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Dragon Age: Inquisition

What You Need To Know About Skyhold
by Joe Juba on Sep 04, 2014 at 10:00 AM
Platform PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Publisher Electronic Arts
Developer BioWare
Rating Mature

During your time as Inquisitor, you will travel to far-off lands, fight exotic beasts, and explore ancient structures. However, at the end of all these adventures, you and your Inquisition still need a place to regroup – a place to call home. In Dragon Age: Inquisition, that home takes the form of a castle called Skyhold.

Though it serves as a nexus for many elements that are important in Inquisition, Skyhold is not just a utilitarian hub. During a visit to BioWare’s Edmonton studio, creative director Mike Laidlaw and producer Cameron Lee shared some tidbits about the unique functions the castle serves, and how Skyhold gives players a greater sense of the Inquisition’s power and progress.

It’s a fixer-upper
You don’t start the game with Skyhold as your base of operations. For the early part of the adventure – before the Inquisition is even properly formed – you and your allies gather at the village of Haven. Even once you move the Inquisition to Skyhold, the castle isn’t exactly in prime condition. “When you first reach Skyhold, it’s not in good shape,” Laidlaw says. “There are holes in the roofs, it’s wrecked, you can’t even go to the entire castle because they haven’t cleared out the rubble yet.”

As you and your Inquisition grow in strength, the facilities and amenities of Skyhold improve. In many ways, looking around your castle allows you to gauge your progress. Additionally, because you are able to dictate how certain things are rebuilt and decorated, the team at BioWare wants you to have a sense of ownership over your version of Skyhold. “Over time, as you progress through the story, you get to see it rebuilt and more areas open up,” Laidlaw says. “It goes from ‘kind of wrecked castle’ to ‘your castle.’ The walls are fixed. Your soldiers are patrolling. You see your support staff growing in number. Merchants come to set up station. You get that feeling of it becoming a grand, central hub.”

You choose the look
The Dragon Age series has dabbled in the idea of base-building before; the expansion to Origins, Dragon Age: Awakening, had a fortress called Vigil’s Keep that you establish as a Grey Warden stronghold. Though you could build up the defenses of Vigil’s Keep, your customization options there were limited. “Vigil’s Keep felt reactive rather than proactive,” Lee says. “Skyhold – how I build it, how I customize it – is about my choices.”

This isn’t The Sims, where you fuss over every detail of your dream home. The layout of Skyhold is generally standard, but the Inquisitor makes decision regarding the décor and other elements of the renovation process. For example, if a tower needs to be rebuilt, you can decide if it is outfitted to accommodate mages or Templars, depending on your allegiance. Or, if your character is a Dalish elf, you can furnish the castle with Dalish woodcarving. “As you explore the world and play different quests and side content, you gain access to, say, different thrones you can put in place. Different decorations, different heraldry and symbology,” Lee says. “So you can customize and make it grow based on your choices and actions.”

Feel free to choose whatever appeals to you, because the customization of Skyhold doesn’t carry over into your Inquisitor’s stats. “The problem with going too heavy with game mechanics on that is, suddenly, you’re min-maxing your base,” Laidlaw says. “If we did a system where ‘this outfit does this, and it’s the best outfit,’ well, now I have to wear that outfit or sacrifice my gameplay. So, something like what banner or carpentry I use, to me, doesn’t have to have a gameplay effect. If you’re into it, I don’t want you to feel like you’re being penalized.” In other words, the rewards for your customization are found solely in having a base that reflects your decisions and preferences, but that doesn’t mean that Skyhold is lacking in ways to make you more powerful.

This screen shows three different ways to outfit the furniture and decorations of Skyhold's main hall

Your seat of power
Apart from your literal seat – the throne – Skyhold also is the place where you determine where and how your Inquisition expands. Using the war table, you determine where the Inquisitor’s attention is most required, choosing which areas to unlock and where to send your agents.

“The war table is your central command,” Laidlaw says. “You get the sense that that the things you’re doing – from throwing little rocks in the pond to tossing a boulder now and then – the war table tells the story of the Inquisition’s growth and helps you, as commander, make decisions…You start feeling like you have this massive influence throughout the world, and you get these detailed reports back from your advisors.”

When it comes to expanding your Inquisition, you need to track three different resources. The first is influence, which is effectively like your Inquisition’s XP, and it grows as you adventure and complete tasks. When the Inquisition reaches a new level, you can spend points on global upgrades like the ability to carry more potions or the chance to harvest extra crafting materials. The second resource is power. While influence constantly grows, power is more of a currency that you earn and spend down. Power is used to advance the main story, but also to unlock optional areas at the war table. The third resource is time. The Inquisitor doesn’t handle every problem personally, so special missions called operations (also unlocked with power) allow you to send agents to finish them in real time. After a set amount of time passes (some operations can take a full day or more), the mission is complete and you get your reward. Some operations are even multi-part affairs that require input from the Inquisitor on how situations should be resolved once the dust settles.

Earning and expending these three resources forms the core of Inquisition's structure. Whether you're completing sidequests, gathering crafting materials, or exploring different zones, everything you accomplish feeds into your overall progress.

Everyone is there
Because Skyhold is where the members of the Inquisition gather, you can wander around the grounds and find all of your allies. They all find their own corners and make themselves at home; Leliana can be found in the rookery, for example, while Sera is more comfortable in the bar. “You get to see their spaces become theirs – they kind of personalize them,” Laidlaw says. “Some degree of their demeanor comes through, like Dorian with a massive leather-backed chair.” Not only are these characters hanging around, but players’ interactions with them in this situation are deeper than they were in Dragon Age II.

“A lot of our fans missed the ability to interact with their party members and close friends, and just say ‘Hi, how are you?’ like in Origins,” Laidlaw says. “Many of them will be delighted to know that that is back, full force, in Skyhold. You walk up, ‘Hey Varric, how’s things? Tell me about Kirkwall.’ Getting a sense of their character, digging in. You can just go, ‘Plant one on me,’ which is pretty satisfying in a weird way.” In some cases, your main avenue to interact with your romantic interest is also at Skyhold. Your advisors Cullen and Josephine don’t travel with you as fighting companions, but they are still potential love interests. How you use your time at Skyhold with them can shape the direction your relationship takes.

Your word is law
The throne in Skyhold’s main hall isn’t just ornamental. By sitting in it, you may have the opportunity to participate in judgments – scenes that portray the Inquisitor essentially holding court and making a decision regarding someone’s fate.

“Judgments serve two purposes. One is feeling in command, but they also provide a way for us to wrap up some of the loose ends,” Laidlaw says. “They’re never just arbitrary. Because you did X, or because you dealt with Y, then the characters are brought before you. As a result, you already have the context. You have been dealing with these guys – or opposing them in many cases – and now they are brought before you.”

Each of these scenarios is deliberately crafted, so you won’t get a non-stop stream of them that repeat themselves. Because there aren’t a ton of them in the game, the judgments you see should stick in your memory. “My favorite one is definitely the goat,” Lee says. “The chieftain you kill in the Fallow Mire, his father turns up at your castle and is laying siege with a dead goat. Hitting the walls in a ritualistic insult. And you have a variety of options, but I think you can make him an ambassador.”

“One that I enjoy is a character who, over the course of the game and depending on what you do, it’s possible to almost talk them down rather than going into direct conflict,” Laidlaw says. “Sort of a social victory. I don’t want to into details as to how, but that character is then brought to you for trial. In terms of consequences, that character has a ton of information and could end up working with your spies, making them globally more effective. It is also possible, depending on your mood, to sentence that character to permanently become your court jester.”

Though Lee and Laidlaw enjoy discussing the more lighthearted examples, not all judgments end with a smile. You can exile characters and execute them, and in one case, you can sentence a mage to Tranquility.

From judgments to the war table, everything in Skyhold is designed to put control in players’ hands. “The heart and soul of the Inquisition experience is that of being a leader,” Laidlaw says. Lee adds: “Skyhold is a place to project your power from.”

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Dragon Age: Inquisition

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