Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights is a book of 15 stories set in Bioware’s fantasy universe. That universe is vast, full of different cultures, conflicts, and characters. Several of these are featured heavily across all the short stories found within the anthology’s pages.
In general, Dragon Age has never been able to hone in on what it wants to be about. Not in the most literal sense, but in more of a philosophical one. The games in particular make a point to leave characters behind in favor of a new cast and a new setting with each installment, all wrapped up in new disputes. Dragon Age II left Ferelden for the city of Kirkwall, a city that became a stage for political and religious reform, altering the way magic users in its universe live forever. This became a B plot in Dragon Age: Inquisition, with its resolution being treated with all the fanfare of any other main quest. An entire game’s story was wrapped up in the matter of a few hours, in the presence of people who weren’t there when it started.
Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights carries the same baggage of a franchise that thinks its world is the star, not the people who live in it. Which means that, as well written as its stories can be, the ones that stick out most are the ones that don’t elect to hand stories from one person to another, and focus on people who come with a bit of personal investment, both in whatever’s going on and in the hearts of people reading.
Of the 15 stories, two in particular have stuck with me.
First is “Luck in the Gardens” by Sylvia Feketukty. The story revolves around a monster that is killing people in the Tevinter city of Minrathous. There are mentions of ties to previously seen factions like the Venatori, an extremist terrorist group that was a major antagonistic force in Dragon Age: Inquisition, and generally this revolves around a city that is supposedly going to be a major setting in the game currently known as Dragon Age 4.
But most importantly, it heavily features Dorian Pavus, a companion in Dragon Age: Inquisition, as well as my character’s love interest who I hope to reunite with one day. Dorian isn’t the main character of “Luck in the Gardens,” but his role implies that the events of the story will have lasting meaning beyond being a momentary diversion or a toss away cameo. Dorian talks about how what’s going on is influencing his plans for reform in Minrathous, which have been not so subtly hinted at as a major thread in the mysterious Dragon Age 4 dating back to Dragon Age: Inquisition’s “Trespasser” DLC.
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Then there’s “The Dread Wolf Take You” by Patrick Weekes, which, should the teaser trailer for the next Dragon Age be any indication, seems to be a direct lead-in to the next game.
This story is a congregation of a few individuals from key factions and places in the Dragon Age universe as they discuss Solas, the surprise villain of Dragon Age: Inquisition and his quest to acquire red lyrium, specifically the red lyrium idol seen in Dragon Age II. It’s one of the few instances in the book that points to a story being built toward, rather than one merely content to just take place in the Dragon Age universe. By the time it was over, I felt like I had an inkling of what the future of Dragon Age is going to look like.
“The Dread Wolf Take You” is one of the best examples of Dragon Age understanding that its strength comes not from merely being Dragon Age, but in involving characters and stories we already have investment in and want to see through. So often Dragon Age has swept stories under the rug in service of expanding its world to the point where huge events are trivialized or just made to feel small in the grand scheme of things. For the most part, Tevinter Nights sticks to that status quo. The anthology feels most impactful when it points to forward momentum for people we already know, rather than the navel gazing from a world that thinks it’s more interesting than the individual.
In that way, Tevinter Nights doesn’t excite me for more of Dragon Age, but just makes me more wary about the future of a series that has, for so long, had a confused sense of priorities. I’m always glad to spend some time in this world, but I’m growing more tired of it treating my favorite characters and my presence there as a burden, rather than something to be built upon.
But I guess we’ll know more when Dragon Age 4 is given a proper unveiling, hopefully later this year.