This piece was first published on November 1, 2017. We’re bumping it today for the game’s five year anniversary.
Solas is one of the best-written characters in video games. It’s hard for me to think of a character whose loathsome worldview is so well developed, who, even when he’s on your side, manages to be a complete piece of shit about everything. He is a such a great character that I want to strangle that dude with my bare hands.
Solas, besides being an egg-lookin’ ass motherfucker, is an advisor to the player character in Dragon Age: Inquisition. He’s an elven apostate—meaning he practices magic outside the legally sanctioned circles of mages—and boy, does he have opinions about elves, magic and pretty much everything else. Voiced by Gareth David-Lloyd, you might be fooled into thinking that Solas is not only worth listening to, but is a good person. You would be wrong.
Solas’s introduction has him bursting onto the scene to help you, and his expertise in the Fade is incredibly useful for your quest to close the giant glowing hole that’s appeared in the sky. I only started to dislike Solas once I realized that he was always kind of putting me down. He was smug, and passive aggressive. In fact, the first time you ask him about himself, his response is just, “why?” You must be a hoot at parties dude!
My hatred of this character is the deepest compliment I can think to give the developers of Dragon Age: Inquisition. Solas is so effective because his worldview, where pursuit of knowledge is paramount and those who disagree are worthy of scorn, is fully developed. Every time Solas snarked at me or a party member about how the Qun is stupid and the Grey Wardens are ineffective, I rolled my eyes because of course he would. In one playthrough I recruited the Templars, who once policed mages and often oppressed them, and thought to myself, “well, Solas isn’t gonna like this.” It doesn’t surprise me at all that Solas is a popular character with a huge fanbase. There are so few characters in games that feel this real. In some twisted way, my hatred of Solas makes me a fan, inasmuch as I hope he comes back for later games and I can tell him how I really feel. I empathize with Solas. I truly understand why he is so condescending, thinks he knows the solution to everything, is dismissive of other points of view, and is a massive racist. I applaud the writers of Inquisition for their effort, and I thank them for writing a scene where I can punch Solas in the face.
He is the kind of guy who simply doesn’t think other people are worthy of respect. Take, for example, the way he speaks to Iron Bull, a Qunari party member. The Qun is a religion in the Dragon Age universe that is a catch all for regressive, rigid societies. Under the Qun, people don’t choose their professions or roles in life, but have them chosen for them. Solas thinks this is bonkers, and will not stop needling Iron Bull about what it’s like to live under the Qun. Iron Bull is a nice guy. He goes out of his way to tell Solas that the Qun’s stated goal of bringing everyone into the fold is not worth the bloodshed, but Solas won’t let it rest until Iron Bull disavows the Qun entirely. If, in Iron Bull’s personal quest, he does leave the Qun, Solas smarmily says, “You are a man who made a choice... possibly the first of your life.” Iron Bull has just given up his entire society and whole way of life, which is not an easy choice and is fairly traumatic, and Solas is congratulating him on not being one of the sheeple anymore.
Solas doesn’t just loudly denigrate one race: he compares the dwarven society to a severed arm. “Whatever skill of arms it had, gone forever,” he says to Varric, a dwarf. “Although it might twitch to give the appearance of life, it will never dream.” Hey Varric—your entire culture is worthless I guess! He’s also got something to say about the Grey Wardens, mages who are support the circle, Templars, and especially other elves, and he voices all his criticisms, unprompted, to the characters who fall into those categories.
Solas, like a lot of assholes, fetishizes his knowledge and uses it as a bludgeon to get his way. If, in that scene that can end with you punching him, you ask Solas why he doesn’t just leave, he’ll ask if there’s any other expert on the Fade you can recruit. Of course there isn’t. Solas is the only person who has the level of expertise that your party needs. This is why he talks down to Iron Bull about the Qun and lectures Varric about how the Dwarves have stagnated. He is an expert on in a field that few even research, and that, of course, should be respected. But Solas is convinced that one area of expertise means that the knows everything about everything else, and furthermore it gives him the right to act like a dick constantly.
It doesn’t even stop if you romance him. You can only do this if you’re a female elf, and Solas’s courtship process is mostly condescending to you about elvish culture. Dalish elves, ones who grow up outside of cities in nomadic clans, try to preserve their culture despite much of it being lost to time. To honor the elven gods, they have face tattoos called “vallaslin.” If you romance Solas, he will reveal to you that vallaslin are actually the markings of a slave and offer to remove them for you. As the player character laments that they truly don’t know anything about their culture, that elven history has truly been lost, Solas remarks, “For all the Dalish got wrong, they did one thing right. They made you.” You little tiny moron baby, he is saying to you. Your people are so stupid, but you’re just not-stupid enough for me to put my dick in you.
Even when he likes you, he can’t help but give you a backhanded compliment. If you have high approval from Solas after his personal quest, he’ll ask you if the anchor, a glowing wound in your hand that gives you special powers, has changed your countenance in any way. “Has it affected you?” he asks. “Changed you in any way? Your mind, your morals, your... spirit?” What he means is: I thought a member of an inferior race could not do things that I personally deem as smart. Have you been physically and mentally altered by magic to be a little more like me, who is right all the time?
I’ve met people like Solas before, though granted not ones who talk with spirits and walk in dreams. But in the real world, there are people who are smug, dismissive, who can’t even give a compliment without insulting you a little, who delight at a chance to lecture you, and who are huge racists. It is a testament to the writing of Dragon Age: Inquisition that Solas feels just like one of those people. His character leaps off the screen. Or at least I wish he would, so I could break his goddamn nose.