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The Dragon Age Diaries #3: What Do You Mean It’s Over?

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Isn’t it nice to have a homey stronghold to call your own? (Image: BioWare)

Becoming immersed in a really good game is similar to becoming immersed in a good book or a good movie, but the major difference is that a really good game can and usually does demand a lot more of your time. Dragon Age Inquisition has been ruling my time pretty much since it came out, and at this point I’ve put in more than a hundred hours in the game. Needless to say, all of my free time has been poured into the game, to the detriment of things like keeping up with the shows I enjoy watching and putting a dent in the daunting stack of books waiting to be read. Even so, I’ve loved every minute of it.

With my first character I cut a few corners because I felt like her story arc was drawing to a close, but I hadn’t come close to seeing and doing everything the game has to offer, so I immediately started a new character and began playing her. That’s how engrossed I was in the story, and how eager I was to explore areas I hadn’t visited with my first character.

My first character was a Dalish elf rogue, and that influenced how other characters saw her. Anyone who’s played a Dragon Age game is familiar with the racist attitude most characters have toward elves, and Dalish elves in particular. Dalish elves are reclusive and trying their hardest to cling to a culture that has all but disappeared. Their main objective seems to be preserving their culture at the cost of all else, including their relations with the other inhabitants of Thedas. As a result, it wasn’t uncommon for my character to be mistaken for a servant, nor was I surprised when she went to court in Orlais and her base score was lower because she was an elf, much to the disgust of many Orlesian nobles. I thought playing as a Dalish elf was extra interesting since everyone thinks that the PC in Inquisition is the Herald of Andraste, someone who was saved by the grace of divine intervention and is, therefore, regarded as something of a prophet. The Thedosians weren’t exactly thrilled to think that exalted position might be occupied by a Dalish elf.

This time I’m playing as a mage, because I wanted to try a new character type, and because I wanted to see how the game would change based on the new character having a different background. Other characters would have less of a problem with her being the Herald because she’s human, if not for the fact that she’s also a mage. Mages are considered dangerous by default and eyed with a great deal of suspicion by many Thedosians (including the Dalish, who will only allow so many mages in their clan before they send them packing–even if said extra mages are children), who suspect they might become possessed by a demon and go on a murderous rampage at any moment. Adding further dimension to this is the game’s setting, in which mages are rebelling against the templars that were once charged with keeping them in check.

My human mage character offers choices based on two factors: the fact that she’s a mage and has magical knowledge, and the fact that she comes from a noble family and so has an insider’s understanding of issues of noble protocol. This means I’ve had some extra options with companions like Solas, with whom my character can converse more deeply about the Fade. It’s also opened operations on the war table that I didn’t see when I played a Dalish elf. My character’s being noble is of particular interest to me because it reinforces her outsider position. Her family has wealth, privilege, and status, but she herself doesn’t, because she grew up in the Circle and was treated with suspicion, if not outright hostility.

These subtle touches don’t seem to have a great deal of impact on the game, but they’re fine details that make my character feel a part of the world she’s inhabiting, and I like that. Companions react a little differently to my mage than they did my Dalish elf, because they have different preconceived notions of each of those characters. Yes, the companions’ story lines still play out the same way regardless of which character I’m playing. I get the same companion quests and have some of the same options for resolving them, but I’ve also been able to receive different outcomes based on the different characters. Naturally, this also adds a lot of replay value to the game, and I do like replaying games I enjoy.

What I really enjoy about Inquisition is the thing I enjoyed about the Mass Effect games: that they make me think. Both ME and DA have very gray universes, which is to their credit. I don’t mind so much playing the shining hero of goodness, but it definitely gives me pause to play games where I’m not really sure which is the best choice. Inquisition forces the PC to make some very complicated decisions; decisions that do impact what happens in the game, and decisions with which the player may have to grapple. I’m doing several things differently with my mage than I did with my elf, and it’s been surprising to see what effect it has on my companions. Again, it doesn’t change the game’s main plot thrust, but it still feels very different to me because I am so invested in the characters. This is the true strength of any BioWare game, and it’s what keeps me coming back to their games. Sure, I like mindless entertainment too, but BioWare games tend to be deep, and make me think about real world issues. Like any really good work of fiction, BioWare’s universes provide an avenue for thinking about and exploring real world problems: racism, poverty, inequality, etc. And like the real world, your PC can make a choice with the best of intentions, only to have it blow up in his/her face in the end.

Though this is a complete game and the major plot lines are tied up in the end, there is a lot of room for expansion, and I have a strong suspicion that there will be a follow-up to Inquisition in which you can continue on with your character, much like Mass Effect allowed players to develop their Commander Shepard over the course of three separate games. Some very big questions are left open, and BioWare has shaken the foundations of the Dragon Age universe, bringing into question some supposed truths: what the ancient Dalish were really like, what actually happened to the Dalish gods, the real nature of spirits of the Fade, the motivations driving the Seekers and the templars, and the machinations of the Chantry elite, amongst other issues. I really admire this game because it’s as if BioWare picked up the snow globe containing the DA universe, gave it a good shake, and then set it down again. Where the pieces will settle, only time will tell. I, for one, can’t wait to find out. In my opinion, this is the best Dragon Age game yet, and one of BioWare’s best games.

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