The speedrunning scene for Dragon Age: Inquisition had slowed to a grinding, churning halt. By the start of 2019, it seemed like most strategies had been uncovered, and the most recent world record for the Any percent Casual category had been posted in June 2018, coming in at 1:54:35 with the caption, "Don't want to improve, probably could though."
Dead silence hung over the game until four months ago, when a new runner going by "Issala" hopped onto the Speedrun.com forums asking if anyone was around. They were working on a run for Inquisition, and were wondering if "Camgotay," a moderator who set that world record time, would be able to verify it once complete. Three months later, they got their answer and joined the Discord.
BioWare games are long affairs, and that's most true in the case of Dragon Age: Inquisition. The third mainline game in the series can feel like an epic. Pulling an 80-hour game below two hours is an impressive feat, but what Issala was working on would be the start of bringing the world record even further down, to under half an hour.
Speedrunning isn't too different from real-life running, in that once you reach the upper echelon of competition, it becomes a game of inches. 80 hours down to two is an impressive feat, but the difference between Camgotay's record and Issala's is staggering. It's the kind of time difference that denotes not just better play, but an entire shift in approach and philosophy.
Issala is not a seasoned speedrunner. As they tell me over Discord, Dragon Age: Inquisition is their first speedrunning game. Inspired by YouTuber Summoning Salt's speedrunning videos, Issala simply decided to pick up the most recent game they played and enjoyed, and started looking for ways to glitch it. That game, as it turned out, was Dragon Age: Inquisition.
As Issala was glitch-hunting, they found an odd interaction between world transition points, save files, and combat status. The original Inquisition run relied heavily on clipping and out-of-bounds tricks to skip ahead in the narrative's progression, but what Issala discovered was the ability to warp to any location on the map whenever you wanted, as you can see in the run below.
The way it works sounds complex but looks simple in practice. In Inquisition, each major locale has map transition areas on its fringes, where the world map is brought up so you can travel to other areas. If you reach this point while in combat, the transition doesn't trigger in order to prevent easy flight from fights, but you can still quicksave if no enemies are nearby. (Dragon Age lets you enter combat even if enemies aren't nearby.)
By loading that save, it brings up the world map immediately, before the game has a chance to hide areas you shouldn't have access to yet due to the natural narrative progression. It lets you warp to wherever you want; the Hinterlands, Crestwood, multiple story quests and dialogues were rendered completely unnecessary by this trick.
"I noticed that, when the game loaded a save, it seemed to still be loading things after letting you control your character—some kind of trick to make the loads seem faster I guess," Issala says. "I thought, 'I wonder what would happen if I loaded a save where my character was on a map transition?'"
At first, they didn't realize what this unlocked because they were playing with an endgame save. "I just assumed you had that many locations unlocked at the end of the game," Issala jokes. But after a bit of messing around, they realized the trick affected the world map. When Issala brought this to the Discord for BioWare speedrunners, it caught Camgotay and LettersWords—another BioWare speedrunner—by surprise.
"I remember you guys were pretty surprised when I came to the server and told you that I thought sub-one hour was possible," Issala says to the other two while we talk in the Discord. "And now we made it to sub-30."
This trick made a sub-hour run possible, but it also did something else that was crucial to building the sub-30 run Issala posted: it revitalized interest in the game.
"I hadn't touched the game since my old run," Camgotay says. "Now I've been running it again."
As the runners dove into what more could be done, LettersWords stumbled upon another massive time-save, one they had never considered and seems fittingly BioWare: one dialogue choice. With the revelation of being able to warp wherever you want, where do you go? As it turns out, the freedom allowed for routing the runners hadn't thought of until Issala's discovery. (Some endgame Dragon Age: Inquisition spoilers will follow.)
The Temple of Mythal is Inquisition's last big story event before the endgame, which essentially flips the switch for the final boss fight. In the course of the game, you might recruit Dragon Age: Origins' Morrigan to assist you by drinking from the Well of Sorrows. But if you drink from it yourself, you don't need to speak to Morrigan later to progress, and Morrigan only appears after beating another mission. Essentially, the runners found a loophole by pure coincidence of scouring the Dragon Age wiki for inspiration.
"Picking Inquisitor instead of Morrigan is like, 20-30 minutes faster," LettersWords tells USgamer. "And we didn't even think to do it until I was reading Dragon Age Wiki trying to find out something completely different about that mission."
Throw in a whole lot of item glitching, stacking critical chance on Varric to overpower his crossbow abilities, and a pretty hilarious set-up that makes the final boss Corypheus lunge to his own demise, and the route was set. In the course of mere weeks, Dragon Age: Inquisition's Any% Casual run was whittled down to under half an hour, and in the process, the game was completely revitalized.
As LettersWords tells me, the previous run was very dependent on randomness and "not exactly fun," which led to little activity in the community. The leaderboards for Dragon Age: Inquisition tell a story of short bursts of excitement: first DashingSplash's initial run, then dipping under two hours with more tricks and item duplication, and now Issala's map warping glitch.
Today, the runners are theorizing how they can apply this to other runs: speeding through the Trespasser DLC, or doing a marathon of every dragon fight. They're eager to see if other runners might return and vie for a new world record now that the latest is under half an hour, but as Issala notes, large games like these are just as exciting to conceptualize runs for as they are to actually compete in.
"[Dragon Age: Inquisition] is really a game that is more fun to route than it is to play," Issala says, a sentiment Camgotay echoes. The world map has literally been opened up for those trying to blitz their way through the trials and tribulations of Thedas, and breathed new life into the glitch-hunters and wiki-scourers.
Issala may jokingly attribute it to "beginner's luck," but the last few weeks show that even one person's newfound interest can lead to groundbreaking discovery. A new chapter has been opened for Dragon Age: Inquisition speedrunners, and it's all thanks to one player's curiosity.