Now, as everyone knows at this point, I’ve been on a pretty serious Dragon Age binge, revisiting Origins for some much-needed nostalgia and waxing poetic over my unrequited adoration of a one Lady Seeker. Cool, right?
I don’t have a problem.
Full disclosure: My younger sister and I grew up racing through the aisles of Blockbuster, arguing over the one game we were occasionally allowed to rent as a treat for being well-behaved. Thus, like the days when she watched me scrabble ineffectually up the rock wall in Tomb Raider II, my sister wanted to be there for my playthrough of Inquisition, despite having no prior knowledge of the first two installments in the game.
That’s when an idea struck me. What if I asked my sister to play the game without any guidance apart from the occasional technical tip? The results were a surprisingly introspective look into the world of RPGs for someone who hadn’t played one before, much less had any interest in playing one. She laid down some heavy truths, people.
What follows are my sister’s impressions of all things lore, dialogue, romance, and mechanics within Inquisition as she experienced it playing through the initial storyline. (Forgive the shoddy Xbox 360 snapshots? We’re not like the cool HD kids.)
The Character: “He’s beautiful. You’re welcome.”
Name: Francisco (It was almost ‘Buddy the Elf’)
Credit where credit is due: My sister didn’t agonize over the character customization details in the slightest. She toyed with a few sliders, laughed, and hit ‘Done.’ That kind of self-assured creativity is something I can only dream of when readying myself for the next Bioware RPG, so I was admittedly a bit dumbfounded when she finished her character in under ten minutes. To be fair, she said her choices were informed by the voice actor option (Harry Hadden-Paton) given that he apparently sounds like Jude Law. Thus, a Jude Law elf who looks kind of like Adam Levine was born in the form of Francisco Lavellan.
She was, however, disappointed by the lack of body customization. While the body types in reference to specific species didn’t faze her at all (she nearly made a Qunari male before switching), she seemed put off when the options didn’t include anything below the neck. Why did Solas get the nice butt, but Francisco didn’t? A question for the ages.
The Dialogue: “People think I murdered someone, but they still want my help?”
There’s a certain charm, in her estimation, in the fact that your companions can approve and/or disapprove your decisions in-game. She compared it with the Crash Bandicoot of our childhood in that Crash’s progress through the story had little to no effect on the other characters, given he was on a preset story path. In Inquisition, you’re the one driving the story, and subsequently, the other characters are at least a little bit forced to grow along with you.
What did pull her from the immersion, however, were the sex conversations. They felt jarring and out of place while she progressed through the story, though any and all flirt options still held amusement for her—if in a detached way. She further found it immensely entertaining that asking a character two personal questions could open up a potential romance option. We talked a little about how this interplay was a little like The Sims, “rewarding” you for hitting all the passive chat options before you could move on to the more intimate questions.
As for the dialogue in general, there were a few speed bumps. When talking with another character, the abrupt end to that line of dialogue without any validation from the Inquisitor made her laugh. She felt it was an unnatural way to speak to someone—sort of like playing tennis and dropping your racket after the third volley. You could say “I have another question,” but dropping the last line of dialogue in favor of another completely unrelated one seemed out of step with the otherwise seamless flow of conversation.
The Lore: “It’s Like Watching a Movie Before Reading the Book.”
According to my sister, the most important part of playing Inquisition requires the desire to invest in each character. Getting to know these individuals on a personal level is the crux of the game itself, not so much the history or even the culture, all of which can be gleamed as you progress through codex explanations and, ultimately, Google—if I had let her use that source, at least. (I’m mean.) It’s the characters that drive this story, and everything else is ultimately the toppings on the cake.
It’s important to note that she expressed her appreciation for such a diverse cast, describing the characters as both unique in personality and clearly distinct in their own goals. However, she noted the difficulties of playing a game where people were further defined by their species, as that informed many of the characters’ motivations. With no knowledge of the Qunari or their belief system, talking with the Iron Bull was confusing at best and frustrating at worst.
Ultimately, my sister concluded that it wasn’t so much the lore that crippled a player new to Bioware’s built-in world, merely a lack of knowledge as to its mechanics. She found it more challenging getting the hang of how to find and complete quests, how to locate and move forward in the main story, and so on. Granted, even though I consider myself a seasoned Dragon Age enthusiast, I had similar issues in my first playthrough. Knowing the lore only adds to the experience of playing the game, but it doesn’t make or break the playing experience itself. It all depends on what experience you want, which ultimately informs how you play.
Bonus Commentary: “You can’t sit with us!”
Mean Girls was quoted with increasing frequency, as evidenced by the scene above. My sister was under the distinct impression that Chancellor Roderick was the equivalent of Regina George if suddenly all the other cliques had risen up in unison to oppose her—and I can’t say I disagree. He also sort of gets hit by a bus, too? Work with me here.
As with anything we play together, my sister also made further associations with certain characters to guide her through gameplay and inform her impressions of the story itself. Meaning, she recast the main characters as actors from The Holiday and referred to them as such.
Francisco: Jude Law
Solas: Cameron Diaz
Varric: Jack Black
Cassandra: Kate Winslet
In conclusion, the Rift in the sky is what happens to the little diamond over a Sims’ head when they die. Just in case you were wondering.