Blackwall’s lie – Dragon Age: Inquisition

SPOILERS AHEAD!

I recently finished the companion side-quest, Revelations, which involves finding out that your Grey Warden companion is actually an ex-Orlesian captain in Empress Celene’s army named Thom Rainier.

These are my general impressions based on my first playthrough (and just finishing the quest, I have not yet finished DA:I at this point… somehow) in which I always used Blackwall in my party, and saw him like Duncan. In fact, there were a few occasions I convinced myself he was Duncan because of the wise advice he would give and his gruff teddy-bear-mentor manner. For some reason, I missed any indication that he could be lying about his identity! This is my first (although, really personal) criticism of this quest line, because it felt extremely random and fake. I didn’t see it coming and I almost cried when I realized he was gone.

Then, Blackwall publicly confesses to his crime at the scheduled execution of one of his men, Mornay, which involved giving the order to murder of an insignificant character named Callier, and his family (and their guards I think? I was too blinded by my tears to care). I think if, at some instance, the Inquisitor had come across clues of this family, perhaps even captured Mornay ourselves, players would have been much more prepared for this questline. This whole part of Blackwall’s narrative seems very out-of-nowhere, and it’s one of those things that I’m just going to pretend didn’t happen because it makes me feel bad about my play experience. For a companion quest, the writing should have been better. This isn’t one of those random “deliver this item to my loved-ones grave” quest’s that are scattered throughout the game. This is Gordon Blackwall!!!

The whole time, I’m only thinking about getting Blackwall back as he is dragged off to the Val Royeaux prison cells. The Inquisitor gets to speak to him briefly, before a mission from the war table operation opens to get him back. Of course I did this as quick as I could, but war table operations take time! So, I ran around doing random things until those were over. I would have gone to any lengths to rescue Blackwall from prison myself!!! In addition, having these operations only available from the war table makes them easily forgettable with all the other missions scattered about. Players need to be at least somewhere on the completionist spectrum to keep up with that aspect of the game… which is a different point entirely.

Anyway, finally, Blackwall is brought back to Skyhold and the Inquisitor has to Sit in Judgement on his case. Blackwall can be pardoned and seek atonement for his help, given to the Grey Warden’s after the Inquisition, or be forced to serve the Inquisition. Honestly, these choices all suck because only the middle one is clear about whether or not Blackwall actually stays in your party, and I wanted to be able to forgive Blackwall for what he did wrong. I knew the “right” thing to do would be to be angry at him and kick him out forever, but I liked him too much. We had too much history. I weighted my options for 10 minutes before choosing the Grey Warden option, hoping Blackwall would be able to forgive himself eventually, even if I didn’t say it.

The only reconciling aspect of this questline is when the Inquisitor speaks to Blackwall after. Unsure of what to address him as now, they decide “Blackwall” should be his title, a position for him to aspire to, since he always tried to be like Blackwall anyway. I’m satisfied with this ending, but I know that when I play the game I second time, Blackwall’s random deception is going to hurt just as bad.

Story mechanics in Assassin’s Creed

Like most stealth games, the Assassin’s Creed franchise is a prime example of the mechanical connection to the game’s subject, whether that be the characters, the story, or both. I have played the original Assassin’s Creed with Altair and through ⅔’s on Ezio’s storyline in AC: 2, AC: Brotherhood, and AC: Revelations. While I find the mechanics in Ezio’s game’s to be more engaging, the story in the original game captures me the most. Ubisoft’s crusade-ridden 12th century world is an appealing location for fantasy, and even more so when playing as an assassin as opposed to a crusading templar or wealthy leader of the time period. As an assassin, these are the types of enemies players would resist. Being an assassin means being a hidden rebellion from the shadows and rooftops.

Viewpoints are essential for players to discover where they are and also to find hidden objects. This is perfectly in line with being an assassin, because the assassin must discover everything around them in order to formulate the most proper plan of action before striking. Viewpoints force the player to do this as they know nothing about the city before entering it, and they are rewarded with information in the form of targets and treasure caches. A few viewpoints are also protected by guards, and the players had to stealthily dispose of them in order to access the viewpoint.

Throughout the series, characters can use a mechanic called “blending”. This is yet another perfect mechanic for an assassin as they move around the space and sneak into areas in more ways than just jumping between rooftops. On foot, Altair can enter a group of scholars or people and bow his head to avoid being seen by enemies. He will then be “following” the group and go wherever the group goes until the player forces him to exit. There are specific moments in the game where players must switch from 2-3 groups without bringing attention to themselves in order to reach their destination. Altair can also blend on horseback by bowing his head and appearing less suspicious, but this is more finicky than when he’s on foot. There are a couple enemies that ignore the blending mechanic and will recognize Altair no matter what; these are naturally Archers and Knights Templars.

Portal: Cake, deception, & companionship

For the past few weeks, between school and midterms, I attempted to play Portal in preparation for a short essay I would need to write about companionship in games for my “Interactive Narrative and Character Creation” class at DigiPen Institute of Technology. I tried my best to play through the game, however, by test chamber 16 I was overwhelmed with motion sickness. I spent the next twelve hours watching Blitzwinger play the rest in 20-30 minute intervals, and between napping off the motion sickness.

In Portal, the player wakes up in a laboratory and must go through a series of tests with some in-development technology, and if successful, will be thrown a cake party at the end of the 19 test chambers. As the player makes it through each of the rooms, an artificial intelligence anachronically named GLaDOS, attempts to prepare the player for what lies ahead, and sweetly congratulates the player upon their success. However, the player is not on their way to a “cake party”; they are on their way to a fiery death. As they player escapes death, they find themselves in the background areas of the facility where cubes are shipped around and sentry turrets are made and tested. At the end, the player meets GLaDOS’ entity and defeats the vicious AI by using the rocket turret to shoot parts of her off and drop them in the incinerator.

The epitome of the narrative theme of Portal is written on the walls in the back on test chamber 16: “The cake is a lie.” This is a metaphor for deception, and more specifically how a negative situation can appear to be more positive than it is as long as one has the promise of cake- or any pleasing prize- at the end. Consistently, GLaDOS will say atrocious things to the player, such as “Unbelievable! You, Subject Name Here, must be the pride of Subject Hometown Here.” and “Please note that we have added a consequence for failure. Any contact with the chamber floor will result in an ‘unsatisfactory’ mark on your official testing record followed by death. Good luck!”. Her sweet praises and compliments are always fondued in sugary sarcasm. She says “It has been replaced with a live-fire course designed for military androids.“ and “The Enrichment Center is required to remind you that you will be baked, and then there will be cake.” as if these things shouldn’t cause the player to expect danger. This clues us in that GLaDOS is not our friend and the player isn’t surprised when she betrays them. So, the overarching literary theme of deception is enforced by GLaDOS consistently. There are also a couple more subtle themes. Isolation is felt by the player because they are the only organic creature they see in this whole gray and hospital-like facility. There appear to be areas for other people to be watching them (the offices and windows that look into the test chambers), but the play never sees anyone else. Another more subtle theme is escape, which doesn’t come into play until after evading death at the end of test chamber 19. The player feels so much urgency at that point, and there are a few new mechanics in which time matters even more in order for the player to be successful. GLaDOS also further enforces this theme by telling the player “I know you’re there. I can feel you here.” and “Remember when the platform was sliding into the fire pit and I said ‘Goodbye’ and you were like [no way] and then I was all ‘we pretended we were going to murder you’? That was great!”.

While I personally feel GLaDOS was the most impactful companion because she narrates the journey, many players feel a closeness to the famed companion cube, even though you only have it for a short time. The companion cube only appears in test chamber 17. GLaDOS makes suggestions that the cube cannot speak and will not hurt the player. Because of this, players expect that the companion cube might say something or actually have feelings. At the point, the player is also weary of trusting GLaDOS, so it becomes reactionary to believe the opposite of what she says. The cube also has a pink heart design, which makes players feel that this is the “attractive” cube, or more special than the other cubes we’ve encountered so far. Unlike the other weighted cubes in the facility, there is only one companion cube, so the player must make sure to bring it along with them wherever they go in chamber 17. By the time chamber 17 is over, players may feel attached to the cube because they have just been through an incredible test together. However, GLaDOS forces the player to incinerate the cube in order to exit the chamber. This also makes players feel an attachment to the cube. Even if the cube isn’t sentient, it now feels like it is to the players.