beccatoria: (commander space jesus)
beccatoria ([personal profile] beccatoria) wrote2014-12-24 06:15 pm

Dragon Age Inquisition: a Review


Okay firstly, I am really sorry I fell off the face of the internet a bit (well except twitter: timesuck of timesucks). There were a couple of reasons, some realworldy, some Dragon Age Inquisition-related, but I'm back now. I've also been trying to pare down this review post for like...a week and I've finally just given up.

So this is ridiculously long and serves as much as an archive of my feelings for the future as something I expect anyone to actually read all of, but I have tried to segment it in ways that are sensible and I encourage people to skip to the bits that interest them rather than trying to read this...novel. On Christmas Eve. ;)

Anyway: The Main Event.

Dragon Age: the World

So, my history with this franchise can largely be summed up by "OMGS BIOWARE but meh not Mass Effect except OMGS MORRIGAN."

I adore Dragon Age: Origins for its companion interactions and also just because it was plain old good immersive fantasy world fun. It had a great balance of in-depth tactics or just going "fuck it I'll play on easy with found loot." I miss having a voiced protagonist and I genuinely feel that meant I connected less fully with my Warden even if it meant I got more specific and nuanced conversation options. Conversely, I adored the changes to the dialogue system in DA2 - the way it had broad personalities but the ability to differentiate between say, "direct" and "aggressive" within those broad sections, but the game itself left me conflicted due to reservations about the parts narrative.

Dragon Age: Inquisition largely manages to blend what I liked about the first and second games. Its dialogue system isn't quite the personality-based one of DA2 but does come with helpful icons, and it manages to improve on the epic world-saving of Origins, even if it doesn't ever quite reach the narrative heights of the Mass Effect franchise. In fairness, it would be hard to given that they had three games to build that story, whereas each Dragon Age game stands alone. From what I understand, that's at least partly EA's fault. They mandated a sequel to Origins before Bioware wanted to make one. Part of why DA2 is so repetitive in its maps is because it was built out of what was originally planned as an Awakening-style DLC for Origin.

While I'm mostly impressed with its dialogue and plot, I am not sure how I feel about its gameplay.

Technical Gameplay Stuff

Nothing about it ruined the game for me. I do miss the nearly turn-based system in the previous games that has been replaced by the tactical view since I find that clunky and harder to manage so I mostly play in realtime. But I'm not an accomplished gamer and I finished it on normal difficulty.

I also think it's a shame they replaced the detailed tactical commands for the Party AI with the more specifically controlled tactical view. I know you can still set things as disabled/enabled/preferred and broad thresholds for using potions, etc., but gone are the days when I can set Morrigan's primary response to any situation as turning into a giant spider immediately (including in the middle of the Chantry, in the background, while I'm talking to a Cleric about apostates apparently). Gone are the days when I could set up Zev to throw acid flasks but only if he could catch at least three enemies in the blast radius. Gone are the days of telling Wynne to heal me if I hit less than 50% health, but to heal Alistair if he hit less than 25%, because, let's be real, I'm more important.

Honestly half the time I ignored the tactical options, but when I played with them they were really fun and it was something I felt the game offered that a lot of RPGs didn't. I suppose with tactical view it still sort of does and I certainly don't hate it on a mechanical level, but I thought it was worth noting.

Also it looks TERRIBLE on last gen consoles. Like textures keep loading well into the cut scenes, hair clips through your head. Hair generally being as shiny as lego. No scars. It's a shame. The backport is pretty lazy on that front. I mean, it's playable and the Dragon Age franchise has always been behind the curve in terms of graphics. I'm honestly largely fine with that. It's just actively distracting at points and that's a shame. Again, something worth noting but not something that ruined the game for me.

So basically my overall impressions are positive. It builds on the good things that came before and the fact that the gameplay didn't blow me away is...whatever, that's not why I play these games, you know? As long as it's good enough that I feel engaged, that's fine. What I show for is the world, the characters and the stories?

Faux-Open World Exploration: The Best-Worst Thing?

One of the biggest changes, of course, is the move to a more open-world style of play. It's not truly open world (for which I'm grateful) but the huge areas to explore do evoke games like Skyrim. But Dragon Age is fundamentally a more character and narrative driven game than the Elder Scrolls. I don't say that to knock it, just...they are different creatures. So you have these huge expanses of, essentially, fighting and gathering and collecting things that doesn't quite replicate Skyrim's "do what thou wilt" absorption. You can't spend 10 hours becoming a master smith followed by 30 hours becoming a real estate magnate. You basically fight and gather and go back to your base and reorganise.

I'm concerned about how this will affect me on replay. I have no desire to ever start Skyrim again (although I plan to keep playing it pretty much indefinitely). The thought of having to explore all that stuff again from the start - especially as I feel less strongly characterised there and like the various "choices" I'm making lock me out from less of the game - is just overwhelming.

On the other hand, DA:I has a ton of choices where I want to see what happens if I go the other way. But my instinct is that we have a "normal" amount of Bioware narrative spread over a much longer game.

However, I have to give the game credit. It contextualises this aspect of its gameplay in a way that honestly feels clever and well-executed.

The concept is simple - you grind through an area, establishing camps, killing enemies, performing favours, etc., gaining "Influence Points" which you then use to unlock the next story mission, or new areas to explore. Story missions also usually have a recommended level that you should have reached before attempting them.

It's an obvious mechanical way to delay you, but the conceit of attempting to establish the Inquisition as a legitimate political force, when you start out with very little capital, really makes it feel like a sensible way to spend your time.

It makes sense that you don't want to show up at Val Royeaux when you're nothing but a potential band of heretics claiming pretentious titles. But if you can say, "Hey, we stabilised the Hinterlands - we have outposts and keeps and patrols and that area is now safe and we are the defacto authority," then it makes more sense that they would listen to you. You gain legitimacy through action and influence.

This works in tandem with the War Table: an entirely new aspect of the game that works sort of like the War Assets in ME3 except interactive. I really enjoy it. You summon your general, spymaster and diplomat and look at available tasks and then assign them. Sometimes it must be a specific person, sometimes you can choose between two or three. They make different suggestions about how to handle different situations and will take different amounts of time (realworld actual time) to complete the tasks. These range from 10 - 20 minutes for a quick mission to several hours. There are a very few that take over 10 hours. Often the quickest choice is the best, but not always and while you generally get something out of it whatever happens, you can mess up.

The timer counts down whether you're playing or not, so saving longer missions until I was going to stop playing for the evening and letting them run overnight was definitely a thing I did.

It's a really simple idea that works brilliantly, to be honest. It's essentially text-based, so low on development resources, but adds to the sense that you are part of a wider world - that your influence is growing - that you are running a political and military entity larger than you and your immediate band of companions. It even helps allay the oft-mocked "Why am I fixing every tiny problem in the world when I'm supposed to be this huge leader?" that plagued Commander Shepard. Sure you are, but you're also aware that you have an actual army, spy network and diplomatic staff out there, right now, doing things you told them to do and that you'll check back in with them soon to see how it went.

It's also one more thing that requires you spend actual time on the in-between stages of the game.

So I'm torn.

On the one hand, I feel worried about how I'll handle the wandering/exploring aspects of replaying: whether they'll bore me more than just clearing a map with its more immediate sense of progress did in the previous instalments. On the other, I feel like the game's ability to genuinely make it feel like you're running a wide-reaching organisation, and its focus on expanding your influence through your physical presence in regions and your war table operations, is the outstanding success of this game, and that they used something as ubiquitous and potentially boring as "grinding" (or, indeed, text adventures) to do so is pretty great.

The Story!

After the fiasco that was the reaction to the Mass Effect 3 ending this might seem a weird thing to say, needed a Mass Effect 3 ending. I don't mean protagonist death or bittersweet sacrifice - actually in this case I think both surviving and an upbeat victory make sense! What I mean is, you are fighting an Unstoppable Evil who is just So Evil and Hates Life and wants to Destroy the World. And then - say what you will about the execution or foreshadowing (though I'm on record as viewing it favourably) - you get a perspective shift. The camera pulls out and shows you the bigger picture. You find out why the Reapers are doing what they're doing and it's the start of a whole other question.

We never get that with Corypheus. He just wants power. He just wants the world to burn.

That's fine - as a personal motivation, that's totally fine.

But with the whole Golden/Black City and the tease of his history being the one who started the blights? The questions of what's true? The nature of the elven pantheon? The Tevinter mages who entered the fade?

We're well set up for a plot twist about something in the closing chapter. Even if we don't know for sure if it's true.

All we know about Corypheus' claimed history is stuff we found out in a DA2 DLC. We get some really interesting advancement in terms of the elven gods and we get to see people reacting to the possibility that Corypheus is telling even some of the truth, and these things are great? But fundamentally there are no revelations here.

It makes the ending seem just sort of...there.

Especially after such a genuinely stellar line-up of main quest plots throughout the game. The overarching story itself is a little weaker, but the set pieces you go through on the way are, individually, excellent.

I haven't played the Templar route yet, but the creepy possibly future in the Mage route? The physical journey through the fade with Hawke and the fate of the Wardens? The political machinations of the grand ball? Morrigan and the lost elven temple? They are all wonderful unexpected settings that feel rich and interesting and different.

And then we get to Corypheus and it's...literally a boss fight that is over pretty quickly.

There's the post-credits sequence yes. OMFGS YES. But that's not part of the ending itself. I actually think something like that - something that raises more questions than answers, but fundamentally changes our understanding of something in a very brief moment - could work well for Corypheus. But it needs to be part of his storyline. Of his goals. In that moment. Not the coda with other characters. That just makes them seem more interesting and worthy of our attention than the main villain.

You could have been brave, Bioware: what if both Corypheus and the Inquisitor had somehow gotten into the Black City? Or at least to its gates in the Fade? What if that was when Solas revealed himself as a third side in this war?

I just feel they could have been as daring with the ending as they were with the other set piece quests.

But I didn't dislike it or feel it ruined my overall enjoyment of the game.

I did feel that they could have handled Samson better. I don't quite...get how he got from DA2 to DAI. I get his points about how Templars are drugged and lied to no matter which side they're serving, but I don't then get the math that the outcome doesn't matter. I know you get someone different if you do the other quest route - a nemesis for Leliana instead of Cullen - so I'm looking forward to seeing what happens there...


MY DARLING. I love this woman. I really, really love her. I didn't have any particularly strong feelings one way or the other during her DA2 cut scenes and while I watched that animated movie about her, I don't really remember it or being that impressed by it. But in Inquisition, I just think she is wonderful. Like, I am constantly delighted by her presence.

She is so determined and stoic and so goddamn sincere it hurts, but I think what makes me love her in the unassailable way I do is her sense of doubt. She questions herself, her choices, her faith. She holds herself to incredible standards because this shit matters. When she fails, it hurts, but it never feels like pointless wallowing. It's a...a willingness to be wrong. To learn. A faith that is so important to her it demands absolute honesty.

Some of the banter between her and Solas has her questioning why he always uses her title: Seeker. She assumes it is the distance and formality - he explains it is respect. He has many problems with the organisation she represents but her title is well-earned. She has beautiful faith and he hopes her Maker is worthy of it.

She is a Seeker of Truth, even if it is not a comfortable or pleasant one.

I disagreed with her a lot. I told her I thought the Chantry was fundamentally unfixable. I allied with the people she thought I should conscript and conscripted people she thought I should banish. I did many things she disapproved of. I also held her in the highest regard and did my best to express that to her.

When she told me that she disagreed with my choices, but respected that I had made them, it felt real. When she told me she was my friend, it felt legitimate, and like our friendship had been shaped by our disagreements as much as our common victories. It didn't feel like a computer tallying up points, it

She has an unyielding, unfaltering faith which she never, ever defends by falling back into ignorance. That's totally freaking beautiful to me.

Solas, Sera and (Not Really Welsh) Elves

Well. I was playing a Dalish Lady Mage and ended up romancing Solas, because the game really gave me a sense of kinship and safety regarding him. I played it that I was also worried about being an Elven Apostate in the middle of the Human Inquisition, but he listened and approved every time I was curious (which is such an endearing trait). He spoke in meter. After the attack on Haven, that moment in the snow where he confides in you that Corypheus' orb is Elven in nature? "They'll find a way to blame us, eventually," I said, giving voice to something I had - as the player - already imagined my character thinking. One of those rare, perfect instances where the game actually lets you say exactly what you wanted to say. Solas' response was perfect, too. He agreed, but...what's right and true is right and true - nothing for it but to go onwards. Lead them to Skyhold.

Also it kind of meant something to me that they gave Solas a Welsh voice actor.

This is tricky because I don't think it's appropriate to claim that the Dalish are representative of the Welsh. There's a lot of stuff going on there - you could draw comparisons to Native Americans, Jewish people, the Roma, descendants of the African diaspora...many peoples who suffered terrible hardship. You can even mix that in with the fact that the majority of Elves are depicted as light-skinned and question whether it's appropriative of such narratives. It's not a simple situation and my intention isn't to claim Elves at the expense of anyone else or with more authority.

That said, you interpret things through the prism of your experience, and from that angle - it means something to me that for once, Wales wasn't forgotten.

Ireland and Scotland have a romantic mysticism and international visibility that Wales lacks. Within Britain, to be honest, we're mostly viewed as a sort of embarrassing joke. Stop pretending you're a country, will you, you're only making yourself look stupid.

As I said, it's not the immediate injustice of legalised (or effectively legalised) brutality and because of that, it doesn't feel right to make a fuss. But it's exhausting in its banality. There's nothing dramatic about it, it's just...tiring and boring and stupid.

So yeah, if we're going to go the route of Celtic Elves, as we so often do, it means something to me that they picked Wales for the version that has no mystical romanticism to most people. Who are largely regarded as irrelevant and sort of stupid. Whose attempts and cultural and linguistic revival are faintly mocked: why bother - don't you all speak English anyway?

I mention this because it's probably hard to separate my reaction to Solas, Sera and the use of Elven history and culture generally from my underlying associations.

Sera's a hot mess of a character. Like to get it out of the way, I think her dialogue is...over-written. Her speech patterns aren't purposeful. They try too hard to make her "quirky" and for little gain. The greater sin, though, is that she has no character arc. She's bratty and obnoxious and judgemental forces you to meet her at her level, mocking you or throwing tantrums when you refuse. That's okay, that's potentially interesting.

But there's no possibility of growth or change. You enable her or she hates you and refuses to listen. That's it. That's her story.

It's tragic really. There are these hints at things. Like when you first get to Skyhold and she's actually having some sort of crisis of faith and implies that's really why she's here. To see if it's all real. But then any attempt to engage her on that in the future is met with derision if not outright hostility.

You find out about her past. A story about being taken in by an old human woman who framed some other guy as an Elf-hater to make herself look like a good caretaker - to foster dependency in a small child - because she was sad she didn't know how to make cookies. It's not clear whether this was habitual emotional abuse or a thoughtless misjudgement brought on by loneliness and it doesn't really matter - it's one more thing in the tumble of Sera's life. One more instance of her reflexively clinging to the simplest, most emotionally accessible element of her betrayal. Perhaps the formative instance, perhaps not. The first time her homebrew justice blew up in her face because she'd been aimed at the wrong target and the first time she dealt with that by getting angrier at the person who aimed her, not by being more careful about who she tried to stick with an arrow. The guy who didn't actually deserve it also didn't actually hate elves, but being an elf was the problem and why the lie worked. Easier if she wasn't one; easier if all the guys who don't deserve it don't actually hate elves. Easier if all the rich ladies who left her feeling betrayed were bad and wrong and manipulative. Easier if they never took you in as an orphan and tried their best to love you. Easier if you don't have to deal with the complex intersections of racism and love - of racial paternalism and parental love.

The reactions of a child, but Sera's still stuck with them. We can take that as a sign of her immaturity or a sign of something darker and crueller in her past, but she's stuck. She won't move beyond slurring Cole as an "it", internalised racism or an inability to see that she needs to apply her bottom line philosophy of exploitation to herself and see how clean (how "Little People") she still looks.

Her dismissal of the Dalish - and Solas' dismissal of her (although, we'll talk about some of the banter later) - really gets at me though.

Because all the stuff about the ways in which the narrative doesn't fit into a narrative of Welshness aside, it...also totally does. At least as a painful linguistic metaphor.

So many people outside of Wales (hell, so many people a few miles on the other side of the Welsh border) don't really get that Welsh is a living language. It's not something that's put up on signs out of a sense of dusty and pointless pride, people here still speak and read and use it. No, not most of us, many of us who can just don't because we don't have the chance, because we're scattered, because we're shy...

Still, for a language most of us can't speak I honestly think it forms one of the most brutal cultural scars in our national identity. Briefly, and with less nuance than it deserves, if you speak it, you're desperate for it not to die out and if you don't you feel it's in implicit judgement on the validity of your national identity. There's a rough class divide too. Bluntly, poor people ditched it so their kids could get ahead in school (where there was a brutal anti-Welsh policy) while people just slightly higher up the social ladder kept it. The rich religious and artistic traditions that depend on linguistic tics not present in English. The kind of shit no one has time for when they spend twelve hours a day in a coal mine.

Plaid Cymru will never win hearts and minds the way the SNP has because it will always been seen as the party for Welsh speakers and that will always scare a significant number of otherwise nationalistic non-Welsh speakers, scared of being told they don't belong in the land they love.

I cannot put my hand on my heart and say they are wrong. This is an admission that feels like a betrayal. I want to talk about how frequently (and it is frequent) I have to put up with stories I know are bullshit. About how Welsh people only speak Welsh to talk behind your back. How rude it is. How pointless. How much money gets wasted on it. Why do you get special phone lines when I have to wait on hold for half an hour! Demanding you explain the "point" of your culture. Demanding you not make them feel "left out" because "the same for everyone" is what's fair. Twisting it up so that suddenly the 80% without it are the oppressed minority. That's what I want to say to justify it.

But at the same time, I learned in school. I mean, I learned when I was so young I don't actually remember how I learned. I learned because I was just in a place where no one spoke English to me for seven hours a day. I learned so well and so early people can't actually tell unless I tell them. But I do because I'm convinced it's obvious. Because imposter syndrome. Because I don't feel good enough. I know why I feel that way and it's because it comes from the same place, right? I don't feel good enough and people who don't speak Welsh at all feel abandoned and judged and I can point to a dozen of my Welsh-speaking friends who'd never try to make people feel that way. But oh, god, I've met a few who would.

That's what Sera and Solas are, right? The poetic, intelligent, cultured, fluent, pretentious, judgemental academic and the aggressive, working-class monoglot who'd rather destroy something than feel inadequate because she doesn't understand it.

That's it. Right down to the classism on Solas' part and the Sera's inability to recognise that she's not actually an underdog in this fight.

And me, as the Inquisitor, in the middle. Trying to participate in my own culture and feeling judged for not being Welsh Elf enough and being too Welsh Elf at the same time.

So yeah, that' tangled reaction to that hot mess.

All that said: I got a string of fucking fascinating banter between Solas and Sera. Despite his real disdain for her in many scripted scenes, here, he starts trying to educate her on how to be a motherfucking revolutionary. Telling her that her organisation is impressive but she lacks goals and basically trying to impart guerilla tactics and then empire-building to her. It's so unexpected from Solas but foreshadows the post-credits plot-twist wonderfully. Also...Solas doesn't want to give up on Sera. In the end, he actually backs off. Sera doesn't want to be that person and Solas decides to respect that. I'm torn on whether that's good and progress for both of them or another example of Sera's refusal to engage, but it was hella interesting.

As to the Solas revelation?

Wow. Super cool. Honestly, the coolest if you were dating him and then SUUUUUPER angry at him for dumping you. Which like, my character still is: angry and hurt. But ugh it's also frustrating because it's so tantalising but of course can't now be explored and I don't dare hope for that in DLC. Also, I know now that the Solas romance was added quite late in the game and is only available to female elves. It's also clear that it's not as expansive in content as the other romances, probably because it's only available to a small subset of characters and it was added late, which...fair enough. But at the same time, it's just the most interesting way to engage with a character like the Dread Wolf and I just... *haaaaands*

I dunno. That's all I got on that. Moving on.

Vivienne, the Mage-Templar Conflict and Inquisition's Villain Problem

So I'm on record as saying I think the Mage-Templar conflict was handled pretty poorly in DAII. What they did was present a story about how violent, horrific oppression begets violent, horrific resistance, but somehow seemed to think what we'd see was "Look, both sides! Both sides being violent!"

But whatever, I digress. The underlying point is that Dragon Age has a problem with its core conflict. I also think they realised this and attempted some damage control in DAI in some ways and is terrible in others. Interestingly, both exist within Vivienne.

She's a character I often piss off in the game and with whom I often disagree, but she's intelligent, entertaining and charismatic. Her points about public safety and the need to provide Mages with information and education are interesting and well-made. They're also couched within a suspect framework. Vivienne values status and power and the status quo is the root of her social standing and political influence. She's extraordinarily biased, but the writing handles that in a way I think is worthy of Bioware: I want to listen and debate with her anyway. (Even if I can't say all the things I want to because gah, scripted games, THIS IS WHY WE TABLETOP.)

It works because she gives us a coherent alternate view, but also provides us with a way to understand why it's at odds with what we've heard before, leaving us to decide quite how much weight we give to her sincerity and how much we leave with her bias.

But she's also one of the main mouthpieces of the awkward Dalish retcon: that they have only three Mages per clan and if there are more, they must be given to other clans or leave. Sometimes, according to your creature researcher, under horribly cruel circumstances.

It's not technically a retcon, since the Dalish policy on magic users has never been explicitly stated, but I do believe it goes against the spirit of what was previously presented. It annoyed me because it goes back to the narrative stumbles in DAII. Hot fixes for problems they created. The Dalish are making the Templars look bad so let's invent a reason the Dalish are just as brutal.

It's not that I particularly mind the Dalish's reputation being tarnished. I mean, they're already on record as having a fairly terrible attitude toward the City Elves. It's just this wasn't an area where that was established. It makes me feel that the world is unstable. Like there's no point examining evidence carefully and making moral decisions based on what you've observed because it'll change as soon as the writers need to prop up some other viewpoint. Not in a "huh, a new perspective that fits into the wider world," way but in a way that feels very meta. Feels very, "shit let's change this because we need to fix a problem."

Like when they thought I'd start giving the Qunari philosophy some credence because Felicia Day is the one telling me. (Okay, okay, no it's not exactly like that and also I'm jumping ahead here...)

But I do think this segues nicely into the villains in DAI generally. Because I think that same perfunctory "it works, it'll do," approach to narrative, contrasted uncomfortably with some genuinely deftness of character, is present in the game's swathe of villains.

When you play through the Mage path, Fiona's bargain with Alexius seems pretty weird until you realise that he's been fucking with time and that's a) probably why she doesn't remember meeting you in Val Royeaux and b) why she thought the situation was desperate enough to strike the deal. And we only meet Lord Seeker Lucius in the market place behaving in a way Cassandra calls out as completely out of character. When we find out later during Cassandra's quest to find the Seekers that he really IS totally out of it and was working with an Envy Demon, we are primed to accept that he just went batshit crazy. It's not the most elegant reasoning, perhaps, but it's consistent.

Unfortunately when you do the Templar route, there's this whole part where you learn he's being impersonated by the Envy Demon so there's this whole hope that he's been imprisoned somewhere and he's not actually evil. When you go find the Seekers and there's this weird, "Yeah, well, okay, that WAS him being impersonated but he was totally cool with it because he's working with it and..." it's's like a double bluff and it means you want to understand why the hell he'd do something like that.

Disillusionment about his Order no longer cuts it because it's pretty illogical. "I found out my Order was, in fact, deeply morally questionable, so as a result it should be dismantled. Which I will do by creating an Order that's even MORE morally questionable! I'M A GENIUS!" doesn't make sense. The only answer is that he couldn't cope and lost it, but if that's the case, why bother having him impersonated by the Demon in the first place: why not just make it a story about him?

On the flip side, if you do the Mage storyline, you end up with Samson as Corypheus' lieutenant and he suffers exactly the same problem. He's a disillusioned ex-Templar looking for meaning, but he signs up with someone who's making him do the exact same stuff he hated before but worse. There are reasons he might do that, including self-loathing and nihilism, sure, but the only verbal justification he ever really threw out was "it's the same thing that the Chantry did to the Templars, at least this has meaning," like...what meaning? Putting Corypheus in power? Why does that matter? I'd like to hear your take, sir!

But if you do the Templar storyline, you get Calpernia. I'm only part way through that quest, but so far she seems vastly more interesting. She has a legitimate reason to ally with Corypheus given her personal history of being freed by him and the fact that he's currently allowing her to improve upon her situation and gather power that allows her to free other slaves. On top of that she actively distrusts Corypheus which I imagine will make for a far more interesting showdown...

So anyway, yeah, there's that.

Which just leaves:

The Qun, The Bull and Krem

So, the thing is, I have no truck with the Qun. Like, at all. I find parts of it conceptually interesting in terms of worldbuilding, and within DAI I find the Iron Bull to be a very interesting character, but the religion and society? I always feel like the game expects me to see them as a kind of edgy, interesting warrior culture with a ~code~. As something cool and morally complex. As something intriguing because they got a thinly veiled version of Felicia Day to tell me about it. But I just...don't.

I think it's pretty horrifying and the only defense that seems to be offered is "but this other system also has problems!" which is true. But also a total deflection. And if the point is to weigh up the "bad" on both sides and see which is worse then the main social problems the Qun purports to have fixed are poverty and crime.

Which sounds like a big fucking deal, except it's largely done by enforcing brutal conformity often with secret police and re-education camps. So really, it's only the truth if we define crime on a purely legal basis and ignore the ethical component, and define poverty purely on the basis of fundamental material needs. Which are important, yes, but shouldn't be used to justify barbaric oppression. "You're fed, so shut up," isn't much better than, "Well, at least the trains run on time..."

I mean, let's face it, the rest of Thedas is hardly the picture of egalitarian democracy. I freed Sten the first time I played DAO because I assumed he was the victim of racial discrimination and that there must be more to his story. I was pretty horrified when I found out that no, he just murdered an entire family because apparently going into a psychotic rage when you lose your sword is a totally sensible reaction to instil in your soldiers.

(And then I had a quest to go find the sword and give it back to him. Why would I do that? WHY WOULD I DO THAT? "Hey Sten, have back this thing that - the last time you lost it - led to you massacring a family, including a bunch of kids! I totally believe this is a safe, responsible decision!")

I actually consider Blackwall to be a narrative apology for how they handled that with Sten in some ways because I couldn't send him back to prison, so I kept him around because, well because I didn't feel like it was safe or right to set him free. And then at the end of the game he just merrily announces he's off home again, and about no? How about now you go back to prison but your service maybe mitigates your death penalty? How about I'm not in favour of letting you serve a sentence for killing multiple people - even with diminished responsibility - by doing COMMUNITY FUCKING SERVICE?


And then we get to DAII where the Arishok calmly tells you about his concern that he'll have to conquer Kirkwall for the Qun, at a point when you've seen what they do to Mages, and I just can't buy even the most pro-Templar version of Hawke thinking that's an acceptable fate for Bethany. It's particularly distressing when you play the Wyvern Hunting DLC around that time, and Tallis makes off with the list of spies even if you stop her and even if you pick the angriest reaction, Hawke basically goes, "Oh, Tallis, you scamp, I'll get you next time!"

My Hawke was legitimately scared that her home was on the verge of being invaded by a foreign power who'd mentally torture her sister until she was nonverbal, without free-will and then sew her fucking mouth shut.

I digress.

My point is, fuck the Qun: I don't think there's anything there that's enlightened. Not when you take it as a whole. Although it is, from a worldbuilding point of view, interesting.

And, of course, there is the issue of Krem and Bull's comments about gender roles in his culture.

So like, obviously Krem is awesome! For real, that guy is great. I wish he had a bigger role. He would have been an awesome companion character. (Can I swap him out for Blackwall? I'd much rather date Krem than Blackwall. Cus...Blackwall. *full body shudder*)

I also think that you can very easily rectify the Qun's established strict rules about gender roles with the fact that they have specific words and rules for people who are given permission to break them. That's not something I feel is changing the ground under my feet (as I argued above for the Dalish mage rule).

What worries me is that I've seen a lot of comments (granted, on tumblr, which isn't always known for its rigorous intellectual interrogation on first blush) unanimously hailing this as wonderful and enlightened.

But frankly it doesn't change my view of the Qun at all. There's a piece of banter I was lucky enough to get between Cassandra and Bull that fit in well with my initial assumptions about the term "Aqun-Athlok" (born as one gender but living as another). Cassandra's asking what happens to women under the Qun who want to be warriors. Bull says it's not generally permitted but if you're really good at hitting things, then you become Aqun-Athlok - you effectively "become" a guy. Cassandra then asks if Bull views her as male and he teases that that depends on whether she's in or out of the armour.

So firstly, this term isn't necessarily in reference to being transgender, it is also being used to describe gender nonconformism.

In Krem's specific case, the Qun would have been a much, much better place for him than Tevinter in this regard. It has a socially acceptable way for him to do what he wants to do, which is to be acknowledged as a man and to pursue a traditionally masculine career. It also provides Bull with an easy framework through which to "categorise" Krem (although given Bull's general attitudes, I suspect even if the Qun didn't say it was okay, he'd've been accepting).

What I really want to point out, though, when I see people getting excited about it, is that while YES it's really cool to see a broad variety of opinions on gender nonconformism in fantasy settings and while YES it's really cool that they found a way to subvert our expectations about the Qun's position, the Qun is still oppressive as fuck when it comes to gender.

Because they're still equating gender with social behaviour, and still punishing you brutally for breaking those boundaries. Krem would be a man because he wanted to fight, not because he saw himself as a man. Cassandra would also be a man, even though - as we see in her romance plot - she is someone who stands up for her right to be a blunt, awkward warrior as well as someone who wants to take on traditionally feminine roles at other times.

And I guess that's really all I had to say about it.

Well that and the fact that I love the Iron Bull, bless him, but he really is not square in his own mind about his opinions on the Qun. But I guess that's the point. I really want to see what happens if you tell him to let the Chargers die - I want to see how he handles the very obvious conflict in his views and the views he's supposed to have. But I really can't bring myself to let the Chargers die. So maybe I'll have to youtube it. I'm not entirely sure I can bring myself to watch it either, though, so we'll see...

At which point, I have thought all the thoughts and said all the things. Though if anyone has any other things they would like to talk with me about, I would definitely be up for discussion in comments even if it has nothing to do with anything I wrote above.

muladhara: (dragon age)

[personal profile] muladhara 2014-12-24 10:52 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm still standing by my opinion that I'm glad Krem isn't a romance option and I have no desire for him to be. I'm just really fucking pleased he exists. And that he's around more than I thought (I honestly thought at first he'd be a one scene character and that was it, so yaaay). It'd be cool if he could be a party member, though.

Anyway, that's all I have to say really because I'm avoiding spoilers like the plague (so I didn't really read what you'd written above, even though I'd like to) and frankly I already know more than I wish I did about certain characters (which is not your fault it's mine because I keep accidentally finding stuff and, well, tumblr's never been good at not spoiling, has it?*)

(*I know I could blacklist spoilers, but then I'd miss a lot of stuff from things I've already seen/played/read. I did blacklist Inquisition and da:i but obviously some people are not careful with their tags).
muladhara: (Default)

[personal profile] muladhara 2014-12-26 11:38 am (UTC)(link)
That does sound kind of adorbs :) Also I know who Scout is (sort of - I thought she was a dwarf, but I wasn't 100%, and I didn't know what her role was), because I follow Ali Hillis on twitter, so that was sort of unavoidable (I don't care about knowing characters but character plots, etc, NOPE).

LOL, I love your hatred of Blackwall.

Yeah...I saw that some posts on the BSN about transgender stuff and discussing Krem had been taken down not because Bioware don't want it there, but because they feel the majority of people on the BSN aren't ready to grasp those kind of concepts. Which makes me sad, but it's true. There's very good reasons I don't go on the BSN at all, and that's one of 'em. Although yeah. If we don't expose people to these things, how are they going to (hopefully) improve their behaviour towards people who aren't like them? It's very tricky, I know.

I will comment again, hopefully, once I've read all this in relation to having actually played DA:I. Which will hopefully be soon!