Walking the walk

Notes on Dragon Age: Inquisition #2 — Agnosticism and inertia

So, I’m about 12 hours into Dragon Age: Inquisition, which means I’m something like 10% into the game, and I’ve spent nearly all that time in the first available exploration area, The Hinterlands.

I have a feeling that the area-by-area completionism that served me so well in DA2 might not so great a strategy for DA:I. In DA2, you had to make sure you’d been everywhere before the story advanced too far, or you’d lose the opportunity to pursue peripheral storylines. DA:I seems to be much more set up to encourage players to return to areas intermittently.

So, noted. Although we’ll see how much I’m able to change my ingrained habits.

The walking will probably help. While not quite as seamlessly open as, say Red Dead Redemption, DA:I is the first Dragon Age game that asks me to really just explore until I find things — and it’s an. . . adjustment. Especially given that I’m playing DA:I almost immediately after the much more repetitive, tunnel-like maps of DA2. (Were I playing the games as they were released, I would have had more than 3 years between the two.)

But I like walking! And of the three Dragon Age games, Inquisition is the first one where I just want to hang out in the world. There’s an undeniable allure to the Hinterlands as Dragon Age’s first big, open area, to the point, apparently where a BioWare developer felt to need to Tweet a reminder to players that they didn’t need to do everything in the Hinterlands before moving on to other areas. (Seriously.)


(And, in fairness, this do-everything-before-moving-on impulse is exactly how DA2’s three-act story in a single location structure operates. So, you know, cut us some slack.)

BUT, I’ve just gotten to the point where I’m recruiting new companions (after being limited to Cassandra, Solas, and Varric for a dozen hours, I’ve acquired Vivienne, Sera, Blackwall, and Iron Bull in just a couple of hours), which kind of make the game feel more, well, Dragon Age-y. In a good way. So maybe moving on is a good thing.

So, this early on, is it possible to start trying to talk about what DA:I is up to? Or is it enough to just start asking some questions?

Religion has always been floating in the background in Dragon Age, from respectful or irreverent dialogue options in DA:O, to Leliana and Sebastian’s expressions of faith, to the lore that sort of informs the conflict between Templars and Mages even if it, well, sort of doesn’t actually have anything to do with what is a straight power conflict. But DA:I makes a gesture of moving religion to the foreground — the player character is, after all, the leader of a religious movement, even if not everyone in the movement takes the religious aspects all that seriously.

And this is where it becomes thought to try to parse what the game itself is doing. I mean, it’s titled “Inquisition,” an invocation both in the game world and ours of deeply and specifically religious organizations, but how the player responds to the religious questions the game touches on are shaped by the player’s own inclinations, and at least this early on, the game seems happy to decline to question the player’s preferences. Companion dialogue gives voice to a variety of positions, but the player isn’t obligated to acquiesce to any of them.

Come to think of it, maybe on a future playthrough I’ll just argue with everyone. Argue faith to the skeptical, and question the faithful. Neither of which I’m exactly doing now. If my Dalish elf mage isn’t entirely comfortable with the title she’s been given as the Herald of Andraste, it doesn’t seem to have any impact on whether anyone calls her that. And while I was given the opportunity to express my belief in the elven gods rather than Andraste and The Maker, that didn’t quite feel right either. After all, I don’t know anything about the elven gods, and while I’m sure I could dig into the journal sections of the three Dragon Age games, who wants to deal with that?

But is that something of an achievement in itself? Isn’t it a bit rare for a fictional fantasy universe to be so agnostic?

Or having played as agnostic characters, am I just hitting the limit of what I can say about DA’s take on faith? Is Dragon Age really more about politics steeped in religion rather than religion itself?

Or is there something Protestant in the way faith in Dragon Age is in the end a personal thing, that exists at times around and despite the organizations ostensibly built in its name?

Like my Herald, I don’t know. Hopefully I’ll get to revisit this.

TOMORROW: Templars and mages, and my first dragon(s)

Originally published on TinyLetter, re-posted 1/19/17 on Medium