Here is the video. It was brought to my attention as I wobbled dead-tired brushing my teeth, seeking desperately to get to the part where I could go to sleep. “You want to see this.” “No I don’t. I want to go to bed.” “Nope, you definitely want to see this.” “If it’s not the next Dragon Age I am going the fuck to bed.”
I did not, in fact, go the fuck to bed.
Now, keeping in mind that common sense plus my actual experience working with artists in AAA game development makes it abundantly clear that no one with a stylus and a budget and far too many meetings on their calendar is overanalyzing the key art they produce to the level that some fans are, LET US SPECULATE!
1.) THE IMAGE.
First of all let’s look at how Solas in his elf form is separated visibly from the lurking hulk of the Dread Wolf, as drawn elsewhere in in-game art. This could be done a.) just to provide a symmetrical frame for the focus of the image (more on this later), b.) to suggest some other elfly presence (note the existence of a skullcap, which we have not seen before) standing against Solas, or c.) to suggest a fundamental schism within Solas between the roaring power of the god and the more earthly desires of the elf, set in delicious opposition to each other.
I, clearly, have preferences as to which of this scenarios will produce the most feels.
Consider that in his in-game murals, his depictions of himself tended to merge the two, wolf and elf (from BioWare artist Nick Thornbarrow):
Here the wolf is treated as an adopted mask, a title reclaimed from the epithet people gave him and then donned for good.
Not always, though:
Clear delineation between Solas the man and Solas the Dread Wolf.
This last piece, as a companion card, is not necessarily produced by Solas and so is a less reliable indicator of his presumed artistic tendencies, but it’s worth noting the man’s attempt to emerge from the fibrous, looming hulk of the god. But they are still crafted of the same dark colors. Of course, given the straight line in artistic style between all the companion art and Solas’ own in-game murals, an argument could be made for the idea that all the companion, tarot and side-art from the game is intended to be Solas’ doing. The World According to Solas, as it were. If that were true…well, that would indeed be interesting. It is, admittedly, a bit far afield, but if we were to assume that all art produced in that style were produced by Solas, that would mean this very piece of art we’re looking at in the DA4 trailer is produced by him. Which would on the one hand be kind of like a villain waxing poetic on every detail of his plan before attempting to put said plan into motion…and would on the other hand be at least somewhat opaque, since we’re still trying to guess at what the hell it means. Plus, let’s be real, Solas has been waxing poetic on himself in paint for time immemorial. Humility is not exactly his strong point. Depicting his own plans as well as his internal struggles is hardly beyond the pale for him.
Now, to the stars encircling the figure at the center of the image. We’ve seen those before (taken again from Nick Thornbarrow):
This image depicting, it would seem, the sundering of a titan, tells us two things about the stars: what they do and that they have at least two statuses: the yellow destructive force and the passive, seemingly tangible green, or muted force. At first glance those muted green circles might suggest the orb of destruction, of which there were several and which are each linked to an individual elven god, per Flemeth. (I am going to quote from the Dragon Age wiki here because it has been a long time and I don’t want to screw it up):
After being thwarted at the Temple of Mythal and losing his army, Corypheus returns to the Temple of Sacred Ashes and in desperation uses the Orb to reopen the Breach. The Herald confronts the magister, and at the climax of their battle pulls the Orb from the magister’s grasp using the Anchor and seals the Breach once more, destroying Corypheus in the process. The Orb then drops to the ground and breaks apart. Solas retrieves the fragments and quietly weeps for the loss of yet another ancient artifact.
When they confront each other, Flemeth tells Solas, whom she identifies as the “Dread Wolf,” that he should not have given his Orb to Corypheus. To which Solas responds that he was too weak to unlock it after awakening from his slumber.
Solas later reveals that the orb’s true name is the Orb of Fen’Harel and that only Fen’Harel could wield the Anchor without it eventually killing its wielder. Since Solas is Fen’Harel, he explains that was how he was able to stabilize the Inquisitor’s Anchor when they first met. Solas says his agents allowed the Venatori to locate his orb and they presented the orb to Corypheus to unlock the Orb’s true power. Solas was too weak after awakening from his long slumber to do it himself, and knowing the Elder One planned on making use of the ancient artifact to realize his dream of godhood, manipulated him into unlocking the orb for him with the belief that Corypheus would die in the resulting explosion. Solas however, did not foresee Corypheus had uncovered the secret to effective immortality. Had all gone according to his plan, he would have reclaimed the orb and used its power to tear down the Veil as the world burned in the raw chaos.
How many elven gods are there? More specifically, how many of the Evanuris were there? Nine, if you include Fen’Harel himself. (That’s Elgar’nan, Mythal, Falon’Din, Dirthamen, Andruil, Sylaise, June, Ghilan’nain, and Fen’Harel.) That isn’t totally helpful, as we have seven orbs depicted here. Yes, there could be an orb or two hidden behind the Dread Wolf’s head (accounting, perhaps, for the Forgotten Ones to be added to the list), but that would be a visual cheapening, and moreover there is plenty of non-obscured space left on the wheel to have painted more orbs, if more there were. What, then, about the Old Gods that the Tevinter are into, the dragons? Of those we have Dumat, Zazikel, Toth, Andoral, Urthemiel, Razikale, and Lusacan.
Ah. Seven. (This also lines up with our known focus, location-wise, for DA4: the Tevinter Imperium. But I digress.)
Now, back to the orbs: two of them are yellowed and starred with the same iconography Solas used to portray the sundering of a titan. (This is of course another argument for the everything-in-this-style-is-painted-by-Solas school of thought: he decided to depict those powers as stars, after all, and we are looking at the same imagery here. Again though, that might just be artistic license taken to conform to an overarching visual theme given as the proposed flavor of the franchise from DA:I forward, so. Take it with a grain of salt.)
Are we to interpret the non-greyed out orbs as “empowered” or instead “destroyed?” Yellow containing the star is after all the form the orbs took when destroying the titan. So perhaps two of our seven Old Gods have been, in essence, crossed off the list.
It’s not a new theory, of course, that the Old Gods of Tevinter are in fact the Evanuris, boiling in imprisoned hate and rage between the surface of the earth. But how do we make those numbers add up? Mythal is gone, we know, and Solas, though lacking the power of his destroyed orb, certainly leaves us at the end of Trespasser with more power than he began with. But if you call each of those orbs an elven god, and call the two yellow ones Mythal and Fen’Harel, there are only five left. While Solas did indeed lock his power away in the orb, as detailed above, and mourned its loss…how would his presence be accounted for in the numbering of the old Tevinter gods? If he numbered among them (as would make sense, of those two activated orbs were Mythal and Fen’Harel), which one was he? And how would that even make sense, if all but two of the old gods have been awakened and defeated in previous blights?
Theory: The Tevinter Old Gods are not the Elven Gods. The greyed-out orbs reference not as-yet-unawakened Evanuris, but rather the remaining unawakened Old Gods. Flemeth, and therefore Solas, we know, has a vested interest in preserving such creatures: Flemeth sought to preserve the soul remnant of Urthemiel, the dragon of beauty, in Morrigan’s child Kieran, but has to take it back. It is Flemeth from whom Solas takes and absorbs the soul shard in the final moments after the credits of DA:I, and both of them are known to have mourned the loss of creatures from the past, like dragons, wantonly destroyed by Grey Wardens.
Theory: The Tevinter Old Gods are the power of the Evanuris, ripped away and buried by Solas when he built the Veil. In this reading, Solas does not number among the orbs. (He is, after all, standing outside them, making his own admittedly different orb with his hand.) Urthemiel, preserved by Flemeth and now by Solas, is one of those lit, starred orbs. Urthemiel came back corrupted (allegedly by darkspawn), was defeated like the others, but unlike the others was able to be preserved. The other lit orb…well, who of the Evanuris would have had their power restored, uncorrupted? Dumat, or at least his blood, survived for some time — hence Corypheus’ worship. Could it be him?
Theory: Whatever’s going on with the Evanuris, the orbs do represent the Old Gods and there are only two left who haven’t woken up and turned into archdemons. Those would be Razikale, the Dragon of mystery, and Lusacan, the Dragon of Night. The problem with this theory is that it doesn’t entirely account for the Urthemiel situation. Her soul remnant was preserved. Solas has it now. Why would she be depicted in a greyed-out orb, the same as the others? She has been saved in a way that the other awakened Old Gods have not. What would Solas be hoping for, in that case? The resurrection of an uncorrupted, blight-free Old God? Does he want to bring back Razikale and Lusacan (either of whom would have made sensible corollaries to Fen’Harel, if there were seven Evanuris instead of nine, alas) to help him bring about the sundering of the Veil and the return to the old elven world he misses? Does he think that the combined powers of Urthemiel (whose shard is inside him; presumably it is her power that buffs him up so much in Trespasser, since his own orb of power was destroyed), Razikale and Lusacan — either in agreement with or controlled by him — would be enough to bring about this change? How exactly does he plan on getting them to do what he wants? He wields only the power of one old god. They outnumber him two to one. Such a big part of his past was freeing slaves — how could he morally excuse himself for enslaving two old gods, even if it was to bring about a return to the world he destroyed?
Now, finally, we look to the axis on which the image turns: the figure at the center of the painting. But this necessarily demands we look not just at the 2D image but the 3D image the video gives us prior to flattening to 2D:
2.) THE VIDEO.
Honestly, with the shape of that head and hair, my first thought was of Andraste. But that doesn’t make sense for so many reasons: she wasn’t magical (no matter that the Disciples of Andraste thought her reborn as a high dragon), nor an elf; yes she would seemingly have been someone guided by Solas given her exploits freeing the slaves but he wasn’t even awake yet. We’ve been given neither neither motive nor opportunity for her to have absorbed an old god soul shard at any point in time. Plus, the First Blight had ended by Andraste’s time — there weren’t any Old Gods running around anymore to reincarnate in her, even in some miraculously non-bloodthirsty form.
I don’t know, though, that spike on the brow…
I’m just saying.
The fact that red lyrium is corrupting this figure — this figure entwined with a dragon — places the creation of red lyrium more at Solas’ feet than ever before, which, bro. Bro. Why do you have to make it so hard to love you? The intense close-ups early in the video combined with the heavy shading later make it pretty hard (deliberately hard, I know) to determine whether the figure is being tortured by the dragon, i.e. they are separate, or if the figure is some twisted form of humanoid+dragon, furthering the separation of powers theory — the gods and their power having been separated, they then grow corrupt in their lust to be reunited with their other halves.
It’s also not clear, looking at the image, if there are just two creatures comprising this figure. Why is the humanoid-like ribcage so far beneath the head? Is this intended to be some sort of demonic amalgam of several forms? General physiological anarchy, abomination-style? We don’t know. We can’t see. We might not even be looking at the representation of creatures at all: we could be looking at metaphors. The destruction of the Chantry by the [planned] resurrection of the remaining two Old Gods, by Solas.
There is even rumored, one might point out, to be an eighth Old God struck from the record. The record is hazy on the details, but the astrological sign associated with this stricken god pertains specifically, one might even say redundantly, to dragons. You know who else is big into dragons?
Yeah. Those guys. You know, the people who obsess over being related to dragons. Maybe this isn’t a depiction of a darkspawn or an archdemon or an Old God at all. Maybe this is a depiction of the Qun conquering the Chantry. Conquering, led by red lyrium. Maybe the mage-handlers, the Avarrads, figure out that if they load up the enslaved Qunari mages, the Saarabases, with red lyrium, they become even more destructive…thus paving the way for the qunari return referenced in Trespasser.
Whatever happens, I am delighted by this teaser. By anything pointing to the fact that work on this series is ongoing. I gain so much joy out of sifting through so much lore. And the gorgeous environments. And, of course, the romances. You could make combat a series of endless minigames and I’d still plod through it, to get to the dialogue and the texts and the story scenes. This is (as I’m sure is abundantly obvious) by far my favorite story-led series, tying only with Elder Scrolls for my favorite games of all (and for completely different reasons: this fills a desire to be a part of the fabric of something, resplendently entangled in it; and ES fulfills a desire to be very much not, adrift and without the pressing responsibilities of narrative).
I hope they released this trailer at this time because the team wanted to, and not because EA pressured them on any front. I hope the Anthem folks aren’t annoyed by its appearance at this specific point in time. I hope…god, I hope I never again have to work for someone in charge of creating something I love. I don’t want to see how the sausage gets made; how the corporate pressure grates; how efforts to protect and nurture staff fail and fail again as stakeholders demand bottom lines and slash plans based on focus group results and market trends. I don’t want to feel helpless in the face of forces greater than me, from whom I cannot protect my peers or reports no matter how fiercely I defend and deflect for them. Fuck that. Fuck it because I fought it and it mattered not at all.
I just want to sink into the world of Thedas as into a hot bath. Let the world carry on its tumult above; I’m down below trying to follow the currents beneath the surface. I’m happier down here.
Now, seriously…what are we gonna do about Solas?