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.