Dragon Age: Inquisition’s War Table Brought The Wider World To Life

Illustration for article titled iDragon Age: Inquisition/i’s War Table Brought The Wider World To Lifeem/em

In Dragon Age: Inquisition, the world is very literally marked by your actions. While you go out and close rifts in Ferelden and Orlais, the game keeps track of your actions at the War Table. There are some missions that you’ll only know through the table’s worn maps, and these are the ones that make a real difference in Inquisition’s land of Thedas.

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The War Table is the place you go to in your home bases of Haven and later Skyhold to unlock missions. When you go to the Table, you summon your three advisors, who stand around it with you. Sometimes they remark to each other about how things are going with the Inquisition. At the War Table you can open up a new map area, or start a character’s personal quest. While you’re there you can also deal with smaller situations that aren’t worth a visit from your inquisitor but are still worthy of your attention. A new recruit might warn you about bandits stalking your patrols, for example, and you can use the War Table to decide whether your advisor Leliana’s spies will take them out or if that recruit will join other advisor Cullen’s army instead. All these situations are represented as markers on a worn map, and, for the smaller operations, you’ll only know them as markers. You’ll get an update on the results of the operation after a set amount of time, as well as some small reward, but otherwise the smaller situations are entirely hands-off, existing only on the War Table but still affecting the world of Thedas as a whole.

It’s also just a nice ass table.
It’s also just a nice ass table.
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In my third playthrough of Inquisition, I’m still finding new quests, collectibles and unexplored corners of the the larger game. But the smaller operations at the War Table makes all this feel fully alive. A lot of those smaller missions will only open up after completing the larger story missions, the ones you take a party to, where you will probably have to solve a puzzle or two or perhaps fight some enemies. You go back to The War Table to deal with the infrastructural tasks that aren’t exciting but need to be attended to regardless. For instance, after you capture a keep in the Western Approach, you still need to find them a water source and clear the area of some lurking demons. Even after tasks are completed, there is always another problem to solve.

I may be closing rifts and killing demons when I go adventuring, but the War Table drives home that I also have a responsibility to the people of Thedas. So many characters tell you that the Inquisition gives people hope, but electing to support a resistance in Tevinter or send aid to refugees through the War Table feels like I’m doing more than just fighting some loosely-connected battles. The Inquisition, and its impact on Thedas, isn’t just about getting in fights and stabbing your enemies to death. All those markers on your map are a reminder that missions don’t end when everything is dead. You still have to handle all the loose ends to bring stability to Thedas.

Illustration for article titled iDragon Age: Inquisition/i’s War Table Brought The Wider World To Lifeem/em

The War Table gets overwhelming about halfway through the game, when more operations than you’ll have time to complete populate the map. It’s a reminder that this isn’t just a story about my character, but the movement they’re leading. Each marker represents another community that I can make better using our influence. As my power grows, so does the pressure to help everyone. It’s a welcome complication to a standard hero narrative. Sure, I am going to save the world as Inquisitor, but the War Table reminds me that saving the world is a lot more work than slaying a demon.

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DISCUSSION

Preface: I am fully aware that a great many people love DA: I, and that’s absolutely wonderful! The game did a great many things right, and even some of its gaffes wound up adding to its charm—but the War Table was not one of those things for me; below, I’ll be detailing why (and will defend my position with a bit of force; I’m not trying to tell anyone they’re wrong for disagreeing with me—I just believe in putting some backbone into a position once taken).

Too-Long Post: The War Table is actually a big part of the reason I never finished Inquisition.

Full disclosure: My wife is a huge Dragon Age fan, and has completed multiple play throughs of all three mainline games (and their expansions/DLC).

I’ve finished Origins probably five times or so (almost exclusively as a Dwarf Commoner, because bloody everyone wants to be an Elf), never could get into II, and dropped maybe eighty hours into Inquisition before I threw up my hands and quit.

...and that quitting was largely the fault of the War Table.

Inquisition is a big game by default; the main adventuring portions see players roaming over hill and dale (or jumping up craggy surfaces), fighting trash mobs and gathering up sidequests. In this, it is not dissimilar from The Witcher 3, although TW3's ARPG orientation appealed to me more than Inquisition’s MMO-style setup.

When you add the War Table to that already large setup, what you end up with—for me, anyway—is bloat. That sense of bloat is compounded by the fact that nothing you do on the War Table makes a damned bit of difference to how things play out in the end.

In this, it was far too much like Mass Effect 3 (I’m the ME fan in the household, and I freely and proudly admit to being one of the people who bitched incessantly about the magic schoolbus shit they pulled with the pre-patch ending); once I realized that I was burning time on activities that were designed to make me feel like I was having an impact on Thedas—but that I’d never see the fruits of—I put the game aside, and only occasionally pick it back up for a few hours at a time before I remember that I’m unlikely to trudge all the way through it (apart from getting up to the bit where I can punch Solas right in his smug face—because fuck that Egg).

Inquisition was a huge undertaking, and has some absolutely brilliant moments, in addition to some of the best character writing in games. I can see where the War Table appeals to a certain type of gamer, but for me, it just felt empty, useless, and like additional padding on top of an already heavily-laden experience.