informa
9 min read
article

Dragon Age: Why am I here?

Dragon Age: Inquisition gives us a lot of places and quests but for most of those it doesn't give us much of a connection to them. How can we change things so that the areas and quests feel unique and deepen the characterization of your party?

As I pride myself on being hyper topical I want to talk about the 2 big pieces of DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition that aren't Trespasser: "Jaws of Hakkon" and "The Descent". They both try in different ways to solve a pretty big problem the game has with its various areas, but before I can talk about how they try to solve it let me elaborate on what they are trying to solve.

image
 
 

Trespasser is significantly different as it aims to be an ending/epilogue whereas Jaws/Descent just try to add to the meat of the game. Trespasser does that so well I think it should of been where the game actually ended.

DA:I has a lot to do in it. It has huge expansive areas full of secrets and quests just waiting to be discovered and solved. The problem is that no one cares if you do, at least not anyone with a name. A lot of the quests in this game are fetch quests given to you by nameless NPCs or notes on the ground. With so many of these quests dotting the landscape it is easy to get locked into a cycle of doing quests you didn't care about because they were all so close to each other, because you just wanted to finish off the ones you had on you, or because you were trying to be efficient and get all of the ones in an area done at once. 

I remember when it first came out people getting really bored with the game because they would stay in the Hinterlands - the first area - and just grinding away at all the quests there. Message boards were full of people advising them to get out of the Hinterlands and go explore other lands where interesting things happen.

Most of the quests don't have an emotional connection to anyone the player cares about (or knows the name of). Instead the game relies on the gameplay and visuals being fun enough to get players through the numerous quests despite their lack of emotional payoff. The only quests that really have an emotional backing to them are the main story lines ones and the few loyalty missions (many of which you don't even have to bring that companion along to complete). But this lack of an emotional connection to what you are doing is larger than just the fact that the game has so many fluff quests as you also don't have a connection to the areas you are exploring.

image
 

Game Designer Harding knows what’s up.


 

You don't really go to any of the large areas to advance the story, not directly anyways. The story missions are typically done through special one off missions you active using “Power” you gain by completing side quests. It doesn't matter which side quests you complete and the large areas are the largest source of this currency. There are a couple exceptions to this, but when you do go to an area for main story reasons it is just to activate a mission somewhere else or perhaps to have a fight in a quarantined off part of the area.

These expansive open world areas in the game don't really matter to the main story, nor to anyone in your party. Areas are just places you go to grind for experience, items, and for the power you need to advance the main storyline (which happens somewhere else). You don't go to these areas for an important or interesting reason - there are things there to kill, so you go kill them - nor do any of your companions care what happens in these areas. The end result is that you don't have an emotional connection to these areas or a reason to get emotionally invested in helping the people you find there. Regardless of how visually distinct and well designed an area is they end up feeling indistinct while playing because you do the same things with the same people in all of them. 

image
 

Due to equipment limitations and personal preference people tend to default to a set party. It is a good idea to provide incentives for the player to switch up their party or just force them to have specific characters in the party for specific things, especially when you have a large cast to choose from. This is why I am especially upset by - and keep mentioning - that you don't have to bring characters along on many of their own loyalty quests.

Haven, your home base, is where all the interesting stuff happens. Everything out in those expansive areas is optional and interchangeable; what happens out there only matters when you come back to Haven to have the strong character work done in Haven. Those places out there don't matter because no one cares about them and interesting stuff doesn't happen in them. Without an emotional connection to an area it just becomes a backdrop to the same actions.

The "Jaws of Hakkon" DLC is a new area to explore. The difference is that it is one you are given a reason to care about it. You go there for a distinct and interesting reason (looking at you Hissing Wastes) that leads into the area itself having a main storyline that leads to a really interesting boss fight. You are there to find the body of the first Inquisitor of the first Inquisition. Along the way you save a bear, stop a cult, and find out hidden histories that are emotionally resonant to what your Inquisition is going through now. 

Other areas arguably have stories lines in/about them, but they are not as pronounced and central as it is in Jaws of Hakkon and they don't lead to a huge boss battle. Nor is what happens in them providing a new perspective on what the Inquisition - or anyone in the Inquisition - is going though and what it might go through in the future.

image
 

A lot of areas have High Dragon's to fight as an interesting boss fight, but they are more like really strong monsters that hang out in an area, not the boss of an area that everything leads up to.

"The Decent" is a much more linear. Jaws of Hakkon had a main story line but it also was in the mold of all the other game's areas in that it is large, open and had plenty to explore beyond it’s storyline. In that way The Decent feels much more like something out of Dragon Age 2 than Inquisition (I really liked 2 so I say that as a compliment). 

What is important is what that linearity allows us to have a couple AI companions who follow us around the whole time we are in the area. This is great because it gives us characters who we know and care about who themselves care about what is happening in this area. And because they follow along they get to banter and isn't banter great? 

This connection gives the story of what is happening here weight and importance because it isn't theoretically important to someone who gave us the quest, it is important to the people we are traveling and fighting with. The fact that the storyline reveals interesting things about the world and it's lore is nice, but without a connection though characters we cared about it would of just been a slightly more interesting codex entry.

image
 

I should mention I'm not endorsing buying either of these. I think they are better than the other areas of the game - more focused and interesting - but that is a fair bit of money for a better version of what the game gives you a lot of already. There is a lot in the game so before you think about getting these 2 pieces of DLC think about just finishing off areas you haven't really explored.

Maybe it is just me but I connect to a world through it's characters, and for so much of the game DA:I didn't feel the need to give us that connection to these places. An interesting a beautiful set piece is nice, but why should I care? 

Something I'd of liked to have seen is to keep areas open but connect them strongly to a single character in your party and force you to bring them along in that area. This means that what we are doing in each area matters to at least one of the characters as we can make that area representative of the character and what they are going through. 

For example instead of the Storm Coast - where you meet and recruit the Iron Bull - being infested by random bandits and spiders make the area full of Tal-Vashoth bandits. People who are cruel, violent, and mad in all the ways Bull is afraid he is going to become one day. Clearing the area leads Bull to examine if he needs the Qun to stay in control culminating in his loyalty mission involving the Dreadnought.

Varric's area could be a part of the Deep Roads that is being used to mine and transport Red Lyrium which leads up to the Bianca revelation. The Exalted Plains is largely a battlefield between two sides of Orlaisian nobility fighting over political power - with a sprinkling of rebels - that gets overrun by demons. Make Blackwall a central character in what happens there, that place is already perfect for representing what Blackwall is trying to work through but the connection to him is never made. And so on for each character.

Grounding an area in a specific character and what they are going through changes the significance of solving even the small problems in an area. These fights and quests are something that matters to someone you know and care about for specific and personal reasons.

image
 

Maybe don't force them to always have that character in the area if you really don't want to. I can see some party configurations being bad. But the player should be able to build any character to be able to useful in the party regardless of what class/build the player character wants to have. If you can't then I feel like that is a failure of each character's customization options.

I like that the game has so many more companions but that means that more of them will fall through the cracks as there are more to fall through the cracks. You can easily complete everything in the game without ever using half the characters available to you and that is a crying shame.

Dragon Age: Inquisition gave us so much more world to care about, but not a reason to care about it.

Latest Jobs

Treyarch

Playa Vista, California
6.20.22
Audio Engineer

Digital Extremes

London, Ontario, Canada
6.20.22
Communications Director

High Moon Studios

Carlsbad, California
6.20.22
Senior Producer

Build a Rocket Boy Games

Edinburgh, Scotland
6.20.22
Lead UI Programmer
More Jobs   

CONNECT WITH US

Register for a
Subscribe to
Follow us

Game Developer Account

Game Developer Newsletter

@gamedevdotcom

Register for a

Game Developer Account

Gain full access to resources (events, white paper, webinars, reports, etc)
Single sign-on to all Informa products

Register
Subscribe to

Game Developer Newsletter

Get daily Game Developer top stories every morning straight into your inbox

Subscribe
Follow us

@gamedevdotcom

Follow us @gamedevdotcom to stay up-to-date with the latest news & insider information about events & more