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.

You start with the big boom at the Temple of Sacred Ashes, launching the whole endeavor by flinging the not-yet-Inquisitor into the Fade and creating the rift that lets her get back again with the help of a mysterious figure. That’s pretty straightforward but what was the plan that went awry? That goes back to the heady days of Tevinter supremacy.

Corypheus and his magister buddies decide to head up to heaven (read: The Golden City), evict god, and replace him. Let’s leave aside for the moment a contemplation of what sorts of pompous assholes would decide on this plan. They slaughter thousands of elves, get up there, and, upon their filthy human feet touching the ground, all Void breaks loose. The city fills with corruption, the magisters as well, and they’re flung back to Thedas as the first Darkspawn.

Since we’re ignoring unpleasant thoughts off the main point, let’s not speculate about how they created the first broodmothers and whether they intentionally began building an army of Blighted creatures. If you skip forward a few (or ten) centuries you find Corypheus imprisoned and insensible but beginning to stir. The wards already refreshed once by Malcolm Hawke weaken with every passing day. He’s calling to the Grey Wardens that keep him in a sort of stasis but he has no sense of how much time has passed.

He tricks Hawke and company into freeing him and, having taken over someone’s body, sets about learning what’s happened. This all occurs off-stage, as it were, but one presumes he discovers that not only did they fail but the Blight they accidentally unleashed on the world still holds sway underground and the old gods have been corrupted into leading the Darkspawn hordes to destroy the world. What’s a magister to do?

Somewhere along the line, he and Solas meet. Solas is no happier with the current state of the world than Corypheus, though for different reasons. He has an ancient orb with the power to bring one physically into the Fade but for some reason he doesn’t want to (or can’t) use it himself. Maybe being in a mortal body has limited his power or maybe he just isn’t willing to use blood magic. I’m hoping BioWare explains how that conversation went at some point.

Whatever the case, he gives the orb to Corypheus with the understanding that our corrupted friend will open the door, clean up the Black City, and install himself on the throne. Perhaps they made an agreement on some other issues, like Cory releasing the elvhen gods. Maybe Solas thought he would give the former human a chance to redeem himself. It doesn’t matter for the purposes of this post.

The Divine calls a conclave and hundreds of powerful people attend. It’s on the site where the ashes of the woman who led the forces that disrupted the Tevinter Empire lay for centuries and it’s chock-a-block with the sort of juice a really powerful spell will require. Corypheus crashes the party, uses the Divine herself as a sacrifice, and is interrupted by some random person walking into the room.

One presumes this happens in a room away from the main gathering as no one else happens to be in the room when it all goes kablooie. One further presumes that he had already begun the ritual when your character opened the door—looking for the privy, perhaps? Your heroically foolish PC tries to save the Divine, gets caught up in the spell, and causes the explosion. Instead of the literal key to heaven belonging to one cataclysmically self-important Darkspawn it ends up on your hand who could have closed the door behind him.

Since you have the key, the explosion tosses you into the Fade instead of destroying your body as it does everyone else’s. You escape and Corypheus has to find another corrupted body before he can figure out what happened (that part is speculation but it explains the lag between the explosion and the confrontation). By the time he’s done that you’re back in this world and a growing legend. Once he learns you can close rifts he knows you stole his key but by now you’ve got a little army so he starts recruiting (or continues, given the Venatori and Alexius’s actions). You wander by and snatch one of his factions out from under him, weakening his forces from the very beginning.

It takes a while to get up to strength but eventually he attacks Haven with no doubt but that he’ll overwhelm your tiny force and take back the key. First you drop half a mountain on his army then he discovers that he can’t undo what the orb did. The key is yours and you escape his wrath with some fancy trebuchet work. He likely thought you were dead under tons of rock and snow. Imagine his surprise when you surface at Skyhold!

He rants and fumes for a while in true villain style, no doubt, but figures there’s more than one way to skin a mabari. He still wants you dead but you’re just a gnat. He really wants two things: a way bodily into the Fade and the Tevinter Empire once more ruling the world. While he’s researching the former he decides to amp up the civil war in Orlais to weaken what he considers the biggest military threat.

Lo and behold, you thwart him there, too. The Inquisitor has not only survived but found an impregnable castle and began growing her own empire. She makes peace between the warring parties in Orlais and stops the chaos before it can blossom out of control, earning the admiration of powerful people and peasants alike. Even as Corypheus builds his power people flock to the Inquisition’s banner.

With either the mage or Templar half of his army conscripted by the enemy, he exerts the call he has over the Grey Wardens and gathers them at Adamant Fortress to create an army of demons using their blood. Just before the plan comes to fruition who comes knocking at the door? That’s right, the freaking Inquisitor. She stops the Wardens and takes yet another army away from him. Between full-bore battalion-snatching incidents the Inquisition has been slaughtering Venatori, his Tevinter power base.

These uppity antics are annoying but Corypheus still has a trick up his sleeve. There’s this ancient temple in the Arbor Wilds, you see, and within lies the secret he needs to take himself into the Fade via the eluvian junction. All he has to do is go get it! Once he’s a god he can crush your puny empire and restore the Tevinter to their rightful place in Thedas—the one with their collective foot on the necks of everyone else.

But when he gets to Mythal’s temple he finds you, standing once more in his way. The Inquisition’s army is beating the crap out of his. You kill his host and force him into a new body. He blusters about his ability to body-hop and transform the flesh being proof of his godliness but we’ve seen demons and Red Templars mutate before and we’re not too terribly impressed.

Then you snatch the Well of Sorrows out from under him and with it the only solution he had. There aren’t ancient magical keys to the Fade just lying around all over Thedas, you know. Not only that but you’ve gutted the army with which he intended to take over the world. His plans are in shambles and you’re to blame. At least he doesn’t have to rely on elves any more, those second-class knife ears his people rightfully enslaved once upon a midnight dreary.

Corypheus hatches one last, desperate plan. While your army crawls back from the other side of Orlais he’s got a chance to hit you while you’re weak. He draws your attention by ripping open the giant rift you got so famous for closing ‘way back when the Inquisition was based in Haven, knowing you have no choice but to come running. The moment you’re in range he escalates the tear into a force that rips what’s left of the temple from the ground (along with a few other village-sized chunks of mountain) and into the sky.

Why would he do that? BioWare leaves this one to head canon. My version goes like this:

Here he counts on his dragon to kill your party while he’s busily muttering incantations. If he can’t remove the key he can have you torn apart to provide the blood for trying the ritual again. So close to the rift he’s bound to force his way through even with so paltry an offering as your sorry Inquisitor. With you dead your forces will be in chaos and he can proceed with taking over the world at his leisure. All he needs is that stinking key.

Unfortunately for Corypheus, he has yet again underestimated you. He also hasn’t realized there are forces aligning with you to prevent his success. He may not know Solas works with you, whether the trickster is in the same form now as he was when they originally met or not. He certainly doesn’t know about Flemeth’s machinations.

He looms and gloats and then pow! Your dragon zips in and it’s suddenly what some might consider a fair fight—four mortals (or three and a god that might be more ancient than the Maker, depending who you ask) against a quasi-immortal, floating, nine-foot-tall blood mage that may or may not be responsible for a thousand years of blight, death, and destruction as well as the very existence of the Grey Warden order.

A fair fight is exactly what he didn’t want. Now Corypheus has to kill you all himself while protecting that orb from random fire balls, arrows, two-handed blows, or shield bashes. He’s at a major disadvantage, here. He takes a crack at fulfilling his plans while you’re still alive and, to his short-lived horror, a rift opens inside him instead of his being pulled into the Fade.

In short, Corypheus runs out of options and makes a last run at godhood despite really crappy odds. It’s quite possible he didn’t even believe it would work. Consider his situation after you yank the rug of sorrows out from under him. He has a decimated army and no path to his goal. Even if he hides and rebuilds his forces he still has no way to get that nasty bod into the Fade.

The Inquisition has put him in an untenable position. After a thousand years in a Warden cage he’s completely out of patience. He lashes out, making one last bid, probably knowing he’ll fail but content that at least he’ll take the Inquisitor with him and quite possibly the rest of the world as there will be no one capable of closing the rift. At that point, he’ll settle for global thermonuclear war, Dragon Age style. Siding with the mages gives you a preview of just how well that works.

The build-up to the fight itself could have packed more emotional punch, namely in making you trek through the ruins of Haven with demons pouring out of the sky you already fixed once, damnit. The reasoning behind what happened, however, makes a lot more sense once you consider it in context.


Dragon Age Multi-Player: DAMP FTW!
After finishing my first run through Dragon Age: Inquisition I immediately began a second. While I’m eager to see what changes with the new world state I imported from the Keep I’m still processing the end of the game. (I’ll post a lengthy consideration of that tomorrow.)

After recruiting everyone and getting to Skyhold a second time I decided to turn my attention to multiplayer. (Note: I’m still childishly entertained by calling it DAMP so I’ll probably do that too much. Be patient.) My immediate and enduring reaction: the easiest level is too damned hard!

I’ve run about thirty operations, introduced by various in-game NPCs who express their confidence in you as their agents. In only four of those cases did we manage to justify that belief and complete our missions. In the last one there was a single survivor and it wasn’t me. The “routine” difficulty level lists levels 1-8 as the intended target but even with two or three of the four players level ten or higher the final boss and his or her (or its) waves of minions overwhelmed us.

After fairly quickly getting to the point of passing most—though certainly not all—of my base-level Mass Effect multi-player (MEMP?) matches I expected a similar progression in DAMP. That didn’t happen. Once I resigned myself to failure, however, I started to have fun. I also developed some significant guilt about sending my imaginary agents off to their deaths and admiration for that fact that they never fail. Clearly they’re better at their jobs than I am!

As I unlocked abilities I started getting into the default characters. The skill trees mash together bits of all the in-game options and it can take a couple of levels to unlock a new active ability but some of the passive bonuses include hefty stat boosts that help your character perform better. The archers get rolling shot pretty quickly and shield bash isn’t too far down the Legionnaire tree. Your Keeper starts with chain lightning, thank the Creators. As a bonus, you get to try skills from the various specializations to help you decide which you like for your Inquisitor.

Locations

At present you can only go to three places: Tevinter ruins, elven ruins, and an Orlesian chateau. That sounds repetitive but there are different layouts for the interior so it’s not three static maps. BioWare includes three sets of foes for you to face as well, which means you can be fighting Venatori, demons, or Red Templars in any of the settings.

Each of the settings will remind you strongly of a similar place in the single-player game without being the same. For all that the variety seems fairly limited DAMP doesn’t feel like running the same dungeon over and over again. Every run also includes a sub-mission or two, which adds a little difference between operations.

You may have to rescue another agent (some of whom are less than grateful), gather ancient scrolls for HQ, or find irreplaceable heirlooms. Each of these side quests give you a reward so that, when you reach the end, you aren’t left empty-handed when the boss hammers your crew into the ground. They also add a little more variety. Should even that not be enough for you, from time to time there’s a loot nug to chase through the halls. Let it never be said Dragon Age devs have no sense of humor.

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