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Dragon Age 4 Origins' Villains

Dragon Age 4 will deal with the Dread Wolf's attempts to bring down the veil, but the next game needs to learn from how Origins handled its villains.

Dragon Age 4 Can Learn from DA: Origins' Villains

BioWare has kept many of the details about its upcoming fantasy RPG Dragon Age 4 close to its chest, but its villain will come as no surprise to most fans of the franchise. After the events of Dragon Age: Inquisition, it is very likely that the next game will follow the player protagonist as they attempt to stop Solas, the elven “god” known as the Dread Wolf, from tearing down the veil between the material world and the Fade, the realm of magic.

Dragon Age 4 is in development now

It is likely that Solas will not be the sole antagonistic force in Dragon Age 4. Between the magisters of the Tevinter Imperium, the squabbling nobles of rival kingdoms, the darkspawn, and the old gods, there will likely be several villainous forces for players to face down in the next game. However, it’s not always easy to strike the right balance when dealing with multiple villains. To see how it should be done, Dragon Age 4 should look back to the start of its own franchise, and the way Dragon Age: Origins handled its villains.

The Villains Of Dragon Age: Origins

There are multiple villains in Dragon Age: Origins, and even more morally ambiguous forces. The top tier of villainy is safely occupied by the darkspawn and the Archdemon, who pose an existential threat to Thedas and its people. The second tier is composed of powerful but human threats: Loghain Mac Tir and his sidekick Arl Rendon Howe. The third and final tier is composed of morally ambiguous forces like the Templars, the Circle of Magi, Flemeth, and so on. None of these final forces are ever hostile to the Warden unprompted, but their actions do have moral implications that the player may choose to act upon.

The Villains Of Dragon Age: Origins

The main thrust of Dragon Age: Origins’ story, therefore, is motivated by a double villain structure composed of the Archdemon and Loghain. Their underlings including the darkspawn and Loghain’s forces can be considered extensions of them, in the case of the Archdemon and the darkspawn quite literally. This double structure works very well in Origins for a few reasons.

The threat of the darkspawn is horrifying, and made very clear at the end of the first act with the Battle of Ostagar. However, part of what makes the darkspawn horde terrifying is it’s lack of humanity – the Blight is represented by dark presence creeping up the map from the south. The human threat in the form of Loghain is far less scary but is greatly complemented by the presence of the darkspawn. Loghain’s stubbornness and relatively understandable human motivations are made far more serious by the presence of the darkspawn and his refusal to acknowledge that a Blight is happening.

While the darkspawn are horrifying, the player is likely to have a far more personal vendetta against Loghain in a way that wouldn’t work for a more existential threat. The darkspawn help keep the stakes of the plot high, while Loghain helps keep the stakes of the plot personal. Why not just have one villain who poses both an existential threat while maintaining their own personality and human motivations? Because Loghain and the darkspawn elevate the other’s key traits.

The darkspawn help turn Loghain’s human flaws into part of an existential threat without robbing him of his humanity. Similarly, Loghain helps motivate the player with a desire for revenge after the Battle of Ostagar, whereas the darkspawn might only inspire fear.

Complementary Villainy

In Dragon Age: Inquisition, Corypheus can be considered an attempt to synthesize these forms of human and existential threat. He is one of the original Magisters Sidereal who entered the Fade and became the first darkspawn, but he also retains his mental faculties and has his own motivations. The problem is that his humanity is made less accessible by the features that make him an existential threat – he’s centuries old and has goals and knowledge beyond the player's understanding. At the same time, his degree of humanity makes him far less terrifying than the Archdemon from Origins.

The Villains Of Dragon Age: Origins

Dragon Age 4 risks going down a similar path, attempting to make Solas both an existential threat and a human (or elven) threat. As previous Dragon Age games have shown, however, not only is this synthesis difficult to achieve without undermining both components but having distinct human and existential threats allows them to complement one another.

It might serve Dragon Age 4 best if Solas filled the same role as Loghain in Origins. He would be a threat because his human flaws have the potential to aid an existential threat. It’s not clear what exactly might happen if Solas is able to bring down the veil, but it certainly has the potential to release forces far beyond the control of the Dread Wolf. The elven gods he trapped in the Fade, the true forces behind the darkspawn, or even the Maker himself could all be behind the veil waiting for Solas to let them free.

Those possibilities also draw into focus another advantage to having two interlocking villains in Dragon Age 4. The existential threat would also have the potential to reveal far more about some of the fundamental mysteries BioWare has left unanswered, such as the true origins of the darkspawn or the nature of the Maker, if he does exist at all.

Regardless, if BioWare wants to help Dragon Age 4 recapture the epic scale and personal stakes of Origins, finely tuning the dynamic between its villains could be vital to its success. The next Dragon Age will need an existential threat which feels larger than the Blight from Origins, but to balance that out will need a human threat that gives the player even more personal motivation and investment in that threat. For now, fans will have to wait for BioWare to reveal more details about its upcoming game in the following months.

Dragon Age 4 is in development now.

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