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Note: We continue basically live-blogging our slow progress through DAI. Possible minor spoilers.

Butch:

You weren’t even playing last night when I was on! I was GOING to go meet the warden, then go meet Iron Bull, but instead got distracted, did a couple of side quests, found some red lyrium, played with my inventory……(This isn’t Skyrim…..this isn’t Skyrim…..)

There was this one quest where I found some note from some raving dude saying he was going to hole up in a cave. Quest said, check it out. So I did. I get there, there’s this dude WAY in the distance. Quest said ‘Kill the apostate.’ I said, “What if I don’t want to kill the apostate? What if he’s just troubled?” But there didn’t seem much else I could do, so I killed him, got “quest completed,” and that was that. Sorta Bethesda there, DAI.

I did meet Blackwall, who seems like a neat character. Even flirted with him. But he’s so not my type, what being a dude and all. Then back to haven to do war table stuff and chat and flirt. Hopefully, Iron Bull tonight. Or rescuing those Ferelden soldiers down in the south bit of the map.

Feminina:

I played some last night, but the kid didn’t get to sleep until 8:30, so I might have missed you. I was only on from about 8:45 to 9:30. Just enough time to finally commit to a plot branch. Going after the mages. And, wow. Yeah.

Stuff. Happens. You’ll get there, we’ll talk.

And you know, this so far is maintaining a better hold on the narrative than Skyrim ever did. (As we hoped from BioWare!) You can wander around regions doing things, but you’ve always got this War Room map to go back to, with the looming green markers reminding you of the next thing you have to do, and even though I’ve spent plenty of time on other things already, that regular return to the map kind of keeps you focused on the main story.

“Something is going to happen here. There is plot ahead.”

Plus the fact that it’s not a true open world means that certain regions can be locked up until certain points in the story, so you can’t just wander aimlessly all over creation forever…you can only wander aimlessly over a certain limited section of creation, and sooner or later even the most dedicated wanderer is going to get bored or curious and think “OK, fine, let’s see what’s next.”

This stronger main narrative (or multiple narratives, since it looks as if things could be dramatically different on the Templar side of the story) means that we may be able to talk about the game more effectively than we’d feared, since we’ll at least both be following the story more closely than Skyrim required. And since we’re both taking the Mage plot, that will give us even more in common to discuss (although comparing the different storylines would also be interesting if we went that way…are you sure you don’t want to go look for the Templars instead? Maybe your mage is really, really concerned about what the hell they’re up to!).

Butch:

Ok. I’m looking forward to it. But, without spoilerage, does anything that’s on my plate as interesting get locked off at that point? Or can I return to gaze at shards or some shit later?

The advisors also help you keep focused. Sorta there to say “Um, dude? There’s a story.”

I also like using power as a gate. It’s nice to have a gate that’s more than “strong monsters over there will kill you if you try,” and it makes narrative sense (You need troops to do this, whatever). Nice touch.

Which is really, really good. Especially because I think it’s more curious than bored.

Indeed, there’s this sorta illusion of vastness. I was tooling about in the hinterlands yesterday looking for Blackwall and getting distracted, and, while so doing, found it easy to forget this wasn’t Skyrim (mountains, snow, herbs, etc.).

So I’d look at the quest map, and say what one said when playing Skyrim “It’s Over THERE? Dude. Too far. Screw that.” But then, see, it wasn’t. It was pretty close. Manageable. (Sometimes all too manageable, as “it’s too far away” isn’t a reason NOT to explore that red lyrium vein). So the hinterlands FEELS big, it feels all windy and mountainy and traily, but there isn’t 15 minutes of trucking about, there hasn’t been a bit where I’ve spent 10 minutes looking for a way up a mountain only to discover that it’s on the other side of the fucking mountain which is 20 minutes away, none of that. (Last night, I was looking for the way into the mountain lake bit where Blackwall was, and went the wrong way first, and actually was in the middle of thinking “Shit, am I have to go all the way over…” when I thought “Oh, there it is.”)

Maybe this all goes out the window at the next big bit, but for now, it’s a great balance of big but playable.

Knowing what you know, my next couple of steps are a) go rescue soldiers in the south and b) take Blackwall to storm coast to meet Iron Bull/find wardens. Sound smart?

I think you’re right. It may well turn out more linear than we feared.

I can’t pick the Templars, but We’ll have to wiki or ask Mr. O’ if the Templar way was really, really different. TW2, you got to this branch, and there were five or six HUGE characters, and two huge cities you just weren’t gonna see unless you replayed it a second time. That much. I mean, we couldn’t have discussed it at all. “Saskia? Who the hell is that?”

Feminina:

I’m still in the middle of the stuff that happens right after you pick ‘mage’ in the War Room and start that quest, so I don’t know if you can go back and collect more shards afterward completing that plot bit or not.

I assume so, and I hope so because I didn’t get all of them yet (I left all kinds of side quests half done, like Varric’s red lyrium deposits and Blackwall’s Warden memorabilia and so on), but I can’t say with certainty. I kind of moved forward with the expectation that I can still go back and revisit old haunts, but I could be wrong.

Your “free soldiers, find Iron Bull” course of action seems sound. I actually liked having Iron Bull around for the soldier-rescuing, just because he’s imposing in a fight, but it’s certainly not in any way critical. By the time you finish that, maybe I will have gotten through this quest and can at least say yes or no to the “can you go back” question.

Butch:

Good cuz I got started. Kids actually napped. I guess there is a silver lining to being woken up at 3fucking45. They nap, you play. I certainly thought “rescue soldiers” would be a scout, show up, have one big fucking fight, done. No, no. It’s a whole damn area with quests and beacons that attract all sorts of evil shit and stuff to find. Because of course it is.

Bees, man. Undead hate bees.

Lesson: You cannot say “I have an hour, I CERTAINLY will be able to accomplish X.”

Feminina:

Yeah, you can’t confidently plan to accomplish Specific Thing X unless it’s like “visit the War Room.” Other stuff winds up taking time. (Or not. Because I blocked out mental time for the ‘recruit Sera’ mission and it was nothing. So you just never know.) I STILL haven’t finished everything in that damn Mire where you rescue the soldiers.

Butch:

This game has totally changed the way I play on its head from TLOU. That game: there’s a trash bag in front of that door. No way to get in. This game: I don’t care if it’s barricaded, locked, and on fire. There’s gotta be a way in!

I almost had my first total party kill lighting one of those beacons, there. I was down to Sera at half health, and the tactic was stealth, run, tossing bees over your shoulder screaming. Strangely, this worked.

And on potions and all, one thing this game is doing well is placing camps at great intervals. Every time I’ve reached a camp, I’m usually haggard, wounded, and potionless, which makes it feel like a real accomplishment. Important in a way other than “Oh, good, fast travel point.”

Though one must wonder: that dude who pulled requisition officer duty at the mire camp? Who’d he piss off?

Feminina:

Stealth is pretty sweet. As a rogue, I like to use it to avoid getting attacked until I start disrupting a rift. Sadly, I can’t stay hidden while disrupting, because it’s annoying to get hit with something while you’re in the middle of it, but at least I can sneak away and let my party distract the bad guys while I get into a good position to hit the rift.

The camps are a good mechanic. In some regions they do still feel kind of far away from everything, so you have to hightail it back to camp to heal up and then run a long way back to wherever you were, but for the most part they work well.

Butch:

I haven’t had to completely hightail yet, but I’ve come close. Magedom is pretty badassed. And I have this wonderful “freeze ’em solid” staff. Freeze! Chill! Smash ’em Cassandra! Or freeze + Mighty Blow from Blackwall. Boom.

Feminina:

You’re playing more cautiously than I am–I get us killed and or bail on fights all the time.

I do like mages…Solas has the freezy power, which is very nice. I like to see frozen enemies shatter into pieces.

Butch:

Nah, it’s cuz like all other DA games, mages are overpowered in the early levels. They get the crowd control stuff first. If I’m careful, I can get in chain lightning, and energy blast (which paralyzes) on a crowd before anyone gets a shot off, rendering the main dude fucked up and paralyzed and everyone else hurt. Evens up the score.

It’s these undead that appear in the middle of everything that are screwing up the plan.

Feminina:

The undead are multitudinous, which does render them annoying. Bunch of shambling jerks, always rising out of the water and overwhelming one. The piteous notes you find about people succumbing to the plague are a little heart-wrenching, but nothing like TLOU.

This game is a barrel of laugh riots compared to TLOU! Good palate cleanser, really.

Butch:

Aren’t they just? Yeah, coming out of the water. I was standing waist deep when Solas says “Disturbing the water will attract them.” Uh, dude? Could’ve told me that about five seconds ago. Well, it’s early in the game. We’ll work on the timing. But that shit will not get you flirts.

Reading about Sherman’s march to the sea is a riot compared to TLOU. Certainly needed.

Feminina:

I see there’s one unpickable (without getting an Inquisition perk) lock in the Mire, and a couple in the Hinterlands…maybe more, but those are the ones that come to mind.

Kind of an interesting choice to make just two levels of lock. Easy locks and harder locks, but no gradations in between, and no need (or option) to level up lock-picking as a skill the way we did in previous games. I guess it does simplify things. The whole skill development thing seems streamlined, which does make character development fairly straightforward. What do you want to focus on this level? What specific skill do you want to have? OK, done.

So I got through that story bit, and can report that yes, you’re free to go back and wander around previously-explored regions some more afterwards. I’m thinking it’s probably a lot like Mass Effect: up until the very endgame, there’s not a point of no return, and you can always go back to places you’ve been. It would make sense that since they give you so much to do and explore in these areas, they’d want you to have plenty of opportunity to visit them.

Butch:

They certainly seem to have made the inquisition itself the point where there’s customization. It’s HARD picking perks. I find the skill trees less of a challenge to beef up, especially with all the points you have. One thing I REALLY miss from DA games of yore is the character specific skills. Varric had a whole skill tree called “bianca” I think. Zevran had “Crow Assassin” or something, so each dude had stuff only that dude could do. This, it’s like, ok, Cassandra will be sword and shield and Blackwall will have two handed and….what? That’s it? I kinda feel like if Cassandra can make mage blood boil (she told me that, kinda a turn off, or was it a metaphor and she was coming on to me?) she should be able to, you know, DO THAT. Am I missing something?

Feminina:

If you’re missing anything, I’m missing it too. Agreed, I can find no special powers in the character records. I mean, Varric has Bianca and you can get Bianca-specific upgrades for it, so I suppose that’s one way of individualizing things, but there’s no “blood boiling” upgrade you can add to Cassandra’s armor, or anything, to take advantage of her presumed special powers. And I agree, the fact that there are only four skill trees does kind of limit the extent to which you can make them significantly different. You can say “OK, you focus on this line, and you focus on that one,” but yeah, two-handed weapon or sword and shield is pretty much it for fighting style.

Again, I guess it does simplify things. Maybe they felt previous character screens became unwieldy.

Butch:

And Varric pretty much has to be archer, and Sera sorta STARTED as archer….. I dunno. Let my characters be characters. You USED to do that! But ME didn’t do that so much, so OK.

But yeah, Cassandra was so casual about it. After the hinterlands, we’re shooting the shit, and I ask “So what do seekers DO?” and she’s all “Well, we have some powers,” I’m all “Yeah? Like what? Anything good?” And she’s all “Well MINE is that I can make mage’s blood boil and paralyze them.” I really, really wanted a dialog option that said “THEN WHY THE FUCK DIDN’T YOU DO THAT WHEN THOSE BAZILLION MAGES WERE KILLING US?” but they didn’t give me one.

Feminina:

I know! You can do a cool thing, Cassandra? Great! MAYBE TRY DOING IT SOMETIME.

Siiigh.

But look, we don’t know what Cassandra’s been through. Maybe there’s some trauma related to boiling mage blood that she’s just not ready to face. (That…actually sounds quite likely when I put it like that.)

Maybe she’ll get a special power tree later, when she’s worked through her issues. Maybe they all will. We have to be patient, and let everyone develop at their own speed.

No rush, everyone. Take your time. I want you to feel comfortable. I mean, it’s not as if there’s a hole in the sky through which murderous demons are continually pouring, or anything.

Butch:

Yup. Especially against, you know, MAGES who were TRYING TO KILL US! I mean, it isn’t like she can make lemonade appear or is really good at beer pong. That Mage thing would be kinda handy. This isn’t some parlor trick.

HA! Cassandra slightly approves, but makes a breakthrough psychologically.

Hey, this is BIOWARE. Fuck, Shep was facing the demise of the WHOLE UNIVERSE and still had time to collect models and feed his fish (and hamster). Feelings matter, man.

Stay tuned for further updates regarding our ongoing adventures!

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