Dragon Age Inquisition: Already Showing the Medium’s Storytelling Potential in the First Hour

I’m replaying Dragon Age: Inquisition for what is sure to be the first of many, many times, so this is likely the first of many, many posts on the subject. This contains some spoilers for the first hour or so of the game.

So, you, the Herald, have been mentally acquitted by Cassandra, Solas, and Varric of being the one who murdered everybody, which is apparently good enough, and the party heads off to the now-exploded Temple of Sacred Ashes to poke at the rift with mysterious hand-powers. Now, you have the option to comment on how horrible the destruction at the Conclave was before this, but, for most of us I think, it doesn’t really sink in until arriving at the still-burning ruins.

You walk into the once-Temple, now lacking most of its structure, and there are just corpses everywhere. But not normal corpses: no, petrified corpses resembling something out of post-excavation Pompeii. There are a lot of them. Some of them are still on fire. All of them seem to have had just enough time to recognize the horror about to be visited upon them before turning to statues of ash, judging by the twisted expressions on their faces. You look, really look, at these people, struck by the contorted faces and the burning and the sheer number of them and oh, what it must have been like in that moment. And that’s the brilliance of it: this is something you discover, without outside forces framing it. It’s on you to look at it, to consider it, to really take it in before moving on.

A lot of games would introduce this kind of thing as a cutscene (and the toasty dudes do appear in a cutscene right after this, in case the player speeds on by the in-field version, but they’re there as part of the background). There’s nothing really wrong with that—it gives the advantage of perfectly polished graphics and dramatic music to the presentation of the Impressive Scene. Still, doing that completely ignores the strengths of the videogame medium. It’s important that the player discovers things for herself in this medium, because that is precisely what allows her to have a closer connection to the story than a movie or book can provide. As a player, the actual playing part is what makes the character you.

Not all games are designed with need for story immersion, of course, particularly ones that are more action- than story-focused. But to me, these are the moments the medium truly shines. When, at the end of Bioshock, you realize that obeying every command like games have taught you to do was driving the plot the whole time. When, in Silent Hill 3, you feel pure horror when asked, “They look like monsters to you?”

I’m impressed by such a seemingly small thing because that seemingly small thing—one moment in a game that is easily 100 hours—managed to impact me, even the second time around. Because it was carefully crafted, but not presented. It is these small moments that allow videogames to be something greater and more profoundly connected to the audience than traditional media, and I hope that this potential won’t be lost under a varnish of cutscenes before we’ve really explored it.

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3 thoughts on “Dragon Age Inquisition: Already Showing the Medium’s Storytelling Potential in the First Hour

  1. Yes! Dragon Age Inquisition is a wonderful game! As you point out, there are many small details like this throughout the game, and all these add up to make a powerful impression! The first part of the game is absolutely brilliant (up to the Skyhold). I especially liked the “Dawn Will Come” song at the camp! David Gaider wrote the lyrics. I actually cried a little bit because it was so well-directed!

    What race and class you played so far and what are your plans?

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  2. Oh yes, the “Dawn Will Come” part was amazing! It’s one of those rare moments just stays with you even after you’re done playing.

    My first playthrough I was an elf archer, and now I’m playing a Qunari two-handed warrior. I sided with the mages the first time through, so now I’m trying to go back an ally with the templars, and also make different choices on other stuff…within reason, since some things I just won’t do. 😛 I’m surprised by how much, even outside of the part of the story that’s affected by player choice, I’m seeing this time that I didn’t see on my first playthrough! I’m usually pretty thorough when it comes to exploring in games, but there’s just so much content that I keep finding whole areas I had no idea were there before.

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    1. hehe That’s very interesting because we have a somewhat similar situation! My first session was a mage. My warden was an elf mage, and I wanted to make an elf mage Inquisitor too, but I absolutely failed at the character creation! To make matters worse, I failed not even once – many times! After so much frustration of trying to make a decent-looking elf, I just gave up… I wanted to make a female with a strong character, not one of those perfectly proportional supermodels! I just could not do it with an elf! T_T Then… then I did what I have not considered even remotely… Yes, I opted for creating a Qunari… Nevertheless, this time I was very pleased with the result – she turned out wonderful! Then, the rest is history! Qunari mage who, naturally, sided with the mages! She finished pretty much everything there is in a game, including all dragons, companion quests, etc.

      For my second session, I decided to go with an archer. Archers are so much fun! Mages used to be very interesting to play in the Origins due to all the resources management. In DA2 and DAI, I feel it is somewhat boring to play as a mage because it is too easy and does not require too much thought. With an archer, you have to think, at least a little bit, including positioning distance, etc. Also, it is so much fun sniping! hehe This time ,just like you, I decided to take the side of the templars. The story is quite interesting with this choice, but I have not finished everything yet.

      Oh, another scene I liked was a “family reunion” 🙂

      As for the content, it is really amazing how much they put into the game. I also tend to be quite thorough in exploring, but keep finding something new 🙂

      Also, speaking of RPGs, Pillars of Eternity is available now!

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