Dragon Age Asunder: review

At the tail end of last year Dragon Age Asunder hit the shelves, offering a fresh helping of lore set inside the largely well regarded high fantasy setting spawned from two successful video games. Can this book draw people into the world of Blights, Templars and Dwarfs once more without the gameplay to wrap the story around?

Set a year after the events which closed the finale to Dragon Age 2, Asunder focuses on the rising tension between mages and templars all across the world. More and more Circles are rebelling against the templars assigned to protect them from being tempted into demonic possession and talk of war between the two factions is widespread.

Like in Dragon Age 2, despite the mages clearly being the harder done by side out of the two, it is hard to side with them when at the drop of a hat they resort to using Blood Magic or consorting with demons and basically proving the templars right. If you are also sick of hearing about this on going argument between the two where no real conclusion is found then a vast majority of the book will not interest you. On the other hand if you like continued debate on the subject and it being frequently given by people on different sides then there’s a lot in Asunder you would appreciate.

Ignoring the conflict on a greater scale, Asunder is also a story about people caught up in it. Specifically it is mages within the White Spire of Val Royeaux in Orlais that star here. The main character is Rhys, a mage with a rather passive attitude to standing up to templars and with a rare gift for speaking with spirits. Soon after the book begins murders start happening in the White Spire, further increasing the tension between the two sides as the mages assume templars are killing them in secret.

After stumbling his way into the mess, Rhys ends up blamed for the murders and in order to avoid the punishment of being turned tranquil (all emotion and personality removed) is enlisted into a dangerous mission by a returning character – Wynne. Many players will remember the kind hearted old healer from the first game and its expansion. She has strong focus here while other recognisable characters (such as Leliana) only get passing cameos now and then. Along with another mage from the spire and a templar bodyguard, Wynne leads Rhys out into Orlais in search of a lost friend of hers that had been turned Tranquil and seemingly found some way to revert the process.

The frequent tension and mixed objectives in the group as they travel helps keep things interesting from the start. As does the mysterious murderer and who or what they really are. Wynne wishes to save her friend, the templar is under orders to kill them all if it is proved true that tranquility can be reversed, and Rhys is constantly forced to face up to what he is and how other people perceive him.

What really helps Asunder along is that it was penned by David Gaider. Besides being a senior writer for one of BioWare’s studios with a strong pedigree behind him (Knights of the Old Republic, Neverwinter Nights and more) he was also the lead writer for both Dragon Age games and is responsible for writing some of the fan favourite characters from them (such as Shale, Morrigan, Alistair and Zevran).

Gaider’s in-depth knowledge of the world created in part by him shines through. You can tell he understands both the lore people expect and the characters he helped create. Of all the new cast none feel out of place and returning characters feel like they are written perfectly in comparison to established events in the games (even down to small details like Wynne’s love of Dwarfen ale).

It’s an interesting contrast to Lord of Souls which was an Elder Scrolls themed novel we reviewed in 2011 (review here). Both were written well and had believable characters, but you can tell only one was written by someone intimately close to the roots of both established and new characters. These characters don’t just casually mention references gamers will get but instead give the impression that they seamlessly fit in with previous experiences.

Like we said previously – if the mage verses Templar debate is done to death in your mind (especially after Dragon Age 2) then parts of Asunder will disappoint. There is a good adventure here mixing intrigue and action with likeable cast members, demons, morals, murder, Dark Spawn and more though and shouldn’t be dismissed out of turn. It’s also a very healthy length yet never feels overly long which does lead us to strongly recommend reading this book if you are at all interested in the lore of this world.

A preview of Dragon Age Asunder can be found online and the book is available now with an RRP of £6.99.

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Written by Ian D

Misanthropic git. Dislikes: Most things. Likes: Obscure references.

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