Thoughts on Dragon Age Inquisition’s Trespasser DLC
Spoiler Alert: This post contains spoilers for Dragon Age Inquisition.
Is it possible to like something and dislike it at the same time? I believe so, because that’s exactly how I feel about Dragon Age Inquisition‘s latest DLC, Trespasser, an incredibly well-executed and complete piece of work that does a great job of wrapping up the story of the Inquisitor and the Inquisition. The acting is, as always, good, and the character bits shine — it’s lovely to see what’s happened to your companions and friends in the two years since you defeated Corypheus.
I don’t hate the DLC as a whole. I don’t think that possible, it’s just that well done. But I’m dissatisfied with it.
Consider everything beyond this point the domain of spoilers. I do try and avoid them, but some are unavoidable. If you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read further.
Okay, first up, I wanted to love this. Qunari? Check. Eluvians, finally? Check. Ancient elven lore, an explanation of who and what Mythal and the other Evanuris were? Check. Little lore moments that tied into Descent and hinted at what’s coming in the future? All there and all welcome. My problem isn’t with any of this. It isn’t with the writing, exactly, at least not in terms of your dialogue with your companions and allies and even with a few of your enemies.
I just feel like this is a return to the plot on rails problem big RPG’s often have. While my choices matter and have consequences within the DLC itself, they have no real effect on the end of it.
My first problem with Trespasser is a simple one — I fail to see why my Inquisitor goes along with the Exalted Council at all. Frankly, by the time you ended the original Dragon Age Inquisition story, you’re set up to be a new world power, changing the status quo for Thedas. In the playthrough I was using, I had a military that rivaled Orlais, which means I had a military that eclipses Ferelden. Yet after a mere two years I’m summoned to a council like a recalcitrant child and dressed down by Arl Teagan? A man who, if not for me, wouldn’t even have an arling to bark at me from?
Frankly, I had no compelling reason to go along with it. If Ferelden wishes to throw down, I’d be more than happy to march troops into Denerim, depose Alistair and Anora and then withdraw from the country until the chaos of a civil war reduces it to the point where they beg me to return. And it’s not like the story doesn’t set up that I have the Divine on my side, so really, why do I even need to bother to justify myself here? But okay, we’re going to do this even though there’s absolutely no reason for me to do it. The Qunari plot unfolds in an interesting enough fashion. I enjoyed going to the Crossroads and exploring the Eluvians, and the final confrontation with Fen’Harel is especially enjoyable (in a poignant way) if you’re playing an Inquisitor who had a romantic connection, as I did. That’s all fine.
What really irritates me is the end.
At the end of Inquisition proper, you and the Inquisition are set up to take on all comers. You’re kingmakers. Whoever rules in Orlais owes you. You have either a spy network or a military feared the world over. Thedas has changed, and you’re the agent of that change, literally the Herald of a coming new dawn. The Inquisition shall stand ready!
Instead, it stands ready for two flipping years and then it just folds up. Either you divest yourself willingly of pretty much all of your power, becoming a mere honor guard for the Divine (the Divine you essentially appointed) or you disband outright. This is wholly dissatisfying to me, to the point where I’ve been unable to finish Trespasser again on any of the other characters I’d hoped to run through the DLC. I want to see how my Qunari Inquisitor’s life played out, but I know the broad strokes, and they depress and sadden me. I’m not invested in them. The organization that supplanted the Templar Order and replaced/restarted the Seekers folded up shop in two years. This despite the fact that the Divine’s Writ wasn’t about Corypheus or the Breach — she wrote it before either of those things happened. Of course she did, she died when Corypheus opened the Breach in the first place. The Inquisition was restarted to take over for organizations that had failed, like the Circles, the Seekers, the Templars. Now, suddenly, it’s job is done? Did we learn nothing from the Mage-Templar war?
The answer appears to be yes. We learned nothing. And that’s galling to me, as a player. I know in Dragon Age that nobody gets a happy ending. I’ve played all three of the games at this point. I’m the guy who liked Dragon Age 2‘s relentless negativity, and I’ll argue to my deathbed that the Legacy DLC must be played in Act 3, that it helps to explain where Hawke is while relationships between Mage and Templar get so bad. That it essentially fixes the game. But this…
Trespasser is in many ways an unalloyed triumph of art and story, a beautifully done conclusion, a grand ‘one last ride’ for the Inquisitor and his or her allies. But maybe it’s one last ride that we didn’t need. I enjoyed how the story was wrapped up at the end of Inquisition. I enjoyed thinking I’d built something that might last and have a real effect on the world going forward. And while I appreciate how Trespasser sets up the Dread Wolf and the coming threat, I don’t appreciate how it hobbles my story to do it.
I’m also not fond of how it feels very much like it’s the end of the Inquisitor. Oh, maybe he or she will pull a Hawke and show up in future games as an NPC, I don’t know. But a very specific thing that happens here takes away a great deal of what made the Inquisitor unique, while also making it very hard for certain class features to continue. Maybe a Mage could keep going, but a Rogue or Warrior with this particular problem, especially an Archer or two-handed weapon Warrior? That would be tricky at best. Frankly, I wanted to play the same character in the next game. I liked my Inquisitors. My Dalish Mage with her barely constrained contempt for humans and the Andrastian religion, my Qunari Warrior who just wanted to get everything straightened out, my Trevelyan who found her faith shaken but ultimately came through it all believing in the Maker — I wanted to continue their story. I didn’t want it to end. The Warden gets to run around looking for a cure to the Calling, Hawke survives Adamant, but I’m sidelined?
So much for changing the world. By the end of Trespasser, all the toys are put safely back in their boxes — Ferelden continues to be reactionary and xenophobic, Orlais soldiers on being self-satisfied and more concerned with how effectively to betray and murder each other than with the greater world around them, and the Inquisition that saved the world turns out to have faded into irrelevance at lightning speed.
All that said, there are so many good moments in the DLC, I can’t pretend I’m not glad I played it. Varric, Cassandra, Cullen, and even Vivienne (a character I actively despised in my main playthrough) all have great little moments that made me glad to catch up with them. And there are consequences to choices you made in the main game — at one point I howled in anguish as a fight got much harder thanks to a decision I’d made back in Inquisition’s main storyline. Well done there, BioWare.
Is there a word for a good, at times even great, piece of gaming that you wish hadn’t gone where it went? That felt like it was rejecting everything you liked about the main game’s storyline? I don’t know what that word would be, but if I did, I would use it here, because that’s how Trespasser felt to me. An excellent moment of rejection.
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