Or, don’t romance Solas. Seriously.
WARNING. THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS FOR ALL THINGS DRAGON AGE. WARNING.
I recently attended a rather large gathering of BioWare fanatics where we discussed our favorite romances. Because to be completely honest, what’s the point of a BioWare game if you can’t romance anyone?
The topic of Solas inevitably came up, and a lot of people vehemently defended him. More than five years later, even after the Trespasser DLC dropped and we learned that his ultimate goal is to destroy the world, some fangirls still place their hearts at his feet. Every time BioWare releases a teaser for the next game, I see protestations of love and outright begging that they can continue their relationship with him.
Yeah, see, that shit doesn’t fly with me.
I played Dragon Age: Inquisition when it first came out in 2014. I played as a human female who romances Cullen, because. Well, Cullen. I was best friends with Cassandra and I hated Solas. Fast forward to last year and I was in a horrible rut. I would get home from work and lay down on my couch until it was time for bed. I felt like a walking corpse – I didn’t want to do anything and nothing was fun anymore. One day, just to get myself out of the rut, I decided to replay Inquisition. But this time, I wouldn’t romance Cullen. I’d try out the Solas romance, just to see what it was like.
In order to romance Solas, you have to play as a female elf. This was something else I’d never done – in all of my Inquisition and Dragon Age: Origins playthroughs, I’d always played as a female human. And by doing so, I’d always played a character that was raised in the Andrastian religion – the game’s version of the Catholic Church. But as you may remember, I’m Jewish.
I’m not just Jewish. I’m a bitter, salty Jew. I hate December because I dread Christmas time. I get pissed off when people wish me Merry Christmas because it’s not my holiday. I think of the millions of my ancestors brutally tortured and murdered in Christ’s name and get angry when I hear Christmas music played over the loudspeaker at the grocery store. I’m a salty, salty Jew.
And the elven Inquisitor in Dragon Age Inquisition? Same position. Her people live as slaves in Tevinter. In ghettoes in Ferelden. They die in bloody pogroms across the world. So when I started this playthrough, I played as a salty, salty elf. I even named my Inquisitor Shoshana, which is my Hebrew name. When I started, Cullen wasn’t my crush, he was a privileged mage killer who I wanted to punch in the face. Cassandra wasn’t my bestie, she was a religious nutcase who I wanted to punch in the face. And Solas wasn’t the stuck up know it all, he was the only sane man I wanted to be around.
There’s a powerful scene about a third of the way through the game where the enemy has dealt you a hard blow and everyone is licking their wounds. Someone starts singing a hymn, and it spreads through the camp. It’s supposed to be really uplifting, and the player usually feels this warm glow as everyone comes together. But for the first time, I, as my salty Inquisitor, just felt pissed off. I didn’t know the song, I didn’t give a shit about Andraste or the Maker. I felt like all of these people were ignoring me and the fact that their supposed “Herald” came from a completely different culture. If I was so important to them, how hard would it have been for them to simply ask me about my gods? So as I looked around at everyone joyfully singing about Andraste, I saw Solas. And he was the only other person going “What the fuck?”
I finally got it. Why people could be into Solas. He’s hot, he’s sexy, he’s mysterious, his voice is to DIE for (his VA, Gareth David-Lloyd, is Welsh and in case you haven’t noticed, I loooove all things Welsh), and he’s not a brainwashed Chantry follower. I got a little swept up in the romance. I started to question my own sanity because, seriously, how could I be this into Solas?
The problem was, I, as Rhydnara, knew who he really was. I knew that Solas was really an ancient elven god, and he was purposefully lying to my Inquisitor. When my Inquisitor took him to the Temple of Mythal and he stayed remarkably quiet, I wanted to scream at him. And when he removed my Inquisitor’s vallaslin and dumped her, I was furious. I stayed furious through the rest of the game and all the way through Trespasser, up until he uttered a line that threw me.
Solas: What is the old Dalish curse? ‘May the Dread Wolf take you?’
Inquisitor: And so he did.
Solas: I did not. I would not lay with you under false pretenses.
There was a lot of ambiguity regarding Solas’ romance up until this point. The player and Solas kissed a few times, and, it being a BioWare game, many players expressed their other…ahem…desires in fan art and fanfiction. This, being a BioWare game, included lots and lots of sex. But there is a significant problem with that.
I don’t personally know Patrick Weekes, Solas’ writer. I met them at PAX East a few times over the years, and I follow them and their wife, Karin Weekes, on Twitter. I’ve read much of their work and watched/read/listened to a lot of interviews. I know things like consent and healthy relationships are incredibly important to them and their wife. So it would have been glaringly obvious to Patrick that sex between the Inquisitor and Solas really would equal one thing.
It would be rape.
No, Solas wouldn’t hold her down and force himself on her. The Inquisitor would believe it was a wonderful thing between two individuals who were deeply in love. But it would be, as Solas says himself, under false pretenses. And that is rape.
And that is why Solas redeems himself in my eyes. He recognizes that his relationship with the Inquisitor is extremely toxic, that the power dynamics between the two of them ensure that they could never be on equal footing. And he is forced, by his own goals, to constantly lie to her. Therefore, before the relationship moves past the point where he can control his impulses, he dumps her.
Solas may be trying to destroy Thedas as we know it. But he’s not a rapist.
And look, I don’t hate him anymore. That playthrough let me see a side of him I didn’t know existed. Through the eyes of my salty Inquisitor I realized that he is sensitive and caring. That’s why I fully support being his friend. I’m aware how completely ironic this is, considering the fact that he’s trying to destroy the world. But to be honest, after the shit my salty Inquisitor has been through, and the shit my Jewish ancestors have been through, I can’t blame him.
Jews grow up with a unique world view, carrying the memories of all of everything awful that has happened to our people. And it’s a lot of awful shit. A lot a lot. I cannot accurately express just how much shit. My Hebrew School class took a tour of the Holocaust Museum in New York City when I was 12 and it was scarring. Most of our holidays consist of us remembering all the times people tried to wipe us out of existence.
So yeah. I get Solas. I just don’t think it’s a great idea to romance him.
Granted, I can say this as Rhydnara the Viking. As Shoshana Lavellan, I’m still fucking pissed. And the fact that he watches the Inquisitor through the Fade is downright creepy. Both Rhydnara and Shoshana agree with that.
This playthrough meant a lot to me. I was at one of the lowest points in my life, and playing through Dragon Age: Inquisition again made me feel alive. I was no longer a walking corpse. Recognizing the different layers of Solas’ romance, and seeing Thedas through the eyes of a salty Dalish elf, kick started my brain. I wasn’t lying down on the couch anymore. After that playthrough, I started sewing again. I spoke with friends more.
When people say “It’s just a game,” I have to disagree. Mass Effect helped me come to terms with the fact that I’m bipolar, and Dragon Age gave me the courage to say it out loud. It brought me out of one of the worst depressive phases I’ve ever been in, and I know that these games will be there for me the next time I find myself down there.
And these characters and stories ensure that, as we face down a global pandemic, we can cling to romance analyses and common interests in a community wide attempt to stave off fear induced insanity.
Shit, I didn’t mean to end on such a dark note. Here’s a sexy picture of Cullen. Because Cullen.
Questions? Comments? Let me know below! I can also be reached on Twitter @Rhydnara.