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The thought was circulating in my head for quite a while, but my personal sloth demon always swayed me from writing a blog, especially a long one, but finally I'm up to it. Yeah, and since it's a long one, you can always scroll down to the TL;DR version in the end.
So the topic is canon in DA. What is canon? What is not canon? Are the spin-off media canon? Fully or not? Are cannons canon? That sort of stuff. The way I see it, is that numerous spin-off media, changes in the developer team (Knowles out, Gaider assuming direct control) and sometimes simply poor writing created a situation, where Bioware simply slipped the lore out of their (un-)able hands. Mind you, same thing happened to Mass Effect, but who cares about ME now, when it's done for. DA3 is in development, and we're even getting our first news about the in-game events and personalities, yet many of us are confused about things like Alistair being king of Ferelden, OGB's (non-)existence, Cassandra as a dragon-killing phenomenon and all that stuff.
Dragon Age 1-2-3 had a lot, A LOT of variables. Many of them impacted the gameworld in a very significant way, and are bound to create very visible consequences. The thrice-damn example of who rules Ferelden now is one of them. The fate of the whole country. Hell of a thing. And then we add (or don't) all spin-offs: comics, novels, movies, and the significant variables start flowing like diarrhea from a bronto. And that is basically what canon is for: do give a clear, definite answer of what did happen and what didn't, because without this answer there can be no further continuation of the story (stories). Well at least no plausible continuation, but we all want our DA to be well-written, plausible and neat, right? Right???:)
The current stance of BW's writing team (those people, who basically create canon), headed by the illustrious Mr. Gaider, is that The games have their own canon, and the spin-offs have their own, separate canon. That is smart, because it helps evade the rough spots like "but-but-but I offed Al in my playthrough, how can he be in the comic???", or simply avoiding having a headache as to how to tie everything together. Yes, it's smart, but it can only help so much, when the aforementioned variables start piling up like corpses at Ostagar (in case you didn't like the bronto metaphore. I kinda did XD). You don't see the problem here? If the game has one canon, but, say, the comic has another canon, then we have TWO canons. Which, in turn, means, that we have two Alistairs, two Isabelas, two Varrics and so on. We even freaking have two worlds of Thedas: one where dragons can be killed through smart tactics and exceptional teamwork, and another Thedas, where they can be killed with a butter-knife. Now think about two Alistairs, the DA:O one and the TSG one: they are different people. They even look freaking different. And that's some bullshit, my dear friends. As I already wrote in another blog, this is confusing, misleading and plain weird from the perspective of a person, who played the game and read the comics. The Highlanders, in their wisdom, were right: "There can be only one".
And that is why the "separate canon" stance doesn't work, at least not anymore. However, there is another solution. It has it's own problems, but IMO, it is better to be applied now, before DA3 comes out, and it will do much more good then harm. It is the unified canon. Bioware simply takes the games, takes all the novels, comics and movies (DotS and Redemption) decides themselves what is canon, what is not, what is left unexplained on purpose, and what would be variable by importing a savegame. Then they put it for all the world to see (blog, media-event, a booklet, whatever) and continue developing DA3 without a huge burden of accounting for all the necessary variables. There is a good example of a similar thing: the Fallout universe. It's games share roughly the same RPG genre with DA, they both have different games set in different parts of the same gameworld, they both have a heavy emphasis on the decision made by the player and present a lot of these decisions. But when it comes to significant decisions or vital pieces of lore, with each new game coming out almost always there is a clear statement of which decision and lore parts are canon, and which are not. These statements are either made in the in-game narrative, deducted by simple logic out of in-game events, or made in real world by the devs or publishers. A very simple generic example: Game A is declared canon, book B is declared non-canon, comic C is declared non-canon in the parts, which contradict game A. A specific example: you could poison the water in F3 and basically kill all non-Enclave inhabitants of the Capital Wasteleand, but this will not be considered canon in F:NV, and this game will start as if the F3 protagonist haven't made this decision. Not here to bother you with another specific examples, just read this if you're interested. The whole system, has problems, yes, but no system is perfect (and maybe BW can even develop it), and is way better then the current situation with DA.
The main problems with the unified canon is what I anticipate now: "But how about my choices? They should matter! Choices should matter, especially if the game advertisements basically scream, that "it's all about the player's choices!"". Well, what can I say... The Algol in me thinks "Haha, you thought your choices did matter and believed the advertisements? How charmingly naive XD". But the good, civil and community-supporting person in me will write this: No pain, no gain. If you want DA3 to be good, consistent and free of DA2's magically resurrected characters (Zev, Leliana, Anders... And the game lore says, that resurrection is impossible???), then you have to make some sacrifices in terms of choices. And never fear, they are not being sacrificed completely. Only the major ones, that impact the gameworld too strongly to keep the story flowing. Example: Wynne is dead. Canonically dead. And if DA3 makes a reference to Wynne, the only thing, that is certain is that she's dead. However, when did she die can be left open for interpretation, or even depend on a savegame, if imported. Either she died during the events of DA:O, or she died during the events of "Asunder". But most importantly, she's dead. The whole idea of limiting (because it is kinda limiting) the player's choices is only done for the greater good of keeping the story flowing and the franchise continuing. Because seriously, with DA2 having not nearly as much sales, as DA:O, plus the ME3 shitstorm, plus TOR failure, a helluva lot people stopped supporting BW, which, in turn, means, that DA3 will not have that many pre-orders, consequently not generating the desired profits, consequently shutting down the whole project, consequently EA pulling the plug on BW for good. It is a very real possibility. So DA3 should better be good, and sorting out the canon is an important aspect of it.
So, now about the specific aspects of establishing a unified canon. IMO:
Alive, sober, not a Gray Warden, and also a canon king of Ferelden. We can't erase TSG from history, so we should just suck it up. Wheteher he rules alone or married Anora should better be left to a savegame, but I'd put "rules alone" as a default option simply because making him marry Anora is a more complicated option, requiring very specific dialogue choices from DA:O protagonist. DA3 player may not have a DA:O protagonist at all.
Sten, Leliana, Zevran
All alive. If you don't like it (I don't like it, for instance), deal with it.
Happened or no? My version: happened. Gaider's current stance is that OGB will most likely appear in DA3, if the save with a performed Dark Ritual from DA:O was imported. No Dark Ritual - no OGB. The problem here, is that the little guy's existence is too much of an impact on the whole cosmology of Thedas. It is too much to put in the hands of a random player. An Old God being alive, and in pure, non-Archdemon form! It can, and most likely will, do... anything you can imagine. Now, if a huge (yes, huge) part of players will import the Dark Ritual save, but at the same time, the players who didn't have the OGB in their playthroughs have to be accounted for as well, then the only way for him to appear in the game files in general, is to make a relatively short and insignificant appearance, without impacting any major in-game events. Which is bullshit lore-wise and common-sense-wise. He is a deity, for crying out loud. Deities are into big and serious stuff. Now look at this from another perspective: how many people are fed up with the M-T war and do not care about Orlais and their internal conflicts? A lot. Really, a lot. Ironically, DA2, with it's focus on the M-T conflict, alienated people from this conflict completely, because it strongly reeks of choosing between two evils, with no lesser one. And this is freaking boring. Now, the return of an Old God in any capacity (villain or ally) can be a golden ticket to creating a truly interesting story, if handled correctly. So let him exist. The only question remains, is the circumstances of his coming into existence, or, to put it simply, a question that bothers quite a few females on this planet: Who's the father? If an option of importing the save with a DA:O protagonist romancing Morrigan, and performing the Dark Ritual, is possible - BW, go with it! You'll win the support of Morrigan fans, whose name is legion, for they are many. If you don't want to risk establishing male Warden as canon (*cough*Revan*cough*) make any other possible explanation, without deterring to savegames. Any. Be it Alistair or immaculate conception. What? Stop laughing, a lot of people in this world believe in immaculate conception:)
Gaider said, that Anders' returning in DA3 will most likely depend on his fate in DA2, but, quote "Justice, however, is another matter". My opinion: I would very much like Anders to return in DA3 as a companion, so we can blow up the Grand Cathedral in Val Royeaux, with all the Chantry higher-ups stuffed inside... But I'll put my likings aside for the greater good, and if a lot of people killed him off both in DA2 and Awakening (the irony), then so be it. Simply do not make any references concerning this character in DA3. Any at all, no appearances, not even mentioning. After all, this character already served his purpose.
Cassandra (and DotS in general)
In case she appears in DA3 as a character (the voices in my head tell me she will, however they might be lying), make her DA2. Same appearance, same hairstyle, same skin colour, same voice actress. Do not, repeat, DO NOT make any references to DotS in-game or meta-game. In this way, people, who didn't like DotS, can forget this whole unfortunate misconception, and those very few, who liked DotS, wouldn't be left out either. Simply leave DotS beyond canon, and remember it not as an event in the gameworld, but EA's attempt at having a part of the Eastern market. After all, we all learn from our failures.
Ironically, Hawke and his/her choices do not have any significant impact on the gameworld, thus s/he is not subject for the needed unified canon. Remember, the game is, as always, about choices. But enough with the irony, if DA2 saves can be imported in DA3, then Hawke can be mentioned briefly, probably in a "they lived happily ever after with his/her LI. The minstrels sing songs about their true love" etc. Stuff that makes me want to vomit, but it's the only way I see Hawke is worth mentioning, without causing massive outcries.
Too much variables. One is killed near Lothering for sure, the other can die in the Deep Roads and then during the final conflict. Wouldn't be plausible for any of them to appear in DA3, and it is even better not to mention them in DA3, IMO. Their fate is better left obscure.
No way she dies in DA2, but considering her very active appearance in the comics, logically she wasn't handed to the qunari either. That should better be canon.
Warden's wish in DA:O epilogue
The canon version as I see it: abstain from any reward. An independent Circle in Orzammar, the city elves having their own bannorn or the Dalish having their own land would cause to much of an impact on the gameworld. Imagine quarians reclaiming Rannoch prior to the events of ME3. The whole geth-quarian part would have gone completely different.
So, with all this in mind, the TL;DR version: in order for DA3 to be good, BW needs to drop the "loose canon" policy, because it creates too much confusion. Only a single unified canon can put the whole franchise back on it's trails.