The Old Gods will call to you
From their ancient prisons they will sing
Dragons with wicked eyes and wicked hearts,
on blacken’d wings does deceit take flight,
the first of my children lost to night.
– Canticle of Silence 3:6
This post is a massive spoiler for Dragon Age Inquisition. If you don’t want one of those, I’d suggest you stop reading right about now.
After a short Twitter discussion a while ago, I had some thoughts about the villain in the game, The Elder One, also known as Corypheus. The argument was that since Corypheus was so removed from the game – he doesn’t often appear to mess up your life compared to the time spent in the game – he wasn’t a particularly interesting bad guy.
I am of two minds about this.
First off, I think that his lack of presence in the game is an issue. If you spread out the encounters with this ancient darkspawn over time, he doesn’t show up very much, although he’s certainly on screen just as much as Orsino and Meredith and definitely more than the Archdemon. And yet, the villains from Origins, Awakening and Dragon Age II feel more involved with the story than Corypheus.
In part, I think this is a direct result of the massive world that is Dragon Age Inquisition. I spend up to 20 hours (sometimes more) playing before I tackle the next part of the story, and honestly, Corypheus is not always present as a threat. In part I also think it has to do with my ridiculously over leveled Inquisitor I have built by the time I actually face Corypheus. He’s the ultimate badass, a Darkspawn thousands of years old and I kill him with my pinkie. I had it a lot harder to take out the Archdemon (epic fight leading up to the roof of Fort Drakon, epic fight ON the roof of Fort Drakon, epic ending with potential self-sacrifice), Meredith and Orsino, also preceded by epic fights before hitting the main opponents. Even the brood mother in Awakening had an epic fight and more choices for the player to make than the end battle of Inquisition. In short it felt a bit “meh”.
However Corypehus does have redeeming features. Redeeming, you understand, from the point of view of a antagonist. If you have played the Dragon Age II DLC Legacy, you’ll get to see quite a few of them.
Legacy sets the stage for Inquisition and it does so (in retrospect) in a chilling sort of Blair Witch way. In Inquisition, the player (and the Inquisitor) finds out that Corypheus can transport himself into another tainted body should he die. In Legacy, you are aided either by an addle brained ex-Commander of the Grey named Larius or a powerful Warden Mage named Janeka. At the end of Legacy, after having killed a slightly confused Corypheus, Larius addle-brainedness is gone. His mental fog has lifted. Knowing what I know of Corypheus, the chills set in at this point. The bastard walked right out of the prison, no-one the wiser of his true identity. Cue end of Blair Witch Project chills.¹
Another thing that I think works for Corypheus as a villain is his utter faith in that the maker has abandoned his creation, and that the world ambles on, leaderless. “Be that I succeed” he says, “for I have seen the throne of the gods, and it was empty.”² Corypehus went to the Golden City, he was one of the Tevinter mages that broke into heaven, and he found it empty, corrupt and blighted. Alle he believed in was torn from him at his moment of triumph. He came to heaven to wage war on the Maker on behalf of Dumat, and instead what he found was an empty throne.
Corypheus resolves to become a god himself and restore the old Tevinter imperium to its former glory, a future that is chillingly presented in the flash forward mission In Hushed Whispers. Corypheus’ future – his vision for the future, is indeed chilling.
At the same time I do feel his pain. A lifetime of belief and faith in gods, shattered at a moments notice, and the cold knowledge that nothing can ever be the same again.
I pity Corypheus. I despise him for his arrogance, to think he could be a god. I also wish there could have been more of him, because despite the lack of epic fights, his quandary and situation is interesting to me. He finds out his gods have left him. He’s locked in a prison, asleep for thousands of years. He is awoken and set free in a world he does not recognise. Despite being such a Darkspawn, he is surprisingly human.
And so the Golden City blackened
With each step you take in my Hall
Marvel at perfection, for it is fleeting.
You have brought Sin to Heaven
And Doom upon all the World.
– Threonides 8:13
¹ You know the scene. In the basement. One of them standing there, facing the wall and you go all cold. Well, I did.
² This is kind of interesting in another way. The Golden City is located in the Fade. The Fade changes depending on your emotions. Mother Giselle hints at this when the Inquisitor wakes up after Haven. She says – abbreviated – that Corypheus might only have seen what he expected to see. Or maybe there was a fragment of guilt in him, angling his view of the Golden City, making it corrupt in his eyes.
2015-03-30 at 15:38
Mike Laidlaw said in the Kotaku Q&A that he thinks the game would have benefited from more interation with Corypheus: http://kotaku.com/corypheus-needed-to-punch-you-one-more-time-after-haven-1694150848. I agree, but also find it strange in a comparison with Saren in Mass Effect, who remains much more a threat although he also mostly stays in the background as an unseen threat. Maybe a lot simply depends on the fact that you can be so overpowered at the end of DA:I that no end-fight gets climactic.
I also love the “Pray that I succeed…” line, gives me shivers every time. And the fact that Bioware keeps the uncertainty regarding religion and the existence of gods (that, and Mother Giselle’s words). Thedas, once started as a rather standard and clichéed fantasy world, is fast becoming more and more interesting!
2015-03-31 at 15:13
“His mental fog has lifted. Knowing what I know of Corypheus, the chills set in at this point. The bastard walked right out of the prison, no-one the wiser of his true identity”
…för att inte tala om “The Thing on the Doorstep”! *småmyser*
2015-03-31 at 17:25
Slartibartfast – Yes! The ambiguity is noteworthy. And as someone on Polygon, I think it was, said; the interesting thing about the gods in both Mass Effect and Dragon Age is that you know they’re out to get you.
2015-03-31 at 17:26
Moxie – Ja. Och nu när du nämner Cthulhu kan jag inte låta bli att undra vem som egentligen är the Maker… 😉