So after a 4 years wait, it is finally here. Telltale just confirmed that The Wolf Among Us 2 is coming. In 2018, without any more precise date, sure. But, hey, when you have been waiting for years for just a sign, it’s like Christmas in July. I loved The Wolf Among Us. It is a fine game, set in a wonderful atmosphere, which gives hours of fun. It also made me discover Fables, probably my favorite comic and one of the few I can effectively follow.
So in 2014, Telltale’s Game of Thrones was released. Since I was still in my show-loving period I was eager to play this game. Especially when I learned that we would play a northern family loyal to the Starks. Unfortunately, the actual experience ended-up being disappointing.
With all those good news about The Wolf Among Us, I started rethinking about both experiences. Why did I have such a different way of seeing them despite the fact that the gaming system was so similar? I came to the conclusion that it is a question of narrative. So now let’s buckle up and dive right in into the Telltale game series and why it can be either great or meh.
Telltale and the ‘Revival’ of Point and Clicks
The Telltale games all work on the same system. You control one character at the time. You decide their dialogue. With them you play through what we can only call interactive cut-scenes that can change a little depending on your choice and if you miss an action or not. There are also more traditional game moments where you wander in a delimited map looking for things or characters to speak to. More importantly, there are moment where you might make important decisions that will impact the rest of the game.
There are no real enigmas or really challenging decisions, though. Also despise what a first time player might think, you can’t influence the plot that much. It is going somewhere specific, and if your choices veer too far away from it you will be taken back to the correct road.
So, the Telltales games aren’t really point and click in the traditional understanding of the genre. I think it would be more correct to call them ‘interactive movies’. Hell, you can play with the American controls on a French keyboard (an AZERTY keyboard) without being really disturbed by it.
By no means am I trying to dismiss the gaming experience of the Telltale’s games. When done correctly they are incredibly immersive and just straight up fun. After all, not everyone is a fan of FPS, TPS, or beat them all. But it is important to be honest about what the game is and isn’t. What it is, is a fun experience that will not make you try and retry a level in order to progress in the narrative.
The Wolf Among Us and Game of Thrones, what are they about?
Even if they both operate on the same gaming system, The Wolf Among Us and Game of Thrones are different. In one game you only incarnate one character and try to solve a crime mystery. In the other, you play 5 different characters and you try to save your family from destruction.
Bigby Wolf or the Sheriff of Fabletown
The crime story is The Wolf Among Us. Telltale got the rights to make a video game out Fables. However, it takes place before the beginning of the comics. For those of you who might not know it, Fables is a comics series following famous characters of fairytales. They are now living in our world, after having been cast away from theirs by the Adversary. They have two structures Fabletown, in NY, for the human looking ones and the Farm, somewhere in the American countryside, for the others. After the escape, every Fables character who managed to made it to our world was granted amnesty and now Bluebeard lives next door to Briar Rose.
The player controls Bigby Wolf, the sheriff of Fabletown. Bigby is actually none other than the Big Bad Wolf in human form (even if he can take back his wolf form at will), which makes him a brilliant agent of the law for Fabletown. However his case is a bit special since he is forbidden to go to the Farm. Indeed, his past crimes against the the non-human looking community were too big to be forgotten, and his own amnesty was…let’s say conditional.
The game starts with Bigby being sent to apply the day-to-day law at “Get a glamour spell or go to the Farm,” but he is disturbed by one resident of Fabletown assaulting another. He steps in, fights with the Woodsman and saves Faith, a sex worker who, we will discover later, is more famously known under the name of Donkey Skin. She seems to be in some sort of bigger trouble but refuses to talk about it. Bigby goes back to the headquarters of Fabletown, where he meats with various characters (Snow White, Colin, etc). In the evening he discovers the severed head of a woman.
The point will then be to find out who is responsible, to stop them from doing it again, and bring justice to Fabletown. To do so you will dive right into the misery of Fabletown and its hypocrisy. What is justice? What is fair? What is right? And more importantly are you the best person for the job? Are you still at heart the Big Bad Wolf in sheeps clothing or are you a changed man(wolf)? The game is very much Bigby’s personal journey of rediscovery. And of the balance between what he is ready to do to get where he wants and what people expect of him.
More than a crime story, Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us is a game that explores morality, specifically that belonging to its main character and therefore yours.
The Forresters Remember
Game of Thrones is a family management game (sorry I don’t know what to call it otherwise). The game starts at the Red Wedding, which is where Lord Forrester, his oldest son, and his squire are. They get massacred, except for Gared, the squire. He comes back to the Forrester home castle. From this point onward you play different members of House Forrester and try to prevent the total annihilation of your family.
Expect for Mira, all the characters are at one point or another at Ironrath, their home castle. But you will also go to King’s Landing, Essos, The Wall, and North of the Wall. You will also cross paths with characters from the show: Ramsay Sue, Jonny Cardboard, Marg Bolelyn, Deadpan Card-born, and—of course—Saint Tyrion. The game takes place between season 3 and season 4.
Every character will have a different storyline. Mira will try to influence the court in King’s Landing. Asher has to find troops in Essos. Gared goes North to find the North Grove (what is this thing, it isn’t in the books, right?). Ethan and Rodrick will try to manage their estate to the best of their capabilities and discover who are traitors to their family. You will fight, scheme, lie, and form political alliances in order to have the Forrester House survive.
The playable characters are engaging (I lied I don’t care about Gared, I really don’t) especially Ethan, Mira, and Asher. They have distinct personalities but are a united family and care about each other. Ethan in particular is fascinating; he is a bookish boy with a love for music but he wants to do well, be honorable, and be up to the task. It is the kind of character we don’t get to play all that often, and it was great.
However, one major difference between The Wolf Among Us and Game of Thrones is the ending. The former solves the murder mystery while leaving some doubt about a particular character’s identity, but the latter ends on a cliffhanger in which you have no idea if you have saved your family or not.
How Well Do the Storylines Work with the Gaming System?
So now that I have explained the gaming system and the core of both stories, it is time to ask the question: how well do they fit together? Or to word it differently: why does The Wolf Among Us fit better than Game of Thrones?
Film Noir and Morality
The ambiance in The Wolf Among Us is fantastic. The color palette chosen for the game, a neon violet dark pink, gives a modern film noir atmosphere to the game. The choice of OC for the game was great. Donkey Skin, Bloody Mary, the Jersey Devil, and even the little Mermaid have original stories which are grimmer (no pun intended) than usual. It helps make the whole thing less comfortable for the audience. It’s not just any crime game, it’s a fully fleshed film noir with corruption, etc. The focus on the misery of some of Fabletown and the hypocrisy of the system is a very nice idea. It suits the subject very well. A perfect environment to develop Bigby’s dilemmas.
The fanservice is also left to a minimum. Snow White is here, Flycatcher, Jack and Colin too, also Beauty and the Beast. Even if I didn’t really like having B&B in, it didn’t tie very well with the rest of the comics. But fan favorites such as Blue Boy, Prince Charming, Frau Totenkinder, and Cinderella are missing. Or if they are mentioned, it’s more in the form of easter eggs.
Long story shorts The Wolf Among Us is allowed to exist on its own. Don’t know the slightest thing about Fables? You can still play the game and enjoy the characters and the narration.
Speaking of which, since the game is focused on the ambiance and on the moral dilemma the fact, that you can’t change the ending all that much doesn’t matter. It is how you get there that matters. Who did you save? Who did you comfort? Did you abandon anyone? Your final choice regarding the Crooked Man’s fate, without changing the face of the world, is the ultimate representation of what the game stands for. Who are you?
This is one hell of the great game for someone who likes the genre. It uses the gaming system marvelously to uphold what it is trying to say. The same, however, cannot be said for Game of Thrones.
Cliffhanger and Dramatic SatisfactionTM
Never in my life have I been so frustrated by a fixed end-game. I mean, it’s less fixed than The Wolf Among Us, but by god how awfully forced did the Game of Thrones’s one feel. Unfortunately for the game it decided to follow the show footsteps (and that’s why I choose to use the Book Snob Glossary for the show characters’s names). The ambiance is the exact same as in the show. Some of your characters will get killed mercilessly for shock value. Ethan for example, is killed by Ramsay Sue at the end of episode one. Sure, it made you more motivated to win the game and save your family. But since the game close on a cliffhanger you are robbed of your own motivation.
Speaking of being robbed. Every time you try to manage something that is supposed to help the family get out of the shit river they are drowning in, it is going to be taken from you in the most gruesome way. For example, I had managed to secure Rodrick’s betrothal to Elaena Glenmore and gain men for a future battle. Boy was I proud. But no, Ramsay Sue teleported behind by castle and butchered my brother-in-law. I promised my loyalty to Margaery? Could have promised it to Cersei and it wouldn’t have changed a damn thing. It was to a point that when Mira was attacked in King’s Landing I ended-up thinking, “Whatever I do with this knife it’s coming back to bite me in the ass anyway, so I don’t care.”
How many characters die in this? I have 3 of my point of view characters who died (I think two at least must die). Lady Forrester dies. The entire Forrester Household dies. If you kill the character that your audience cares about just to prove that you are daring and that your world is terrible, you are not doing a good writing job. You can finish The Wolf Among Us with only 4 dead characters; all of them victims of the same ‘killer’.
On top of that, there is nearly no way to make the experience morally relevant as it is in The Wolf Among Us. The experience is ultimately little more than frustrating. And yet when it does bother to explore morality, it does so well. Rodrick face to face with Gryff Whitehill is great, Mira’s execution also. But they are tiny lights in something that wanted to look like the show too much to be fully fleshed out.
For a final anecdotal example, the game has the same penchant for sentences that sound badass, just like the show.
By telling a story without a clear interest other than the shock value, Telltale failed to propose a good quality gaming experience. In other Telltale games (The Walking Dead, Batman), they always get interesting when they focus on the character and their psyche. They did that marvelously well in The Wolf Among Us. They missed the point completely in Game of Thrones.
And that’s why if you ever want to try the Telltale experience, I would advise you to skip Game of Thrones and go directly to The Wolf Among Us. It’s a much better experience and won’t leave you frustrated.
Images Courtesy of Telltale
The Dread Wolf Rises: Secrets of the Mysterious New Dragon Age Teaser
Solas: So. You’ve found me at last. I suspect you have questions.
Spoiler Warning for ALL Dragon Age Games and DLCs!
It finally happened. After over four years since the release of its acclaimed video game title Dragon Age: Inquisition (the third in the trilogy), the December 6, 2018 telecast of The Game Awards featured the moment Dragon Age fans have all been waiting for. BioWare, at long last, teased us with a mysterious new Dragon Age 4 trailer, hashtagged #TheDreadWolfRises.
As you may know from reading my previous analyses on Dragon Age: Inquisition, Solas is one of my favorite characters. Thanks to writer Patrick Weekes, he’s both hot and cold, poetic and brutal, honorable and devious, heroic and villainous. For me, he’s one of the great fantasy characters of all time.
And now we have this dark, delicious, and exciting new trailer that confirms Dragon Age 4, while also clearly pointing to Solas as the focus of at least some of the next game. There’s a lot of good stuff to investigate and analyze, even in a one-minute trailer, so I’ll just jump right in.
The Mysteriously Cropped Mural
First off, I was knocked out to realize that the officially shared mural is actually CROPPED. Sneaky BioWare! There are actually three different versions out there: the original (and most-cropped) version we see with the official BioWare post by Mark Darrah, the slightly wider shot posted by artist Nick Thornborrow (whom both Patrick Weekes and John Epler noted as the fresco artist on social media), and the full, uncropped version that we can only see in the video thumbnail, or as provided to the media.
Here’s what was originally shared:
And here’s the full (harder-to-find) version:
That second, full, wider image is absolutely crucial, not least for the tree that almost entirely disappears in the cropped version, so I’ll have a lot more to say about that farther down in the fresco analysis.
“When He Rises…” (Surprising Callbacks to Dragon Age II)
First off, as many fans already know, the image in the teaser is the red lyrium Idol discovered by Bartrand and Varric in the Deep Roads expedition in Dragon Age II. The focus on this idol is really fascinating. For one thing, it turns an item and event that wasn’t seen as terribly significant at the time (beyond the fact that it was the first appearance in the trilogy of what ultimately became known as red lyrium) into a highly significant event.
But the idol isn’t the first or even most important callback to Dragon Age II. First, there’s the matter of “The Dread Wolf Rises” as being an almost certain callback to Sandal’s Prophecy in Dragon Age II, when he says:
One day the magic will come back. All of it.
Everyone will be just like they were.
The shadows will part and the skies will open wide.
When he rises, everyone will see.
Now, damned if that doesn’t sound like the events of Dragon Age: Inquisition, paired with Solas’s plans for the future as openly presented by him to us in “Trespasser.” Especially if the Veil indeed comes down and magic is as common as air.
Magic “as Natural as Breathing”
When it comes to Solas’s goal, I’ve always been an outlier who believes that he absolutely won’t tear down the Veil, and that in fact Solas will end up saving it. Mainly because the Veil itself is in tatters and even if Solas does nothing, I believe it’s already doomed within the century.
But this trailer appears to prove me wrong… so if magic does become a part of the very air, what can we expect? Well, luckily, Solas has already provided some hidden clues, as he once described this very world to us in great detail at Haven in the following selected snippets:
- Without [the Veil], imagine if spirits entered freely. The Fade was not a place one went, but a state of nature, like the wind.
A world where imagination defines reality, where spirits are as common as trees or grass.
- Imagine if spirits were not — a rarity — but a part of our natural world… like a fast-flowing river. Yes, it can drown careless children, but it can also carry a merchant’s goods or grind a miller’s flour. That is what the world could be, if the Veil were not present. For better, or worse.
- Imagine ….. palaces floating among the clouds. Imagine beings who lived forever, for whom magic was as natural as breathing. That is what was lost.
This is important stuff, because it may very well be describing the environment (and alteration in powers and physics) caused if the Veil comes down. The Fade will become real, and dreams and visions will be a part of daily life. Spirits will be common companions and demons will be constant potential threats. Magic will be part of everyone and everything, and will even be able to negate gravity where desired.
Meanwhile, Sandal’s “everyone will be just like they were” seems to me to imply:
- The return of their lost immortality to the elves
- All elves will have inherent magical abilities (can you imagine Fenris or Sera reacting to this?)
- A return to balance for spirits and demons (no longer trapped in the Fade)
- That magic filling the air will return people to their core selves
- That Solas will use that magic to further restore the ancient glory days of the elven people as reflected in Arlathan
Let’s not forget the biggest consequence of all as admitted by Solas in “Trespasser” if the Veil comes down: The Evanuris (or “False Gods”) will be freed.
Now, Solas notes that he “had plans” for dealing with this in “Trespasser,” but still… that’s a huge thing for him to address so casually! And of course, what if the Veil doesn’t come down? I still have the feeling we’re gonna see an Evanuris or two get loose and wreak total havoc in rage and vengeance.
Life in a Veil-less World…
Meanwhile, what will happen to the different races if the Veil is, in fact, torn down?
My bet would be that all elves will find some degree of potential magic unleashed, while all latent mages will also manifest. I’d imagine there might also be a high number of horrifying and almost instantaneous Abominations, as well.
Meanwhile, we have no idea how humans will react biologically to such an environment, as humans have never existed, as far as recorded history tells us, in a world without the Veil.
My guess, based on the reactions of non-elves and humans to traveling through the Crossroads (thanks to Patrick Weekes‘s beautiful and evocative descriptions in The Masked Empire) is that humans facing a Veil-less world may find their perception of color slightly dimmed or weakened. They may feel slight vertigo and disorientation. The elves, will, conversely, feel stronger, more awake and alive, the magic tingling on their skin. They may actually see colors more intensely and experience emotions and sensations more acutely.
And that’s if he rises… and everyone sees.
The Figure in the Fresco
There’s been a ton of discussion on the central figure in the fresco, and whether or not it’s Solas, or whether it’s in fact some other member of the ancient tyrannical “false god” Evanuris (like, perhaps such bloody-minded gods as Elgar’nan or Falon’Din). However, I don’t think it’s either one of them, and that it is clearly Solas.
The reason I assume it’s Solas and not one of the other Evanuris is because of the repeated elements from past depictions of Solas in DAI and the “Trespasser” murals. Solas is frequently (commonly) depicted in both his man and Dread Wolf forms together in many of those past images, so to me this is simply more of the same. The images have always been heavily symbolic and metaphorical, and often seemed to demonstrate Solas’s state of mind, his inner self. For instance, on the romance Tarot, the ‘Dread Wolf’ is white, fuzzy, and adorable (and with two bright red eyes, but without the Pride Demon eyes the darker version carries). Then, in the infamous final “Tower” Tarot image for Solas, there he is, heading off into darkness with his branchy staff, the massive shadowy Dread Wolf (complete with Pride Demon eyes) looming over him, but also following obediently behind him.
This theme continues in “Trespasser,” where Solas is repeatedly shown alongside his Dread Wolf self almost in moments of joy and freedom, as in one of my favorites, where he appears to be leaning forward in flight, face uplifted, with the Dread Wolf running placidly behind him (although this could also be an image of Dread Wolf Solas helping former slaves take flight). Basically, we can see Solas’s mood or state of mind from looking at the wolf in the paintings. His current state of mind, from the Wolf we see in the new teaser, is potentially terrifying and tragic indeed.
In short, Solas appears alongside the Dread Wolf all over the place, from Inquisition to “Trespasser” to (I believe) this new mural. And while the baldness doesn’t necessarily mean it’s him (the Temple of Mythal shows us that all of the Evanuris were evidently bald), the canon branchy staff from his Tarot, the familiar repeated robe, the wolf-furred cloak, and the presence of the Dread Wolf are all familiar elements we’ve seen in his frescoes before. Even the stance, the quiet denial of the gesture, says “Solas” to me.
And I don’t think it’s Elgar’nan, because of the Solas-staff and cloak, but also because he was reported to wield light or fire. While yes, there is fire in the image, to me it is a representation of the burning of war or chaos—it doesn’t appear to be a weapon and stream of magic. And the figure with its upraised palm seems calmer, cooler, and is not emanating anything. I also don’t think it’s Falon’Din, because Falon-Din carried a shepherd’s-hook staff in his mosaic in the Temple of Mythal. And the cloak’s dark ruff of fur is somehow ‘wolfy’ to me, just as it was in the “removing the vallaslin” fresco I included above.
So yeah: I think it’s Solas, at the dark end of his lonely journey.
Secrets in the Teaser
Plenty of people recognized the red lyrium idol shown in the teaser trailer, because it was a major plot point in Dragon Age II.
The initial gorgeous closeup of the idol is, however, wonderfully misleading and resembles, at first, the sun rising over a distant mountain range. This may be a subtle reminder of the Titans or a bigger-picture evocation that the story to come will affect all of Thedas.
When viewed in 3D, it’s more apparent than ever that the idol carving is a kind of ‘Pieta,’ an image of a woman in grief or torment cradling the ravaged body of what may or may not be a man (or son). Again: Mythal and Solas? (But who is the hidden third figure, way down on the lower right? I haven’t figured that out yet…) Meanwhile, it’s interesting and (I’m certain) deliberate that the first face we see is not the face of the female figure, but the hidden face, turned inward, of the male figure she embraces. Lines of red lyrium then slowly begin to appear and ‘crack’ the idol. Do they signify destruction, activation, or… awakening?
The idol was reportedly created by the dwarves of the Primeval Thaig long ago. After its fall, the idol was lost to history for thousands of years, until Bartrand discovered it on an altar inside a room of the Primeval Thaig in Dragon Age II. Already half-mad, Bartrand abandoned the party, then later went insane, saved a fragment of the idol, and sold the idol itself to Knight-Commander Meredith, who reshaped it to be her sword (which she named “Certainty”). Like Bartrand, Meredith too went mad, and was eventually defeated by Hawke and their companions.
Now here’s where it gets interesting: During our final battle with Meredith, the idol (her sword) explodes into dust and she herself turns to solid lyrium.
So what is the idol we’re seeing in the trailer? The original is gone because, remember, in Dragon Age: Inquisition, on a Templar playthrough, Samson is wielding Meredith’s very sword, “Certainty.” Other conversations later tell us that the sword was reforged, using a dark combination of elven, Tevinter, and Blight magic.
But… either way, the idol doesn’t seem to exist anymore. So why is it featured here? Is it a vision of the past, or a harbinger of the future?
My take: It’s there because it’s when Everything Changed. We just didn’t know it yet. But, as with the Ring of Power in The Hobbit, this little idol signified the discovery of something Mythal had (I believe) tried to keep hidden and suppressed for millennia. The idol is the moment when red lyrium entered Dragon Age, stage left. And all Thedas may be doomed by it.
So let’s go back in time and explore how this is all coming together…
Theories from the Ancient Days
First off, I could be completely wrong. So, so wrong.
But. I believe that in the days before the Great War between the Evanuris and the Forgotten Ones, the Forgotten Ones may have attempted to defend themselves by hiding themselves (either Blight-infected on their own, or wielding some kind of Blighted potential weapon or bioweapon) in the nothingness of the Void. And that this place eventually ensnared and infected Andruil, who went hunting there, until she went too far… and (I believe) infected a titan. And then I think the following events occurred:
- Her mother Mythal intervened
- She mindwiped Andruil
- She removed Andruil’s ability to enter the Void again
- She killed the (infected?) Titan and buried it deep within the earth
- Until, I believe… it was found after many centuries, a wealth of toxic and irresistible red lyrium to be coveted and even possibly worshipped.
I also suspect that these events directly led to the murder of Mythal, and they’re also why she is whispered as being the source of the Calling (if we drink from the Well). Because the Calling, I believe, emanates from the infected Titan Mythal killed and buried so long ago. It may even have infected Mythal in some ways, or created some kind of mental link with her—let’s face it, red lyrium has been known to do that.
The Fresco Illustration as The Dread Wolf Rises
If the new fresco is a depiction of reality (and not a nightmare of Solas or the Inquisitor), then Solas has indeed likely torn down the Veil, because this sure as heck looks like the world “burning in raw chaos” to me. There are visible flames both in the fresco, and (in a neat and very dramatic effect) actual embers flying up before the fresco as well.
The idol is reportedly Andraste, but I’ve always wondered if it was someone else. Upon reflection, I now wonder if it is not in fact Mythal—holding, perhaps, Andruil, the daughter she had to defeat and punish? Or is it Mythal holding Solas, just as Solas once held Mythal in his own arms, grieving at what he had to do?
Another reason I think the idol is Mythal (or even possibly Andruil) is the serpent/dragon circle behind her. Remember that the dragon form was a ‘sacred’ form to the Evanuris. Complicating matters is the appearance of a third person on the idol, down on the lower-right side, partly hidden at almost all angles. I’m still pondering who I think that figure might be… the enslaved elves, underfoot?
The strong fresco motif of repeated circles (which seem to represent the Fade, as in Solas’s Tarot, and even in the Dread Wolf mosaic) is once again present, as are the representations of the elven orbs, with the main circle and active orbs brushed with gold leaf (in classical art, the use of gold leaf typically signifies the sacred or divine). Also, if you look closely at the Dread Wolf, it too is made up of swoops and circles and swooshes, especially around its red Pride Demon eyes (and this stylistic approach is something we’ve seen on Dread Wolf statues in and around the Temple of Mythal in-game). And there is that deep red halo around Solas. Signifying corruption and simple red lyrium exposure? Or, more complexly, the Fade? Divinity? Power? Even on his first Tarot card, Solas there, too, wears a kind of halo.
There are seven orbs studding the central circle around the red lyrium idol, corresponding to the seven Evanuris imprisoned by Solas as well as possibly to the seven Old Gods of Tevinter (mirrored in the seven archdemons). Here, all but two orbs are now “dark” and lifeless. I’m assuming this is because of the deaths of the five archdemons. I wonder if killing an archdemon actually freed the corresponding Evanuris—if they are linked—from its metaphysical prison, versus killing it.
The little downward triangles we’ve seen on other frescoes are repeated here. Some have noted that these may be an evocation of the Fade, of the female (Mythal, Flemeth, Morrigan, the romanced Inquisitor, or Andruil), but I almost wonder if they’re simply a powerful representation of “the sky is falling.” That these are the end times.
Other Symbols and Metaphors
The figure I believe to be Solas is standing on an arched road, or what I believe to be a bridge. A burning bridge, to be exact (gotta love those sneaky metaphors), whose flames are burnished with bright gold, echoing the borders of the idol circle.
Not only do we see the full tree behind him, but it is visibly burned, and there is something winding up the center of the trunk in a diagonal fashion. This makes me fairly certain the tree is a vhenadahl, one of the trees sacred to Elves, and which is frequently painted or decorated to celebrate the elves.
According to this Codex entry from Dragon Age: Origins, the vhenadahl was also a symbol of Arlathan, a fact increasingly forgotten by modern elves. For extra gravitas, it’s worth noting that “Burn the Vhenadahl” is an actual quest in the Dragon Age:Origins DLC, “The Darkspawn Chronicles.” And now here we are looking at an actual burned vhenadahl. Is it a representation of destroyed Arlathan? Is it a representation of something more recent? Did the tree burn in the “raw chaos” of the destruction of the Veil (which we may be seeing now)?
Last but not least, the tree may also reference the vallasdahlen, or “life-trees,” the trees planted by the Dalish to honor and remember those who die as part of the funeral ritual (and possibly as a protective act against demons). And then again, I also believe the tree may also subtly reference Andruil and the Vir Tanadhal, or “Way of Three Trees.” (I’m telling you, Andruil is gonna have a big part to play in DA4. I’m convinced. Subtly, she’s everywhere we look.)
Where Willows Wail
Speaking of lore, the ancient elven poem “Where Willows Wail” has some very intriguing elements, and one very important tree reference. Please note that I have taken the liberty of smoothing out some of the translation here and that it is of course subjective in nature. It’s fun to note that the opening stanza is in iambic tetrameter (or, in a series with four “feet,” or unstressed/stressed syllables in a row). It made me wonder if Patrick Weekes (who wrote Solas, Bull, and the alliterative, poetic Cole for Inquisition) wrote this.
To me, this poem is directly referenced in the new teaser elements:
When waked, we walked where willows wail,
Whose withered windings want wassail.
We weary-worn with wited wale,
Were wavering with wanion ward.
When wishing waned, we wighters warred.
When wolfen wan, we wastrels warred.
We lost eternity and the ruined tree of the People
Time won’t help when the land of dreams is no longer our journey
We try to lead despite the eventual failing of our markings.
To the inevitable and troubling freedom we are committed.
When we could no longer believe, we lost glory to war.
When the Wolf won, we lost the People to war.
This feels intensely relevant—I love all the hidden references to waking and dreaming—obviously, I believe, references to the Fade and to uthenera. I think most of the poem may actually be spoken from the point of view of one of the ancient elven sentinels, like Abelas, both mourning the past and their own weakness (the “eventual failing of our markings”). The loss of eternity and tree is of course the loss of immortality, and the loss of the People in general (and Arlathan). It’s interesting that they, like Solas, view their commitment to freedom as both necessary and troubling. And of course, in the end, they lost it all.
Solas, it might be argued, is the last sentinel elf. And the most vigilant and determined.
And now “the land of dreams is no longer [his] journey,” which also echoes his final conversation with a romanced Inquisitor, when he tells her he now walks the path of death, the din’anshiral, and he would not have her see what he becomes. I feel like this mural’s very title could be “The Din’anshiral.”
As I noted above, Solas appears to be carrying the same “branchy” staff he carries in his original Dragon Age: Inquisition Tarot card. Most notably, however, the staff is now black (has it been ‘burned’ in the raw chaos?). Or is it simply darker after the events of DAI? The staff we see in the mural in “Trespasser,” for instance, is also noticeably darker.
And beyond the fact that Solas appears to be wearing a variation on the robe he wore in the “Removing the Vallaslins” fresco from “Trespasser,” look closely at the pattern: It’s a series of crucifixes. Solas is already a subtly sacrificial figure even in his original Tarot, and let’s face it, nobody wears regret as eloquently, as beautifully, or as openly, as Solas. Speaking of Solas’s wardrobe, he’s also “wolfier” here than we have ever seen him, and for the first time he is wearing a full-on furred cloak.
Another key detail is that Solas’s eyes are red here, and I believe it’s the first time we’ve seen them this way. To me this is incredibly important, because I believe the red eyes in the frescos and Tarot cards signify connection to the Fade (they may also signify some kind of corruption but I’ll address that another time). Please note that Solas’s white wolf in the “romanced” Tarot also has red eyes, as of course does the Dread Wolf with the red Pride Demon eyes (as does SERA in her “romanced” Tarot). Are Solas’s eyes red because of the removal of the Veil? Or because he has now been corrupted by red lyrium? If it’s red lyrium, it may be worth heading back over to revisit “In Hushed Whispers” again with a tainted Solas…
Solas is also holding up his left hand, which is interesting as it carries echoes of the Inquisitor and the Mark, as well as the stance used in closing a rift. He stands thus as if in denial. It is not an antagonistic pose, exactly, but resolute and almost sorrowful.
The Dread Wolf here is rampant and on the attack, complete with lolling tongue and upraised head. Keep in mind that even in his final Tarot (“The Tower”), Solas’s Dread Wolf appears brooding but obedient, overshadowing but following him. Yet here it is confronting him, absolutely. They are divided, perhaps forever.
Is this a literal representation or a sign that Solas will be at war within himself? If it’s literal, my guess is that what we’re seeing is Solas fighting his own monster-self in the Fade (I’ve written on this elsewhere, but I believe Solas’s Dread Wolf is an actual aspect of Solas that he is capable of wearing within the Fade).
The Hidden Country
Meanwhile, let’s look at the mural again, and pull back slightly for the big picture.
The skies could be argued as being twilight, or a greenish, misty dark blue. Below those skies, high above Solas and the tree at left, we see the jagged shadowy shapes of what might be mountains (or the jagged walls of the physical Fade). I’m voting that it’s mountains because of the little visual trick at the beginning of the teaser in which the edges of the idol look like mountains as the sun rises over the Frostbacks. I also think these are mountains here because of Solas’s secret towers and hideouts in “Trespasser,” at least one of which appeared to be hidden in the Vimmarks. I also think, slightly lower, that we see two kinds of flames in the image: actual flames (again, perhaps the burning of the “raw chaos”), and then, much higher than Solas, the flame-colored essence of the Fade.
Between Solas and the sky, however, echoing the general flow of the tree branches, notice something else? There’s a structure there, almost like the gabled roof of a building or temple—a straight and diagonal line, clearly edged and shadowed, that appears to come to a point offscreen above the central circle image of the Lyrium Idol. To me, it almost looks like the Cornice of a Greek temple.
What is this structure? Is it somewhere we’ve been before? Is it the Black/Golden City? Arlathan? Skyhold?
Also, note the striped patterns on the bridge beneath Solas, and look at the romanced Tarot I’ve posted here farther up: Those same exact patterns appear on the earth behind Solas’s feet.
Solas is standing in the middle of a burning bridge. Behind him is the burned and destroyed symbol of Arlathan. Before him is the face he never wanted anyone to see—the savage dark face he wore “as a symbol of Pride,” given by his enemies, those who enslaved their own people and marked them like animals. And between them both is an image of grief, loss, and agony, of Blight and corruption, encircled by the divine reminder that once he was part of a group of nine, and that seven of the eight who remained are sundered forever from him.
Subtle Differentiations and Lines of Power
As the video of the idol transforms to the fresco, some really interesting and subtle things begin to happen. The ending fresco image is not the same one we see in the flat fresco.
Look at the screen shot I’ve taken above from the teaser. The central idol remains the “real” one, not the painted version. And there are subtle, smoky lines of power, Blight or corruption emanating from Solas, his staff, and from the Dread Wolf.
The Dread Wolf, meanwhile, is markedly different from the flat fresco version—no circles or swirls, and it has subtle shimmering, transparent, smoky like lines of power. We can actually see some of those lines through the wolf’s face (it’s much more transparent here than in the original fresco, which only has slight elements). Is this yet another clue that the Wolf is emblightened, exuding the Blight as the Archdemons once did?
Several smart people on Twitter have been positing that this Wolf is not THE Wolf, and that, in fact, the representations of the Dread Wolf on frescoes across the games has actually been a misdirection in which we are seeing different wolves, perhaps Solas’s “pack” of followers, even some of the Forgotten Ones. I think this a pretty amazing idea, and I absolutely agree that this could be the case.
But the thing that trips me up, as here, is the consistent presentation of the Pride Demon Eyes in all the Dread Wolves we’ve seen, save for the fluffy, almost coy White Wolf on Solas’s Hierophant/Fool romanced Tarot card. For me this heralds the Wolves (and this one), on an intimate and personal level, as representations of Solas (“Pride”) himself.
Meanwhile, there’s something else interesting about both presentations of the Wolf here: It appears to be the only source of the red lyrium energy in the image. If we look closely, there are almost electric arcs and crackles of red energy around the Dread Wolf’s head, extending up above the Idol Circle and especially all around the Dread Wolf’s head and mouth. And yet there are no cracks of red upon the Dread Wolf himself. Just that lolling red tongue, which was a distinctive greenish-blue in the Tower Tarot previously. Is he the source of the Red Lyrium or corruption? Or is this simply another representation of Fade energy?
So it appears that the Wolf exudes two things at once: darkness (Blight?) and redness (corruption, lyrium, the Fade). Also, note the fact that in the flat artistic rendition of the fresco, just above the wolf’s head and down into the area behind his jaw, we can see a fine network of cracks in the fresco, the only place they occur this deeply (except possibly also below the Wolf’s jaw as well). Those cracks are notably missing from the final teaser video image.
Either way, all things considered, whether it was tame before, the Wolf now appears to be pretty clearly an element of chaos, corruption, and destruction.
And is that now what Solas himself has become? The destroyer of all worlds? Or… their savior?
The Dread Wolf Speaks
And then the real idol becomes the fresco, the sparks fly up, and we hear that unmistakable voice, in all its beauty, thanks to Gareth David-Lloyd.
SOLAS: So. You’ve found me at last. I suspect you have questions.
But something’s wrong. Solas isn’t just sad or weary when he speaks those final words. He is in physical distress, possibly agony. If you listen very closely to the teaser, just as the music crescendoes then falls, you can actually hear Solas gasping for breath behind the music. It’s very subtle but it’s there. It culminates in a great indrawn gasping breath just before he says, “So.”
As others have already noted, it doesn’t end there. Solas’s voice is ever so slightly warped, lower, slower. Still beautiful (of course) but perhaps corrupted? Is it red lyrium after all? Or simple exhaustion and despair at last, after so much life, hubris, and struggle?
This is not the cool, confident, and amused voice of the ascendant elven god we met in “Trespasser.” This is the ragged, exhausted voice of a Solas who has reached the end of his road into hell, his dinan’shiral. This is the voice of a Solas who wants to die. Who certainly sounds as though he is reaping the pain and despair he foresaw for himself at the end of “Trespasser.”
I freely admit my Solas biases, but I still do not think this is the voice of an actual villain or antagonist. I still stand by my theory that I don’t think Solas will be our main focus in Dragon Age 4. I think rather that when Solas tears down the Veil (if in fact he does so) that both Tevinter and the Qunari will swoop in, eager for the chance to use this vulnerable moment to achieve world conquest even while the world burns (and we all know what Alistair says about swooping!). At that point, I suspect that a Thedas torn once again by war and potential conquest will look around, realize they left the elves out of the equation, and note that they are, as assembled by Solas, now a world power in their own right, especially as led by a guy who can turn armies to stone at a glance.
At that point, Ferelden and Orlais especially may just rethink their options. Maybe giving elves their due—at long last—wouldn’t be such a bad idea.
After all, the fate of all Thedas may hang in the balance.
And I still have questions. So, so many questions. How about you?
Images Courtesy of BioWare
This article is a reprint (with minor modification and expansion) of a two-part article originally published by Angela D. Mitchell on DumpedDrunkandDalish.com.
Bears! In! Space!: 10 of The Best New Additions In Starfinder’s Alien Archive 2
There is no more fertile ground for a creator than space. Not only is there so much possibility in what we KNOW is out there, there is still so much that we don’t. There’s no reason there can’t, for instance, be a race of cat people, or a giant snake made of glass, or cowthulu. With this in mind, Paizo has release Alien Archive 2, a second addition to the weird and wonderful stable of monsters and aliens already populating the Pact Worlds. With over 100 new life-forms in the book (and yes, that includes the three I mentioned), there’s a lot to cover. To help get a feel for it though, I’ve picked my ten favorite new creatures included in the pages of Alien Archive 2. Some are updates of Pathfinder stalwarts, some reference classic science-fiction, and some are just so damn weird I can’t HELP but love them.
One of the most interesting aspects of Starfinder has been their handling of the fey as they move from the woodlands and fields and into the great beyond. These powerful and capricious creatures are well represented in Alien Archive 2, with new additions like the glitch goblin taking full advantage of the setting. The most interesting addition, however, are the Ravai. Resembling what can best be described as a giant lightning bug, these creatures are caretakers of the stars. And I mean that literally; they are born from a star and live almost entirely for that star and, most importantly, its light. Morally inscrutable to most, Ravai see all life that depends on their star as under their protection. While not deities, their connections with stars give them a great deal of power and can either serve as a high level threat to crews that threaten those in their light or as allies for those who wish to aid their charges.
Time, as they say, is an illusion (lunchtime doubly so). No race embodies this more than the Dreamers, an offshoot of the jellyfish-like Barathus. Abandoned long ago within a a seemingly idyllic gas giant called Liavara, the Dreamers lost their sentience even as they gained new and vast psychic powers. Brought back into the fold after millennia, the Dreamers are fiercely protected by the Barathus , and are used by the Pact Worlds as seers (despite questions regarding the accuracy of their prophecies.) They’re also used on the black market to make a psychoactive inhalant called “dreamsnuff,” as well as a weapon mod that causes targets to lose control of their senses. Any sci-fi setting has to have a psychic jellyfish nowadays, and Starfinder’s are certainly a bit different from the norm.
If we can have raccoons, pigs, or Chris Pratt in space, why not bears? No longer the great lumbering beasts that threaten low level adventurers, in Starfinder bears have taken their rightful place among the sentient races of the universe. Thanks to advanced technology and genetic engineering, Uplifted Bears are as intelligent as any human. They serve all sorts of roles, but they’re naturally drawn to scientific pursuits. Oh, and they’re all telepathic. My favorite bit of flavor for the Uplifted Bears is their natural inclination for natural worlds, the arboreal and the green. It’s just a nice idea that even far into the future, wearing armor and holding laser rifles, a bear is bear is a bear. Especially since they now have playable stats, meaning you can make the space-faring Country Bear Jamboree of your dreams.
What is science fiction without some of those good good moist boys we call mollusks? Looking like four foot tall snails, the Quorlu are kind of like if Magcargo were a playable race; their brittle crystal shells hide an inside composed of hot plasma. What makes them stand out, however, is the fact that they are essentially space millennials. Unable to maintain a permanent home thanks to the volatile geology of their homeworld, they value community and experiences above material possessions. They prefer to be explorers or diplomats thanks to their abhorrence for war, but in pinch they can be tough fighters with a knack for explosives. They also love to sing. Like the Uplifted Bear, the Quorlu is a fully playable race in Alien Archive 2, but are better suited for more supportive roles on the ship’s crew.
Science-fiction settings have the unique ability to make things bigger and more epic than they are. But when you take Pathfinder, which already has such things as crystal dragons and living mountains, and move it to space…things get a little crazy. Like,say, a 30 foot tall radioactive smoke monster. The Living Apocalypse is the ultimate representation of sci-fi technology run amok. Born from a massive release of destructive energy i.e the use of a doomsday weapon or a planet’s energy grid exploding. Chaotic evil and driven only to destroy, it ravages its surroundings until all life is extinguished. They are usually avoided, but are known to produce crystals that can go for nearly a million credits on the galactic market. The creation of a Living Apocalypse frequently leads to a sort of “gold rush” scour its wake for their chance to strike it rich. Finally, when all of the life around it is extinguished, it goes dormant, waiting for some hapless space explorer or colonist to wake it back up. It’s basically a space age version of the Terrasque and it’s pretty damn cool.
While there is a great deal of destruction and evil among the stars, there is beauty also. The Calecor is in many ways the counterpart and opposite of the Living Apocalypse. They are a fey (that’s right, it’s another space fairy) born from planetary catastrophic, when the millions of souls silenced by war, climate change, or Peter Cushing, rend a hole in the material plane. Born from their anguish, the Calecor is both guardian and healer of the planet that birthed them. They have some neat abilities that reflect their connection with the planet, like a psychic attack that lets them project the planet’s torment into the mind of another. It’s hard to tell if a crew will want to meet a Calecor or not, but I suppose that depends more on the crew than the Calecor.
Colour Out Of Space
Along with the cruel and enigmatic Mi-Go, the Colour Out Of Space is one of the two homages to H. P. Lovecraft contained within this book coming from his 1927 story of the same name. Like in that tale, the Colour (and yes, you have to include the U or else Howard will manifest in your house physically and call you an old time-y slur) is just what it sounds like: a particularly intelligent and malevolent hue that appears to the naked eye as a constantly shifts through colors that don’t technically exist. It’s undetectable and unable to be communicated with as it travels through space, crash landing on planets to feed on the life that resides there. The things it doesn’t disintegrate are instead horrifically mutated by its very touch, and that includes your player characters. Any that become “colour-blighted” must fix themselves quick before they’re disintegrated by white ash and consumed by the voracious Colour. It’s not something that’s gonna show up in your box of Crayola’s anytime soon, is what I’m saying.
My heart soared when I realized there were not one, but TWO new playable mollusks in Alien Archive 2. Unlike the Quorlu, who only appear like giant snails, the Osharu literally are giant slugs, down to a need to remain hydrated and a weakness to salt. Thanks to their soft and and delicate slug bodies, Osharu are relatively timid. This timidity, as well as their view that science and religion are the same, essentially has turned the Osharu into a race of slightly damp college professors. They have devoted themselves so much to learning that their cities have essentially become big universities. These Space-Berkeley’s have entire districts devoted to one singular scientific field or academic pursuit. Their academic and sluggy nature is reflected in their racial traits, that allow them a vast array of knowledge as well as the ability to secrete slime onto nearby squares.
The undead, staples of any fantasy world, were not forgotten when Pathfinder went into the stars. Things like Skeletal Champions (now called Bone Troopers), Zombies (now called Corpsefolk) and Ghouls (which are…still just Ghouls) have moved from the musty tomb to the rusty space hulk, but their core identities remain intact. But, like with the fey, Paizo also added some new twists on the old formulas. Like the Emotivores, who are a race of emotion vampires that bear a strong resemblance to Count Orlok. Born when someone (or more usually, many someones) dies in the middle of intense feeling, Emotivores live only to feed on strong emotions. Not only can they inherently sense emotion, they have a vast array of shape-shifting and mind-altering spells and powers that allow them to manipulate their victims so they will be as delicious a meal as possible. A wily and intelligent foe, the Emotivore also exists as a template for DM’s wishing to create Emotivores that differ slightly from the norm.
The Tashtari are what happens when a dog gets wrapped in fiber optic cable. What you see in the picture to the left is not fur, but millions of tiny filaments that light up in different ways to help the nocturnal beasts communicate and hunt. How to they hunt, you may ask? Why, with lasers of course! Using the “photogenetic node” node in their throats, the Tashtari spend the day absorbing solar energy, and then at night they expel that energy from their mouth like they’re in viral video from a decade ago. While they serve as a minor threat on their own, “laser wolves” (as they’re called by anybody cool), are also prime hunting for their filaments and special node. If a player so chose, they too could fill their skin with fiber optic light and glow, or put the laser node in their hand to shoot solar beams at people like some sort of bio-tech Tony Stark.
What do you think of the new aliens? Are there any we missed? Anything from Pathfinder you’d like to see given a sci-fi spin? Sound off in the comments! And don’t forget to keep an eye out here for all the latest on Starfinder, Pathfinder, and Paizo!
Starfinder Alien Archive 2 is available now from Paizo.com as well as most game shops, where the hardcover copy retails for $39.99. A PDF copy of the book is also available on the Paizo shop for $9.99 or as part of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscription service.
Big thank you to Paizo for providing the material and images for this article. If you’d like to learn more about Starfinder, Gencon interview you can check out my with its lead designer Robert G McCreary.
Let’s Unpack This: Chickapig
Mutant pigs, cow poop, and Dave Matthews? I’m honestly as confused as you are.
The game, originating from Chickapig LLC, is currently available from online retailers, with the version in this video selling at a limited special holiday price of $22.00.
*Thanks to Chickapig LLC for the images and material for this review.