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Bard Songs from the Dragon Age: Inquisition Edition, by Ilsa Miller

The soundtrack can make or break a game. If it’s decent, you won’t pay much attention to it, if it’s bad, you’ll mute it, and if it’s stellar, you’ll probably put it on while you study. But a lot of soundtracks can enhance the game more than providing mood-fitting music or cues for a boss battle. In many of the games I enjoy, the soundtrack actually contains bits of lore that can make for a better playthrough if you pay enough attention.

The Dragon Age series has been around since 2009, and is currently in development for its fourth installment. My first exposure to the series was the third installment, Dragon Age: Inquisition, which I didn’t realize was the third game in a series at the time. So, when I started playing, I was quickly confused by the political decisions I needed to make early on. The game assumed I had some background knowledge of many sociopolitical factions, when in reality, I had no clue what the groups stood for. However, as I spent more time around tavern areas, I realized the bards’ music contained insights into the history of the playable region, known as Thedas.

Some of the most prominent songs from throughout the taverns of Thedas are outlined and linked below:

Bard Maker provides a short and sweet prologue to the game. Your character is the sole survivor of an important meeting gone disastrously wrong. Until mid-game, cutscene flashes are the only assistance in creating a vague idea of why that might be, and this song carries the same air of uncertainty through both the lyrics and tone. The soft inquiry “Maker / Have you left me here?” matches the uncertainty of your position in the beginning of the game. The gentle halting between the subject of each line and the following commentary is reminiscent of the game’s sudden cutscene flashes — in which your character gradually remembers bits of how everything went wrong.

Enchanters has an air of majesty, and is full of blunt and grandiose statements. It is meant to portray the conflict within the Mage circles in deciding whether to rebel against their Templar guards, thereby disbanding the circled forcibly, or to rebuild the Mage circles as they stand. A good portion of the Mage population seeks freedom from the confines of close watch, while others value the protection that the Templar-controlled structure provides. This positional duality appears in conflict between the major key of the song and the lyrics, which if taken out of the song’s context, are slightly chilling in nature.

If all of the mages in your party got together to discuss the Mage Circles, none of them would walk away feeling content. One of the biggest plot choices in the game is deciding to support the Mages or the Templars. This song helps put in perspective all the different Mages’ feelings on the topic.

The Slightest Ones is a ballad that provides a short insight into the history of the Elven race. The track highlights the maltreatment of them by the humans and what that has cost the Elves of Thedas. Ominously, it also implies that if the treatment of Elves by the other races does not improve, there will be a day that the Elves will bring a great threat to the realm.

Performed in a minor key, the song’s words come across as both a plea for mercy and a conduit of grief for those who have been lost. At the very end of the ballad, the guitar fades and the singer is left to recite the last few lines. The removal of most accompaniment adds a strength to her words and a change in tone — a near mustering of hope and strength, or even the vague sense of a threat behind what she sings.

The Followers is a succinct preview of who your character works with throughout the game. The song captures the companion characters’ personalities through subtle cadence and tonal shifts within the lyrics. Interestingly, the song only omits one companion: Cole, who often makes people forget they’ve interacted with him once they leave. In the song, right before the transition into the later-met companions, the singer noticeably pauses. This pause could be a silent nod to the forgotten companion, showing the theory that he wiped memory of his verse from those listening, or even from the bard herself.

Many listeners of bard music will recognize the song Sera (Was Never), which is about one of your rogue allies. The upbeat tune is distinct compared to the others of the setlist, just as Sera’s personality is distinct from the other companions of the game. The repetitive nature of the vocals and the instrumental arrangement gives a nod to how stubborn she is in addition to her discomfort with things she doesn’t understand, particularly new phenomena.

Samson is a favorite of the fanbase, as well, for the orchestration. The tribulations this antagonist has endured are showcased through the lyrics, as well as the path of corruption he was led down by the game’s main antagonist. The song couples the lines “Samson knight in red / He hath lost his way” with the moment he dons corrupted amour, built with red lyrium that kills those who ingest it. The ending two lines right after are sung in a higher register to emphasize just how impactful this soldier-turned-villain will be.

The first game, Dragon Age: Origins, focused largely on the Grey Wardens, lending to the assumption that the player is at least somewhat familiar with the group at the start of Inquisition. The ballad

Grey Warden clarifies what might otherwise be an unknown group to a new player. The lyrics speak of how the Wardens are a force meant to protect the land of Thedas from demons, among other corrupt entities, but they have broken their oath of protection by allowing corruption to fester and grow. Through the course of Inquisition, the order is corrupted and exploited, so much so that it nearly tears apart. This piece, largely reflective in nature, as emphasized by a minor key, presses heavily upon the guilt the organization faces upon realizing their abandonment of Thedas’ people.

As the game continues, the countries within Thedas find themselves entangled within the surmounting war. For one country, Orlais, Empress of Fire serves as a rallying cry to arms. The guitar plays at a faster tempo in contrast to the drawn out vocals, combining the rush that impending conflict brings and the stateliness of a royal presence. It serves to heighten morale and strengthen the Orlesians’ resilience in the war ahead. In the game, a French version can be heard in Orlais (a city whose nationality is vaguely reminiscent of France), layering into the prominence of culture within the game.

After reaching the very end of the game, the threat has been vanquished and the purpose of your character is fulfilled. Fall of the Magister, a jaunty ballad, tells the tale of your party’s journey through it all. It delivers an energetic, relieving epilogue to the Dragon Age: Inquisition story. The contrasting volumes and pitches of the song mirror an animated story retelling, as if this retelling of events was being performed for an audience absent from its inspiring events.

The moving orchestrations of many of the soundtrack’s bard songs add an insightful layer to the game’s lore, especially for players who are new to the series. Even individuals who have never played the Dragon Age games know of quite a few, as several can be found in an array of folk/bard music playlists, dispersed along songs from other notable franchises. Wonderfully crafted, these songs serve both a functional in-game purpose, but also as an enjoyable indulgence for anyone who encounters them in passing.

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