I bought Dragon Age: Inquisition. Didn't just buy it. Pre-ordered it. It's the first game in a while I've been excited to play, which is why it's so hilarious that it's premier timed almost exactly to the busiest part of my year: for the next three weeks, I'll be spending the bulk of my time editing papers and providing feedback to students, leaving me with precious little time to sit down and do things like "enjoy amazing video games." But still, I'm trying. I've put a decent chunk of time into DA:I, a few hours so far. But even before that, I found myself investing a tremendous amount of time in DA:I's legacy "web app."
To those of you who didn't pre-purchase Dragon Age: Inquisition, or even play the first Dragon Age, the "Dragon Age Legacy" app is essentially a giant spreadsheet that EA is asking its players to complete before they begin playing Dragon Age: Inquisition. It's a floridly designed, wonderfully artistic spreadsheet, but a spreadsheet it remains, resplendent with variables that detail the outcomes you determined in previous games. The events in question vary in memorability and severity from "Did you sacrifice your life killing the Archdaemon?" to "Did you give a bracelet to a young woman in a fruit stall in a flybitten shithole town just outside of the capital city?" These choices are, in fact, presented as having the same level of import to the game itself, and who knows just how accurate that portrayal is. So far, I've seen some variables manifest themselves that I didn't consider significant at all, like the outcome of a quest that I may or may not have represented accurately, in some pretty dramatic ways, like the well-being and disposition of the starting location of the game itself. Characters from the game who could potentially die are already popping up, and references to the King, who could've theoretically died, are popping up as well. This spreadsheet has already had a massive impact on my gameplay experience, which is good, because I spent around as much time filling it out as I've spent playing Dragon Age: Inquisition itself so far (around five or six hours, all told).
How did I spend that time, you ask? Largely attempting to reconstruct my playthrough of the first Dragon Age game, which features the largest concentration of variables, an unsurprising fact considering how long and detailed that game is. I picked over Dragon Age's surprisingly porous questlog, locating a number of suspicious outcomes that indicated I'd done things like had a child with a woman I'd never met (seems unlikely) or sprinkled blood on the holiest of ashes that I remember gaming my way around defiling so that I could still unlock the class that required destroying an important piece of Thedas' shared cultural heritage. I spent an entire evening after I finished teaching picking over those variables one by one, trying to sort out just what the vague post-quest wording behind each one meant, or where the quests might actually exist in that framework, until finally I gave up and, hat in hand, filled out the outcomes that I could remember, and improvised the ones I couldn't. It was easier for Dragon Age 2, which was both fresher, and possessed of fewer variables (though I couldn't for the life of my remember who I'd romanced; either Isabella's fine pirate booty of Merrill's sweet and shy heart) but I still spent more time than I should've checking and double checking my results against the quest log, and even shifted a particular variable that had an immediate impact on Dragon Age: Inquisition's plot.
All this effort occupied a place for me adjacent to the game itself, a space where I could reflect on what had come before in various Dragon Ages, and what would come next in this new adventure. The raw number of variables was so overwhelming, so intoxicating, that it made me remember just how queerly wonderful the sense of choice and consequence was in the first few Dragon Age games. Some of them were obvious, for sure, but the very notion that some of those decisions, things as simple as completing a particular quest line, might reverberate through other games, is impressive in a way that even the Mass Effect series' heavy interconnectivity doesn't manage.
It also highlights my lone disappointment with the first few hours of Dragon Age: Inquisition: the limited character background options. I know, it's a bit silly to harp on considering the history of the series, and the way that options were so dramatically scaled down in Dragon Age 2, but I still miss the thorough interactivity that Dragon Age: Origins allowed you to impose on your character. The raw, overpowering number of variables available to you was tremendous, and the way it shaped gameplay simultaneously so minor and yet so fundamental. I desperately wanted to play as an elf from an Alienage who had carved his way into a position of authority, only to be laid low by a single ill-timed explosion after a career of taking advantage of such moments, but no joy. My options were limited; only one selection per race/class combo, many of those outright duplicates. While it's far from the worst thing to happen to the series, it was somewhat disappointing to encounter after reflecting on the rich array of choices available to me in previous games.
But perhaps it shouldn't be. Given Dragon Age: Inquisition's focus on previous events, and the dexterous little character creation system that, while not as robust as Dragon Age: Origins, still provides enough options for me to be the person, more or less, that I want to be, perhaps this is just a nod at how important those previous choices I made were and how, in time, the choices I'm making in Dragon Age: Inquisition will rise to prominence as well. Perhaps these limitations aren't limitations at all; they're strictures placed on a system so that all the choices I've made before can have a chance to play out and create a world, a narrative all my own, fulfilling the apparent goal of the Dragon Age series since it kicked off its early days as a roughshod Facebook game that gave you a chance to piss around on the Deep Roads, pre-Origins' release.