Choosing Sides

CAUTION – This post contains spoilers for Dragon Age: Inquisition. Check out the Dragon Age website for information on the game.

I’m now about 30 hours into my second DAI playthrough, this time with my Qunari Mage, Voski Adaar. Playing a different race, and importing a different world state, make for a very different experience, but the thing I most wanted to explore in this playthrough was how the choice between Mages and Templars affects the world.

My choice to side with the Mages in my first playthrough had far reaching effects: it introduced Dorian, it gave me a glimpse of what the world would be like if Corypheus prevailed, it provided mage allies and agents, and opened up a quest around lyrium supply and the Red Templars (which I forgot to do, but still, it was there). Going into this new playthrough I was struggling to envisage how that much information and activity could be replicated or replaced for the Templar choice; my fear was that it wouldn’t be significantly different.

The Templar mission was more contained than the Mage one. Once you arrive at Therinfall Redoubt you’re there til the end of the mission. That’s not to say it was more straightforward once you got there. In fact, had I not had the strategy guide to hand I would definitely have taken a lot longer and lost people too.

After some initial faff with Orlesian nobles, we met Knight-Captain Denam and established things were very wrong with the order (mostly because he attacked us). There followed a number of skirmishes as we made our way further into Therinfall. Again, thanks to the strategy guide I knew to take a look in Denam’s office, which provides evidence for his trial later on.

When you finally meet the Lord Seeker, it turns out he’s not the Lord Seeker but an Envy demon, as he pulls you into what appears to be the Fade (knowing this ahead of time will no doubt have an impact on Cass’ quest to find the Seekers). This Envy demon had apparently decided that being Lord Seeker wasn’t enough – it would quite like to be the Herald of Andraste. This part wasn’t terribly useful in terms of exposition, since it was mostly about the demon trying to learn how to be you. Once I met Cole, and he said that the less it knew about me the easier it was to keep it out, I opted out of every conversation I could, and concentrated on getting out of there. Although the demon was supposedly showing me the fate of my advisors and followers, it simply didn’t have the same impact as finding Cass, Varric, and Leliana in future-Redcliffe and watching them die there; I knew this was illusion.

Back in the real world the Templars needed to hold the Great Hall, and we were sent scurrying around to find Knight-Lieutenants and a cache of clean lyrium so that they could force the Envy demon to reveal itself. While we were gone, a meter showing the strength of Templar forces in the hall slowly drained. I knew from the strategy guide to go back after getting the second Knight-Lieutenant, as if the barrier got below a certain point Ser Barris would die, and if it drained completely then we were all gone. I always feel like these things add unnecessary stress; I’m motivated enough to move quickly when doing this kind of mission, without adding in a stress factor which makes me miss things. It also meant that I was only vaguely paying attention in the office with the lyrium cache when Cole revealed Corypheus’ plan to kill Empress Celene – I basically spent the scene going: “Come on, come on, need to get the lyrium and get back to the Templars, stop talking.”

Once we’d collected everything, the Templars did their ritual while we held off Red Templars coming through the barrier. Then we went out and confronted the demon, which was fairly similar to the Alexius fight in Redcliffe. That done, we had the chance to ally with, or disband, the Templars. I picked alliance, of which most of my companions (though not Sera or Cole), approved. Cole then randomly appears on the War Table when you get back to Haven and you can opt to keep him or send him away.

The initial result of the decision is that Templars seal the Breach with you. While you’re celebrating an army approaches; Dorian arrives just ahead of them, having raced them from Redcliffe, to inform you that the Rebel Mages are attacking under the command of the Venatori and the Elder One. It is Dorian, not Cole who helps Chancellor Roderick in this scenario.

Post-Haven, the two major differences I’ve noticed are that there are Venatori in areas that were held by Red Templars in Crestwood, and instead of Cullen asking me to look into lyrium-smuggling, Leliana has asked me to investigate Calpernia, leader of the Venatori (Dorian tells you that Alexius was killed by his own side). No doubt others will emerge in time.

There is also the chance to Judge Knight-Captain Denam, with options to execute, send him to the Templars for judgement, question and imprison, or, if you have the History Perk, exile him according to Templar precedent. I chose the latter, which got me an approval boost from pretty much everyone. I assume questioning and jailing him might make him an agent, but, unlike with Alexius, I coudn’t really see how he’d be useful to me.

A few things do stay the same with this choice; when you reach Skyhold, Dorian delivers Chancellor Roderick’s final message, and Solas and Vivienne still have a scrap over Cole. The latter feels odd; if you seal the Breach as soon as you’ve collected the Templars it probably makes sense, but if you go and do a lot of exploration quests between the two, as I did, then you find yourself wondering why they’re only now debating what Cole is and whether he should stay.

The information on Corypheus’ plans also seems a little more tenuous. Although there was pressure to get back to the proper time while in future-Redcliffe, the leisure for conversation meant that I returned with a clear picture of what Corypheus’ future held. As I already mentioned, in the Templar mission the revelation of a plot against Celene came when I was preoccupied with other things, and I only know the Envy demon mentioned the demon army because Cullen referenced it later – I have no recollection of the conversation.

I think my preference for my future playthroughs, and my canon in particular, will be to ally with the Mages. I preferred the mission in Redcliffe, as I felt it had more emotional impact. Also, I’m left feeling that checking the incursion of a Tevinter cult is a bit more worthwhile than trying to find out why the Templars are sulking in their castle. In terms of introductions, I felt that Redcliffe suited Dorian – it had subterfuge and drama – while Cole’s arriving just ahead of the Templars meant the discussion over his nature came at a sensible place in the story. While I’m interested to see what Calpernia will bring to the game, I did like having Samson as general to the Red Templars, because it made things personal for Cullen.

All this is not to say I won’t choose the Templars again. Now I’ve completed Champions of the Just I’m sure a future run at it, where I have a grasp on what I need to do, will go better. And I am impressed at the way they’ve managed to make the choices feel so different in terms of impact on the world. So far though, to me, going after the Mages seems like a more logical story choice.