Everything You Need To Know About Dragon Age 4’s New Setting
Espionage, subterfuge, duplicity… Now that we know Dragon Age 4 is going to be set in the notorious Tevinter Imperium, we can stitch together a fairly decent idea of what to expect in the next installment of BioWare’s illustrious series.
If you’ve played through the previous Dragon Age games, you’ll probably already have a bit of knowledge about Tevinter. Dorian Pavus is from there, but he left after his bigoted dad tried to change his sexuality with blood magic. Corypheus is also Tevinterian (is that a word?), but he turned himself into a massive demon hellbent on destroying the world with Darkspawn. So yeah, Dorian’s dad and Corypheus aren’t exactly Tevinter’s finest exports – although Dorian is the best character in the Dragon Age series to date, which means Tevinter has something going for it, at least.
As well as all of the high-society lies and deceit, Tevinter has a bit of a bloody history, which makes it a fascinating setting for a game. Although it’s still a major player in Thedas (which, in case you forgot, is named after the acronym THEDAS, standing for the highly creative “The Dragon Age Setting”), Tevinter used to be way more influential, and I don’t mean in the inspiring sense of the word. Tevinter was influential in the same way the British Empire was, which makes the existence of people like Dorian’s dad and Corypheus pretty easy to believe. Homophobes and demagogues? Couldn’t be Tories.
Here’s a very quick breakdown of Tevinter’s history: the first Archon, Darinius, wasn’t a completely rotten egg, and mainly focused on forging alliances with Thedas’ native dwarves. While he did install an aristocratic class, at least he wasn’t racist. It all started to go wrong a bit later on, when Archon Thalsian discovered that he could use blood magic to create an Empire. This is obviously Very Bad for several reasons, not the least of which was the fact that he started worshipping Dumat, who, as you might already know, went on to become the first Archdemon.
Anyway, as with most Empires, Tevinter went on to destroy the people – in this case elves – who merely existed in the lands it wished to conquer. It used demons, dragons, and blood magic to annihilate Arlathan and sentenced elves to generations of slavery. This is also when people learned about Lyrium and The Fade. If you’ve played Inquisition, you’ll know how years of Lyrium abuse tends to pan out for people (hint: memory loss, paranoia, literal death). That’s all on Tevinter.
To this day, classism is rampant in the Tevinter Imperium. The highborn mages have all the power, the lowerborn mages have a decent quality of living, some non-magic people are allowed to be merchants, and then you have the thousands of slaves at the bottom who are often used in ritual sacrifices by the Magisterium. If you’re wondering how rigid this structure is, a well-liked posh lad once got assassinated because he chose a lowborn mage as his apprentice, which then kicked off a 70-year civil war.
All in all, Tevinter is a bit like Dragon Age’s Rome, except it’s far more nefarious. The Imperial Highway was designed to connect its Empire – which spanned over half of Thedas – in the same way the Romans designed roads in Europe. However, Tevinter’s constant in-fighting eventually caused several of its colonies to revolt against it in quick succession, successfully seceding themselves from its clutches. Tevinter, in its dangerous combination of discord and national pride, fought back with – you guessed it! – blood magic. That leads to all sorts of not ideal scenarios, like, as previously mentioned, the creation of Darkspawn and Archdemons. Do you think Tevinter cares? It doesn’t. Tevinter is the person in the class project who sets the projector on fire two minutes into your presentation, because it would rather harness the sweltering blaze’s power to burn down the entire school than worry about getting an A+. Even after it started losing power, it just became more insular and ingrained its own traditions, to the extent that mages there all pretend they don’t use blood magic anymore. Except they do, obviously.
By the time the Fourth Blight came around – and remember, the Tevinter Imperium caused the First Blight – Tevinter turned to the rest of Thedas and said, “No thanks, we’re not interested in helping.” For what it’s worth, Tevinter’s Imperial Chantry – which is like the Orlesian Chantry, except it’s in Tevinter and actually it does nothing like the real Chantry – claims that the Darkspawn were created by the Old Gods. “Not us,” it says. “Better rewrite your history books, we had nothing to do with it.”
Have you got an image of Tevinter in your head yet? Or, at least, an idea of how utterly chaotic life there is? It’s basically Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts (the best quest in the Dragon Age series) but spread out over an entire game: you guzzle some wine, lie through your teeth, and maybe do a little bit of murdery blood magic before finishing your drink and starting a war. Except we’re probably going to be the good guys, meaning we’ve got to deal with a) Solas, The Dread Wolf, yes he is back, and b) the fact that every single person in Tevinter is simultaneously best mates and mortal enemies with everyone else.
I know I’m having some fun here, but I genuinely think the narrative opportunities for a game set in Tevinter are incredible. For one thing, it’s a region we have heard so much about throughout the Dragon Age series, including in media outside of the games. While you’ve got the complex political tensions I’ve mentioned above, you’ve also got factions like the Siccari, an apocryphal order of slaves-cum-spies widely renowned as the most effective agents in all of Thedas, and people like Maevaris Tilani attempting to break and reform the country’s corrupt power structures. Also, as per Trespasser, Dorian is a magister now, and his existence in Dragon Age 4 has already been confirmed in trailers. Like I said earlier – Dorian is the best character in the entire series, so that alone is reason to believe that The Dread Wolf Rises is going to be good, actually.
It may seem like a small detail to those who aren’t actively interested in Dragon Age lore, but the journey to Tevinter is a massively ambitious one, especially given the opportunities that come with populating a highly-anticipated new location with fresh factions and returning characters alike. Also, Blood Mage is almost definitely being added as a class again, because there is absolutely no way we’re going to Tevinter and not being able to do the kind of spells that everyone and their granny use there.
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Cian Maher is the Lead Features Editor at TheGamer. He’s also had work published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Verge, Vice, Wired, and more. You can find him on Twitter @cianmaher0.
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