Recently, my wife and I have been playing a ton of Dragon Age: Inquisition, and we love it to bits. Since everyone and their sisters chose it as Game of the Year for 2014, enough words were written about it already; However, there’s something I’d like to add about the strategic layer of the game, the War Room, the cool interaction it has with the “actual game”, and how different this interaction is from the one we see in XCOM. Which is an amazing game as well.

In DAI, you travel around the world, meet interesting people and kill their enemies, stuff like that, but once in a while you’re faced with a problem that can’t be solved with a simple double-dagger-to-the-throat (we’re playing a rogue). That problem might be something like “look at all these sulfur pits that are choking us! I wanna go past them.” or something like a local horse-master refusing to leave his farmlands (and join our worthy cause) until someone builds some goddamn guard towers around here, and mans them (guard towers without guards – less useful). The “regular” mechanics of the game begin and end with stabbing stuff, or at the most, right-clicking on a “push” or “examine” tag, that was just waiting for us to come along and push or examine. We can’t build and man guard towers by herself! Also, it would be boring. Cutting wood and stone for hours, and all that.

That’s where the War Room enters the picture, allowing a strategic view of our operations. Like in the “regular” game, there’s a lot of stuff you can do here that doesn’t directly affect the other layer – there are tons of fun story bits you can discover, with only negligible influence on the other layer. The main difference is that of scope – while in the world layer you get to kill some darkspawn or save one lost mage, in the War Room you get to protect a city against a darkspawn siege or decide the fate of an entire Circle of Magi.

There are tons of operations, and many of them are fun and give the feeling of “you’re running a huge organization”, but the best ones are those that reflect other decisions we’ve made in the game. For example, if we choose to pardon a dangerous rebel mage and recruit him to our cause, we get follow-up operations that deal with this decision, giving us the feeling that our choices matter and influence our organization.

The most interesting interaction between the two layers, however, was when I freed some slaves in the Hissing Wastes. There wasn’t any quest, saying “Freed 0 out of 3 slaves”, I didn’t free them because the game directed me to do so – I did it because I could, after fighting the enemies around them. At first, it felt like it was just a nice thing to do, just a simple little “you’re a hero” moment. But after I freed the third and last one, I was suddenly informed I’ve got a new operation available in the War Room – hiring the freed slaves!
It seems like there’s no difference between getting told to free some dudes in order to get a reward, and just freeing some dudes because you want to and then suddenly getting a reward. In both cases, we free some dudes, and, well, we get a reward. But being told to do something isn’t as fun as wanting to do it yourself – intrinsic motivation is always better – and also, getting a reward in the form of an operation is much more fun than just getting some XP and an item, because it utilizes the strategic layer, again helping us feel that we control a vast organization, dealing with the same problem in both a local scale and a wider scale.

Unfortunately, this specific incident, with the slaves, is almost one of its kind in DAI. I hope that in the next Dragon Age game – which I’m already looking forward too – we’ll get to see more of these kinds of interactions, where actions made from my own volition in the world lead naturally to new opportunities in the form of strategic operations.

(The pic’s caption is thanks to TVtropes’ funny DA:I quotes page)