I need to begin this series by explaining that I am a rabid BioWare fangirl. I love the Mass Effect series at perhaps an unhealthy level, and am fond of the Dragon Age series only slightly less. I have played Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age: Awakening, Dragon Age II, and a whole variety of DLC. I generally draw the line at purchasing custom armor just for the sake of having it, but I am not above buying “limited” or “ultimate” editions, even though I know that’s more or less the same thing.
I love BioWare games so much that I have a published article and book chapter on Dragon Age II.
I’m playing DAI on Xbox 360, mostly because I played the other games on 360 and my OCD tendencies tell me that I need to play them all on the same platform. Also, I’m a console convert – I used to be a die-hard PC player, but I’ve fallen in love with the Xbox control scheme, so… I’m therefore playing on 360 even though the graphics are slightly less awesome than they would be on PC.
I have been so excited about this game leading up to release that I’m a little hesitant – worried that DAI won’t live up to my expectations. I felt the same way about Mass Effect 3, which was absolutely fantastic right up to the ending… but I’m trying not to think about that right now.
At any rate, one’s DAI experience actually begins prior to the game itself, with a visit to the Dragon Age Keep (online), where one inputs their customized world-state for Thedas. I’m not a fan of the site itself, which is fiddly and time-consuming. At one point, BioWare released a DLC for Mass Effect that allowed players to make the major choices for Mass Effect (the first one) during a graphic-novel-style narrative. I was hoping for something like that, although I’m aware that there are a LOT more choices in the DA series than in the first Mass Effect. Instead, it’s this complicated “Tapestry” of events that is difficult to parse and cludgy to operate. But it did allow me to sift through the choices and make my world customized, although I would have preferred the game to sync to my previous playthroughs automatically – with the option to use the Keep to make different choices. (I was also a little sad that while it found my Hawke playthroughs from DA2, it couldn’t find my Warden from DAO/A.)
With my world state created, I embarked upon my Inquisition journey. And then did chores, checked my email, helped my husband change some lightbulbs, and petted the cat while it installed. This game is HUGE. The levels are HUGE. Loading times are fairly high, but that’s because there is just so much world in each of them (at least so far). I can live with that.
First things first. Pick a race, a gender, a class. My options are human, elf, dwarf, Qunari. This is me. I will never play as human unless forced (which I was in DA2). I played as an elf in DAO/A, and I love the Qunari, so… Qunari it is. I also rarely play as female, so I am a giant Qunari male rogue (not a fan of warrior classes, and I did agonize over rogue vs. mage, but my Hawke was a mage, so I figured I’d swap back). I named him Khaaras (I like to throw Hs into the default names – this one was Kaaras).
(Random side note: I’m pretty sure BioWare developers are fans of old school Thief and Thief II. I say this because Hawke’s default name is Garret, the protagonist of Thief, and Karras is the antagonist from Thief II. It’s also really really obvious from the gameplay that they’re also fans of Skyrim. Seriously, there were moments when I almost forgot that I was playing DAI and thought I was back in Skyrim. Snowy mountains, gentle music, and lots of gathering of iron and plants.)
I’m going to try to avoid making these posts rehashes of plots – this isn’t a walkthrough, it’s a collection of my thoughts while I play, so I’m going to skip over a lot of the events that I don’t find particularly worth commenting on, or which don’t involve choices. I’m also going to assume that you, my readers, don’t care about spoilers either because you aren’t going to play, you’ve already played, or you just don’t care about spoilers. So fair warning, I’m going to spoil things.
So I finally start playing, and poor Khaaras has to go through some rather confusing trauma and wakes up with a bunch of people yelling at him and a glowing green thing cut into his hand. I’ve decided to mostly play him as stoic and generally baffled by the people around him, at least this time through. So he asks a lot of questions and is generally unamused by the DRAMA that the Chantry seems to want to inject into this. So rather than constantly choose the dialogue options that object to being accused of murdering Justinia (the Divine), I just have him observe that they think he’s guilty, then ask how he can prove his innocence.
Most of the early gameplay involves chasing Cassandra (the Chantry Seeker, a human female warrior) through the snow and killing demons. Then meeting up with Solas (elf mage) and Varric Tethras (dwarf archer rogue), a character from DA2. Then running through the snow some more and killing more demons. Add Leliana (from both DAO and DA2), then go back to the exploded Chantry.
Turns out Kharras’s shiny green hand can close small portals through which demons travel from the Fade to Thedas, so he’s rather useful. Also, that means that everyone either heroizes him or hates him because he’s eeeeeeeeeeeeevil. Also, people keep calling him “Oxman,” because Qunari have horns. So that’s a fun little bit of prejudice woven into the world. (Note: elves are called “knife-ears” by a lot of NPCs in all the DA games – prejudice is a part of all the DA games, and is one of the central causes of conflict in the world, which is one of the reasons I really like these games: they’re politically charged.)
As I go on, I talk to everyone. One thing I’ve learned about BioWare games – always talk to everyone. Ask all the questions. So I spent a LOT of time wandering around and talking to NPCs and NPCCs (Non-Player Characters, like the Quartermaster and the Smith, and Non-Player Companion Characters, like Solas, Varric, Cassandra, and Leliana). And making armor. And chasing nugs (pig-like things). I killed one, kind of accidentally, and then got to make an outfit out of it. That was both cool and weird.
To wrap up a long story that’s already not short, I haven’t actually gotten to the main plot yet. I got through the prologue and to the point where Cassandra has declared the Inquisition (which I did totally expect, by the way, since that’s the name of the game). Now here’s an interesting thing. I’m not sure how comfortable I am with being a member of the Inquisition. In the first game, I was a Grey Warden, and spent a lot of time trying to avoid the holier-than-thou Chantry members because I didn’t like their prejudice against mages (even though I wasn’t a mage). In DA2 I was an apostate mage, and therefore disliked them even more because they were constantly yelling at me about how I was going to be damned and possessed by demons. I’ve spent two full games and lots of DLC dealing with the chaos created by sanctimonious Chantry representatives and extremists, and I’m really not into joining that.
There’s also, of course, the negative associations I as a player have with the Inquisition. My background is in early modern English history and drama – focusing on a Protestant nation that was frequently threatened by the Catholic nations of Spain and France, under a queen contending not only with gender prejudice, but accusations of harlotry and heresy from Rome to the point where she was excommunicated and Catholics were given preemptive absolution for her assassination. I’ve studied the Gunpowder Plot, in which a group of Catholics – under the authorization of men like those who carried out the Inquisition – attempted to blow up Parliament and kill everyone inside (much like the ending of DA2 in which Anders explodes the Kirkwall Chantry). I study the effects of religious prejudice and archaic methods of torture and warfare – and the repercussions those things have on the people attempting to live through them.
And that makes me very uncomfortable about being a member of even a fantasy Inquisition. (Random trivia of the day: the Catholic Inquisition still exists, today called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, although they don’t torture people or burn them at the stake anymore.) I’ve decided that, at least for now, Khaaras is going to be just as uncomfortable with it as I am. This is not making Cassandra “approve” of him very much, but that’s okay. For now, I’m skeptical about how “just” this “holy war” really is, and I think that’s a good place to be.