Dragon Age Inquisition And The Illusion of Choice

I just completed Dragon Age Inquisition for the second time.

My first impressions of the game were great; I was quick to label it Bioware's best since Knights of the Old Republic. I, however, saw some of the game's flaws during my second playthrough.

The first time, I was an elven rogue. I decided to be a human warrior in my second playthrough--even if they removed the dual wielding option from the class.

I remembered most of my dialogue options from my time as an elf rogue, and chose to pick different ones as a human.

I soon realized one of the biggest flaws of the game, which will make itself present when you decide to replay it: There are no real choices in the game that impact the world.

Bioware is known for developing games with branching storylines; Knights of the Old Republic was a perfect example of this. You could free Wookiee slaves or side with the greedy Czerka Corporation on Kashyyyk, you could redeem Yuthura Ban on Korriban--making her appear on Dantooine; and you could fall to the dark side and kill most of the characters with whom you travelled.

You felt like your choices had consequences. Dragon Age Inquisition doesn't have choices, but the illusion thereof.

Before continuing, I would like to issue a spoiler warning for those who haven't played the game yet: Major plot points will be revealed in this article.

The biggest choice you make in Inquisition is whether to side with the Mages or Templars. There is a sinister force manipulating both sides in a Palpatine-esque manner, and you must save one from plunging into darkness.

Regardless of your decision, Corypheus reveals himself as the villain and attacks Haven with a massive force of Red Templars or Venatori-enslaved mages.

This is one of the best parts of Inquisition, and my knuckles were white as I gripped my controller trying to save as many townspeople as I could. There's one problem: the aftermath.

If you side with the Templars, there are still Red Templars interspersed throughout the world. In addition, if you side with the Mages, you still encounter Venatori agents--making you wonder how much weight your choice held.

This doesn't even include the leaders of the Mages and Templars, both of whom can appear as potential bosses depending on the side you choose. After arriving at Skyhold, the leader of the order you saved has little impact on the overall narrative.

He or she is tucked away in the castle and is capable of only shining an expositional light on the game's story.

The game tells you that your decision between Templars and Mages has impact on your companions. You will see a list of which characters approve or disapprove of your choice. But I didn't even feel that. I could still romance Cassandra even though she "greatly disapproved" of my decision to side with the Mages.

Some may argue that this is a more dynamic system; just because a person disagrees with a decision you make, doesn't mean that he or she dislikes you. I see this point, but there didn't appear to be a breach of trust with any of my companions.

They greeted me the same way.

I would have liked there to have been some greater challenge at winning your often-disapproving companions' trust back: a gift-giving mechanic, or some philosophical conversation where you could persuade them to your line of thinking. But there isn't any of that.

In Origins, you could make Leliana less fanatically devoted to the Chantry by selecting the right dialogue options.

In addition, you could make Alistair less terrified to be the king; you literally had the option of whom to make the ruler of Ferelden in the first game.

Next is the game's ending, which felt rushed. My first time playing, I racked up 100 hours gathering my soldiers and building the might of my Inquisition--thinking that there would be some reward for doing so at the end of the game.

There is a precedent for this in gaming, and I will reference a tabooed RPG to make my point: In Final Fantasy X-2, the ending of the story depended on how many side-quests you completed.

If you simply played through the story, then Yuna would not be reunited with Tidus; if you completed a majority of the game's sidequests, Yuna would be reunited with Tidus; and if you completed the game, there would be a bonus post-credits clip of Tidus talking about how he returned.

But I digress; I was expecting something like that for the end of Inquisition. I was hoping to have Corypheus march to the doorstep of Skyhold with a massive force, only to be repelled by the Inquisition I had gathered. But there was none of that.

He merely warped through the portal, and my character rushed to end him. Morrigan reflected on some of my decisions in her post-game narration. But I didn't feel like I changed anything or made any meaningful decisions.

Dragon Age Inquisition is still an excellent game and a great improvement on its predecessor, Dragon Age II.

But Bioware is known for totally immersing you in their games. And with the knowledge I now have about the game's choice system, I felt more involved in Dragon Age Origins than I did in Inquisition.