It feels like deception is the name of the game anymore in my game of Dragon Age: Inquisition. I try to keep things fairly above board in my dealings, but when you’re single-handedly controlling the politics of an entire continent, after a while the lines between right and wrong; between truth and lies start to blur a bit. And I’m sure that’s exactly what Bioware intended.
When I last checked in, I closed by saying how much I was looking forward to my next 50 hours. Well, with my gameclock sitting around 110 hours, that 50-hour chunk I presumed would be the rest of the game is now behind me with no obvious end in sight. I just had a big cutscene as my forces moved into the Arbor Wilds for the first time, but I sense this is more of a mid-game conclusion than an endgame one. I still have no idea how far through the game I am and I refuse to look it up. I just want to focus on enjoying the moment without worrying too much about how many moments are left.
Life is good in Thedas. I’ve been busy. I’ve finished virtually every quest in the 10 main zones. The only exceptions are several bugged requisition quests which I can’t complete because I’ve killed all of the mobs that drop items necessary for the turn-in. I’ve killed all ten of the ten high dragons. It’s a testament to how well-tuned these encounters are that, despite their level, each one has posed some challenge due to their elemental alignment or attack pattern. I had an easier time facing a level 23 dragon at the same level than I did fighting a level 15 in knee-deep water that the bastard kept electrifying. I still think my first fight was the hardest, probably because it was the most dynamic. It also didn’t hurt that I was a wee level 12 at the time.
I’ve noticed online that others have been beating the game around level 20 or 21. I’m level 24. For someone that started the game doing one quest at a time between returns to camp to restock on potions, it feels good to dominate most combat situations nowadays. There’s a true sense of progression as you advance through the game. You start crafting better armor components, slotting better runes and upgrading potions and you feel your battles getting easier as a result. Looking back and seeing how far I’ve come gives me one of the warmest feelings of accomplishment I can recall experiencing in a video game.
About 20-30 hours ago I was starting to feel some fatigue set in as I was finishing up the collecting/questing in the Western Approach, the tenth massive zone I’ve explored. I was contemplating taking a break for a few days, maybe play something else or catch up on watching things on my DVR. But first I wanted to clear out some companion and story quests that had been on my log for a while. And suddenly the game changed.
Now, instead of filling in maps and gathering various collectibles, I felt like I was doing something real. Granted, some of these quests were things I should have dealt with long ago. When I’m over-leveled by eight or ten levels, it’s fairly clear I’ve let myself get a little too distracted by the copious amounts of side quests I’ve been tending to.
First of all, the story was suddenly moving along at a furious pace. Big things are happening in the world and because of the power and influence I’ve built, my people are at the center of it all. I fought through the epic siege of Adamant fortress, all the while directing forces, protecting my soldiers and offering amnesty to the opposing army if they laid down their arms. I confronted their corrupt leadership, often making my own judgements on who was an unwitting puppet and who deserved to die by my sword before the game ever presented me with decision trees to that effect. I finally found out the truth about what happened to my character at the disastrous Conclave that set the events of the game into motion. Moreover, through the dialog options I had to square this potentially faith-shattering new information with my character’s born-again religious views in order to come out as a pious pragmatist on the other side (again, this was more for my own benefit than because the game asked me to.)
Then, most recently, I’ve had one of the most enjoyable and unconventional rpg scenes I can recall playing since the famed opera scene from Final Fantasy VI. In an extended mission lasting somewhere around 3-4 hours, my companions and I attended an imperial ball where I was tasked with preventing an assassination and uncovering which of the powers at play was responsible. Through it all I needed to play nice with the nobles to curry favor via a court approval meter. In a brilliant twist, my investigations often led me into off-limits areas of the palace where my meter would drop (as my absence was noted by the court) until I returned to the party. I could also eavesdrop on conversations to advance my investigation and ultimately cement an alliance that would both benefit my Inquisition’s ends and prevent the continent from falling into political instability.
Of course, these weighty decisions never end neatly for all concerned. Typically, each of these story missions would result in my keep’s jail gaining a new resident, which brings me to one of my favorite aspects of Dragon Age: Inquisition. I love sitting in judgment and dispensing justice to my captives.
As I mentioned, I try to stay on the up and up. Some people enjoy playing an evil character in games such as this (or if evil isn’t on the table, they’ll at least play as an asshole.) I don’t get that. As much as possible, I try to play as a paragon. Somewhere between lawful good and chaotic good. For one thing, it suits the story. I’m trying to save the world here and I’m playing a role in order to do it. My character is supposed to be an inspirational figure. If I help people out, give everyone second chances and try to forge every alliance, I stand the best chance of pulling Thedas back from the brink. We all need to get over our petty bullshit and band together to save the world. There’s also the practical aspect to consider, as well. Typically, taking all the ‘good’ options opens up most, if not all, all of the optional quests. No npc ever goes, “Hey, I saw you kick that puppy. How’s about you go over there and punch that old lady in the face and I’ll give you 30g for your trouble?” But, I digress.
Trying to dispense even-handed justice is one of the more enjoyable things I’ve done in a game lately. In addition to my own views on right and wrong, I’m also taking the views of my companions into account (lest they “Disapprove” of my judgement) as well as trying to find a fitting punishment that won’t come back to bite me. Some of my favorite so far: the deluded prick that corrupted the Grey Wardens into summoning demons which necessitated that siege I mentioned earlier earned himself an uncontested beheading. Not gonna lie, that was satisfying. Also, when I sentenced the scheming noblewoman behind the assassination attempt to slop livestock alongside the commoners it felt oh so right. It’s not all fun and games, though. Most recently, I had to sit in judgement on one of my own party members. It turns out one of my companions confessed to murder and what amounts to identity theft. First I had to find a way to secure his release into my custody that wouldn’t upset too many allies. Once that was done, I had to find a punishment that would allow him to remain with me, yet let him feel as though he was paying for his crimes to assuage his own conscience. Before all of this drama cropped up, I was ready to promote him as soon as the game presented me with the option to. Now my plans for him have hit this snag.
Throughout all of this I’ve also been working on keeping my companions happy. Not just to maintain their hidden approval rating, but because I like them and want to help them out (although I’ve given up on trying to keep Solas happy.) When I go talk to Cullen, I genuinely want to hear how he is managing his lyrium withdrawal (think quitting heroin cold turkey.) He has decided that he doesn’t need it and I want to do what I can to help him through it. I want to ask Josephine’s sister about their childhood, since it’s fun to watch the usually buttoned-up Josie squirm as a result. I want to support Dorian when he tells off his father for disowning him due to his sexual preferences. I want to know more about what’s going on between Varric and Bianca and whether her husband should feel threatened by it or if they’re really “just friends.” There’s so much depth to these characters and I’m enjoying watching their journey progress along with my own. That growth is remarkable to me when I consider that some of these characters I downright disliked at the beginning of the game. As things progressed and they opened up, I learned more about them and now I’m fond of them all. Even the contrarian ones like Solas, who hates forgiveness, and Sera, who’s just plain weird.
After putting in all this time doing companion quests and currying their favor through careful dialog choices, the game saw fit to reward me. After reaching some unspoken benchmark of achieving “friend” status with a certain number of companions (I got a trophy for getting three, but the game gives no further notifications after that), I unlocked an extended cutscene where my Inquisitor joined his friends for a card game. It was a wonderful moment of levity between chaotic battles with demons and political machinations where my character just got to enjoy an evening drinking and playing cards with his closest comrades. For me, I got to see a lot of excellent character work reminding me why I’ve come to like all of these people. Cassandra naively telling everyone what cards she’s holding; Dorian trying to check out Cullen’s junk after a round of strip cards; Sera drunk under the table. I got a really good laugh at the uptight commander of my army having to sneak out of the tavern at the end of the night bare-ass naked.
Not all of this character development is bringing about positive change, though. I’m in the early stages of a storyline that will likely end up with one of my companions, either Cassandra or Leliana, being selected to lead the Chantry as the next Divine (think Pope.) Right now everyone’s just talking in “what ifs” but I know I’m going have to choose and potentially lose one of them before too much longer. I’ll need to weigh what’s best for each of them, for the Chantry and for the Inquisition and make the best choice for all concerned. All of these heavy decisions and no-win scenarios are driving me crazy, but in the best way possible. I wish more games explored choice and consequence as thoroughly.
Take the war table, for instance. Missions become available throughout the game as various criteria are met. You can then choice to address each mission with either diplomacy, secrecy or a show of force. All of this seemed fairly cut and dry until recently. Now my past decisions are coming back to haunt me in the description text for new missions. My early strategy of invoking treaties to conscript the forces that became the basis for my army is now being called into question by our allies. The reasoning was always shaky since the nature of what constitutes an emergency was always debatable. But now, the organization whose name I used to invoke those treaties has suffered setback after setback (partly my fault) and no longer carries the weight it once did. Now I’m sifting through the mess I’ve made from some of my shadier dealings and trying to figure out the best way forward. As a result, I’ve noticed a change in my recent policy making. I almost never choose “Force” as a way to solve my problems, leaving my army mostly sitting at home, barring the occasional relief effort. More and more, I’m also starting to shy away from the “Secrecy” options as well, preferring to operate completely above board by going the “Diplomacy” route.
Because it is a tangled web we weave. If my character is going to be the inspirational figure Thedas needs to get it through this pending demon-soaked apocalypse, I need to make sure I’m making well-considered decisions that will preferably be free of complications down the road. The chickens are coming home to roost. Come to think of it, there are no chickens in this game. Let’s say, “The druffalo are coming home to pasture.”