Dragon Age: Inquisition—What Was the Big Bad Thinking?!

Naturally, any exploration of Dragon Age: Inquisition’s main story arc will require massive spoilers. Consider yourselves warned!

What follows is a synopsis of the main story quests and what I think is going on in the mind of the big bad. This whole post is a reaction to what feels like an almost nonsensical final quest after the epic build-up, particularly “From the Ashes” (that armor!) and “The Final Piece” (that surprise reveal!).

Dragon Age: Inquisition culminates not in a boss fight but in the last gasp of a boss you’ve been fighting the whole game. You weaken him with every side quest, every new agent, every closed rift and new recruit. By the time you face him directly for the last time he’s but a shadow of the threat he was at Haven and you handily put him in his place. It’s nothing like the end of Origins but it shouldn’t be, not if you’ve done your job.

A BioWare Fan’s First Look at Dragon Age: Inquisition

I thought it ideal to stop 50-some hours into Dragon Age: Inquisition, a quarter of the way through the touted 200 hours of content, to write a review of the game thus far. While I do have a few complaints, in the main my reaction boils down to one word: wow.

This review will avoid spoilers but the main story quest has consistently impressed and surprised me. Think Skyrim meets Dragon’s Dogma meets the beauty of BioWare’s wonderful storytelling. Here’s the tl;dr version: Dragon Age: Inquisition takes a little getting used to but it has amazed and delighted me and I’ve only just found out what the main story’s about.

Note, please, that I’m playing on the X-Box One. Hubby has had continuous problems on his PC, including taking three days to download the game and a number of freezes and crashes. I’m not going to address those because they aren’t the game, they’re likely a combination of hardware and Origin problems. Let’s talk about the glorious masses of content, instead.

Swingin' Saturday: The Swing of Things, Chapter 13

Something’s Gotta Give

In a low voice, Kaidan told the group about the camera and microphone he’d found in Jenkins’s crushed pin. “I wasn’t about to confront Udina right there but Captain Anderson and I thought you should know.”

Pressly leaned back with a low whistle. “No wonder they always put the spike-heads on the right.” Jenkins, whose eyes were already round with surprise, turned to stare at the navigator as comprehension dawned. Pressly nodded knowingly, as though none of this were a surprise to him.

A passing wave of suspicion left Kaidan dismayed. Pressly enjoyed the way Jenkins looked up to the more-senior officers and was just playing the world-weary cynic. He didn’t exactly embrace alien relations but there was no way he was a good enough actor to have sat through all of those discussions about the insignia with Kaidan and Anderson without giving away that he knew something.

Transmutation - Chapter 6

A Heart Conscripted

A young man in worn novice robes emerged. He’d clearly outgrown them—his thin ankles and wrists showed where the size intended for young people hadn’t kept up with his adult size. His head was turned as he spoke to someone behind him and for a moment he remained unaware of the threat facing him.

When Jowan faced the room he stopped cold, his greasy black hair tumbled across eyes widened in fear and anger. In a fraction of a second he'd pulled a little blade from its sheath at his belt and drawn it across his wrist.

The room erupted into bedlam. The Templars reacted with their abilities made to suppress blood magic, their training overtaking their shock at being confronted so boldly. Irving flung a spell of paralysis at the younger man. The homely woman in yellow Chantry robes behind him screamed and flung herself away, burying her face in her hands.

A BioWare Fan's Review of Destiny

I’ve rewritten this review of Destiny several times because I keep forgetting to post it and keep thinking of new things to say. The upshot? Despite its woefully thin veneer of RPG it’s a console-loving, MMO-flavored, first-person shooter, a whole lot more Halo than Mass Effect.  In and of itself that doesn’t make it a bad game, it just isn’t a Bioware game.  For me, it has almost no longevity. I wanted it to fill the gap until DA:I hits my mailbox but I'm back to Far Cry 3 already.

That’s the short of it, but of course a game this well-hyped deserves a more-thorough review.  Destiny offers plenty of fun and takes a step away from Halo without abandoning what made Bungie such a hit in the first place.  Here’s a run-down of the good and the bad I’ve found in several days of FPS goodness.

Why Dragon Age Multi-Player Is Good for BioWare (And Us)

If you haven’t yet seen the multi-player trailer for Dragon Age: Inquisition, give it a watch.

I admit that, after the great fun that the Mass Effect multi-player format turned out to be, I’m excited to see how BioWare does the sword and sorcery version. Devs have assured people repeatedly that the single player campaign will not be affected in any way by what’s known by the unfortunate acronym DAMP and that’s good enough for me, at least for the moment.

Then I got to thinking about why they would add a multi-player element to a story so dedicated to role playing. For me, the answer lies not in BioWare’s history (though they’ve shown enough interest in social play over the years) but in the wild success of Bungie’s Halo series on-line.

Other game series have had on-line multi-player, certainly, but it was Halo that actually brought me into that world. After a decade my family and I still hop on to Bungie’s servers from time to time and go nuts fighting total strangers. Even I, a terrible shot and someone who never remembers to look at her radar, can have fun blasting away in various game modes. Who doesn’t love blowing half a dozen skulls out of someone in Headhunter?

Dragon Age Confessions: I'm a Bad Thedosian

Though I could have brought all of these to the Dragon Age: Inquisition forum and posted them on the confessions thread there, I discovered that I had an awful lot of things I suspect I do “wrong” in DA games. Instead of hijacking the thread with two full pages of confessions I thought I’d post them here. You, my darlings, are naturally more than welcome to post any of your own or to explain how very wrong I am, complete with Chant verses or explanations of a character I’ve disparaged.

I confess that my first trip through DA:O confounded many of my expectations. The girl did not ascend to the throne despite all adversity. In fact, she didn’t even get the guy. First he dumped her and then he fed himself to a dragon after she had thrown fireballs at its ankles for an hour and a half. (You can use ballistas?! Why don’t my allies use them instead of getting slaughtered wholesale by Darkspawn?)

I confess that, though I adore Zevran’s romance, I cannot resist Alistair. I also confess that I’ve never romanced Morrigan. Achievement be damned, I just don’t like her. I would make a male Warden if he could romance Sten, though.

I confess to giving Isabella to the Arishok my second time through DA2 because she ran off with the book and never returned the first time, even though the second she obviously did come back to Hawke. I hold meta-game grudges.

I confess that I find Anders to be a consistent progression from DA: Awakening through the acts of DA2 to the end. I also confess that, the first time I finished DA2 (unspoiled), I almost threw my controller through the screen. As noted, I held the grudge long enough to banish him from my party for an entire game. Then I let him back in, caught all the painfully obvious clues I blew past the first time, and now have a terrible time deciding whether or not to jump his bones or go with Fenris. The decision usually rests on how long it’s been since my Warden was frustrated by his resistance to her charms in Awakening.

I confess that Daveth and Jory are stripped of gear in every run just before we meet Morrigan because I find the discussion about how cold it is much more entertaining that way. Also, Alistair is always in the Chasind robes.

I confess to making an M!Hawke and rivalmancing Fenris just to ogle that one scene. [mops drool and fans self]

I confess that I always steal the sword from that poor elf messenger at Ostagar, even though I feel guilty for getting him in trouble and doubly so when I’m an elf. Solidarity is not enough to outweigh the stat boost.

I confess that, despite being uninterested in finishing my playthrough as a casteless dwarf, the Aeducan run ended up being my favorite of all. She toyed mercilessly with Behlen and Harrowmont, all the while intending to wrest control from both at the first opportunity. Branka’s quest had massive emotional impact on her and she ignited in me a deep interest in seeing the dwarves push back the Darkspawn and reclaim their thaigs.

I confess that I find Bethany dull and let her die in the Deep Roads for the drama, but that I always make Carver a Grey Warden because he seems so much happier there—after I needle him endlessly through Act 1 about being my sorry little brother. Sibling rivalry FTW!

Also, I confess that I find Leandra irritating in Act 1, forgettable in Act 2, and still heart-wrenching in Act 3. I don’t care how unreasonable her barbs and demands or how uninterested she seemed in Hawke’s life, no one deserves what was done to her. It wasn’t quite broodmother-level like in Origins but I found it a very effective scene.

I hated the Fade in Origins the first time because it was endless. Then I discovered that I was going around the circle backwards so I had to go through everything twice to get through all the obstacles. So many needless, fiery deaths and barely survived golem fights! Once I figured it out, I learned to enjoy shape-shifting and that whole sequence.

I confess that I once failed utterly to win Fenris to my side and, when I sided with the mages, had to strip his weapons and accessories before my squishy little healer could kill him. I may also have shed a tear or two at having to do so.

I confess to resenting Wynne at first because I have long preferred to play a healer. I loved having her in my party (especially with Alistair and Zevran) but it always made one of us redundant. Then I discovered the arcane warrior and learned to love her again.

I confess that I’ve never once wanted to romance Varric and I wish him and Bianca all the best. Further, I don’t love chest hair so I’m just as happy to have him cover it up in DA:I.

It depressed me that I could not always keep my Mabari by my side in DA: Origins without taking up a party slot. When I discovered that the human noble couldn’t save the dog at Ostagar I may or may not have said some harsh words about the writers. There’s enough room at camp for two!

I confess that I run straight to First Enchanter Irving and tell him about Jowan. All my Circle mages consider Irving their surrogate father. Some of them get over it and some don’t but Jowan is such a user that all of them want to make sure he doesn’t get away with manipulating their supposed friendship. Besides, Irving knows anyway so from a metagame standpoint it doesn’t make any difference. I really can’t stand Jowan.

I hated Anora first because of how she treated Alistair, then because she got weirdly jealous and tried to keep me away from the delectable Teagan, and then because she was so short-sighted that she hired Jowan—that greasy weasel JOWAN, I ask you!—to teach her kid how to be a mage rather than sending Connor to the Circle, plus she lied to her husband about it. Even my first time through I knew she was high-noble enough to be able to see him whenever she wished and he’d have been, in Circle terms, right next door. Every death in Redcliffe is laid at her door, as far as I’m concerned, and a fair number of the ones at Ostagar, too. If it hadn’t been for her Eamon would have been there with his army instead of unconscious while his soldiers killed and probably ate their friends and neighbors. I kill her almost every time and give Alistair a stern talking-to about it afterward. Then I give him a present I found in his uncle’s house and we’re in love again. :D

I confess that, much as I love the boys in Dragon Age 2, Aveline was still my favorite companion. Her story about her father makes me cry; that’s the kind of writing that brings me back to BioWare again and again.

I have always wanted my Dalish elf to be able to profess her undying love for Tamlen before he disappears into the eluvian, and to have a heartbreaking scene with him when he comes back later in the game. I head-canon them as pledged to one another but the game won’t let me say it.

I confess to not loving beards (except Duncan’s) and to romancing elves and Alistair by preference because they’re clean-shaven.

I confess to reading and writing lurid fanfic and to knowing all too well about the k-meme. I also admit to shipping Elthina and Petrice solely to maximize the drama of that moment Elthina leaves turns away and starts back up the stairs.

I cannot complete a straight aggressive playthrough, mostly because when I did a full renegade run in ME1 the last conversation with Kaidan made me cry because of how Shepard had changed him. I’m scared of what I might do to my darling companions when I’m pretending to be psychotic!

I confess to disliking Leliana’s song. On top of that I find her to be terrifying after the eyelash comment and none of my Wardens talk to her any more than strictly necessary after the one that romanced her (and then ran away, screaming).

I confess that my Wardens can never be bothered with laying traps. They’d rather bomb in on the enemy with daggers (or two swords, may the Maker grant it) flailing and dazzle them with rogue-y goodness than take all that extra time planning and strategizing.

I confess that I want Orzammar or whatever thaig we see next to be colorful. All of the Deep Roads don’t have to be earth tones. Andraste’s toenails, haven’t the dwarves bumped into any rocks that make pretty colors in all that digging down there?!

I’ve never been able to bring myself to desecrate Andrasete’s ashes. My conflict arises not in some devotion to the Chantry but a complete inability to side with the dragon cult freaks. If they want me to do it then it must be wrong so I never do.

I confess that the idea of having Morrigan's sloppy seconds grosses me out and that was why I denied her the Dark Ritual the first time I played Origins. It's a factor every time I decide whether to persuade Alistair or do the ultimate sacrifice.

Lastly, I confess I've never liked Ohgren.

BioWare Did Not Change Anders: A Refutation

I’ll preface this topic with the thing that always surprises me about conversations insisting that Anders was utterly changed to shoe-horn him into the Dragon Age 2 story line: I always assumed he was gay. The line about wishing for “a pretty girl on my arm” I presumed to be a figure of speech, a colloquialism rather than an actual expression of desire for female company.

Now, really, my Wardens were led to expect that everyone who knew her would adore a trip to her tent, so to speak. Morrigan was the sole exception and she didn’t like me anyway. Zev, Leliana, and Alistair were all but drooling on them. How could Anders possibly resist any of these amazing women unless he had no interest in female people?

Imagine my surprise at a male Warden’s complete inability to flirt with him, either. On top of that I find him eager to pursue a relationship with a LadyHawke in DA2. Apparently my Warden prowess had waned in Amaranthine. None of that has a blessed thing to do with Anders's personality. It’s mere sexuality.

If you really listen to Anders in Awakening you can hear the seeds of his bitterness, most clearly in his conversations with Justice. At the beginning he’s relieved at his reprieve from Templar pursuit and thrilled at his first tastes of freedom, certainly. For the first time in his life someone actively wants him to exercise his power to its full extent. Why wouldn’t he be a little giddy?

He’s still angry, however. He repeatedly expresses his frustration and guilt that the majority of mages are still subjected to the predation of the Templar Order under the Chantry’s rule. Combine his stated feelings with Justice’s single-mindedness et voila! You get Anders starting along that downward spiral. At the beginning of DA2 he’s still got his snark, he still shows sparks of fun, but he focuses less and less on himself and more on the injustice he perceives in the treatment of all mages in Thedas.

He tries to bury what he sees as his selfishness under a metric ton of sick and frightened refugees in Darktown but Justice sees right through that ploy. The real problem is not that Anders himself is free but that almost no other mage is. Once you talk to Karl—and Anders kills him—matters are only intensified.

Eventually the free clinic isn’t enough and he gets involved in the mage underground, smuggling people out of The Gallows. That assuages his guilt for a while but Justice gets harder and harder to control as the duo hear stories of what life is like in the Circle in Kirkwall. One step too far and he’s asked to butt out, essentially, thus removing an outlet for all that seething frustration. Is it any wonder he grows more and more withdrawn and defensive?

You can hear the resignation in his voice (and huge kudos to Adam Howden for the fantastic voice acting) when he finally settles on his ultimate plan and asks for help gathering the ingredients. It’s clear both in his animations and his words that he’s unhappy about deceiving you. I suspect Justice is no more thrilled with it than Anders, if you’ve taken the rivalry path and tried to keep their personalities separate. Neither can risk Hawke running to the Revered Mother, however.

From that point to the end it’s obvious how much his decision weighs on him. I imagine that, were the romance dialogue there, things would have gone downhill in the bedroom as well. All of his considerable energy has turned inward toward driving through his conscience to the ultimate goal: forcing the battle he deeply believes is the only way mages will ever truly gain freedom from Chantry rule.

Whether you agree with that conclusion or not (and goodness knows I’ve had Hawkes that fully bought into it and others that couldn’t have disagreed more) he’s utterly convinced of it. If anyone in Thedas might say it’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees, it’s the Justice-Anders he’s become by the end of DA2. Little as he likes it, he does what has to be done in his (their?) eyes.

From the first conversation you’re shown that Anders is a passionate, exuberant man. While Justice and Kirkwall strip his veneer of good cheer away under their combined, relentless assault he’s still the same person. When you romance him or go down the friendship path with him you get flashes of his humor late into the second act.

It surprises me that so many people confuse character development with a retcon. If you explore all of his dialogues you can follow his progress through DA: Awakening and DA2. It may not be what I would have wanted for his character but it made sense in the context of the story the writer’s wanted to tell.

DA: Inquisition, Women Gamers, and Marketing

As yet another “BioWare should market to women” thread has been locked at ye olde BSN, I thought I’d condense my thoughts here. The topic has been bashed to death and will continue to be beaten like a dead horse, but there was much of interest in that thread.

The contention that irritated me most claimed that marketing should focus on the biggest of a game’s existing demographic, to the exclusion of all else. This, proponents declared, is the most efficient use of each marketing dollar. This, I say, is short-sighted.

If women comprise a growing share of the gaming market why wouldn’t you target that demographic as well? According to BioWare devs, the Dragon Age consumer base is already 30% female. While a large percentage of those women love the company and their games because of their strong female protagonists, and thus will purchase new BioWare games by preference, not all women loved Mass Effect 3 or Dragon Age 2 and may abandon both franchises unless shown that DA: Inquisition will be different and more to their tastes.

What company can afford to ignore nearly a third of their current customer base? And what company wouldn’t like to grow their market share across more than one demographic? This question leads to the most pertinent one: what should BioWare do to make the most of each penny it spends marketing DA:I?

For this, I have a vision. Picture, if you will, a screen shot of the character creator. The invisible player selects a human male warrior. Bam! You see a cut scene of him catching a massive blow on his shield. Then back to CC and switch to a female dwarf berserker. Pow! She’s dropping a flying cleave with her two-handed axe on the head of some demon. Back to CC and a male elf. Thwack! A searing arrow of death hammers into a Red Templar. Then a female Tal-Vashoth, then her flinging a fireball into a group of whatever.

You get the idea: showcase the classes, their unique abilities, and the fact that you can customize your character all at once. The strengths of the Dragon Age games lie not in one gender or character but in their choices. These begin at the very start with the selection of appearance options. BioWare offers dozens of ways to play epic heroes and those options will appeal to the largest number of people. Why limit potential customers to those who want to play stubbly, lantern-jawed white boys when that’s not the only way to play?

Of all the genres out there, particularly on consoles, I’d argue that role-playing games in general and the fantasy types in particular, are most likely to appeal to women. In part I base that on my own preferences and in part I consider the stereotypes that most women are raised beneath to influence those choices.

Women are raised to love fairy tales and believe science and math are, if not beyond them, at least too hard for them to master to be worth the effort. Don’t believe me? See one or fifty of the thousands of articles, blog posts, and videos about bringing women into STEM fields. They’re also told that they’re too delicate physically and emotionally to handle a battlefield, leading to the current struggle to convince men that women willing and wishing to put their lives on the line as soldiers should be included there.

By extension, this discourages women from reading, writing, and playing science fiction. Certainly, you can name dozens of exceptions to this rule, women who have followed their passions and excelled. In general, however, women tend to be more comfortable with magic and dragons than space ships and gunplay. It’s more socially acceptable for them to enjoy fantasy than to criticize the accuracy of a sci-fi universe to real-world physics.

Should that change? Hell, yes. Is it? Yes to that, too. But remember that I’m refuting the argument that BioWare should exclusively target straight white males with their marketing of Dragon Age: Inquisition. That’s foolish. As it becomes more and more common for women to start gaming or try new platforms, the marketing of new games should find ways to include them in the target audiences.

The guys in the so-called target demographic already know that the games will have plenty to appeal to them. If anything, BioWare and the gaming industry in general should limit the stoic, manly, white protagonist of old and start promoting PCs of color, female leads, and LGBT relationships in games. Consider the size of this largely-untapped pool of players, people who don’t know yet how much they love Dragon Age. Tell me again why no one should market games to them, please.

All of this ignores one key element in the advertising of DA:I. We don’t know who has the final say over the marketing purse strings. If BioWare gets to direct the campaign over the next several months before release I have a great deal more faith that they’ll be willing to take a chance and expand their focus. If EA picks what will be shown, however, I fear that the “safe” route will stay the only one they see. Time will tell.

Why Mass Effect 2 Isn't Actually Pointless to the Trilogy

I’ve been pondering lately the point of the Mass Effect 2 plot. At first glance it seems a little silly: these bug people have started kidnapping thousands of humans to make a new Reaper and Shepard stops them.

The summary sounds like a mid-sized expansion pack to the original game, a side quest to kill time, and instead they pull in Cerberus and the Lazarus project. Throw in a whole new cast you have to go recruit and you complicate a little series of side missions into a whole game.

After some thought, however, I realized they had two choices of what to do with the end of Mass Effect. Shepard said that it wasn’t over and we’re led to believe that the Reapers are still coming in some undefined way. What happens next?