It’s important to celebrate milestones. In life, in your career, in gaming, it’s worth pausing for a moment to reflect on your achievements – to note that you’re actually making progress.
Anyone that follows us on Twitch will know that I’ve been putting a lot of time into Dragon Age: Inquisition the last couple of weeks (and those that don’t follow us can start to by subscribing to GamerFeedRadio on twitch.tv). I set aside a staycation specifically so that I could devote some time to this intimidatingly large game that’s been sitting on my to-do list since it launched in November. Now that I’m a good portion of the way in, I’m finally beginning to feel like I’m accomplishing something.
First of all, I hit 50 hours on my playclock this week. For a game that’s touted to have over 100 hours of content for completionists like myself to revel in, its good to feel like I’m roughly halfway through. Not that I’m eager to finish the game. I’m loving my time in Thedas. There have been several games I’ve played lately that, while I’ve enjoyed them, at some point I would start to become restless. Late game side questing would become a slog once my brain decided that I’d put enough time into the game and it was time to move on to something else. That’s not been the case here.
Whenever I play my first game in a franchise, there’s this feeling of awkwardness while I’m learning how to play it. I kind of love that feeling. As nice as it is to pick up a new Mario game and jump right in knowing exactly what I’m doing, I also enjoy fumbling around cluelessly every once in a while. My first, say, 10 hours of Dragon Age: Inquisition, I had no idea what was going on. Not a clue. Just basic combat was kicking my ass in The Hinterlands. Eventually I started working things out: combat, tactical view, questing, inventory management, crafting, modding, it all started making sense.
Once I started figuring things out, the hours just melted away and I became lost in this enormous world. Soon after I hit 40 hours I unlocked four new zones. I looked at the time on my save file and naively thought I could finish them all by the time I hit 50 hours. That was upwards of 15 hours ago and I’ve still only completed one of those four areas (and an additional one unlocked in the meantime.) So much content opened up during that time that I just kept getting sidetracked. Companion quests, specialization choices, equipment crafting, romance. There’s just so much going on and I distract easily.
One of the many things to crop up recently in my game was the suggestion that I choose a class specialization. Specs are old hat to me, since I’ve been playing rpgs for most of my life, but I can’t recall ever choosing one this far into a game. It would be like playing the first 40-50 levels of WoW as generic dps, only then deciding to make it a fury warrior. I guess the intent is to give you plenty of time to determine your play-style and experiment with the ability trees before making you commit to anything. So, now I’m forced to make a decision and commit to the type of warrior I want to be: Do I choose my spec based on how I’ve learned to fight?(Reaver) Do I pick based on what makes sense for my character’s story?(Templar) Do I select a spec that will help me keep my party alive longer, (Champion) since that seems to be a problem for me from time to time? I’m still mulling it over for now (and have been for about 10 game hours) but I’m leaning toward Reaver, since it fits my combat style.
Speaking of combat, I also downed my first dragon this week. It was rough. These massive world bosses are not to be challenged lightly. I’d already come across three of them in the wild and had adopted a policy of giving them a very wide berth. The other day, I was wandering around the Hinterlands trying to find the final landmark when I wandered into the Ferelden Frostback’s area. So far, I’d assumed that there would be an introductory quest of some sort – some way of the game telling me that I was now sufficiently leveled to take a crack at dragon slaying. But… I was here. So was it. This was the lowest level dragon. I figured, what the hell? My first attempt, unsurprisingly, didn’t go so well. I got roasted, stomped, stunned, you name it. But, I got it’s health bar down farther than I’d expected to. So, I tried again. And again. By the third time, I’d switched out party members to bring some ice magic to bear on the bastard and started using armor and offensive potions for the first time in the game. I’d learned the encounter: stay moving when it’s airborne, free hits for the ranged dps when it lands on the cliffs, melee hangs out underneath to avoid fireballs, kill the adds, etc. Pacing out my potion usage continues to be a struggle for me in this game. You only get eight before you have to restock at a camp and because of that, I tend to wait too long to use one and end up dead and waiting for a rez. Eventually, I killed the bastard and it felt so good. One down. Only nine to go.
I also completed my romance this week. Since it’s a Bioware game, forming a romance with one of your companions (or advisors) is a big through-line in the game’s narrative. I decided to pursue Cassandra’s affections. As my first party member, my journey started with her, with no small amount of friction (and I don’t mean the giggity kind), so it felt fitting to end up involved with her. Yeah, she’s a bit prickly to start out. But, as a character she really started to open up after the Guilty Pleasures quest (where it’s revealed that she harbors a secret love for tawdry romance novels written by fellow party member Varric, who got no end of enjoyment out of busting her proverbial balls over it.) In the beginning, we didn’t see eye-to-eye. The words “Cassandra Slightly Disapproves” popped up on my TV so often I started to worry about screen burn-in. Our relationship started to progress only once I realized the need to temper my views and voice opinions she’d find favorable in order to win her approval. Mainly on religion in this case. I was getting no where as a non-believer, but once I became a born-again Andrastian, I was in like Flynn. After consulting a strategy guide, I started approaching the dialog trees differently. I actually found a way to justify this sudden change in my character’s worldview within the story I had constructed for him (my need to build a story is a hold-over from my D&D days.) There’s a moment when I had to address the Templars (whom I picked to ally with over the Mages) where I pulled out the whole “This is the Will of the Maker” line in order to appeal to their belief system and spur them into action (and because I knew Cassie would approve.) And yet… part of me started buying my own sales pitch. Maybe I was spared from that explosion on the start screen for a reason. Maybe I do have some higher purpose. Maybe that higher purpose is to knock boots with my party’s tank. <Insert Tank and Spank joke here>
Relationships as a whole are very well done in Dragon Age: Inquisition and Bioware’s overhauled decision engine is to thank for it. In Mass Effect 3, decision making became formulaic at some point. Playing Paragon? Choose upper right. Renegade? Lower right. While that’s generally true in Dragon Age: Inquisition, there are a lot more grey area choices added in. In the few times I’ve replayed scenes for different results, I’ve noticed some subtle changes to the dialog based on those choices.
All of these choices affect your relationships, your romance, the quests you receive and the alliances you forge. There’s also the approval system at work here too since each of my allies gets to express their opinion on the decisions I make. Because there are so many characters with such diverse personalities, any big decision will likely make half of them happy and piss off the other half. This is especially noticeable when I take the throne and pass judgement on the criminals we’ve collected over the course of our adventures. Some of my companions are willing to accept that a criminal be exiled. Some really want to see a beheading. Some, I swear, are determined to never be happy. Sometimes you just can’t win.
When I played through ME3 I felt like there was almost always a way to have your cake and eat it too. Here the opposite seems true more often than not. Let the Chargers die or lose the alliance with the Qunari? That one tore me up, but ultimately there was only one choice. I couldn’t let Bull’s Chargers die. I’d gone drinking with them. I’d traded war stories with them. I’d inquired about their transvestism. The characters, even secondary ones are so well written and developed that I couldn’t bear to lose them. I don’t even want to contemplate what I’d do if the game sends another Tali/Legion scenario at me, making me choose which main character dies. Hopefully I’ll have earned the “special” response that will make it all work out.
I feel like there’s so much I’ve accomplished in just a week and a half, especially considering I’ve just been sitting in front of the TV the whole time. And yet, there’s still so much more to do. Having played considerably more of it since The Grampie Awards, I believe more than ever that Dragon Age: Inquisition offers the most value in a single $59.99 purchase of any game in 2014. After sinking over 50 hours into it so far, and feeling like I’ve only just scratched the surface, I cant wait to next what’s in store for the next 50.