Call me old fashioned, but I was always intimidated by the mage class in RPGs. It’s a fear that dated as far back as the early Final Fantasy days, where magic users had to budget their limited MP and ethers on hand before having to resort to whacking foes on the head with useless staffs. It also didn’t help that their deplorable constitution meant that they had to ride the perimeter of the battlefield or hide behind more capable classes. Because of this, I’ve been admittedly committed to warrior types, reliable tanks that wield dependable brute strength and are tough enough to walk out as the last woman or man standing.
But over the past five years, I’ve begun to grow bored of filling in as the same heavy weapon-swinging, bulky brick house whose sole purpose is to outweigh their opponents in both health and DPS. I’ve instead found myself juggling warrior and mage classes at the same time, using the mage to heal, buff, and revive my allies while strictly dealing damage with the former. Call this an unconscious transition, but after clearly spending more time micromanaging as a magic user than mashing buttons as a warrior, it was only a matter of time before I was fully indoctrinated. And that’s where Dragon Age: Inquisition comes in.
Dragon Age: Inquisition feels like a game built around the mage class, which I find is why I had such a good time with it. Combat neatly fits around this type of role, while close quarters classes feel as if they drag the action down to what I’d imagine a mundane MMO feels like. It’s more satisfying to hold down a button while spells shoot out of fancy staff swings than to simply watch your character beat or stab someone senseless.
The complexities of many RPGs – regardless of their plethora of spells, attacks, and different abilities – can be bypassed by strong healing spells and a burlap sack of health potions. But BioWare’s decision to restrict healing options only further stresses the importance of making the best of your party’s buff and de-buff abilities, as well as keeping the mage at the center of the action. Sure, rogues can knock out opponents, whittle away at their armor, and booby-trap their victims. And yes, warriors are best at maximizing their guard while drawing enemies’ attention simultaneously. But I found the mage to provide the most support and control over the battlefield than any other class by wielding powerful AOE attacks, useful stat-changing abilities, and protective spells that prove to be absolutely essential. And all of this required rigorous use of Inquisition’s tactical camera.
The tactical camera was my preferred way of handling much of the mage’s arsenal. It was certainly far more intuitive than attempting to trigger spells in mid-combat to then fight with the awkwardly half-assed camera that was frozen in one axis. From here, I could alter my view at will to map out elaborate strategies and tether the right trigger to lean in and peek at their results. I was a constant user of Barrier and Revive, ensuring that each spell was positioned perfectly to connect with as many party members as possible. I also went through a phase where I found every excuse to erect ice walls. Combined with the Ice Armor passive ability in both Dorian and myself, both of my mages were well-equipped to stand in the thick of battle.
However, mages aren’t natively built to be positioned in the front lines. Spells such as Mind Blast, a deterrent spell that briefly staggers opponents and discourages them from attacking you any further, and Fade Step, which essentially zips your mage from one position to the next in a flash, keep mages relatively safe, especially if you use the two in sequence. Navigating my mage in and around encounters was a healthy mix of forethought and spell-pissing showmanship. However, it wasn’t until much later in the game that adopting the Knight Enchanter subclass completely transformed my Dragon Age experience.
For those who may not know, the Knight Enchanter essentially turns your mage into a warrior class. It provides a number of barrier amplifications that can render your mage borderline untouchable, and also allows them to lead the charge of battle with Spirit Blade – a magic sword attack that uses little mana, but deals a hell of a lot of damage with every swing.
Here, I was the tank, not Cassandra, Iron Bull, or Blackwall. With Fade Shield and Knight Protector unlocked, my Knight Enchanter was able to sustain a constant barrier by slowing down its degradation with each successful hit, and queue up another Barrier spell the instant the previous one ran out. To set an example of how powerful this class can be, I defeated Kaltenzahn – a level 21 high dragon – at level 20 by staying right under its belly without dying once.
But in spite all of this, I found the Knight Enchanter considerably less interesting than using a vanilla mage skill set. As a standard mage, I felt more indebted to my allies, ensuring that they stayed alive and well protected to continue the fight. If they all perished, my mage wouldn’t have stood a chance against even the most moderate resistance. As a Knight Enchanter, there was little consequence in allowing my peers to fall. I’ve fought three dragonlings and a high dragon by myself with little care in the world to only then think, “Well I guess they can pitch in a bit,” and revive the rest of my party to expedite what I was already doing on my own.
Having said that, I’m still grateful that I was exposed to such a dramatic shift in combat tonality. The simplicity and fortitude of the Knight Enchanter allowed me to admire the complexity and fragility of a standard mage. When playing as a mage, every decision seemed like a desperate attempt keep my distance and ensure that my party was combat ready at all times, while withholding the most devastating spells for when the stars aligned in the perfect constellation. Now, maybe this is credited to Dragon Age: Inquisition’s exceptional combat design, but my first time playing as a mage in my 15+ year gaming career has helped me develop an all new appreciation for RPGs past, present, and future.