How many blights have there been in total?

Five. The first game in the series, Dragon Age: Origins, told the story of the fifth blight. Players controlled a guy or lady who was conscripted into the Grey Wardens early on and eventually brought down an archdemon—this time Urthemiel, the god-dragon of beauty—thus ending the blight and saving the world.

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But even when there isn’t a blight, the Grey Wardens hang around?

Yeah, because there’s always the chance that the Darkspawn will find another archdemon, and the Wardens will be needed again.

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They’re all a little bit crazy, since they live out on the fringes and are ready to sacrifice their lives, should the need arise. They’re actually a lot like the Night’s Watch in Game of Thrones—they’ll accept anyone of any class, background, or race. They don’t care if you’re a criminal or a nobleman, and once you join, there’s no un-joining. They’re all kind of dour, and carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. But because the blight isn’t always in effect, people sometimes stop listening to them or taking them seriously.

Got it. So, Grey Wardens are basically the Night’s Watch, they’re the Darkspawn-busters of Thedas. You mentioned that the Darkspawn have a special relationship with Dwarves?

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Yeah. Because the Darkspawn live underground and travel via the Deep Roads, the dwarves have had to deal with them up close ever since the first blight. People who live on the surface rarely see Darkspawn unless there’s a blight going on, but they’re a constant menace for dwarves who live underground. The Darkspawn have greatly thinned the dwarven ranks over the years, and the Darkspawn taint is widely thought to cause sterility among dwarven adults. As a result, dwarves can get kind of testy with surface-dwellers about the Darkspawn. It’s kind of always blight-time for dwarves.

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Makes sense. Alright, let’s move on to the Qunari. Those don’t really sound like any fantasy race I’m familiar with. What’s their story?

The Qunari are pretty cool. They’re commonly understood to be a race of huge, horned people who live according to a strict religion they call The Qun. That said, anyone of any race who follows the Qun can be considered a Qunari, and if a member of the Qunari race abandons the Qun, they are exiled and become known as Tal-Vashoth. Inquisition actually gives you the option of playing as a Tal-Vashoth Qunari, which is a first for the series.

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The Qunari are fearsome warriors, kind of like the vikings of Thedas. They do a lot of conquering—they arrived in Thedas a long time ago as invaders, and nearly took over the entire place before losing a lot of their land in various wars. They currently occupy a region to the far northeast called Par Vollen, and are involved in a lengthy war with the Tevinter Imperium. That war is actually one of the main reasons the Imperium has lost so much of its power elsewhere.

Okay, got it. I think that’s all the races, right?

Yeah, that about does it.

You’ve alluded to the stories of the first two games. Where do things stand at the start of Inquisition?

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There’s too much to summarize here, since each of the first two games was incredibly long, featured a shitload of different characters, and took dozens of hours to complete. The thing you should really do, once you finish reading this, is go and do the Dragon Age Keep.

Oh yeah, you mentioned that earlier. So, the Keep is a web app that’ll let me go through the stories of the first two games?

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Yeah. It’s slick, but it’s pretty confusing if you don’t understand all the basics I just laid out here. Once you know how the blight works, and what a Grey Warden is, and the difference between a Dalish elf and a city elf, it gets a lot easier to follow. Then, you can decide what happened in the first two games, which will change some stuff like who is the current ruler of Ferelden, what became of the mages in Kirkwall, that sort of thing. Then, you can import your custom world-state into your Inquisition game, no matter what platform you’re playing on.

Okay, I’ll do that. For now, can you kinda just summarize?

Sure. Let’s start with Origins. Origins took place in Ferelden, and told the story of the fifth blight, like I said. The player is some random jerk—maybe a city elf, maybe a dwarven noble, maybe a circle mage—who gets conscripted by the Grey Wardens and winds up at a battle where King Cailan of Ferelden’s top commander, a guy named Loghain, betrays the king and lets him die, throwing the whole nation into turmoil just as the blight threatens to swallow everything.

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That sounds like a pretty punk move.

Loghain had his reasons; the king was sort of a dope. That battle leaves the main character as one of the last of the Grey Wardens, and he or she has to form a coalition, enact a bunch of old treaties to get help from various nobles, mages, and others around Ferelden, unite the kingdom, and mount a last-ditch attack on the archdemon.

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Sounds exciting!

It was! Origins was a really good game. Things could go a whole bunch of different ways, but in the end, the heroes faced off against the archdemon and killed it, ending the blight and saving the world. Depending on the choices you made, the ending could mean your hero sacrificed him/herself to kill the archdemon, or let a friend do it, or let an apostate mage named Morrigan become pregnant with a demon baby that stops… the archdemon… or something…

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Wait, what?

Yeah, that’s definitely the “weird option” for the ending. We’ll get to Morrigan in a second.

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Okay…

So anyway, Dragon Age 2 is a pretty much totally unrelated story that picks up during the same time period as Origins, during the fifth blight. While the Grey Warden from the first game was off fighting the Darkspawn, the hero of the sequel, a man or woman named Hawke, led his or her family from Ferelden to the city of Kirkwall. Kirkwall is located in the Free Marches, which if you remember from before, is a ruler-less region located north of Ferelden, across The Waking Sea.

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Sounds good. What is Kirkwall like?

It’s kind of a shitshow, really. Upon Hawke’s arrival, the city is overrun with refugees from Ferelden who are trying to flee the blight. There’s a huge gap between the wealthy nobles and the poor folk in the streets, and the whole place is teetering on the brink of falling apart.

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Meanwhile, the conflict between the city’s mages and templars has gotten extremely tense, and templars are right on the verge of killing all the mages in the city once and for all.

Yeesh. So what happens in the game?

The story was more of a mess than the first game, and didn’t have nearly as clear of a narrative thrust. It takes place over a decade in Hawke’s life. A few key things happened in that time: The discovery of red lyrium, and the start of the mage rebellion.

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Okay. Let’s start with red lyrium. You mentioned Lyrium before, that’s basically a magic-infused material, right?

Yeah. It’s this sort of blue glowing ore that mages use to craft magical items and templars ingest to make themselves resistant to magic. Think of it as “mana” from other fantasy RPGs, made into a sort of mineral.

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Got it.

Red lyrium is this aberrant form of lyrium that no one had really seen before the events of Dragon Age 2. Hawke went on an expedition into the Deep Roads led by a couple of dwarven brothers named Varric and Bertrand Tethras. Varric is actually the narrator of Dragon Age 2, as well as a party member, and he returns as a major character and party member in Inquisition.

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Oh yeah, Varric. I think I remember seeing videos of him when Dragon Age 2 was out.

He’s a cool dude, definitely one of the best characters in that game. So, the expedition uncovers some red lyrium, and an artifact made of the stuff makes its way back to Kirkwall. It falls into the hands of the leader of the Kirkwall templars, a woman named Meredith, and it turns out it’s pretty much pure evil. It corrupts Meredith and she orders the murder of every mage in Kirkwall.

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Yikes! Can she do that?

Technically, yeah, but really, everything in Kirkwall just kind of falls apart at that point. Hawke can choose to side with Meredith or with the mages, but it’s the beginning of the end either way. When I played, I sided with the mages and eventually killed Meredith. She was kind of an asshole even before she became corrupted by the red lyrium, so I didn’t feel too bad about it. Actually, come to think of it, I had to kill the mages’ leader as well, because it turned out he was practicing blood magic, so he became an abomination. It was all pretty dumb, really.

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What about the other thing, the mage rebellion?

That’s more complicated. One of the main companion characters in Dragon Age 2 is a mage named Anders, who is also a Grey Warden. Hawke meets Anders in Kirkwall and fights alongside him throughout the story.

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Anders is opposed to the entire notion of the circle of mages, the templars, the the Chantry. He thinks all mages should be free. He grows more and more radical over the course of the story, and finally takes extreme action by setting off a massive blast of magical energy and destroying the Kirkwall Chantry, killing everyone inside.

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That incident is a flashpoint for a mage uprising that stretches far beyond Kirkwall. Regardless of what players choose to do with Anders at the end of DA2—you can kill him, stick with him, or set him free—the mage rebellion is underway. All around Orlais and Ferelden, the circles begin to dissolve, mages openly defy the chantry and begin to live as apostates, and everything gets pretty gnarly.

Which, more or less, is where things pick up at the beginning of Dragon Age: Inquisition. At the beginning of the new game, Divine Justinia has called a meeting with the leaders of the templars and the mages in an attempt to broker peace.

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Okay! I get it. I’m gonna go do the Dragon Age Keep now, but are there any other characters I should know from the previous games?

There are a few. Let’s run ‘em down.

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Cassandra Pentaghast is a Chantry warrior/detective known as a “Seeker of Truth.” She was sent in to determine why the Kirkwall Chantry was destroyed, and what had become of Hawke. Cassandra brings Varric the dwarf in for questioning, and their back-and-forth frames the story of Dragon Age 2.

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Morrigan is an apostate mage who was a major character in Origins. She is first found living in the woods with her mother Flemeth and learning all sorts of ancient, mysterious magic. She wears a dress made out of leather belts and is a bit of a fan favorite.

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Flemeth is Morrigan’s mother. She’s initially introduced as “The Witch of the Wilds,” though at the end of Origins it’s revealed that she’s more than just some mage—she has the ability to turn into a huge, extremely powerful dragon, among other things. She also turns up at the beginning of Dragon Age 2 to guide Hawke to Kirkwall, setting the events of that game in motion. Her true nature has always been a bit mysterious, as is the truth of her relationship with her daughter.

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Varric is the dwarf who narrated Dragon Age 2. I already talked about him. He’s a good bro.

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Sister Leliana is a lay sister of the Chantry; she’s also a bard, an assassin, and a spy. She was a main companion character in Origins, a master archer who was super well-connected and always knew what was happening around the world. She made only a brief appearance in Dragon Age 2, but in Inquisition, she returns to serve as the Inquisition’s ruthless spymaster.

That’s it? That’s not all that many extra characters.

Well, there were a lot more, but those are the only ones where references to them might be confusing enough that you’d want to know who they were before you start playing.

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Okay! I’m feeling pretty good about all this.

Cool! And hey, don’t be afraid to take time out to read the in-game codex, or to browse the excellent Dragon Age Wiki. That’s where I dug up a lot of the finer details here, and where I fact-checked the stuff I wasn’t totally sure about.

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Thanks for all the information!

My pleasure.

We should grab a drink or get dinner sometime.

I’d like that.


To contact the author of this post, write to kirk@kotaku.com or find him on Twitter @kirkhamilton.

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Special thanks to everyone who helps maintain The Dragon Age Wiki for providing such an exhaustive, wonderful resource.