An old family friend used a phrase when he’d burnt out on something. He called it “Mallomar-ing.” When he was younger, a relative of his used to love Mallomar cookies. They are sickly sweet chocolate covered marshmallows, and he’d eat them at every opportunity. Eventually, they started making him sick, and soon after that he couldn’t even look at Mallomar, even though he’d once loved them. I’m not sure if I’ve Mallomar-ed Dragon Age: Inquisition. But I do think that I can no longer rely on this game as the comfort food it once was.
When I first played Dragon Age: Inquisition, I was in kind of a rough place. I was pretty depressed and in a relationship that was slowly falling apart. Thedas became an appealing escape, and I quickly found that playing this game wasn’t just a good way to run away from my problems, but also had characters I loved and wanted to spend time with. Each time I’ve returned to Inquisition, it was because I needed to see those characters again, their familiarity like a warm blanket as I coasted through a depressive episode.
On my third playthrough, the bloom has left the rose. The more I play, the more I see the limitations of world and its characters, the missed opportunities for more nuance and depth. In the last moments of the game this feels especially clear. Corypheus, the game’s villain, transforms from nuanced antagonist to cackling maniac.
At the beginning, Corypheus has a distinct motivation, one that taps into Dragon Age lore. The game’s world, Thedas, is plagued by a blight of demons that every couple hundred years emerge from the abandoned underground dwarven roads to try to destroy the world. The Chantry, the church of Thedas’s dominant religion, says that the demon blight started when Magisters from the Tevinter Imperium tried to enter the city of the gods. It turns out that Corypheus is actually one of those old Magisters. He claims that he did reach the city of the gods, and that it was empty.
All of that shit? That’s 100% my shit. It’s a hook that grabbed and pulled me into this world. The idea of the gods not only being real, but that the population of Thedas somehow sullied them with their arrogance is a story beat that I completely jive with. By the end of the game, though, Corypheus has given up on his stated goal of restoring the Tevinter Imperium to their former glory and kinda just wants to destroy everything. It’s not an unbelievable change of heart—the guy is pretty mad and hardly stable. It just became harder to care as the plot descended into a Marvel movie-style over-the-top conclusion. I found myself spending more time watching Dragon Age lore videos and reading the wiki than playing the game itself. There is still something about Thedas that I find fascinating, but I wasn’t finding it in the game anymore.
It makes sense that a game like this wants to make you feel like a hero, to give you someone to punch, and then for all the characters to throw a party. It’s also true that your fight with Corypheus leaves a few plot threads open and also sets up your later confrontation with Solas in the Trespasser DLC, where it turns out he also has a connection to Thedas’s ancient history. What I felt like I was missing were the things that drew me to game in the first place. At this point I’d finished all the characters’ personal quests, gotten closer to them or antagonized them a little, and they’d all reached their narrative conclusions. Vivienne had a moment of humanity as she watched her lover die. Cole became a little less spirit and a little more human. Iron Bull sided with the Chargers rather than sacrificing them for the sake of an alliance. All of these turns were character moments that should have motivated me to save Thedas from Corypheus, but I knew once I defeated him, those characters would be closed off from me. If what I’d wanted when I started this game was to see those characters again, I’d already done that. Corypheus didn’t have much to offer me. By the game’s final moments, I was already checked out.
After finishing Dragon Age: Inquisition for the third time, I went back to my first character, and opened the last save. It was right before the moment where Solas reveals that he’s actually an elven god and he also wants to destroy the world and return it to a previous state. I played out the scene again, watching my first Inquisitor’s anger at this revelation, her pain when he cuts off her arm to save her from the mark that once closed rifts in the sky but is now slowly killing her. Afterward, I had the choice to disband the Inquisition, which had been handily infiltrated by Solas’s spies, and so I did.
That choice had been hard to make the first time I made it, but now it felt like the only right choice. The Inquisition had served its purpose for Thedas, and by the end of Trespasser, the world no longer needed it. The Inquisitor wouldn’t lose the connections she’d made with her allies, but they all needed to move on. I’ve played Dragon Age: Inquisition three times now. I think I need to move on, too.