The Reason I’ve Sunk 1000 Hours into This Game Series – Discussing the Themes of Dragon Age


Magic = corruption

Magic often leads to corruption

I really love this game series. I have spent many an hour exploring the dungeons and going Leeeeeeroy Jenkins on a bunch of spiders, Darkspawn, bandits and Maker knows what else. And there are many reasons why I love this game series, namely Leliana, Leliana, Leliana, Leliana, the sexy rogue nun and of course the deep themes and plotlines that are deeply entertwined with one another. You see, every game really has one central theme that the entire game is based on and it’s done in fairly clever ways, all leading back to one important theme explored throughout the entire series: corruption.

Before I explain the central themes I need to explain the thematic of magic in this game series. I think that magic represents power, more specifically the power to change the world around you and essentially get your way. This is most obvious with the magic spells you get when playing the game. Origins gave you the ability to use elemental magic to own the everloving shit out of your opponents, use healing magic to play the white knight, spiritual magic to fuck with other mages and curses to fuck with everyone else. And you got a few nifty niche spells like reanimating corpses (my favourite), turning into animals and becoming a mage warrior. Therefore it’s not really surprising that the mage arguably remains the strongest class in the game, even in Dragon Age Inquisition where a Rogue is supposed to deal the most damage. You have a huge amount of variety and you can control the battlefield. But this concept of magic is also deconstructed.

Let’s be honest, if you had magic at your disposal, what would you do? Would you casually frolick in the forests, bringing life to plants and riding animals or would you get into politics? Try to use magic to better the world? This game series gives a very blunt answer: magic corrupts and so power corrupts. We have the Tevinter Imperium (inspired by the Roman and Byzantine Empire) with a lot of blood mages sacrificing kittens and virgins to get more power. We see the circles of magi, where mages are locked up under the watchful eyes of those dudes in armour that really doesn’t seem to do much for them. We see a ridiculous amount of rogue mages, some of them peaceful hippies, but the majority using their magic to get their way. To get power, coins, prestige or whatever else. And it’s this concept that the three main games so far have been inspired by, but in different ways.

A Corrupting Theme Corrupting the Corrupting Gameplay

corruption of the darkspawn

Corruption of the Darkspawn

The main theme of Origins is corruption. What is important to note here is that corruption remains a main theme for the entire game series, but I feel that this game explores it in its fullest. The theme can be explored in every branch of the main questline. Let’s begin with the Darkspawn. They’re corrupted humans, elves, dwarves and qunari and have a hivemind sort of magic that corrupts everything around them. That destroys the world both symbolically and very literally. To defeat these monsters the Grey Wardens take in this corruption and have a 30 year immunity before they too get corrupted and become ghouls. And did I mention that the religious institute of this game blames mages for these fun little blighters? The other main storyline deals with a paranoid man who’s so afraid of Fra- Euh, I mean Orlais that this fear has corrupted his sound thinking and forces him to take the throne. You’d think this is a stretch, but the second he joins your party he shows himself to be a remarkably sane person. He did all of his stupid shit because of that paranoia. And the treatise questlines all revolve around corruption: the circle mages are obvious: they want freedom and turn to dark magic to get it. The elves deal with the ramifications of the blood magic of an ancient elf whose hatred has corrupted his heart (he says something similar to this) and makes him unyieldingly biased towards the werewolves. And finally the dwarves live in a deconstructed medieval society, where everyone schemes and backstabs each other to get as much power as possible. In other words, bureacratic corruption. Most likely inspired by A Song of Ice and Fire, if you ask for my humblest of opinions.

And in some sense this can be seen as repetitive. I definitely thought so for a long time, until I studied the thematics and writing that are put into this game. And of course, nothing can really dissuade me from spending time with my lovely Leliana. Finally I’ve found someone who loves me!

The second game is considered the weakest of the series and I think it starts at the writing level. The main theme of this game is freedom vs order and is shown in two major ways: the templars vs the mages and the epitome of order, the qunari, vs the chaotic, but free Kirkwall. I feel that both are done in fairly lazy ways. The Qunari sharpen their horns for three years and have this one refugee do some quests until finally their big di- euh, I mean horned leader decides to invade the city to get some semblance of order back. And he gets defeated and all the other qunari nicely leaves. Varric even states that when the diplomatic qunari show up afterwards (it may shock you to learn that the qunari we see in the game aren’t the diplomats) they essentially say “we shall never speak of this again.” And as was said, so is written. Because that storyline is dropped except for this one sword gathering quest.

Chaos vs Order

Corruption between mage and templar

Corruption between mage and templar really set off a spark

The other main questline is essentially setting up the next game. What we get are two factions who just keep doing the same shit over and over and over again thinking that this time it’ll change. Sarcastic! Hawke is not wrong when he says is everyone in the city is batshit insane… This back-and-forth between the two factions is also shown by the leaders, the couple I felt really needed some make-up sex to get all this shit over with. But the problem with the people doing the same things over again is that you tend to get the same sorts of quests over and over again as well. Save a mage? Alright, freedom is right. Oh look, he’s burning puppies. Ah well, time to help the templars, but let’s try to keep the mage alive. People deserve a second chance. Wait, you mean the templars are actively oppressing the mages? Well, that’s not right. Let’s try to save these innocent looking mages. They’ve resorted to blood magic? Maybe the templars aren’t so wrong. The templars are using Tranquility?! Save the mages! But the mages are dangerous! Lock them up and throw away the key! MAKE UP YOUR DAMN MIND!

And this results in the two faction leaders going batshit insane. One sacrifices himself to become a reaper and the other turns into stone. And thus the Templar-Mage war is born. I can’t really fault the game itself for being set-up. I can understand that Bioware needed time to go from one huge plot (the Blight) to the other, but they could’ve done more.

Corypheus: the original Darkspawn corruption

Corypheus: the original Darkspawn corruption

This war results in Dragon Age Inquisition and the central theme of that game is religion. And we see three variations of it. The most obvious one is the crisis within the Chantry. A lot of characters feel it needs to change. It’s antiquated, holds unto silly customs and refuses to change due to inherent discrimination. I really like this plotline because it’s essentially saying that Christianity (of which Andrastian faith is based on) is antiquated and needs to change. The second variation is with the “Elder One”. Corypheus, our beloved Darkspawn emissary with a tick on his shoulder. He’s trying to turn himself into a god by acquiring power and trying to create a new religion around him. And his followers blindly follow this beautiful, corrupting (winkwink there Bioware) cult and murder, pillage and harm kittens out of the faith that they’ll be rewarded.

Have Some Faith!

The final variation deals with the Elven faith. Even though this too is setting up the next game I don’t mind, because it’s done in a good way. It isn’t just Elves and humans bitching about the same thing over and over again. Well, it happens, but there’s more to it! We also see an expansion in lore. We find out what really happened in Arlathan, we learn about new forms of Elven culture and magic and we also get some fun little plot twists thrown in for good measure. I am really looking forward to Solas being the big bad of the next game, another potential deity, because he’ll probably be the first one who’s not completely batshit insane. I really like fallen companions turning into antagonists.

It’s the fact that these three central themes, corruption, freedom vs order and religion, are explored so well and thoroughly that these games are such an enjoyment. Granted, Dragon Age II isn’t a good game for a Dragon Age series, but as a game on its own it’s decent enough. But regardless of that, I really hope that I’ve managed to explain why I’m such a big fan of this game series. It has interesting lore, gameplay mechanics, characters and well-written themes. The basic things that make any game an enjoyable experience.

But of course, there is one reason why I could never enjoy Dragon Age Inquisition as much as Origins and that’s because Leliana doesn’t have any romantic thing going on! You can’t romance her as the new character and all you get to see of the Warden and Leli is a letter between the two. Where is the hot passionate sex?! Have you seen that robe of hers? Are you telling me that ISN’T great for sex?! Such potential ruined!

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Copyright: The images used in this article are screenshots taken from the Dragon Age game series. We are allowed to use them under section 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976. The game series belong to its David Gaider, Bioware and EA games.

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