In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Hazel examines Dragon Age's most spiritual companion.
When Cole arrives at Haven to warn you about the Red Templars marching your way, he yells “I can’t come in unless you open!”
He’s talking to the door. And he talks to his shoelaces, and Sera’s bow, and the face cards during the game of Wicked Grace you play with your companions. Because in the Fade—the realm of spirits and demons that parallels Thedas in the Dragon Age series—these inanimate objects would speak. Or, at least, they would tell him things.
Spirits are reflections of a feeling, not born into a physical form—and in the Fade, Cole’s true name is Compassion. It’s why Cole can hear the tree from which Sera’s bow was carved, and the lovers who kissed beneath its boughs. Because in the Fade, they’re connected, and the divisions he experiences as a human—physical, social, and emotional—are incomprehensible to him.
Cole is one of the potential companions for your Inquisitor in Dragon Age: Inquisition. While Dragon Age 2 gave us an example of a spirit’s existence with Justice and his possession of the mage Anders, Cole is a fully independent spirit. His origin, more fully described in the tie-in novel Dragon Age: Asunder explains that he isn’t possessing a human body, but has instead managed to manifest a physical form. While it’s slyly hinted that this isn’t the first time it’s happened in Thedas, it’s strange enough to make Cole a unique companion in the Inquisition.
While his thought patterns and turns of phrase are at once poetic and inelegant (“Cole, the wooden duck I found on my bed... was that you?”/ “No, I am not a wooden duck,”), from breathlessly describing another companion’s emotions in alliterative whispers to struggling to comprehend a knock-knock joke, his fumbles through the physical world are both endearing and relatable. He doesn’t understand that Orlesians are wearing masks because, internally, the masks are their own faces. He didn’t think Cullen’s armor could come off because Cullen, traumatised and under enormous pressure, never drops his emotional guard. And while Cassandra corrects Cole when he calls her grandmother’s locket “Anthony’s”, Cole understands that the small portrait of her dead brother has more emotional resonance to her than a grandmother she never knew. Cole becomes a medium for characters’ emotions, helping them through their difficulties.
But while he understands other peoples’ struggles, he has trouble finding and articulating his own. His personal quest comes down to a decision to determine his future as a spirit and a human; Cole confronts the man who murdered him (it’s complicated), and can either understand, forgive, and forget the hurt that caused him, or accept his own emotions. In other words, he can return to being a spirit, shedding his attachments, memories, and pain and living as Compassion, or he can choose to become more human by accepting his own emotions.
It’s a pivotal moment, not just to Cole’s storyline, but to understanding how struggle and pain make us real. While he lives for others, Cole’s compassion does not have to come at the expense of his own emotional wellbeing. He can continue being a reflection of others’ feelings, or learn how to grow himself. It’s through this choice that we can see how a part of our humanity is a vulnerability to emotional and physical pain, and how asking for help is just as important as giving it freely.
As with all Dragon Age companions, Cole exists as an entry point for the us to understand some critical aspect of the world of Thedas. While the Fade, spirits, and demons are explored in the series, Cole is the first spirit we can befriend. His manner might bewilder those around him—us included—but his story arc sheds light on both the Fade’s inner workings as well as the ways we, as humans, process our emotions. But ultimately, he makes us rethink things that are taken for granted. Speech, memory and compassion, even making someone else happy—Cole approaches each with a level of clarity that we might find confusing, at first. But as with any companion in Dragon Age, we’re richer for learning from his differences.