Beware: spoilers for basically every Dragon Age game follow.
Every Dragon Age game presents you with a selection of unique, relatable characters, most of whom feel like they have their own motivations outside your story. In the first game, Origins, Morrigan famously abandons you at the end unless you agree to let the soul of an archdemon possess your unborn child. Inquisition’s Blackwall – a sort of needy barista in plate armor – isn’t actually who he says he is. Iron Bull just wants to bang. But none are more controversial than Solas, a rogue elf mage from Inquisition who starts off as your companion and potential paramour, but eventually reveals himself to be something far more complex.
We know Dragon Age 4: Dreadwolf will feature Solas as the primary antagonist, so we decided it was worth examining why Bioware’s alarmingly lustrous elf mage elicits such an emotive response in the Dragon Age fanbase. Massive spoilers for Inquisition and the Trespasser DLC incoming…
Who is Solas?
This section could more accurately be called, ‘Who does he say he is?’ You meet Solas at the start of Dragon Age: Inquisition. He presents himself as a self-taught rogue mage, and an expert in The Fade – the metaphysical realm from which demons and spirits are spilling into the mortal world. He turns up at exactly the right time to help your character, the Inquisitor, survive the opening events of the game and learn more about their newfound powers. Which is so terribly convenient that it almost feels planned. Hold on to that thought.
It soon becomes clear Solas is a dreamer, both figuratively and literally. He spends his time scampering around ancient ruins, pondering what it might all mean. But he’s also capable of a type of lucid dreaming that allows him to reveal the hidden history of places, almost like he has some – red flag! – prior knowledge of them. The Inquisitor gains Solas’s approval by choosing the most thoughtful, rational solutions to problems, even if it requires a degree of ruthlessness. He appears quiet, thoughtful, and private. If Iron Bull is the jock in Dragon Age: Inquisition, Solas is the theatre kid you can only invite to certain parties.
What does Solas believe?
Dragon Age presents us with a world of absolutes: elves and humans are in a cycle of constant conflict; the Chantry hate apostates; apostates hate the Chantry; the Tevinter Imperium basically hates everyone who isn’t from Tevinter. It’s like Twitter, but with giant spiders. Solas, meanwhile, presents himself as a rationalist, convinced these reductionist worldviews lead to conflict and disaster. He believes in “cause and effect, wisdom as its own reward, and the inherent right of all free-willed people to exist”. To us, he sounds about as dangerous as a first-year politics student after too many jagerbombs. In Thedas, however, this sort of thinking is an act of rebellion.
His progressive outlook has its limits. You can only romance Solas if you’re a female elf, a measured decision by writer Patrick Weekes to avoid perpetuating the ‘depraved bisexual’ trope. Solas might have some pretty compelling motivation for avoiding other races – we’ll get to that later – but it does make him look, in more ways than one, like a bigoted Twitter egg. He’s also deeply judgemental of other beliefs and ways of life, likening dwarven culture to a severed arm and endlessly chiding Iron Bull for his choice of religion. Except, of course, Iron Bull doesn’t really have a choice, and that’s exactly the problem. But Solas doesn’t care. Being correct is more important to him than not being an asshat.
Who is Solas, really?
At the end of Inquisition, the heroes succeed in defeating the primary antagonist, Corypheus, and closing the breach in The Fade. Evil defeated. Order restored. His work apparently finished, Solas leaves the Inquisition, presumably sauntering off to make a new group of adventurers feel bad about themselves.
It’s more insidious than that. After the credits roll, we learn the truth about Solas. He is Fen'Harel, the Dread Wolf, also known as He Who Hunts Alone, Lord of Tricksters, The Great Wolf, and Roamer of the Beyond, because apparently three names wasn’t evil enough. Although ‘evil’ isn’t strictly accurate: he’s considered to be the elven deity of betrayal or rebellion – rather like a laminated Loki – but the exact nature of his godhood is up for debate. He’s more like an absurdly powerful, timeless mage.
In the Trespasser DLC, we learn the full extent of Solas’s transgressions. And I’m afraid we need a bit of context here. In the ancient history of Dragon Age’s setting, Thedas, there existed an elven kingdom called Elvhenan – an idyllic world where immortal elves lived in harmony with nature and gods walked among them. Solas was part of this ancient elven pantheon, known as the Evanuris. When the Evanuris betrayed one of their own, Mythal, Solas took revenge by banishing them to the Fade.
Doing so robbed Elvhenan of its magic, causing irrevocable damage to the world and stripping the elves of their immortality. This act also created The Veil, the barrier between the physical and metaphysical worlds. The weakened elves were eventually enslaved by the burgeoning human race, the weight of which Solas still carries with him. His ultimate goal is to reverse the process, reuniting the physical and metaphysical worlds and restoring the elves to their former glory. Doing so will destroy the world as it currently exists, and nothing will sway Solas from his cause. That’s partly what makes his betrayal so devastating. No matter what relationship you have with him, he’s utterly fixated on his goal. And this singular, believable motivation is why he’s such an inspired choice as the villain of Dreadwolf.
How do we know he’s the Dreadwolf in Dragon Age 4?
Because he straight up tells us. Like a serial killer in a saucy Channel 5 thriller, Solas hints at who he is numerous times. He wears a necklace shaped like a wolf’s jawbone; an odd choice for a guy who styles himself on wolves, but that’s maybe the point. Fen'Harel is a pejorative nickname, forced on him by his enemies. But in a classic ‘clever guy outsmarts the bullies’ move, Solas embraced it and made it his own. (He’s lucky, in hindsight, they didn’t choose to go with something more insulting.)
Solas openly reveres wolves, “intelligent, practical creatures that small-minded fools think of as terrible beasts”. Elsewhere he talks about life before The Veil and his belief that the elven pantheon weren’t even gods at all. He even describes ancient events he saw first-hand. And it’s all so well written that we don’t suspect a thing until he reveals himself. In a parallel universe, Dragon Age: Inquisition ends with a supercut of every time Solas hints at being Fen'Harel, like the big reveal in an M Night Shyamalan movie. And, in an act of foreshadowing at which Solas himself might raise an approving eyebrow, Bioware has been hinting about this twist for ages, too: the Dread Wolf exists in tapestries and lore going back as far as Origins. And now, with Dragon Age: Dreadwolf incoming, we’ll hopefully reach a powerful conclusion to Solas’s story.