Why Dragon Age: Inquisition's Faith Issues Are Obscurely Refreshing

Editor's Note: Some videos have been marked with plot-spoiling details. The article itself discusses details, but nothing heavily revealing about the story of Dragon Age: Inquisition. 

Shortly after Dragon Age: Inquisition’s release, the game received widespread praise for a pivotal scene about a third of the way through where, after having just been dealt a major setback, the people of the Inquisition rally around your character and break into song. If that sounds less than impressive just by reading it alone, it speaks to how well BioWare was able to pull the scene off - what could easily have been a ridiculous musical segment was instead an inspirational, heart-swelling moment of gameplay.

However, the cutscene immediately preceding the song is perhaps more impressive, more well-done, and ultimately more meaningful to the overall game. In it, your character has a discussion with benevolent priest Mother Giselle about the setback, your team’s reaction to it, and the very nature of faith itself. After having been dealt some very strong revelations in the previous mission, your character can choose from a wide series of responses, ranging from believing in divine intervention, to blaming fanatical belief for the current situation, to skepticism, and everything in between. The conversation can be found here. (Note: this video contains spoilers). 

This stellar conversation surrounding faith is not a one-off, either. Throughout the game, your character becomes a sort of religious icon to the people of the in-game universe, and you have nearly complete freedom in determining how exactly to use this status. Play it up in the hopes of attracting a larger power base? Because you honestly believe you have a divine mission? Discourage the rumors to get everybody to calm down?

Screenshot by Zach Yost. Censored for spoilers.

Screenshot by Zach Yost. Censored for spoilers.

The question of how to handle this power is one of the game's central themes, and only you can decide how to deal with it. This nuanced depiction of faith on both an individual level and an overarching motif in-game is something we don’t often see in AAAs, and below is why I think BioWare should be praised for doing so.

The details behind these religions is impressive.
In addition to coming to terms with your own personal belief (or lack thereof) through the various trials and surprises of the game, Inquisition also questions you on which faith, if any, is correct. In-game lore includes three major religions, each with their own features and levels of “proof”, leaving you to decide for yourself which, if any, to believe.

The most-followed faith is that of The Maker and the Chantry, an analogue to Christianity. It is this religion in which you become a sort of icon for, no matter your species. This can make for some amusing implications if your race has been traditionally hostile to the Chantry (yet another aspect that adds depth to the game).

The Chantry replaced worship of the draconic Old Gods of Tevinter, of whom there is the most proof of existence, but ironically the fewest amount of followers. Perhaps in parallel to ancient Christianity adapting pagan holidays for their own purposes, the Chantry has acknowledged the Old Gods in their own hierarchy, calling them demons who corrupted man.

Finally, there is the Elven pantheon, whose closest analogue is probably the Norse gods. In the first two games of the Dragon Age series, the Elven gods were treated as something of an afterthought, but Inquisition further explores Elven history and also buffs the lore behind this religion, as well.

You can derive a certain amount of fun in seeing how these religions interact and even overlap with each other; indeed, certain theories (Note: spoilers) online offer a strong connection between the Elven deities and the Old Gods. I won’t get into the specifics in the interests of keeping this article from turning into a massive speculation-fest, but once again this interaction serves to prove that attention to detail makes for a deeper, richer game. I for one am very interested in seeing the direction that the next Dragon Age game takes in terms of its religions.

The beautifully murky codex: well intended and refreshingly biased.
One of the hallmarks of the Dragon Age series is its refusal to provide straight answers regarding the game’s lore. In-game codex entries, essentially definitive in most other titles, are heavily biased towards whichever person or faction has written them. Here, if you really want to know the answer to something, you have to talk to every side and explore the universe; even then the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. This ambiguity keeps the fantasy world refreshingly grounded in reality.

An example of this is the series’ treatment of its overarching villains, the darkspawn. I briefly touched on this before, but it is worth repeating in context. The “official” origin story for the darkspawn, and the one you are presented with at the series’ beginning, is that their birth was due to a group of power-hungry magisters attempting to physically enter Dragon Age’s version of Heaven, becoming twisted and corrupted as soon as they crossed the threshold and having a side effect of tainting the Golden City black (Tolkien lovers looking for some grounding, the story shares some parallels with the Akallabêth).

Consequences for mankind's hubris? Or something else entirely?  Image from Dragon Age Wiki

Consequences for mankind's hubris? Or something else entirely? 
Image from Dragon Age Wiki

However, this story is by no means universally accepted. The dwarves, historically the species with the most contact with darkspawn, have no origin story for them and discount the traditional narrative, instead stating how they just gradually appeared. And a character you meet in Dragon Age II even claims he was actually one of the magisters who originally entered the Golden City. His version of the story is that the city was already in its twisted and blackened state before he arrived, casting doubt on the entire narrative.

This is by no means the only point in the game where you can take the Codex as gospel, which requires you to make your own judgments and serves to greater immerse you in the game’s world

A step up from Mass Effect
In a final encouraging point, this increased emphasis on both personal faith and the ambiguity of “Who’s right?” represents not only a step forward for gaming in general, but BioWare specifically. It was only three years ago when they cut this piece of dialogue from Mass Effect 3, in which one of your most religious crew members questions Commander Shepard about seeing anything after he/she “died” a year prior. This could have been a fantastic opportunity to build a deeper, more closely-connected character by answering her questions in one manner or another.

But this scene was cut, leaving a fairly large issue mostly glossed over and perhaps helping contribute to fan complaints that Ashley (the crew member in question) became a more shallow character in the third game compared to how she was originally presented. Here, a very similar issue is brought to the forefront and it would be impossible to imagine Inquisition without it being discussed in such detail.

In addition, late in Mass Effect 3 you are given a very definitive answer on what precisely one species’ set of gods was, with zero room for interpretation. In Inquisition, as discussed above, there are no concrete answers.

Dragon Age: Inquisition might not be groundbreaking in the way it treats religion or faith. It might not lead to anything substantial in how video games address these issues. But all in all, BioWare’s nuanced depiction of faith is something I personally welcome. Very few games touch on the subject, so to produce one that not only addresses it but gives you near-complete freedom to deal with religion in whatever manner you choose is commendable.

AAA games, perhaps understandably, have never dealt with religion with such a real-world perspective, so playing Inquisition with this level of detail is a welcome step. I for one am very interested in seeing the direction that the next Dragon Age game takes in terms of its religions. For the gamer who is looking for some subtlety, or even a game that just addresses these issues in the first place, Inquisition is a very welcome entry into the gaming pantheon indeed.