Well, one thing about a super-long RPG is that you can take your time setting things up.
I’m about 15 hours in, and maybe a third of the way through the game, and I only have a rough idea of where things are going. I’ve been doing odd jobs to gather enough money to buy a partnership in an expedition to the Deep Roads, and there seem to be a few large-ish conflicts brewing. The relationship between the local Circle and the Templars seems even more strained the the one I knew in Ferelden, and late in the year I started to encounter a couple of groups of Qunari who echo and serve as a third party in this conflict.
Mages vs. Templars, Templars vs. Qunari, and the Qunari vs. their own renegades.
But other than that these groups don’t like each other, I don’t have a firm grasp on the terms or stakes of the conflict. Some of this seems to be intentional, as the second act starts with a mysterious request from the leader of the Qunari, the Arishok, and I imagine that when I talk to him I’ll find out a bit more.
But all of this is a significant contrast to DA:O, where after an introduction specific to the player’s particular character, the overall stakes are outlined clearly and immediately. The darkspawn are marching on Ferelden, with the presence of an archdemon heralding a fifth Blight. To make things worse, the king’s primary lieutenant betrays him, leaving the king and the Gray Wardens to be killed by the darkspawn and seizing power as regent.
All the little tasks you complete in DA:O point at those two overarching goals: overthrowing Loghain and destroying the archdemon.
DA2 on the other hand, is much more wary about showing its hand, using a framing device—scenes of an Orlesian Templar(?) interrogating Varric, one of Hawke’s companions—to foreshadow a great conflict without telling us exactly what it is. Shit goes down! People are pissed! Hawke at some point becomes the Champion of Kirkwall! Blood spills! Freddy Mercury sings!
None of this is to say one game is better than the other, just that they have significantly different styles. DA:O gives you an objective and a world full of things you need to do in order to get there. DA2 is much more concerned with telling a story in a much more particular way.
In practice, it means I know Kirkwall better than I knew any location in DA:O, even my ostensible “home” in Circle Tower, and within Kirkwall there a sense of scale that wasn’t entirely there in any of DA:O’s locations—big statues, big buildings, and big entrenched conflicts between organizations like the Templars and the Qun.
But the world itself is much smaller. Locations outside of Kirkwall are just rumors.
And completing tasks can feel, well, not entirely organic. Before I set off on the Deep Roads expedition, I tried to make sure I’d finished with everything in Kirkwall, and it felt a bit like clearing a task board, like the Citadel in the first Mass Effect, where you try to talk to everyone and finish all the little things before you leave in case they aren’t still there when you get back.
And none of this is a complaint—necessarily. It’s just that with so much focus on story, I’m looking forward to getting things fleshed out a bit.
NEXT WEEK: Well, what I promised last week didn’t have anything to do with what I wrote about this week, so I probably shouldn’t bother. However, I do need to let you know that my summer schedule is a bit less regular than the rest of the year, so there may be a few interruptions in these updates. No worries! It just means I’m traveling or doing other things with my kids while they’re on break.
A slightly different version of this note was originally shared through my TinyLetter, The Playthrough, where I am currently playing and writing about Dragon Age: Inquisition. You can subscribe to The Playthrough at http://tinyletter.com/theplaythrough