The release of the trailer for Dragon Age: Absolution was greeted with cautious optimism by fans of the BioWare role playing game series. But thankfully, this new Netflix animated series does not disappoint. With a plot following on the heels of the game series’ third installment, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Absolution also launches a completely new story, well suited for viewers familiar with the world (who will find plenty of Easter Eggs within the material) and newcomers alike.
In this six-episode short run series, a group of six thieves—fighters and mages among them—plots to take a blood magic artifact from a stronghold in an enemy nation. But when one of the group betrays the others, things get progressively more complicated, especially as the past of one of the heroes reveals her own ties to the villain. With vibes that mix The Legend of Vox Machina, Carmen Sandiego, and Avatar: The Last Airbender, Absolution uses what’s best in both fantasy and heist stories to create a compelling and character driven narrative.
Miriam (Miri) and Roland are a pair of thieves, both of them skilled fighters, who are sought out by Fairbanks and Sapphira (Hira)—members of a now-disbanded heroic organization called the Inquisition—to help steal an artifact. The relic is used for blood magic rituals, making it far too dangerous to leave in the hands of the nation of Tevinter, a country known for the corruption of its mages and their willingness to use taboo blood magic to achieve their goals. Hira, a mage who was once Miri’s lover, knows that Miri is up to the job, and that her insider knowledge of Tevinter will give them an edge. But Miri, an elf who was enslaved in Tevinter, wants nothing to do with her old life—and she’s nervous about welcoming Hira back after the mage abandoned her to join the Inquisition’s cause. When Hira promises that after this one last mission they can be together and have a peaceful life, Miri agrees to help.
The group travels across some of the gorgeous landscapes of the continent of Thedas to arrive in Tevinter, where they prepare for their heist in Leverage-like fashion. Tevinter Magister Rezaren, Miri’s old nemesis, has the artifact and intends to use it for his own purposes—despite appeals to his better nature from his Knight Commander Tassia. As Miri’s team converges on the artifact, everything starts to fall apart, and Miri has to confront the past she left behind.
Miri (voiced by Kimberly Brooks of Owl House) is a compelling lead, someone who is rightfully still working out her own issues. Viewers familiar with the Dragon Age series are well aware of the divide between elves and the other cultures of Thedas; elves are always treated as lower class, forced to live in ghettos, or enslaved, depending on the accepted cultural ethics of the nation where they live. Absolution brings that through clearly from the start: Miri is treated poorly by the boss of her thieving organization in the opening scenes, and she’s treated even worse once they reach Tevinter. Miri’s pride in herself comes from making her own choices, and she values those who stand up for her (even if they do it in a dumb way). Hira, voice by Sumalee Montano (The Casagrandes), is a good foil for her, giving the appearance of an upper class idealist who doesn’t really have full understanding of Miri’s upbringing—but who has her own turmoil impacting her decisions. Their romance is a source of hope for Miri, who struggles to believe in the possibility of a better life.
The rest of the group includes Qwydion, a Qunari (a horned, gray-skinned, very tall humanoid) mage; Lacklon, a brown-bearded, grumpy dwarf fighter; pale-skinned human freedom fighter Fairbanks; and brown-skinned, smooth talking, human warrior Roland. Carefree Roland (Phil LaMarr) is a loyal friend to Miri, as well as a charming companion to the rest of the group (early on Qwydion jokes to Lacklon that if the dwarf doesn’t make romantic overtures to Roland, she will.) Fairbanks (Matthew Mercer, The Legend of Vox Machina) serves as the leader and employer of the group, and while he has his funny moments, it’s the other three who provide levity in comparison to the deeper journeys of Miri and Hira. The chemistry between Roland and Lacklon (Keston John, also of Owl House) is particularly well developed, especially knowing that voice actors typically don’t get to record together; the interplay is well sold. Ashly Burch (Critical Role), who voices Qwydion, does a great job of delivering comic relief without ever undermining her character. Despite her appearance of silliness in the trailer, Qwydion never feels like she’s just there for the joke, instead becoming a key player in several intense moments (and staying upbeat in a world that, very frequently, takes on a grim hue).
That grim shading definitely covers antagonists Rezaren (Josh Keaton, Voltron: Legendary Defender) and Tassia (Zehra Fazal, Batman: Death in the Family). When both are introduced, the narrative plays with just how bad the two of them actually are: Is Rezaren flirting with blood magic, but deserving of redemption? Is Tassia’s apparent moral compass enough to turn them into heroes by the end? That ambiguity clears up into definitive answers over the course of the season, leaving plenty of room for further development when the story continues.
So who should watch Dragon Age: Absolution? For game series fans, this is a great trip back to Thedas in anticipation of the next game coming up, Dreadwolf, as there are clearly moments in the cartoon that set up what will happen in that next chapter. But viewers who have never played the games will find plenty here to enjoy, especially if they’re already fans of adult narrative cartoons and fantasy. The Netflix series features a lot of violence (and blood spatters, much like the videogame), as well as adult language, so it’s definitely not a cartoon to watch with the kids. But for viewers looking for mature fantasy narratives, especially those with LGBTQ romances and characters, this is a very fun miniseries with the promise of a second season on the horizon.
Dragon Age: Absolution premieres Friday, December 9th on Netflix.
Alana Joli Abbott is a reviewer and game writer, whose multiple choice novels, including Choice of the Pirate and Blackstone Academy for Magical Beginners, are published by Choice of Games. She is the author of three novels, several short stories, and many role-playing game supplements. She also edits fantasy anthologies for Outland Entertainment, including Bridge to Elsewhere and Never Too Old to Save the World. You can find her online at VirgilandBeatrice.com.
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