Despite my good intentions, I’ve never really given Dragon Age much time. My BioWare time was monopolized by my Mass Effect addiction and the multiple awesome playthroughs that caused. For all its greatness, Mass Effect kind of broke the way I played RPGs. Paragon or Renegade, make your choice. Even if I was eventually given a third door, I wasn’t interested in gray areas. I needed to see the extremes of my choices.
You’re not really that sure of yourself
Thankfully, I had some space between Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age: Inquisition. That time happened to be filled by Telltale adventure games, namely The Walking Dead, which borrowed more than a few lessons from BioWare’s dialog trees. The Walking Dead doesn’t just have dialog options though, it has a timer on some of its choices. That timer forced me to make fast decisions and shoot from the hip more occasions that I’m usually comfortable with in a video game. The Walking Dead liberated me and opened me up to neutral playthroughs of story driven games.
Enter Dragon Age: Inquisition and its civil war with no clear good or evil faction. Both sides are flawed and both sides have merit. I have absolutely no idea where my story is going. I may have chosen the wrong allies from the start and I’m already heading down a path that leads to the complete destruction of the world or an ending where only a handful of individuals survive and they all happen to be assholes. There’s also a chance that my erratic decisions lead to a better world for everyone. It’s impossible to say how things will turn out, but 15 hours into Dragon Age: Inquisition and this game already feels like the most authentic BioWare game because of my character – the unassuming and neutral elf who doesn’t really care that she’s an elf and just wants everyone to get along unless you said something shitty to me and in that case I can’t wait to shoot you through the head with an explosive arrow.
I’ve just reached a point in the story where a true threat has emerged in the world and my companions are tagging along with me no matter what path I take to bring down this enemy. There’s real power in my decisions now and people’s lives hang in the balance. That used to paralyze me. I used to retry every small moment in games like this just to ensure no one (or everyone) died or disagreed with my choices. In those cases I wasn’t making my own story, I was tracing a story that I knew the developer’s had carefully planned. Now, I’m messing up. Innocent people have died and jerks are gaining power, but I’m ok with it because I know why I made the choices I did. In the moment, I’d do it the same way again and this story and my hero really feel like my own unique part of the Dragon Age universe. I know my story isn’t completely unique, but that authoritative power you feel every time someone reacts to your character’s actions is what makes these games great.
This could have gone horribly wrong, and it still might
I’m thrilled BioWare moved on from explicitly defining the extreme actions your character can take. Granted, if it had done the same thing with Mass Effect I wouldn’t have been able to make any decisions and never would have played the game. So I’m really thankful that other games loosened me up a bit because without them I never would have given Dragon Age: Inquisition a chance and it’s already one of my most memorable games of the year.