The Darkspawn, the Deep Roads, and the Blight

I was pondering recently about the ruined land your Inquisitor finds in the Western Approach.  It’s been centuries since the Darkspawn roamed the lands freely and still nothing can live there.  As the blights of old lasted years the horde had plenty of time to ruin the land.

Since our superstar Warden ended the Fifth Blight in a mere year, Ferelden recovered quickly.  There are still a few references to tainted land but not a horizon-spanning, blasted waste.  One more reason your Warden is awesome—as if you needed one!

In following this trail of thought, however, I suddenly realized that the dwarves have a much bigger problem in reclaiming the Deep Roads than I’d thought.  Also, BioWare has a much bigger lore problem.  The Darkspawn have been carousing down there for a thousand years.

In Dragon Age: Origins, the deep roads don’t look tainted.  They look like tunnels of rock.  Now, you could hand wave that with “limitations of the engine” or “rock doesn’t get the taint” but along came Inquisition to show you different.  Despite coming across established encampments, despite slaughtering hundreds of Darkspawn across a decent swath of the Deep Roads, despite finding abandoned thaigs where they swarmed your party, you never find evidence that they’ve tainted the tunnels.

Even the little Deep Roads alcoves you find on the Storm Coast and the Hinterlands, as well as the Warden stronghold in Emprise du Lion, stay clean and shiny despite the presence of Darkspawn.  Well, the fortress isn’t particularly shiny but you get my meaning.  It’s possible they’ve been clean for centuries and the ‘Spawn just happened to have broken through in those places because Corypheus had people digging for red lyrium in both.  I’m willing to accept that they haven’t had time to spread the taint and I’m curious to know what growing all of that lyrium on the surface does to the song for them.

However, you can’t dismiss their sustained and enormous presence in the Deep Roads proper.  They have the run of thousands of miles of tunnels.  So far as I can tell, the entire purpose of the Blight is to spread.  I think of it like a virus, mindless and voracious.  As best I can tell the Maker’s punishment for breaching the Golden City is destroying every living thing in Thedas (or on the world, which apparently has no name). 

With the continued presence of the Darkspawn and their reputation for fighting one another, you would expect to find blackened, stinking tunnels utterly bereft of life except the ‘Spawn and maybe a nug ghoul or two.  Even if the taint spreads through the blood, as seems to be the case, a bunch of creatures that dig and fight will have made a mess.

I presume the fleshy protuberances around the Hespith and the broodmother in Origins was meant to be the Blight and that’s how I took it.  Then again, Halo primed me to believe that mindless hordes grew diseased flesh over everything and seeing people transform into abominations convinced me that skin is cheap in Thedas.  The broodmother took me by surprise!  I’d expected pods along the walls growing darkspawn, not Jabba the Mama.  [shudder]

Despite the impact of imagining Hespith eating that filth growing in the hallways, I’m glad they changed how tainted land looks.  Gobs of inexplicable flesh have been done, my darlings.  Let us relegate them to a few dozen square meters around a broodmother and dismiss them otherwise.

Even around those blobs, the tunnels should be tainted.  You get a Darkspawn Alpha when he kills the rest of the brood with which he’s been born, dozens of others.  Their blood should have washed the walls of that cavern, poured into the crevasse and spread their blight to everything nearby.  Yet you find the pulsing masses (I don’t think they actually pulsed but they do in my memory) on clean brown stone and dirt.

By all rights, you should find nothing down there but deepstalkers, with their cute squeaks and venomous spit, the occasional squadron of the Legion of the Dead, a Warden or two, and blight as far as the eye can see.  Taking back the Deep Roads would be as much a matter of waiting until the blight exhausted itself as destroying the Darkspawn and their broodmothers.

As the Western Approach shows us, recovery is a slow process.  One presumes that Corypheus does not neglect the deeper portions of Thedas in growing red lyrium, given his command of the Darkspawn.  What would we find, should BioWare give us the opportunity to delve into the forgotten thaigs and expansive roads that criss-cross the continent?

I fear Dragon Age’s writers may have abandoned the Deep Roads as thoroughly as the dwarves of Orzammar have, however.  With the eluvians conveniently existing in places we want to go there’s no need for Thedosians to take on the danger of clearing the underground pathways.

Clearly the dwarves can’t do it on their own.  The Dragon Age team’s attention seems, with the ruins in the Hissing Wastes and the background of the Inquisitor, to have turned to surface dwarves.  My hope for an expansion or a full game devoted to uncovering dwarven lore, much as Inquisition focused on the history of the elves, has faded, though I still cling to the thought of marching victoriously into a thaig filled with artifacts and an intact Shaperate to explain what happened.

Maybe the tiny story thread about the titans and the possible tie-in with pre-human elven (Elvhen) history will offer incentive for the writers to tell the story I so desperately want to play.  Hopefully, they won’t forget that the Deep Roads have been home to the blight for a thousand years, this time.

Also, the Western Approach proves why the Architect is an idiot and must die.  Sentient or not, Darkspawn and people cannot live together in harmony.

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