then, between the main storyline and the scene after the credits, I learned some things that reframed the contexts in which the events of every Dragon Age game had occurred. There was a point where I sat staring at the screen with my jaw open for over five minutes, stunned by the implications of what had just happened. (I only know how long it was because I got a Skype beep during the scene and when I finally turned to my computer there was a time stamp and a time difference.) I left the game as it was, waiting for me to choose what to say next, and walked to the convenience store and back in a daze.

In one swell foop, BioWare has changed everything. So often in fantasy stories, The Legends turn out to be True, but they have just knocked the bowling pins of legend over with a bowling ball made of reality and revealed that the pins were all just a facade the whole time. But it’s not a retcon. Everything points, now, to all the myths and legends in the lore being based on a series of actual historical events seen from different perspectives, but with details lost and twisted over the centuries. Some of the things in The Legends may very well be True… but not all of them.

By reframing the context, BioWare has tied the seemingly disconnected events of the first two games (and the Awakening expansion, for that matter) firmly together and given us plenty to ponder while we wait a few years for the next Dragon Age game. It’s brilliant storytelling and I, for one, can’t wait to see how the mysteries pan out.

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