The longer a game is, the harder it is to end it. The more sprawling the cast, the trickier it is to give its actors closure. The looser the dangling plot threads, the tougher to tie them up.
Enter Dragon Age: Inquisition: Trespasser, the final downloadable expansion for last fall's RPG epic Dragon Age: Inquisition. Short version up front: It's good, but it's not as good as the similarMass Effect 3: Citadel, which capped the third entry in BioWare's other ongoing role-playing epic in early 2013. It reunites the whole cast and provides closure -- if at times hastily -- for characters we care about. In terms of the questions raised by the twist at the end of Inquisition, it mostly gives us answers we already knew while setting up the presumed plot of Dragon Age 4.
Trespasser largely gets by on good intentions, and it does get by. It doesn't match the confident fan-service swagger of Citadel, but its heart is in the same good place. The key difference is that Citadel told a self-contained story that existed solely to allow the characters to come together for one last great hurrah. Trespasser has to do double duty as both a character-focused epilogue and a grand narrative conclusion. As a result of that split focus, neither thing gets the attention it could've.
SPOILERS FOR THE END OF DRAGON AGE INQUISITION FOLLOW.
When Inquisition ended, it didn't really end. Sure, the big bad Corypheus was defeated, and the good guys won the day. Players got to choose who would take over as the new Divine (basically the Fantasy Pope), leading the church and its significant political power for a new generation. But what happened next? Did the Inquisition stay together, now that their primary goal had been accomplished? Was your pick a good spiritual leader? And what the hell was up with that twist ending, where the elf Solas revealed himself to be a powerful ancient elven being who'd been manipulating everything from behind the scenes? Trespasser aims to answer each of those lingering questions and delivers on its aims with varying degrees of success.
The setup is as follows: It's two years since the end of Inquisition, and the Inquisition -- the organisation, not the video game -- has carried on. Peace has returned to the kingdoms of Orlais and Ferelden, but it's uneasy. Those nation's leaders are uncomfortable with the Inquisition's presence in the mountain pass at their borders, mostly due to the strength of the Inquisition's army. They have begun to see the Inquisition as an occupying force with no purpose. The Inquisitor is summoned back to the Winter Palace (the grand Orlesian building that featured prominently in a middle act of Inquisition) to engage in a series of diplomatic talks and, ultimately, determine the future of her organisation.
Once at the palace, the Inquisitor has the chance to answer exactly one question from the council before being pulled away by some clandestine intrigue, leaving dutiful Josephine to handle the diplomats in her stead. (It's fine; for all her complaints, it's clear Josephine loves this shit.) It turns out there's a plot afoot, and the Qunari -- those hardassed horned giants from the north -- are behind it. The Qunari plot involves travel through magical elven mirrors, which will let Qunari agents teleport to locations around the world, including the Winter Palace. The Inquisitor and her merry band trace a Qunari agent back through one of those mirrors and are soon warping through distant lands and grand elven ruins, battling Qunari warriors and chasing the trail of a scheme that could bring down all of the southern kingdoms.
The rest of the story, which took me about four or five hours to play through, is defined by that structure. You'll periodically return to the Winter Palace to check in with Josephine and the others before hurrying back through a new mirror to another far-flung land, where you'll battle Qunari and watch your Inquisitor attempt to figure out what's going on.
Without spoiling too much, I was occasionally frustrated watching Inquisitor Sabetha and her friends try to puzzle out just what was happening, given that I already knew the score. The Qunari are angry because they think the Inquisition is in league with a powerful elven sub-deity. We already know why they would believe that: Solas is that sub-deity, so the Inquisition was unwittingly in league with him. When Sabetha finally figured it out, I didn't quite know how to have her react. "I should have figured this out ages ago, given that Kirk was yelling at me through the screen!" wasn't a dialogue option.
En route to the big reveal, the Inquisitor and her party must fight their way through four regions, all connected by mirrors and all lovely in their own way.
Trespasser is clearly no B-team effort, and I was regularly reminded that while The Witcher 3 has stolen the "best-looking fantasy RPG" title from Inquisition, BioWare is no slouch. Plenty of work has gone into the script, too -- your party members talk to each other in this DLC, an improvement over the last two. I was particularly happy to have Iron Bull along, both because of his insights into the Qunari, and because it's nice to get a little more of actor Freddie Prinze, Jr.'s cheerful barbarism.
Inquisition's combat, on the other hand, has overstayed its welcome. The base game's battles were structured sensibly -- you gradually became more powerful and learned new tactics to take on increasingly powerful enemies. The expansions, however, indicate that this combat system has maxed itself out and can't find a new balance. It crashed out somewhere around Inquisition's 80% mark and has been hitting a wall ever since.
Some of Trespasser's new combat ideas are interesting; others are questionable. You're given a new ability to cause an area-of-attack explosion around your Inquisitor, but battlefields are now dotted with exploding barrels that your new ability will detonate. I would occasionally pick up new weapons or gear but found it impossible to care about further levelling up or improving anything at this late stage. One sub-boss ignites a massive remote explosion that will nearly kill any far-flung allies and cause them to chug all of your health potions, regardless of how the rest of your team is doing. The final boss has a spell that is essentially an un-dodgeable, one-hit kill. And on PS4, the frame-rate drops substantially in combat, leaving the game feeling unresponsive and making it difficult to tell what the heck is going on.
As a result, combat sequences are overlong, overly convoluted, and at times overly difficult. Enemies take ages to kill, and I found myself once again bumping the difficulty down to "casual" and staying there. Even then, just as with the Descent DLC, I would get stuck from time to time, wondering why this game doesn't have an easy difficulty setting that is actually easy, and not just slightly less of a magic-soaked mire.
Most players will be in this thing for the story, though. Trespasser delivers that much more consistently. Back at the Winter Palace, your options for political intrigue and power-brokering are sadly limited, but you'll have several welcome opportunities to tour the palace grounds and catch up with the members of your original team. What's Cassandra been up to with the Seekers? How's life in Tevinter treating Dorian? Is Vivienne still the worst? Is Blackwall still kind of irrelevant? How's Cullen doing, and would it make you like him even more if you learned he loves dogs? (It would.)
Reminiscing with your old chums is as lovely as it always is in these sorts of games. It hasn't just been two years of in-game time, after all -- it's been almost a year of real-life-time since I last talked to these characters. It's great to hear about the latest in Varric's love/hate relationship with Kirkwall, or what's new with Bull's Chargers. It's not all roses and remembrances, though -- conversations don't have much time to breathe, and the events of the intervening years are mostly just summarized in short books you'll find lying around.
I was also disappointed by a momentous scene with my chosen love interest Cullen; our conclusion was rushed and anticlimactic, despite being basically sweet and well-intentioned. But "sweet and well-intentioned" defines these sections of Trespasser, and if you're the sort of fan who's been dying for more time with your favourite dwarf or elf -- you know who you are -- your time at the Winter Palace will be well-spent.
The final 20 minutes of Trespasser answers questions many players have had since Solas first revealed his true nature at the end of Inquisition. Those answers, which I won't spoil here, are satisfying and even occasionally shocking, particularly for Dragon Age nerds like me. One lore-bomb in particular should completely redefine our understanding of the metaphysical history of Thedas, and lest you think the Dragon Age writing team simply made all this shit up at the last minute, Solas' motivations were hinted at and even outright revealed during the core game. It really does seem as though Inquisition's writers knew where they were going the whole time.
By revealing Solas to be an ancient, powerful being who loves but is pursuing an agenda far beyond the Inquisitor, Inquisition finally delivers an interesting, sympathetic villain. Unfortunately, it's a villain whom we are not actually given a chance to challenge. Solas only turns up at the end of Trespasser and exists primarily to set up what I assume will be Dragon Age 4. It's not an unsatisfying tease, but it is a tease nonetheless.
When the fighting is done and the revelations have been revealed, Trespasser concludes with a series of illustrated vignettes depicting the fates of its main characters. You'll learn how all your buddies carried on with their lives, based at least in part on the decisions you made. These stories are a bit pat -- did no one die ignobly or simply fade into obscurity? -- but they offer pleasant closure for characters to whom I've developed a real attachment.
The epilogues float by a little too quickly, and it can be hard to keep up. I hastily took in each illustration, skimmed the text, digested it as fast as I could, and hoped I wasn't missing anything. I'd see a story I liked -- aw, that's so cool! -- and then be whisked to another before I had time to process. Those conclusions are much like Trespasser itself: A little rushed and a little clumsy, but ultimately well-intentioned and welcome.