A Look at Dragon Age: Inquisition and the Value of Choice

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I feel I’ve been extremely candid about my lack of experience with video games. So, it might seem strange that I’m writing an article about a video game. However, I’ve been watching Sarah the Rebel play Dragon Age: Inquisition on her Twitch Channel, so when I saw this Paste article by Austin Walker, I thought it warranted a response.

I’ll give a quick summary for those who don’t feel like clicking the link. Basically, the author states that Inquisition has been getting blasted for the last few weeks for several reasons, from action sequences to political structure. One of the more popular critiques that the author disagrees with is that players don’t get to make any “real choices” in the game. The author goes on to identify this complaint as due to a lack of clarity of stakes, a term that just means that the outcome of a decision isn’t obvious. Though there are choices in Inquisition, the rewards are rarely critically important to the immediate gameplay. This has led the critics to conclude that the choices of Inquisition are meaningless.

The author disagrees with this sentiment and does a wonderful job explaining the nature of how people view decisions, in video games and real life. Seriously, I highly recommend reading the article. It’s a well-done, introspective piece that goes far beyond a simple review of a video game and response to critics. Though I loved the article, I can’t help but notice that there’s a point about the critiques that wasn’t brought up, which I’ll try to address here.

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The critiques are that there are no real choices in Inquisition because the choices made have no obvious reward and are, therefore, meaningless. To me, this sounds like an argument about instant gratification. Since there’s no obvious, instant reward, the critics of the game don’t feel like their choices are important.

However, just because there are no instant rewards doesn’t mean the choices are unimportant. To get a better understanding of the choices present in Inquisition, I spoke to Caylie, one of our amazing writers, who has actually played the game. Caylie happens to agree with the author of the original article, and finds that her choices at the War Table, though they include no clear reward, are part of the most enjoyable part of the game for her. I also lucked out when talking to Caylie. She’s currently on her second playthrough and has also watched a friend’s playthroughs, so she’s been able to see the effects of her choices. Though she doesn’t know the exact effect of each decision she’s made in-game, her gaming experience (and that of her friend’s) has been notably different each time. I think it’s safe, then, to say that the choices made in Inquisition are meaningful, even if the outcomes may never be fully understood.

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In addition, when I read the original article, I immediately formed a comparison between the critics of Inquisition and the critics of recreational games (those games that have quick levels with lots of instant gratification). I found it interesting that some of the same people who look down on recreational gamers for their joy of instant gratification games would also complain that a game doesn’t have enough instant gratification.

Here’s the thing: even when I get to play video games, I’m not often interested in playing games like Inquisition. I’ve tried a few, and they rarely held my interest for too long. Yet, Inquisition is different. I’ve watched several playthroughs, and it’s the first video game (outside of Smash, Kart, etc) that I have an active interest in. I really want to play this game, and am frustrated that I don’t own a compatible console (if anyone wants to help me get on the PC train, let me know). But the reason I want to play Inquisition is not because of the epic graphics and awesome battle sequences. I want to play because of the in-game choices.

Inquisition is the first game of its kind that creates a fantasy world that actually feels like a real world. In the real world, we make small decisions every day. Decisions that we may not think are important, but which have more of an effect on our lives than we know. Not to speak in clichés too often, but it’s like the example of a flap of a butterfly’s wing causing a hurricane halfway across the world. The smallest thing, the smallest choice, can have astronomical, unforeseen results. In Inquisition, we get to make choices with unforeseen results, just as we would in real life, but we also get to play in a world of complete fantasy.

When I play a game, watch a show, or read a book, I want to have a completely immersive experience (or as immersive as possible). My hobbies are my escape and, when the world I’m escaping to has similar subtlety to the real world, it makes it all the easier to enter that new world. It makes it easier to believe in the fantasy that someone has worked so hard to create for me and so many others.

The original author ends his article with a question. Though only four words, the question is what drove me to write this article today. Walker asks us, “What do [we] value?” My answer is this: I value the ability to make choices. I value the ability to follow my own path and make my own decisions, even with no knowledge of the results. I value the present. I value that I have freedom to make the small decisions in my life, even though I have no idea if those decisions will lead to the future I imagine for myself.

In short, I value choice. So, what do you value?

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7 thoughts on “A Look at Dragon Age: Inquisition and the Value of Choice

  1. I’ve mentioned a few times in my playthroughs that I really do think there are tons of meaningful choices in the game, choices that affect who I end up fighting, which NPC I get to continue to interact with and choices that let me run into characters from other Dragon Age media. And like Mandaray, I get a ton of joy out of the story-reason for my choices at the war table. I never do them for the rewards. Great article hun!

  2. Thank you for writing this. 🙂 This post encapsulates a lot of my feelings about games, especially Bioware games: It’s the choices that make it an amazing experience for me. I was deeply saddened and frustrated when I learned there were people harshly critiquing this game for not having any “real” choices, or that the rewards for such were inadequate. I went to the War Table never even expecting rewards. The ones which the game *did* give me (in the form of, say, equipment) were meaningless to me. I was there because I was motivated by a desire to help the people of Thedas and to form their impression of my Inquisition. Even though these were fake, imaginary people, THAT is what I value. I value being able to affect infrastructure; help people rebuild; help people explore; and most of all help people live. I don’t care if I get a pat on the back or a chestpiece or an amulet for that–I do it because I can’t have this kind of power in real life, so I look to my games to give it to me instead. Dragon Age delivers on that promise, and as you say it also gives us a chance to simulate reality by giving us a myriad of little choices. Because at the end of the day, it’s the little choices that *really* matter.

  3. I haven’t looked into this game much, but the ability to make choices with unforeseeable consequences is really intriguing. I don’t know if that would work well for me though…I like to try every different outcome in a game, and I get stressed if I feel like there are parts of a game I haven’t experienced. Silly, I know, but it usually leads me to sticking to simpler games. Still I really want to give this a try or at least watch it played now!

    • I’m glad that you’re interested in the game! Dragon Age: Inquisition is very subtle about the affects that your choices will have, so hopefully it won’t stress you as much as some other games. I would definitely recommend watch Sarah the Rebel play on Twitch (link in the article) to get a better idea if this game will work for you. 🙂

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