This post will be focusing on characters in the multiplayer portion of Dragon Age: Inquisition, not the single-player story of the Dragon Age series (which I haven’t actually played… yet).
The original lineup of characters you can play as consisted of 50% women and 50% men (6 of each), which was pretty awesome. (With the recent Dragonslayer Expansion, there are now 7 women and 8 men.) Even better, the classes were almost equally balanced between the genders, with there being an option to play as a woman for almost every class. So if you want to play a lady character with a greatsword, you could. The only exception is that there was originally two male archers and two female dual-wielding knife users, but no female archers or male knife users. This didn’t bother me, mostly since dual knife users are not stereotypically gendered as a feminine, and the number of men and women to play as is still equal. (There is now an extra female knife user, male two-handed weapon user and male staff user. I hope future expansions will even this back out a bit.) Of course, if the only women were archers and mages, for example, I would find that annoying. Since women are, more often than not, placed in a “long-distance” class, I am pleased to be given the opportunity to play as a female close-range fighter. In a complete reversal of stereotypes, the Reaver, who I will be talking about more shortly, is a close-range fighter and is probably the most bloodthirsty.
This is unlike the multiplayer in Mass Effect 3, another multiplayer mode from BioWare that I also played plenty of and enjoyed quite a bit. The classes in ME3 were much more gendered. Although the first two choices for each class were a male human and a female human, there were still fewer female characters to play as overall. There were relatively more women to choose from in the adept, engineer and infiltrator classes, but all of these tended to have indirect skills. (For example, turning invisible or summoning robots. Of course, you could build an infiltrator for close-range combat, but that was not one of the defining features of the class). As well, none of these classes had a 50/50 split between men and women. The closest class that could be argued to be 50/50 is the infiltrator class, but for that to be true the “genderless” asari infiltrator has to be counted as female and the “genderless” geth infiltrator has to be discounted. Unfortunately, one of my favourite classes, the vanguard, had very few women to play as. Again, I perhaps would not have been as unhappy with this if any of the classes that seemed stereotypically masculine did not have fewer women to choose from.
Also unlike Mass Effect 3, each of the characters in Dragon Age have a personality and a back-story. This adds some nice ambiance to the game. While the multiplayer matches may not be very different, the characters that you are playing with make a large difference, at least to me. All the characters have their own quirks and they are all interesting. I looked forward to hearing them chat in-between battles just to hear how they interacted together. Each of them has different observations on the others’ pasts, goals, and motivations.
The Reaver and the Alchemist
In particular, the relationship between the Reaver, Tamar, and the Alchemist, Luka, is one of my favourites. Most of the other characters react to Luka’s strange suggestions and observations with annoyance, boredom or dismissal. Conversely, the others usually react to Tamar with fear or an expectation of violence. Most of the time, Tamar dismisses the other characters’ suggestions brusquely. When fighting with the Archer, Hall, she will tell him that “[They] are not friends” in response to one of his suggestions. Of all of the relationships alluded to by the dialogue, I found Tamar’s and Luka’s one of the most interesting and I looked forward to what they would say next.
One of the reasons I enjoyed it so much likely has to do with how atypical I found the relationship to be. Well-developed relationships between women are rarely portrayed well in media (see the Bechdel Test as a demonstration). I wouldn’t necessarily call the relationship between Tamar and the Luka well developed, but in 12 lines, they offer each other advice, support and assistance for future goals. They are unexpectedly friendly with each other despite both being treated as odd or scary by the others. I find this kind of relationship rare, particularly in multiplayer games, which are often light on story and characterization, and where there is regularly only one woman (or very few women) to play as. Overall, I have found the multiplayer in Dragon Age: Inquisition to be quite fun, and I look forward to hearing what all the characters say to each other.