There is likely no other title that has been more exhausting then Dragon Age: Inquisition to play through. While many games especially those more narrative-inclined can prove difficult to step away from, the latest in Bioware’s dark fantasy series proved impossible to play in short segments. Much of the writing can be criticized for being unimaginative boiling down into simple fetch quests or other typical MMO-fare, however the interaction more central to the main story involving key characters is something that has deservedly received high recognition.
I often found that after playing through an area such as the Hinterlands for several hours doing quests, finding landmarks, and collecting resources I would grow tiresome needing a break. Thus I would end my session by returning to Skyhold (or Haven earlier in the game) to essentially check in with my various advisers and companions before stepping away from my computer. What was somewhat shocking was looking at the time it took to do this otherwise simple task of minimal interaction. Aboard the Normandy in Mass Effect 2 for example, regularly checking in on your various squad mates was something players did after every main mission. It typically took anywhere from a few minutes to a little over an hour. That was already impressive given the variable dialogue and states of these characters dependent on choices made throughout one’s gameplay.
In Dragon Age: Inquisition, it was entirely normal to spend upwards of two to three hours walking around Skyhold and having conversations with all its characters. While I don’t have specific stats, I wouldn’t be surprised to find that I spent as much time exploring and in combat, as I did simply sitting back and listening to people talk with the occasional dialogue wheel choice.
And while this was physically exhausting and I spent way more time in a game then I feel comfortable with (around 70 hours for a single play-through), it was also mentally engaging. Going through all the dialogue choices with these various characters is likely the highlight of the game and is where players truly connect and learn about the complex back stories of these characters, as well as breaking down stereotypes or misconceptions of their respective cultures.
I’ve heard it said that Dragon Age: Origins went to great lengths to lay down an intricately crafted world with deep lore and mythos then in its two follow-ups, did everything in its power to challenge and completely dismantle what many of its inhabitants believed for hundreds of years. In my opinion from a thematic standpoint, this is likely the most defining trait of the series. One that has found a sort of coherence through an allegorical look into how societies at large typically relate and otherwise deal with histories, beliefs, and ethnocentrism, by reframing the past to mask trauma, shame, or insecurities.
And much like its sibling franchise Mass Effect, Dragon Age excels at pitting characters from a wide range of backgrounds together and forces them to either come to terms with their differences, or irreparably separate on bad terms. As the Inquisitor, players are put in a position of either aiding in this process of understanding or instead further increasing hostilities between different characters dependent on misunderstood cultural differences or seemingly unforgivable histories. But this shouldn’t suggest a sort of cultural homogenization, characters won’t so much change their beliefs rather come to an understanding that others simply don’t share their specific worldview. And the player will constantly find themselves gaining approval from some parties, while losing it with others constantly caught in an impossible struggle to be on the best terms with everyone.
Ultimately Dragon Age as a series proves hard to discuss at any considerable length with a great deal of accuracy. Its lore and world is so substantial that it is often difficult to discern the proper contexts since it is nearly impossible to keep track of every little bit of information that has been revealed over the course of three games and other tie-in works such as novels or spin-off titles. And sure enough, it is likely one of those series that had many players regularly checking a wiki or online source constantly to recall a past character or event they had forgotten.
Because of this, instead of writing at length about the supposed merits and mechanical intricacies of the game, I felt it might be more worthwhile to simply highlight what I consider its most memorable aspect, that being the countless moments of depthful character interaction. Many of which can only be experienced with specific choices in mind, were mutually exclusive of one another, or in general could be completely missed by players simply shooting to the finish line.
Romancing the Iron Bull and Dorian
In respect to the various romance narratives in Dragon Age: Inquisition, what stands out most is how incredibly lengthy and divergent they are from one another. It isn’t simply a case of who the Inquisitor romances, rather playing through an exclusive chunk of the game that is as explorative of the characters in question and their respective backgrounds, as it is of the romance itself. As much as I loved Mass Effect, it was fairly explicit where attention was focused. Certain character relationships took obvious precedent over others, and in the series’ final conclusion many of them were essentially scrapped all together leaving players of those specific paths utterly disappointed.
With Dragon Age: Inquisition, each romantic possibility presents a uniquely different experience and narrative that isn’t simply a recycled formula shared between the others. Those that romance Blackwall for example are given a somewhat tragic and chaotic narrative that sees a female Inquisitor falling in love with a supposed heroic Grey Warden only to learn he is a criminal and imposter. Not only will these players have to judge his fate as the Inquisitor, they personally have to come to terms with either forgiving his actions to continue a relationship or end it. There is a rather excellent write-up of this particular romance here with included videos.
However what I found most intriguing about the various romances specifically was the differences between how a male Inquisitor interacts with Iron Bull or Dorian. A video of the Inquisitor with Iron Bull being inadvertently disturbed by his advisers has already made its rounds on the net primarily for its comedic awkwardness. It is definitely a memorable scene on its own, but I find much of its intrigue is in the comedic situation it presents, rather then anything else more substantial.
What is interesting however is the difference in the way Iron Bull’s romance is relatively light hearted compared to that of Dorian. As a character, Dorian presents an intriguing inclusion as both a Tevinter and a mage marking him immediately as someone that most would despise. But more importantly, he is cast as an outsider because he is conversely opposed to many of the beliefs of his home country that many of the other characters’ detest.
The great irony however is that if players actually play-through Dorian’s companion quests, they learn the real reason for his supposed ostracism. Previously thought to be self-imposed and due to his liberal-leaning views, it becomes clear that the reasoning is entirely much more mundane and saddening. His surprise encounter with his father is an incredibly touching moment that sees Dorian go from the previously carefree and charming rogue, to someone capable of depthful emotional introspection.
Through dialogue and the surrounding encounter, players learn of Tevinter’s traditions of selective breeding to create stronger mages. In a strange twist of homophobia, it isn’t so much that the society of Tevinter has backwards conservative beliefs on sexuality, rather its refusal to accept it is based on a practical desire to breed for stronger mages, which ultimately decides who holds power in their society. It is interesting to note that Tevinter is a land ruled by mages in contrast to Fereldan where mages have been heavily stripped of personal freedoms and natural rights, with much of the populace fearful of the power they could wield.
What follows is even more intriguing with Dorian tearfully opening up to the Inquisitor about how his own father was willing to resort to blood magic to “fix” Dorian, both fundamentally changing who he is but also putting him in mortal danger over risking a bit of scandal.
And in a moment that can easily be missed by players who either don’t engage in a romantic relationship with Dorian or do so earlier in the game, Mother Giselle is seen arguing with Dorian over his close connection to the Inquisitor. From a real world perspective, the expectation is somewhat obvious with disapproval being the result of conservative religious beliefs against rumors of some sort of romantic coupling. However when pressed by the player through dialogue choices, the disapproval is nothing of the sort, rather is simply the cultural and political divide of Dorian being from Tevinter.
Whether the expectant misdirects are intentional or not, what I found fascinating about moments like these is how they serve a certain applicability to the ridiculousness of the contemporary world. It seems altogether obvious to examine the world of Dragon Age filled with its own rather ridiculous and polarizing prejudices, but then find that many of the discriminatory mindsets of the real world are simply not even considered.
While Dorian obviously suffers a degree of ostracism for his sexuality, it is never an issue of it being morally or otherwise “wrong.” Rather it stems from a practical although misguided drive to ensure societal power by ensuring the next generation produces stronger mages. By all accounts and from player investigation, it is safe to assume that if Dorian wasn’t such a skilled mage and there was someone else who could serve as the family heir instead, his sexuality would never have become such a point of contention.
Getting to know Krem and the Chargers
In comparison to the climate of Tevinter, the romance with Iron Bull paints a similarly unexpected picture of life under the Qun. With Iron Bull being a Qunari, he grew up in a society that was extremely fascist and totalitarian. The best analogue would be to state that the Qun is essentially communism if actually realized yet taken to a different extreme. Those under the Qun have no personal identity, with their names literally being a number. There is also an absence of family, parents, personal property or marriage with Qunari typically being bred selectively for a specific role. Everything is in service to the state and those under the Qun are seen more as parts of a larger organism, then individual beings themselves.
However the Qun isn’t seen as completely negative and there are traits about their worldview that transcend the more contemporary nations such as Fereldan. Unlike the extremely racist and divisive outlooks of most of the human-centric societies, the Qun is all encompassing accepting of any species willing to conform to their political systems.
When getting to know Iron Bull, players can spend time drinking with his company the Chargers. What is interesting about the Chargers specifically, is how they relate to Iron Bull and specifically what he has already told the player of his own life under the Qun. By all accounts, it seems like the Chargers is his way of creating a family or home that he simply couldn’t find as a Qunari where such bonds might have been difficult to form. And subsequently in my own play-through, Iron Bull ultimately chooses the Chargers over the Qun when they are all attacked at the Storm Coast.
But despite his possible division from the Qun, what is ultimately intriguing about the formation of the Chargers is how much their very existence might be dependent on the accepting nature of the Qun itself. Being relatively open to anyone as long as they adhere to the same code, they are fundamentally different from much of the world of Dragon Age which is often characterized by sentiments of ethnocentrism or prejudice. And the Chargers do present a picture not often seen elsewhere being a collective of dwarfs, elves, and other social outcasts that have found a home under Iron Bull’s leadership. Ultimately it provides for an interesting comparison especially in light of how closed the supposed more advanced societies of Fereldan and Tevinter match up to the Qun, which is often depicted as somewhat savage by others.
Out of all the Chargers, Krem stands out not simply because she is a woman passing as a man but because of how Iron Bull ultimately treats him. Both in the Qun and under Iron Bull, Krem if he so chooses to live as a man, is simply accepted and treated accordingly. And through the extensive interaction that can be experienced between the two, Iron Bull never treats Krem simply as a woman in man’s clothing, rather in his own words, “comes down as hard on him as anyone else.” But ultimately like the rest of the Chargers, Krem is simply Krem not solely defined by merely his gender or its supposed ambiguity.
And even when players question Iron Bull on Krem being a Vint (of Tevinter) who Qunari have great hostility for, he replies “I can get worked up about a group or nation just fine, but people… It’s too much work to hate them one by one.” Which goes a step further in displaying the Qun past its holistic animosities to other groups, the tendency to still judge people on a more personal level instead of relying on narrow-minded preconceived notions.
Fangirling over “Swords and Shields”
Interrupting Cassandra reading Varric’s serial is likely a favorite moment for many, and for good reason. While the simple comedic value of Cassandra uncharacteristically fangirling over Varric’s cheesy romantic novel is immediately obvious, the context behind it makes the exchange truly worthwhile.
Given that Cassandra essentially kidnapped and forcefully interrogated Varric in the events of Dragon Age 2, the two characters are obviously at odds. But even disregarding their troubled history, they clash because of their diametrically opposed world views and personality types. Varric represents the classic rogue or bard, being relatively free of any higher calling constantly looking for the next thrill. Cassandra on the other hand presents someone who is absolutely dedicated to her cause and leaves little room for ever displaying emotions or personal feelings. Her stoicism and absolute discipline makes her interest in Varric’s serial all that more ridiculous, and her inability to keep her composure when he teases the next chapter in front of her is understandably amusing.
However from a larger narrative perspective, the idea that Cassandra actually likes Varric’s storytelling has more relevance past simply tying into a singular comedic moment. Her failed attempts to locate Hawke by interrogating Varric in the previous game can even be seen in a different light.
One where the fantastical and possibly glorified retellings of his time with Hawke could have easily led Cassandra astray. Leliana later admits in a separate dialogue exchange that Cassandra might not have been the most suited to interrogate him in retrospect.
Morrigan and her son
Back when I first played through Dragon Age: Origins, the one question on my mind was whether or not the Dark Ritual and/or romancing Morrigan would have any sort of considerable effect later. This didn’t actually factor into my own play-through since I didn’t romance her, nor showed any interest in the ritual, and ultimately ended up dying myself instead of Alistair to defeat the archdemon. But the potential ramifications of this choice was likely the single thing most debated within the series up until Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Because of this, it was definitely interesting to see Morrigan make a return in the latest installment and accompanied by a son, assuming players either performed the Dark Ritual, romanced her, or did both. While it likely created more questions then it resolved, it did however reveal a degree of Morrigan’s nature which was previously undecipherable.
She was arguably the one playable character from the first game that was deeply shrouded in mystery with unclear intentions. Everything from the player’s first encounter with Morrigan to her final departure was seemingly characterized with sinister intentions. When she approaches the player with the proposal of the Dark Ritual, it is immediately questionable and suspect. Not only in regards to whether Morrigan is actually telling the truth, but rather what her own goals actually are.
And because of this it was somewhat strange to see that the outcome of the supposed ritual was present as her own son, of whom was seemingly well cared for and loved. And sure enough when questioned about it, it becomes difficult to simply see Morrigan as a mysterious antagonist despite still very obviously pursuing after her own ends. It was also somewhat surprising to hear how she talked about and described the “Hero of Fereldan” in her own words.
But the importance of this inclusion doesn’t really start to contextualize until Morrigan encounters her own mother Flemeth closer to the end of the game and the Dark Ritual comes back into play. Fearing for her son’s life, Morrigan without hesitation shows a willingness to sacrifice herself in place of her son, something that even Flemeth displays surprise at.
When Flemeth asks Morrigan about her own selfish use of her own son as a tool in the Dark Ritual in Dragon Age: Origins, Morrigan displays a certain degree of growth stating that things had changed from her original intentions.
It’s all the more interesting that this particular exchange didn’t occur in my own play-through and I’m guessing for most others who didn’t pursue the ritual or Morrigan in the first game. Yet this single exchange between Morrigan and her mother likely revealed more about her character and intentions, then actually having her in your party over the course of the 40 hour long narrative in the first game. For once as players we actually see Morrigan in a state of vulnerability where she displays a great deal of empathy and selflessness, but also that she has likely never been in as much control as she would have liked others to believe.
Her ignorance of the Well of Sorrows and her misguided desire to drink from it despite the consequences is characteristic of this. But also it seems that Morrigan herself has also misjudged her own mother Flemeth on several accounts. The revelation that Flemeth is actually the Elven god Mythal is likely less of a bombshell then the possibility that she isn’t as sinister as the series and Morrigan herself has made her out to be. In her own way, she displays a certain care for Morrigan and her grandson despite appearing to have used both as disposable tools to her own machinations.
It has to be said that Dragon Age: Inquisition is far from a perfect game. While I was thoroughly blown away and it exceeded my expectations, it would be dishonest to say that it was completely bereft of issues. Namely the game had a problem with its content outside the scope of its main narratives with the MMO-like nature of much of the side quests that proved to be an absolute chore to get through. However where Dragon Age: Inquisition excelled at was in the careful writing of the various character interactions and relationships. But furthermore and especially in light of the self-contradictory and lore-breaking conclusion of Mass Effect 3, Dragon Age: Inquisition took considerable efforts to craft a complex world that was coherent to itself. None of the many revelations or reveals felt hollow or inconsistent.
And likely the greatest testament to this is how fans have reacted after its release. With Mass Effect 3, player discourse was unsurprisingly lively but much of this was in attempts to make sense of a nonsensical conclusion that was altogether hard to digest because of its lack of narrative coherence. With Dragon Age: Inquisition, a similar level of discourse has resulted but instead players have been delving back into the various past titles to extract bits of information that could shine light on these new revelations. And if anything, players are finding a great degree of foreshadowing and planning that goes beyond what one would normally expect from a video game franchise. The level of speculation and fan-theorizing is getting up there with the likes of A Song of Fire and Ice and its own popular theories like R+L=J.
But this shouldn’t suggest that Dragon Age: Inquisition requires a heavy understanding and familiarity with its lore. The best moments are likely those outside the scope of any overarching or revelatory concerns. And there are plenty of other scenes not mentioned here like Cullen losing his clothes in a game of Wicked Grace or Sera opening up in her own way about her past while eating cookies on a rooftop that are less about revealing new information, as they are about pacing out the rather formidable and terrifying threat the characters face. In a way, its a means for the characters and likely the players themselves to let out a momentary burst of cathartic relief from the exhaustion of dealing with all the cataclysmic happenings around them and other related trauma.
And it might also be interesting to note that the relatively successful launch of Dragon Age: Inquisition on all fronts nicely coincides with gamers redirecting their hate towards Ubisoft and seemingly forgetting about the once big bad EA. In direct contrast to the review embargo practices of Ubisoft, EA conversely was confident enough in their product that reviews started pouring in weeks before the game actually released. And sure enough, the game was met with near universal critical acclaim.
Taking things a step further through the once heavily criticized Origin, Dragon Age: Inquisition was offered through the Great Game Guarantee which allows players to return a game if they find they aren’t satisfied with it after having tried it out. There are certain stipulations for this such as being within 24 hours of first launch or seven days from purchase date, however the idea of such a guarantee is definitely worth considerable credit, especially given Steam doesn’t offer a similar return policy.
In either case if not simply for the depthful writing, Dragon Age: Inquisition is a title worth checking out. I would however suggest for players with less patience or free time to play on an easier difficulty and simply skip over all the secondary content. However it needs to be said that Dragon Age: Inquisition is only worthwhile if players actually take the time to talk to all its characters on a regular basis. It won’t hold your hand and tell you when new quests might become available, players must go out of there way to actually initiate conversation with people in order to get the ball rolling.