Dragon Age: Absolution Review: A Welcome Return to Thedas

It has been eight years since BioWare and EA released Dragon Age: Inquisition and fans of the series have been eager for the next chapter. Dragon Age: Dreadwolf is on the horizon, but fans can return to Thedas, in a fashion, with the new animated series Dragon Age: Absolution as it hits Netflix. The six-episode series proves to be a serviceable stopgap for those fans simply eager for more stories set within Dragon Age's world and may even catch the interest of uninitiated viewers who are fans of similar properties.

Dragon Age: Absolution takes place between Dragon Age: Inquisition and Dragon Age: Dreadwolf. The story focuses on Miriam, an elf who escaped slavery in the Tevinter Imperium and became a mercenary. Miriam must face her past when an old friend catches up with her on a final mission from the Inquisition leading into the Imperium.

Dragon Age: Absolution stands apart from the games in terms of scale. It's not telling the kind of epic, world-shaking saga for which the games are known. Its structure is, instead, comparatively simple and concise, centered on a heist as Miriam and her party attempt to break into a Tevinter palace and steal a relic. Its vibe has more in common with a Dungeons & Dragons adventure or fellow animated series Legend of Vox Machina, which is a refreshing change of pace for the franchise.

Without those large stakes, the series relies on character drama to fuel the story. Miriam wants to help her love, Inquisition agent Hira (Sumalee Montano), but never wants to step foot in Tevinter again. Her emotions and how those around her assuage or take advantage of them drive the conflict.

But with the story that tightly focused on Miriam, it leaves the supporting cast without much for themselves. Miriam, Hira, and Fairbanks (Matthew Mercer), the ringleader, are caught in a game of intrigue involving the ambitious Tevinter magister Rezaren (Josh Keaton). Orlesian mercenary Roland (Phil LaMarr), bubbly Qunari mage Qwydion (Ahsly Burch), and skeptical dwarf Lacklon (Keston John) are mostly there to fill fight scenes while providing occasional comedic relief and make eyes at each other. The performances are strong, and each character makes a case for further exploration, but this series leaves much of the group's potential on the table.

Visually, the series is stellar, if familiar. Action scenes involve a lot of fast cuts and movements, occasionally accented by moments of slow motion to emphasize a dramatic turn. There are a few scenes where things slow down enough to appreciate the nuanced work put into the characters' battle stances and maneuvers. There's also a unique delight for Dragon Age in seeing specific skills, spells, and items depicted sans all the artifice of gameplay. Once again, The Legend of Vox Machina is an easy point of comparison, with Absolution being less slapstick and featuring arguably more polished animation.

The biggest frustration with Absolution is that it tries to have things both ways with how it ends. BioWare has positioned Absolution as a prologue to Dreadwolf. It certainly is that, but for that to work, the series concludes on an unresolved note. Miriam's personal story gets some closure, but it isn't entirely satisfying because there's little tension in her arc. While there's growth, there's never any doubt about what direction she's headed. That makes some sense considering her past and current options, but it doesn't offer much of a hook. Without giving too much away, the writers attempt to put Miriam between two other characters, but her attitudes toward those two characters never change, and thus there's no rise or fall to the drama. One relationship concludes as expected, and the other doesn't get much of an end at all.

Dragon Age: Absolution is an enjoyable story set in Thedas that is unlikely to surprise anyone but that fans will enjoy. If you're already interested in Absolution because it's Dragon Age, it's probably worth spending the three hours to watch as long as you understand its smaller scale and its role in teeing up what's to come. Genre fans who give it a shot may find themselves with a new interest in the BioWare franchise.