Tevinter is one of the most important settings in the Dragon Age canon, although across the three games so far, we’re yet to set foot in it. Several important characters in the series are Tevinters, including Dorian, Corypheus, Fenris, and Krem. Everything we know about Tevinter comes solely from these characters, a few others, and various storylines and lore entries. It feels like the setting has been deliberately kept at arm’s length so far, shrouded in mystery and wonderment. If Tevinter has been held back for something special, hopefully we’re in for a treat in Dragon Age 4, since we’re finally heading there to track down Solas.
I think Tevinter is a fantastic choice, and we’ve already written an explainer on everything you need to know about it. Right now though, I don’t want to focus on Tevinter as a whole, but one city in particular: Minrathous. If BioWare gets it right, Minrathous could deliver the most cyberpunk city the fantasy genre has ever seen.
Yes, I know technically it would be dungeonpunk not cyberpunk, but everyone knows what cyberpunk is so let’s just stick with that.
Minrathous is Tevinter’s capital city, but more than that, it’s the largest city in all of Thedas, and one of the few to have never been conquered. Of course, we know that if a fantasy city prides itself on never being conquered, it will probably be conquered by the time the story ends. If you ask me, Minrathous could be set for a Qunari invasion in Dragon Age 4. Chekhov’s Qunari.
As well as its huge, sprawling size and impressive defences, Minrathous is a visual spectacle. It features looming towers, magical aura in the air, unimaginable wealth, and even mystical floating buildings. It’s also home to dark alleyways, murder around every corner, and abject poverty. It’s a city of vast contrasts, and Dragon Age 4 needs to explore these in depth.
Contrasts are a big theme across Dragon Age, but rarely are the contrasts as relatable as this. It’s the contrast between the Templars and the Mages, between the dwarves and the surface dwellers, between the Elves and the… slightly different type of Elves that Dragon Age has traditionally been built upon. These lead to interesting stories, but it makes it difficult to step inside the realities of the debate. Parallels can be drawn, but if Minrathous pushes the contrast between rich and poor – especially during a potential Qunari invasion – to the forefront, it could pull us into the heartbeat of the story instead of leaving us sitting on the sidelines, Googling the gameplay benefits of siding with one fictional faction over the other.
If the Qunari are indeed set to invade, we might even see two cities in one, with the player getting to explore Minrathous relatively freely pre-invasion, then again during the dangerous destruction of the invasion itself. The city is based on a magical interpretation of Ancient Rome, and a lot of lore seems to be winking at the last days of Nero. The Qunari are coming, the city is falling, but will the Magisterium fight back, or play their lutes surrounded by flames?
Even if they do, Minrathous is a city built for siege. It has only one entrance; a single narrow bridge which can be destroyed from the main gate. Again, when cities have only one entry, the invaders typically find another, but Minrathous has been firmly positioned in the lore as impossible to take over. If an invasion occurs in Dragon Age 4, its citizens will be in for a long haul.
Minrathous also features twisting catacombs beneath it, allegedly stocked with enough food to feed the city for a year. Of course, ‘feed the city’ might well mean ‘feed the Magisterium’ rather than feed every citizen, with Minrathous’ supposedly invincible facade bubbling under the surface with flaws and tension at every turn.
The trailer offers another hint that Minrathous will be explored from the bottom up, too. Varric, narrating the trailer, tells us “it’s time for a new hero, no magic hand, no ancient prophecy,” suggesting that there’s no ‘chosen one’ at the centre of the story this time. Instead, it’ll be an everyman-style character from the streets. A voice for the people when the Tevinter leaders will not listen. Dragon Age has typically focused on much larger stories – top level politics, world ending plots, or decisions that can influence entire regions. If Minrathous’ everyman hero is indeed just some nobody, we might see the game focus on a much more grassroots narrative, all while tracking down Solas.
As well as this class divide storyline, we should get to see a lot more magic in Dragon Age 4. Though the series has always allowed you to play as a Mage, we’ve only really seen magic out in the field. In the cities we’ve explored so far, magic has only been allowed in fleeting moments, if at all. Partially because of the tension between the Mages and the Templars, any magic is kept on a short leash. In Tevinter – and in Minrathous especially – that’s not the case.
As well as the floating ring of buildings, the whole city is bathed in a Walt Disney Pictures-style glow, and while it looks like aurora borealis, it’s actually the walls emanating with magic. Expect to see magic being used freely in the streets, being incorporated into the architecture, and being refined to a sophisticated art form in Minrathous. It’s all blood magic too, which is especially powerful but also especially frowned upon in every Dragon Age setting so far; many places ban it altogether. This shift in setting offers a new level of creativity for the developers, and with Tevinter being built up for three games now, the design has to go all out to match the expectations.
Dragon Age has given us some varied settings in the three games so far, but they’ve all belonged firmly to the realm of traditional fantasy. With the introduction of Minrathous, we might get more of a cyberpunk – okay, dungeonpunk – vibe, and with that comes access to much gritter, more personal stories. Let’s just hope it isn’t broken at launch.
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Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey
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