Just before Dragon Age: Inquisition arrived in 2014 (I know), developer BioWare heralded its arrival with The Last Court. The browser game followed the Marquis of Serault in the week preceding a visit from Divine Justinia V. You may remember her from the explosion at the Inquisition start screen. As it was partially hidden behind the online Dragon Age save manager, The Keep, many players never even encountered The Last Court’s unique story and gameplay. Since it was taken offline on Nov. 17, 2020 it’s no longer possible for anyone to experience. At least not officially. Thankfully, two fans led a project to preserve the contents of The Last Court before that date and agreed to talk with me about why and how they chose to “Save Serault.”
Made for BioWare by Failbetter Games (best known for Fallen London and Sunless Seas), The Last Court is entirely text based. You pick an event card, then make one of several choices that can go variably well depending on your stats. A less cunning Marquis might choose to purchase information outright rather than risk failure with a manipulation attempt — but only if they have the assets.
One person behind the preservation project, who preferred to be known by their forum username Solas, explained that The Last Court game took some getting used to when they first played it. “After that I thought it was a neat little game,” they said. “The writing and setting of Serault has its own specific flavor, it’s mysterious and kinda kooky and fey in a charming way.”
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The prose heavy nature and resource management core were firsts for Dragon Age. At the time, so was its setting in the “fantasy French” empire of Orlais. Project co-runner Dan Coleman argues that it’s still the best depiction of the land where The Grand Game is played. That’s the web of intrigue between nobles and their servants that is roughly hinted at throughout Dragon Age, but rarely the focus amidst all the dragon-slaying and demon-hunting. And Coleman notes that “Things like constantly being bothered about what kind of parties to hold, commanding your chevaliers to do something shady, or not saving your citizens from peril because you need money to bribe someone important for a favor captures the feeling of Orlais better than Inquisition did.”
More than just a feeling, The Last Court is filled with unique lore about the history and society of Dragon Age. Take the Seraultine cult of the Masked Andraste, which worship a “huntress-aspect” of the series’ messiah figure in secret woodland rites. “It’s an interesting example of Andrastian heterodoxy because it’s such a deviation from regular Andrastianism that isn’t entirely permitted,” Solas noted. They added that the imagery is like that of one of the elven gods, Andruil. With the role both mainstream worship and cults play in shaping the conflicts of Dragon Age, bits of lore like this feel like more than flavor.
It was quietly announced in September that The Last Court was going offline. That’s when preserving this lore became an interest for both Solas and Coleman. “By coincidence I had actually recently been plugging away gathering bits of it myself just out of interest,” Solas explained.
Coleman was initially more reticent. “After realising it wasn’t as simple as saving the game file documenting seemed a lot more daunting and I wasn’t really sure I’d do it.” It was only after watching a video on The Last Court by YouTuber Ghil Dirthalen that he changed his mind. “I felt kind of guilty that future fans wouldn’t be able to read some of the cooler lore she covered and decided I’d see if someone else had started an effort I could help out on.”
Solas had already posted on the unofficial BioWare Social Network forum asking about a preservation effort. It was there that Coleman reached out. “[Solas] (the absolute hero) sent me a massive amount of info that they had found about the game and we decided that the best method was to create a Google Drive to store screenshots of every option.”
“I think the screenshotting was [Coleman’s] idea, which is smart imo because it’s not just copying the info by copying the text, it also preserves some of the ‘feel’ of playing the game for posterity because you have the user interface and everything in them too,” Solas added.
The project faced a few difficulties. While it can only take 20 minutes to finish an in-game day, the story progresses over seven real-life days. Particular cards would only appear in particular circumstances. If you missed them, it would be another week before they could be seen again. Solas admitted that they were “initially a bit worried there would be little interest in it (the project) as playing it through several times and screencapping everything sounds a little dry when you think about it.”
Even before the game officially went down, some players had trouble accessing it. Some event outcomes — ones that should have been in the game — seemed to be bugged and entirely unattainable. Fears that nobody would be interested in helping, however, were thankfully unfounded. “We had volunteers from all corners of the Dragon Age fandom join us. Really, they were the MVPs of the project,” Coleman said. “The amount of work they all put in was phenomenal and we couldn’t have done it without them.”
With support from the Dragon Age community, the two estimate that they managed to save every single event and outcome that could be accessed. All except for one: “the very specific case that you successfully fought off the Bereskarn from an ambush while you were alone during a hunt.” Coleman asked that, if any Fanbyte readers happened to capture that event, to “please do add it!” The result is a publicly available Google Drive folder packed with events, from trophy hunting to the witch Morrigan as a “ghost” tormenting your staff.
Being a browser game, The Last Court couldn’t have its files mined for data in the same way other titles often do to discover their secrets. When asked how they were working with such encyclopedic knowledge of events that still needed capturing, Coleman again emphasized help from the community. “It was all resources from other fans, be it in our post’s comments, Tumblr posts, the content on the wiki and the help from other volunteers that we knew what to get.”
The most specific help came from fans of Dragon Age past, six years ago. Solas explained that “back in the day in 2014, when the game came out, fans in various places had been compiling lists of the cards and spreadsheet-guides to the game to help people in their playthroughs if they were confused.” The team used those to work out which event outcomes they were missing, and how to direct playthroughs to find them.
As for the project, although The Last Court is down now, it isn’t finished just yet.
“The 2nd phase of our plan is to populate the wiki with the information we’ve managed to document,” Coleman explained. “Solas is a bit more experienced with making wiki pages than I so hopefully between us we can work out a tutorial like our first for adding wiki pages. After that we’ll post it for anyone who’d like to help, then start adding away in our spare time.”
The Drive folder full of screenshots will still stay backed up as its own archive, for anyone who wants to look through it.
Solas ended our interview with gratitude. Specifically, they said “I would just like to reiterate a massive thank you to all the volunteers who got involved and helped out with the project,” ending their sentence with a smiley face emote. “They are really great and we’re very grateful, it couldn’t have been done without them.”