Dragon Age is this generation’s Baldur’s Gate. It is a series built for the ten-year recollection, just like Mass Effect before it, where we sit and recall just how good the old games were and how new games should take the hint. It’s not the battles, not the bloody encounters with fade demons or dark spawn that burn these games into our memory. It’s the choices. The relationships. The story we forge for ourselves. In a nutshell, it’s everything we love about Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Last week, I asked for your help answering a question that’s becoming harder and harder to define: What makes an RPG? We looked at titles like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed, Shadow of Mordor, and Overwatch. Resoundingly, you answered: It’s the choices. It’s the impact you have on the game world and your ability to forge a character. I nodded my head in agreement reading how, without those things, shooters could never cross the boundary into our favorite genre, even as it danced along the edges. There are other elements, of course, but that’s what it came back to. Choices.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is the shining example of the power of choice. Within minutes of creating my character, I was thrown into the middle of conversation, defending myself from accusers. I responded as myself, the only way I could respond, shrouded in mystery just as the character I was playing. Still, as the details became clear, my thoughts immediately turned to the kind of person I wanted him to be. Brash and angry at being accused or kind and compassionate for the loss of life set before me? I chose the latter.
As the game went on through the tutorial and opening scenes, I sunk into my new persona persona, traveling the introductory town, sharing my feelings on the events which had since become clear. I wanted people to like me but I didn’t want to be their hero – or, more accurately, their godsend. It made me uncomfortable.
That is what a good RPG can do. Within minutes, draw you into its fiction and make you a character guiding its path. Inquisition takes choice a step further, even, eschewing the linear path of Origins and Dragon Age 2 and replaces it with freedom.
It’s almost as if Origins and Skyrim had a baby and named it Inquisition. While I’m creating my own Hero of Thedas – customized with a Bethesda-level array of sliders – with each conversation dialogue, I’m free to explore and adventure on my own terms. There is a critical path to the story, of course, but along the way a minute’s journey in any direction offers up a new activity. Side-quests are plentiful and easily missed if you don’t trod off the beaten path, each one a new chance to leave your mark on the game world. Keeps need to be taken, land claimed, ruins explored for hidden treasure. Dragon Age: Inquisition is so filled with content that these side dishes could easily become the main entrée, if you take my meaning.
What struck me, stepping back into a game of Inquisition’s caliber after months with smaller, more constrained RPGs, is how strongly and immediately I began to care about my character and the world he lives in. I spent my first hours deep in conversation with anyone who would speak to me, exploring their thoughts and feelings, and finding, surprisingly, that Bioware has made it look easy, this business of making even its most meager characters somehow feel alive and interesting. How hard it is not to be invested with this degree of choice. It is Mass Effect but greater for its freedom and depth.
If you’re anything like me, your time for games is constrained. A game needs to grab me swiftly if it hopes to lure me away from the far-too-many others to choose from. Hot on the heels of last week’s conversation on what makes an RPG, loading into Inquisition struck me with how well it did this. There are a lot of things that make a great RPG, but in this case at least, choice is what does it. In small conversations, gut-wrenching decisions, kingly judgments, and allowing yourself to be swept in the direction of the wind: that is the power of choice in Dragon Age.
And what we will remember it for.
Despite its excellence, the PC version of Dragon Age has been suffering some issues. Thankfully, Bioware is aware and will hopefully be quick with a fix for affected players. For more on Inquisition, read our official review and Michael Bitton’s thoughts on multiplayer.
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In the world of “things that should have been there since launch,” Destiny now has team chat. Nobody clap for this. The game launched in September. This is too-late error correction.
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Finally, I leave you with a virtual tour of Bioware’s office on Google Maps. Enjoy!