In honor of the Dragon Age games arriving on Xbox Game Pass and in celebration of today’s Dragon Age Day—and as some much-needed self-care, because the news surrounding this hallowed Day has been nothing if not depressing—I’m here to offer a tip to any Dragon Age newcomers eager to explore the world of Thedas for the first time: Play Dragon Age: Inquisition first.
I want the Dragon Age: Origins diehards and the Dragon Age II enthusiasts to put down their pitchforks for a minute and listen: Your faves (and mine) are terrible jumping-off points, and insisting a newcomer play the games from the beginning is a surefire way to warn them off the series altogether. Here are three reasons why Inquisition is the better starting point.
The Dragon Age games don’t have the best character creators but Inquisition’s is a solid upgrade over the previous two. As I noted in my attempt to replay Origins, I had to mod the game if I wanted to make a character as dark-skinned as I am. In Dragon Age II the character creator isn’t much better, with dark skin still on the fair side of paper bag and still kinda weird and splotchy. Inquisition improves on both. There are a wider range of skin tones and a robust number of face-slider options with a unique interface that, for once, didn’t intimate me. Hair choices, on the other hand, are a bit lacking even if you aren’t looking for a curly or kinky hair option (which—outside of the standard fade-looking buzz cut—there isn’t one).
Beyond main-character aesthetics, Dragon Age: Inquisition’s Frostbite technology is a marked improvement over II’s Lycium engine, which cast the world in a dingy, washed-out light. Environments were sparse, colorless, topographically similar—everything’s just kinda flat and brownish in Ferelden and Kirkwall. In Inquisition, the environments are varied, filled with all kinds of geography to investigate to find hidden codex entries or astrarium puzzles to solve.
This is a controversial reason as there are a lot of fans who prefer the slower and more tactical combat of Origins and II over Inquisition’s more action-RPG playstyle. But for newcomers, the Dungeons & Dragons-like flow of the earlier games’ combat, which requires pausing the action to issue commands, might feel antiquated or unwieldy, especially for players unfamiliar with that kind of mechanic. Dragon Age: Inquisition strips the bulk of the old systems away in favor of faster, more fluid abilities-driven combat.
The open-world aspect is another controversial improvement, as players felt bogged down by the seemingly infinite number of quests (and bears) in the game’s notorious Hinterlands section. But having a full, populated world to explore is a vast improvement over Origins and II—games that felt like a lot of the environments were recycled and reskinned and locked behind loading-screen travel with a random encounter or two thrown in for spice.
The Dragon Age series likes to hit players in the face with its story from the very first second. In Inquisition, the menu screen, depicting a peaceful scene of mages and templars walking side-by-side, literally explodes the moment you click New Game. Inquisition really ups the stakes over its two predecessors. There is a big-ass hole in the sky threatening to destroy the world and you are literally the only person who can stop it—oh, and the power that grants you the ability to save the world? It’s killing you.
You also don’t need to know the stories of Dragon Age: Origins or Dragon Age II to enjoy Inquisition. Of course knowing them fills in some useful background information, but any critical piece of knowledge is handily supplied by your companions and advisors—who are some of the best in the three games.
Ok, I know I said I only had three reasons, but here’s a bonus one: Inquisition ends really well. Inquisition’s Trespasser DLC is some of the best video-game storytelling I have ever witnessed. It’s a beautiful epilogue to the game that offers a satisfying ending for your character and companions while providing a glimpse of the story to come. You can marry your love interest, adopt a dog(!!), and have a spa day with your homies all while discovering one of your allies has been plotting to destroy the world this whole time.
Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II are good games that I love, but I think it takes a certain level of dedication to open them up in the year 2020 and play them again—dedication I don’t expect a brand-new player to have. There are confusing and downright un-fun mechanics to learn, slow stories to overcome, and drab, ugly environments (like the Fade and the Deep Roads) to plod through before the story gets good enough to merit continuing. Playing Dragon Age: Inquisition first allows you to skip over the growing pains of its two siblings and get right to the heart of what’s so amazing and alluring about the series. Then, if a new initiate is eager to experience the rest of the Dragon Age story, Origins and II will be there, ready to hopefully keep them in the fold.