Some brief notes on hunting in
Dragon Age: Inquisition

ram

Ram

Hav­ing recently fin­ished Dragon Age: Inquis­i­tion — the main storyline and pretty much all of the single player sid­equests, that is — some aspects of the game’s approach to hunt­ing anim­als and beasts keep stick­ing in the back of my mind. I’ll try to dis­en­tangle them here, briefly.

In the early stages of the game, hunt­ing anim­als is intro­duced as an optional but bene­fi­cial and luc­rat­ive activ­ity. First of all, there’s a quest in the Hin­ter­lands where you are approached by a local hunter who asks you to hunt some wild rams to provide extra food for the refugees of the templar–mage war that have come to the area. The nar­rat­ive cloth­ing redeems this oth­er­wise trite kill quest, and it alle­vi­ated any mis­giv­ings I ini­tially had about going out slaughter­ing a herd of inno­cent anim­als.

fennec

Fen­nec

In addi­tion, the wild anim­als in the game are a source of leath­ers and skins which are used in the game’s craft­ing sys­tem. You’ll need a bunch of leath­ers when you want to make your own armours for arch­ers and stabby rogues, but also as minor com­pon­ents in other items: weapon grips, armour straps, etc. Des­pite this item-progression-driven motiv­a­tion to go out and kill anim­als, I found myself hes­it­ant to do so, and basic­ally only col­lec­ted leath­ers from stashes, shops, and from aggress­ive anim­als such as wolves and gur­guts.

It feels at times as if the game’s design­ers wanted to instil the hunter of wild game in Inquis­i­tion with a guilty con­science by mak­ing many of the anim­als extremely cute.* * The word game as re­fer­ring to ani­mals comes from the sense that they are ani­mals caught dur­ing a hun­ting game, i.e. for sport. This usage dates back to the 13th cen­tury. See the On­line Ety­mo­logy Dic­tio­nary.The fen­nec foxes are obvi­ously ador­able, but I have a weak spot for pig-like beings as well. Nugs are super cute, as are tus­kets, and I go crazy for snou­fleurs, who are maybe the pin­nacle of cute­ness. Cruelly, the design­ers chose to grace the lat­ter with one of the strongest and rarest kinds of leather in the game.

nug

Nug

Hunt­ing in Inquis­i­tion is not some­thing expli­citly under­taken for sport, in terms of rep­res­ent­a­tion. The player is free to use the party to kill wild anim­als, but there is no way to organ­ise a moun­ted hunt­ing party with hounds, birds of prey, spec­tat­ors, etc. In that sense, the game sug­gests that hunt­ing is util­it­arian first and fore­most, and optional to boot.

At the same time, the game encour­ages the hunt­ing of inno­cent anim­als by expli­citly mak­ing them the most copi­ous source of leath­ers in the game, and by grant­ing small amounts of exper­i­ence points for the kill, unless the char­ac­ters are extremely over­lev­elled com­pared to the animal. In addi­tion, anim­als are the only ‘neut­ral’ tar­gets in the game. Enemies are marked with red indic­at­ors, while allied creatures are untar­get­able and unk­il­lable. The anim­als are a unique cat­egory, marked with a blue indic­ator. As soon as you attack them, these turn red and depend­ing on the type of animal, they retali­ate or attempt to flee. ‘Blue’ anim­als are also the only creatures who can be acci­dent­ally dam­aged by area-of-effect spells and abil­it­ies, much to my chag­rin. It’s no prob­lem at all if friendly people stand near an intense chain light­ning: they are never hit. But when an animal hap­pens to be near one, it’s fried, even if you didn’t mean to hurt it. They are always poten­tial tar­gets for your viol­ence.

snoufleur

Snou­fleur

The ulti­mate moral hunt­ing quandary of the game is presen­ted by the ten High Dragons fea­tured in the game. They are presen­ted as mag­ni­fi­cent, power­ful creatures, queens among their kind, and each has a unique appear­ance, scale col­our­ing, beha­viour, etc. They are minor char­ac­ters. Of course, dragons are dan­ger­ous and power­ful, and they are framed as liab­il­it­ies and threats on numer­ous occa­sions. This threat, how­ever, doesn’t actu­ally mater­i­al­ise in the game. It’s per­fectly feas­ible to leave the High Dragons alone, as they never actu­ally threaten the secur­ity of people in the game itself. They are per­fectly con­tent to hang around in their lairs, caring for their little dragon­lings, maybe fly across the land once in a while.

But again, it doesn’t feel like the game wants you to leave them alone. The dragon fights, while not extremely dif­fi­cult, are pretty epic to play and watch, and each dragon has a bunch of cool treas­ure. Fur­ther­more, there are quests and other forms of pro­gres­sion pro­grammed into the game for which killing one or more of the dragons is required. Finally, there is — of course — an achieve­ment for killing all ten High Dragons.

dragon

Dragon

There’s a strange tangle of emo­tions around these dragons. They are dan­ger­ous and seen as hos­tile, but at the same time presen­ted as majestic creatures worthy of awe and respect. Yet this awe is channeled as a form of chal­lenge, as well. These creatures, more than any­thing else in the game, are a match in power for the prot­ag­on­ist. Simply the fact that they exist, are power­ful, and com­mand a place of their own is felt as a chal­lenge in the power-driven nar­rat­ive of the game. You respect the dragons for their power, but you also want to take them down in glor­i­ous battle and prove your­self the stronger party. Out of all your allies, Iron Bull is prob­ably the one who most expli­citly expresses those very sen­ti­ments.

But there really is no reason to kill them other than for your own grat­i­fic­a­tion and a bunch of loot. You skulk off to some hid­den lair with your small party to do the dirty deed. In two cases, the dragons are even asleep. They don’t speak, they don’t flee; you either leave them alone or you kill them. They’re just over­sized ver­sions of some of the other anim­als in the game, and you can kill them for your (private) sport. It’s a mor­ally filthy, imper­i­al­ist power fantasy that the game wants to make you impli­cit in. But really, that goes for much of the rest of the game, too.

I killed all of the dragons, although I didn’t actu­ally get the achieve­ment after­wards. It’s prob­ably a bug, but part of me likes to think the game might be mak­ing a point. The ‘achieve­ment’ feels hol­low.

Fur­ther read­ing (also for myself):

  • John Cum­mins. 1988 [2001]. The Hound and the Hawk. The Art of Medi­eval Hunt­ing. Lon­don: Phoenix Press.

All images are screen­shots from Dragon Age: Inquis­i­tion.

This art­icle was sup­por­ted by the gen­er­ous con­trib­ut­ors to my Patreon.

 

  • Adam

    It is very nice and thought­ful post, and sadly the only one I encountered on this topic. I very much agree with you that it feels guilty to harm anim­als in-game. It is easy to pic­ture a thug who stole or murdered someone and deserves pun­ish­ment, but it is not enjoy­able for me to harm inno­cents even in a vir­tual world. I only met dragons when I rode in to close some fade rifts, but after some attempts we all got out in one piece, .. except for the demons.