By Ben Konuch
“Beware, boy. Memory unheeded can only bring enmity.”
I absolutely adore the “Dragon Age” series. The video game franchise from Bioware quickly became one of my favorite pieces of fantasy within my first few hours of playing the first title, “Dragon Age: Origins” back in 2020. As I’ve played the rest of the games and delved deep into its novels and comics, my love for its story hasn’t changed. Set apart from other fantasy worlds with its dark nature and tone and characterized by oftentimes agonizing moral decisions with no clear answer, its vast worldbuilding and stories were ripe for a TV or movie adaptation. While we’ve already had one CG animated film in the form of 2012’s “Dawn of the Seeker,” this previous attempt at capturing the world and story of “Dragon Age” fell through for many fans.
So when I heard that Netflix was producing an animated “Dragon Age” series set in canon between the latest game “Inquisition” and the upcoming “Dreadwolf,” I was incredibly excited. Having now watched all six thirty-minute episodes, though, that excitement and potential both feel wasted.
The plot of “Absolution” is fairly straightforward. Miriam is an elf and former slave who goes back to the kingdom where she was enslaved in order to help a band of adventurers steal a dangerous artifact and bring it back to the safety of the Inquisition. However, the heist goes wrong and plot twists, betrayals, bloody violence and spirit summonings ensue in a story that’s … okay. “Absolution” checks all the plot-point boxes well enough, but nothing about its plot really clicks into place well. As a diehard fan of the franchise I enjoyed seeing our first proper glimpse of Tevinter, the dark and cruel kingdom of slaver mages, but other than my previous investment into the franchise there wasn’t much to keep me intrigued for most of the runtime.
The characters of “Absolution” are also serviceable. Miriam is interesting enough to keep us invested in her story, but she shares the same problem as her supporting cast. All the characters feel fun and quirky, but that’s about as deep as the majority of their characters go. Some attempt to have arcs, like the dwarf mercenary who grudgingly learns not to only look out for himself, but all of these feel awkward, rushed, and extremely surface level. To make matters worse, there are two rushed romance subplots plus awkwardly handled LGBT representation that treats its characters like they have the romantic maturity of middle schoolers instead of middle-aged adults. In the end, all the characters end up coming across as amalgamations of archetypes and tropes, and even if they can sometimes be entertaining, the feeling of a wasted opportunity radiates heavily from the writers’ room.
One of the most interesting characters in “Absolution” is its antagonist, a Tevinter mage named Rezaren who is fascinated with an ancient relic and its potential to raise the dead. As we learn more about his past and his connection with Miriam, he becomes a genuinely compelling and nuanced broken character who is guilty of wrongs but more misguided and flawed than outright evil. However, even that gets thrown out the window by the last episode as Rezaren descends into full-blown mustache-twirling villain territory for very little real reason. In fact, multiple characters have sudden changes of heart or make decisions that seem to outright contradict their own logic on multiple occasions.
The animation of “Absolution” is also another example of hits and misses. Aesthetically, “Absolution” looks so incredibly similar to other adult animated shows of recent years that it has no unique visual identity when compared to shows like “Castlevania” or “Legend of Vox Machina.” This is extremely disappointing because “Dragon Age” has always had a fascinating world with its own very unique feel and style, with “Dragon Age 2” absolutely rocking it aesthetically.
In terms of action scenes, though, “Absolution” does shine. While the style of art isn’t much to look at, the fluidity of fight scenes and the fast-paced nature of battles gives every fight an adrenaline-fueled glee that’s bloody, tense and exciting. I just wish it could have had that animation with an art style that leaned into “Dragon Age” instead of trying to make it fit a mold that was already oversaturated.
In regards to the plot and its accessibility, “Absolution” makes it abundantly clear that it’s here for the die-hard “Dragon Age” fans first, oftentimes resulting in a story that would be very hard for newcomers to get the most out of. Important plot elements like the depravity of the Tevinter Imperium, the dangers of blood magic, how the Fade and “spirits” work, and how intertwined religion, politics and magic are have been left unexplained or barely addressed. You can still watch “Absolution” with little or no understanding of the greater franchise and understand the majority of its story without knowing the more nuanced side, but I’m not sure why you’d want to when shows like “Castlevania”, “Legend of Vox Machina”, and “Arcane” already exist and respect your time more. In fact, 2012’s “Dawn of the Seeker” might even be more appealing.
I give “Dragon Age: Absolution” a 6/10.
“Dragon Age: Absolution” is now streaming on Netflix
Ben Konuch is a sophomore Strategic Communication student and an A&E writer for Cedars. He enjoys getting sucked into good stories, playing video games and hanging out with crazy MuKappa friends.
Images courtesy of Netflix