Backlog: Inquisitive Minds edition
On this week's Backlog: just two guys, talking about dragons and ages and stuff. You know how it is. Or maybe you don't. That's why you should read our impressions of BioWare's sprawling (like, seriously, it's sprawled out all over the dang old place) role-playing game!
Yo. It’s time for some real talk: Dragon Age: Inquisition is, eight hours in, working hard to be the game that improves its predecessor’s mistakes.
Whereas in Dragon Age 2 you were constrained, its follow-up gives you a believable fantasy sandbox that conveys earnest emotions and reactions. Thedas can finally be seen, heard, touched, smelled and tasted in its entirety. No more baffling reference to the (oddly) French-styled land of Orlais to the west. You want to split-open some bandit skulls in Dragon Age’s equivalent of Paris? No problem.
BioWare hasn’t created a world this texturized, this granular, since Baldur’s Gate was on store shelves.
Here’s a nugget of truth about me: I beat Mass Effect eight times. I finished the sequel five times. The third, twice. I’ve basically played every BioWare game in the past decade and change (minus that horrid Sonic RPG experiment), so when I write that Inquisition is loaded (but not intimidatingly so) with purely gratifying BioWare-esque stuff, I feel qualified in my assessment.
Here are some numbers: In nearly nine hours with the game I’ve finished 29 quests, 20 of which are only from the first, post-introduction area called The Hinterlands. And, dear reader, I still have 10 quests left before I take the detour to the main city of Redcliffe Keep -- which, I presume, will have another log’s full of journal entries to quest upon.
I haven’t seen so much content stuffed in a single zone (and there are seven MORE to explore) since Kindgoms of Amalur: Reckoning. But where 38 Studios leaned far too hard on minutiae -- one fetch quest begets more fetch quests until you’re essentially fetching stuff just to finish the first fetch quest -- BioWare made each quest, side or main, have context and meaning. Not all are “epic,” but they are definitely memorable.
Take my Dalish archer Torvan’s run-in with what I believe is the game’s first self-identifying, secondary gay character.
By the time I found the missing Inquisition scout, I’d come to expect she died at the hands of the numerous crazed Templars roaming The Hinterlands in search of mage sympathizers. Many already had.
Her scout partner had asked us to help, and Torvan, being the public relations face of the Inquisition and an all-around chill bro, was happy to help. What a surprise it was to find the scout deep in enemy territory, pacing aimlessly on a small hill next to a dead body. She said the dead woman was a mage, and had been killed by Templars without pause. The scout awkwardly dodged some details during this questioning, so when I pressed her for an explanation she admitted that her and the mage had been spending some “quality time” together. Her mage lover even died on their picnic blanket, with wine and food laid out and a beautiful vista surrounding them.
At that point the game’s branching dialogue kicked-in and I could report the scout, make a joke at her expense or, basically, accept her and think nothing of the tryst. Naturally I gave her the ol’ thumbs up and the wink-wink, nudge-nudge and, through my dwarf rogue Varrick, told her it’s not a problem to love whomever she chooses while engulfed by war. The Inquisition is supposed to be making peace between the Templars and rebel mages anyway, and be it far from my duty to give a shit about my soldiers’ lifestyle choices.
But that moment, you can probably gather, made an impact on me. It made me think of who exactly I was roleplaying and if this religious organization I was championing even cares itself. Should I condemn the gay lifestyle if it was a tenant of the Inquisition’s belief system in pursuit of roleplay? Does that make me, in real life, a worse person? Either way, BioWare hasn’t (so far) made me tow any imagined religious lines. As far as I can gather, the Inquisition is only comparable to the real world in that it shares a name with a really stupid period in human history.
When demons are falling from misty green portals in the atmosphere, people, at least in Thedas, seem to stop caring about who sleeps with who.
If only our real world could learn from a game about magic and dragons.
Last week I was all aflutter over the recently updated The Binding of Isaac. And I still am: it’s a wonderful game. This week I’ve also got just one game to talk about, and it’s Dragon Age: Inquisition.
I really liked Dragon Age Origins back when it first arrived in late 2009. As recently as this year, whenever anyone asked me what my favorite modern RPG was (which, honestly, doesn’t happen as often as I’d like to pretend) I’d sing the praises of this game, a deep experience with richly realized characters and a complex world with a heavy emphasis on social structure and discrimination. It was a game I could truly get lost in – so I did.
I sank 85 hours into Origins. That’s a long time, by my standards. And I thought that was a sign that really loved the game and the world it brought to life.
Unfortunately, its expansion and sequel just didn’t hook me in the same way. I finally dove into each earlier this year—nearly five years after completing my hero’s story in Origins—but just couldn’t squeeze much enjoyment out of either. The expansion felt unnecessary after the gravity of the story in Origins, and a combination of rough art direction and an uninspired plot left Dragon Age II feeling like an afterthought. As far as I was concerned, the series’ last chance at a future rested on the third entry: Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Now that I’ve played it? Honestly, I don’t know if this series can be saved. I don’t know if it needs to be saved, either. It hits all the checkboxes of an epic, $60 RPG: massive areas to explore, an embarrassment of side quests to comb through, potions to craft, items to upgrade, people to talk to, monsters to fight, levels to gain…the list goes on. And fortunately, the writing and characterization feel a lot more on-point than in the previous game.
So why can’t I get into it?
At this point, I’m starting to realize that Dragon Age never was this beacon of RPG greatness. I played it at a point in my life where I had too much free time and not enough ways to escape the existential terror of not knowing what to do with myself. Whether intentional or not, Dragon Age became my escape hatch to another world full of witty dialogue and heavy, satisfying choices to make.
If that’s the kind of game you’re looking for, Inquisition will probably make you happy for a very long time. It sticks to the roots of what made the original so great while intelligently growing with modern design conventions. I just wasn’t expecting to realize how much I’d changed, too.