Having completed Dragon Age, I went straight to a friends house to drink tea. I was heart broken, confused and lost. All my cynicism over game of the year awards was washed away, it deserves all the recognition it can get. Perhaps it’s too soon to really know for sure, but I have little doubt that I will remember this as one of the best gaming experiences of my life.
As you may know, I’m a role player and enjoy narrative games above all else. I will try to remember the flaws as I write this and will remain spoiler free, but it was the story and characters that made this game.
Is it pretty?
Inquisition is certainly a good looking game, but nothing astonishing given its weight class. The character customisation is well done, though I would have liked more hair styles, especially for the dwarves. The environments are well modelled, textured and lit, but not particularly unique. It all serves it’s purpose as a vessel for a story.
The character portraits and tarots, on the other hand, are beautiful pieces of art. The tarots appear in the party selection screen, and each changes as a character develops throughout the story. Collecting them all ads replay value by itself, but might also lead to narrative you’d otherwise miss.
A stand out flaw is the facial animation. It’s not dreadful if you compare it only to other games, but if I’m honest, that’s usually a distressingly low bar. Sometimes it can seem very convincing and is definitely improving with each game, but given the focus on character development and relationships, Bioware might see fit to invest more in their facial rig or give more time to, at least, the scripted scenes. It’s only fair to forgive the teeth cutting through the edge of my protagonists mouth every time she smiles, I customized her appearance, they can’t control for everything. But when an established character shuts her eyes and the lower lashes cut through her upper eyelid, I wonder if the art direction could’ve been rushed on that front.
The music was, for the most part, very much in the background. I occasionally found myself humming tunes from various elder scrolls games while wandering through the wilderness to fill the space, but enter a tavern you won’t be disappointed. The bard songs are beautiful and relevant and shouldn’t be missed.
Not from the tavern, but this theme has, since, gotten stuck in my head…
Is it fair?
This is, without a doubt, the most widely socially aware game I’ve ever played. The subtlety and depth with which it handles gender and sexuality surprised me, even though I’d read about its success before playing. It fails entirely to fall into the traps of ignoring or fetishising gender politics like so many other well meaning fantasy worlds, instead, handling it all with the maturity and complexity that reflects our modern reality.
A gay character is hurt by their family not because of simple prejudice, but because of complex social pressures and presumably well meaning parents who want to ‘fix’ their child. A trans character flees their homeland, not because anyone disapproved of their lifestyle, but because they got caught lying on official documents about their gender. Instead of just condemning the obvious, Bioware impressed by handling more complex issues that divide current discussions. It’s brave and worthy of attention.
To a lesser, but equally noteworthy extent, they also tackle class and race. Sera, one of your companions, constantly reminds you that while all of this world altering rubbish is going on, the ‘little’ people have always been caught in the middle. Templar, Mage, inquisitor, starvation, they all look equally terrifying when you have no power of your own.
Solas, an elven Mage who identifies with none of the categories people like to assign him to, calls into question his companions preconceptions about slavery, becomes frustrated when they romanticise the history of ‘his people’, and practically rolls his eyes if you presume he will identify with someone just because they’re both elves. Yet he is clearly deeply affected by elven history which hints at the histories of modern, marginalized cultures. To make it better, he constantly insists that demons, creatures that everyone else is reasonably sure are mindless monsters, are intelligent, living people, deserving of their own freedoms.
Using elves and other fantasy races to reflect racial and cultural issues in the real world is a staple of the genre, although I have to admit that I want to see more of the dragon age world. There are characters who are African in appearance, but we seem to be located somewhere in fantasy France, near fantasy Spain and maybe England with the hint of an Arab like nation and a side of fascist theocracy. The actual cultures are unique to dragon age, but their’s clearly more world out there.
Is it fun?
I feel obliged to mention the game mechanics, if only a little. I played an archer and thoroughly enjoyed the combat system. It was fluid, intuitive and allowed for much more micro management than I had any interest in exploring. The AI wasn’t perfect and a common issue was convincing the mages not to cluster up for an enemy’s area attack, but, by and large, I was confident enough to let the characters do what they wanted. There is some AI tweaking available which could go a bit farther.
Finding my way around quests was a little baffling at first, and by the time I figured out the map, journal, war table and power system, I still got stuck on my specialisation quest because I don’t think it informed me that I needed to use the requisition system to complete it. Crafting, in general, was okay, but mostly too fiddly for me to be bothered with and I was relieved to get a mount at first, but stopped using it because my companions disappeared when I did, and listening to them chatter is one of the best things about the game.
It wasn’t perfect, but of course it was fun. The rhythm of the game was just right and very player driven. I had just enough questing, story and talking to keep me happy with every element of the game and was drawn to the next story point by the narrative with enough urgency to keep the game flowing without feeling rushed.
And I laughed and I cried and I fell in love and had my heart broken and saved the world and had my whole understanding of said world turned on its’ head. It’s left me wanting so, so much more and made me wish I’d played the previous games all the way through.
All of my heartache and joy about this game is really wrapped up in the story and would be full of spoilers, but the more people I convince to play, the bigger the post Dragon Age support group will get, so please give it a go. If you are playing this game, I recommend that you spend as much time out in the wilderness with your companions as you can, listening to them bond, focus on what you really want to achieve before the end using the journal [J], and then finish the story.
Just one friendly warning before you commit. There’s a post credit mind bender waiting for you O_O
– Shiv (Siobhan)
Siobhan is an artist who was raised on every type of game and make believe. She grew up rescuing fuzzy animals and the occasional princess, slaying monsters and competing with her older brother. Now she’s a fan of befriending monsters, playing co-op and getting lost in a good story. When she’s not gaming, Siobhan works as a 3D artist in Brown Bag Films and enjoys anime, writing and crafts, which is increasingly involving costumes.