Some post-finale thoughts on Dragon Age: Inquisition.

I finally finished Dragon Age: Inquisition last week after something like 144 hours, mostly because I like making my first playthrough my super completionist one, and I also simultaneously started two Inquisitors at once. I literally completed every quest (that was in-character for my Inquisitor), other than two little ones – collecting notes in the Hissing Wastes (missing two) and collecting all the bottles of Thedas (also missing two) – that I’ll clean up eventually.

I know my thorough play style makes me late/slow to everything, but that’s just how I roll.

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I can definitely say that I enjoyed DAI a lot and plan to complete it at least one more time, albeit less completely, with my second Inquisitor (my somewhat androgynous Tal-Vashoth mage who was technically my first Inquisitor, but I ended up playing my second one more because I’m a violent barbarian at heart and liked hacking up things with giant two-handers too much).

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DAI is much prettier. It’s got a ton of optional content to take up your time, and the world is much more open, inviting exploration in a way that DAO didn’t. The fully voiced dialogue, cast of both new and familiar characters, random party banter, and level of customizability (your Inquisitor, Skyhold, crafting, and play style/difficulty level) are fantastic.

It’s also relaxing, which is nice after a long day of work. The combat at Normal difficulty is a cakewalk, and not in a bad way, necessarily, plus you can turn up the difficulty to something that suits you, if it’s too easy.

DAI: Beautiful.

DAI: Beautiful.

As much as I loved DAI, though, it’s impossible not to compare it to the original, Dragon Age: Origins. They’re very different games with different strengths and weaknesses, but if I’m to be absolutely honest, I have to admit that DAO still stands as my favorite.

Somehow, DAO managed to feel more personal, and I’m not sure I can exactly put my finger on it.

My first Hero of Ferelden.

DAO: My first Hero of Ferelden, Oruha, who hilariously didn’t look anything like her parents. I guess she was adopted.

Maybe it was the feeling of starting from next to nothing in DAO and somehow cobbling together an army that eventually fights the Archdemon alongside you. There’s also something simultaneously lonely and cozy about the little camp in the wilderness you share with your teammates – something I loved and kind of missed with Skyhold in DAI, as much as it was amusing being lord of my own sprawling castle and kowtowed to everywhere I went.

The party also felt tighter knit to me in DAO, and I don’t know how much of that was the desperate situation or cozy feel I got from the campsite. I don’t know how much of it was the huge number of dialogue options you could choose from when couching your hero’s responses, the intimate feel of the character dialogue writing as a whole in that game, or maybe even the presence of Dog. In Oruha’s timeline, she had Dog (I don’t remember what I named him) since the very beginning, so it was like having a family member along for the ride, and he became a kind of linchpin of the party, since everyone interacts with the dog at some point.

Killing blow on a dragon in DAO.

Killing blow on a dragon in DAO.

On the mechanical side, combat’s another reason I think DAO still wins over Inquisition for me. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy DAI‘s combat, which achieves better balance among warriors, rogues, and mages. In DAO, I mostly let my warriors, and rogues to a lesser extent, run on autopilot and mainly played as the mages, regardless of what class my hero was. DAI, meanwhile, makes each class fun to play, so I take turns more evenly.

As I mentioned earlier, DAI also makes it easy enough to zone out and not pay much attention to combat, even on Normal difficulty, if you’re too tired to micromanage your tactics. I admit this was sometimes nice for me when I was brain dead after coming home from work – my priorities as a gamer adult just aren’t always the same these days!

Killing a dragon in DAI - still fun, but somehow less dramatic.

Killing a dragon in DAI – still fun, but somehow less dramatic.

Still, when I go back and revisit DAO, it’s easy to realize how much I missed the tactical combat style from older BioWare games. I loved how challenging DAO boss fights could be at times, and while they’re arguably overpowered, I loved the giant area-of-effect spells and other impressive stunts you could queue up and then sit back and watch unfold from a nice top-down vantage. I also missed the fancy killing blow animations your characters would automatically launch into if you managed to land the last hit.

DAI has most of these things – tactical camera, area-of-effect skills, etc. – but in somewhat more subdued form – kind of like Morrigan, I suppose, whose character is much softened in DAI compared to her younger DAO self.

DragonAgeInquisition 2015-02-05 21-30-25-03Perhaps even more than DAO‘s intimate underdog beginnings and its combat tactics, though, I ultimately like the story structure better. I liked all the ups and downs: joining the Grey Wardens, witnessing the death of your mentor, stumbling upon new friends, weathering a political storm, bringing your family’s murderers to justice, and realizing toward the end that you might have to sacrifice yourself to kill the Archdemon. It’s good stuff.

In comparison, DAI has less of that delicious dramatic rise and fall. Maybe it was all the leisurely herb-picking I did in between, maybe it was the luxury of living in a huge castle with seemingly endless resources, or maybe it was the constant NPC talk about the Herald of Andraste’s predestined victory, but somehow Corypheus’ demise always seemed like a done deal, and I didn’t get much of a sense of struggle leading up to the final win.

DAI: With great power comes great...ennui? (It actually wasn't that bad - just a bit less exciting than DAO.)

DAI: With great power comes great…ennui? (Nah, DAI is still fun, but it just doesn’t feel as exciting as DAO to me.)

I was also surprised that the last mission was just the one fight, with no prelude leading up to the confrontation with Corypheus, and the ending of the game felt oddly abrupt and anticlimactic, rather than epic. Maybe it was just me. I don’t hate the ending, but it didn’t leave much of an impression. It felt more like the end of a television episode than a movie, but maybe that was what BioWare was going for.

After all, some of the more interesting revelations come after the credits. So, if Flemeth is Mythal, is Solas Fen’Harel? Did Flemeth take Solas’ body as she’d originally intended on taking Morrigan’s, or did the reverse happen? I was also originally wondering if there’s any connection between the old elven gods (there’s nine of them) and the ancient magisters/archdemons (seven of these), but it turns out the numbers don’t match up. There’s also a whole lot more wondering where that came from. (UPDATE: this Kotaku article does a much better job than me of fleshing out all sorts of theories and then some, with references to the codex and snippets of dialogue.)

In any case, apparently there’s a DLC in the works (yay!), so maybe we’ll have some answers. I’m looking forward to it!

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