Dragon Age Inquisition – Nightmare Tips

Okay, I’m writing at least one of the myriad of things I’ve promised to write since, oh, forever ago. Since I still see requests for help with tackling Inquisition’s nightmare difficulty on the places I lurk, because God forbid I ever try to involve myself in communities again, online or otherwise (I’m ignoring the irony of me posting this and actually liking the bits of chat I’ve had on WordPress but I think it’s because WordPress has a less intense audience compared to, say, reddit or Tumblr)…

But anyway, since there’s that new DLC coming on Tuesday, I figure I might as well do this post today. It might help to know that I did this as a Rift Mage, but this might be good advice for anyone rolling through the game. Spoiler-free too.

I think the most important thing to realize is what Nightmare difficulty actually is. I’ve played through Inquisition twice, first time through being Normal, and from what I’ve observed, Nightmare entails only a few changes.

  • Enemies take longer to die, so bigger health pools.
  • Your mages (and Cole) are made of tissue and will die if something sneezes on them.
  • Getting out of enemy area-of-effect actually matters.
  • Despair Demons need to die. Like, really, really, really need to die.

Really, there’s not much difference. My default party was Blackwall (due to being functionally immortal), Solas (if mages are WoW feral druids and mangle is barrier, Solas is on perma-bitch duty because the AI is really good at keeping up barrier), and Cole (his capacity for ripping up faces counteracts the fact that he is fragile). But I went through Hakkon with Cassandra, Dorian, and Cole post-game with little trouble, so don’t stress over party composition. I know some people suggest bringing both Cassandra and Blackwall to tank, but if you’re careful with mobs, you should be ripping through everything before they can touch you.

So, really, I recommend a tank (Blackwall or Cassandra), a supporting mage for barriers, dispels, and combos (Solas, Dorian, Vivienne), and someone else to help you with nuking everything that looks at you funny. Cole and Sera rock this role best, I’ve seen, but Varric does well enough and his Artificer build is pretty fun. Iron Bull might work better for others. You can also build Cassandra this way, with two-handers and Purge-Cleanse spamming, I’ve seen, but I never tried it out. You can also use another mage here and rock a three-mage party; did that for In Hushed Whispers, with Dorian built the same as my Inquisitor for that, and it was a cakewalk.

Character Builds (or the half-assed prattering about them)

As far as builds go, I used this one from reddit for my Rift Mage because it’s fun. If you’re a completionist like I am, chances are you’ll have loads of ability points by the end of the game, so I invested those into the Spirit tree so there’s another person capable of dispels.

Blackwall and Cassandra got every ability that built up Guard and the Hook-Chain pull move that I can’t remember. Most tanking warrior builds I see seem to omit this ability, which I find strange, since it is so useful when dealing with packs. More on that later. They seem capable of weathering most on-the-ground AOE (except for the ice ones from the spellcasters in Jaws of Hakkon) so scooping up Combat Roll isn’t essential. I also filled out most of Cassandra’s Templar tree because Spell Purge is wonderful and feels wonderful, especially on rifts. I barely used Iron Bull since he seemed squishier than Cole while lacking in his damage output.

For rogues, I went with talents that killed the most. Leaping Shot works well with Varric and Sera, their respective character trees are pretty good. Cole’s Assassination tree works well with Daggers and Bows, so it’s really a choice of higher damage output but lower survivability with daggers or decent damage and likely to live the whole fight with bows. I switched Cole to bows for Jaws of Hakkon and it worked well. I’d also pick up the Improved Evade ability, for critical “get out of the bad” needs.

I had Solas and, later, Dorian, built really similarly; max out the Spirit tree and grab the upgraded Winter’s Grasp from the Ice tree to complement the rampant Stone Fists being flung around. Oh, and Fade Step, for “get out of bad” reasons. Biggest difference between their builds, by late game, I also filled out Solas’s Rift Mage tree because backup Pull of the Abyss can help in a pinch, whereas Nercomancy seems kind-of flat so Dorian got whatever extra elemental magic I felt like at the time, after I grabbed Haste because why not. And I didn’t recruit Vivienne for roleplay reasons.

Yeah, anyone who tells you that a Knight-Enchanter is necessary for Nightmare is full of it.

Sorry that my build details are pretty loose; if anyone asks, I can screencap exactly what I was using for each character but, really, once you have the essentials down for each class (guard build up and hook-chain for tanks, full spirit tree and fade/frost step for back-up mages, evade for the rogues), you can pretty much play “this talent looks neat”, especially by end-game. The most important thing about getting through Nightmare is strategy.

NPC Tactics and Ability Priority

Setting tactics in Inquisition is pretty cut-dry and, from what I can see, doesn’t really do much. I set the tanks to follow themselves (setting them to “guard” anything appears to result in standing next to the object of their guardly desires while boggling vacantly at the sky), the support mage to follow the tank, and the damage dealers to follow themselves (with a slight change for Cole on daggers; he follows the tank. That seems to help his survivability).

Most important is setting up ability priorities and picking out which eight end up on your bars. For my tanks, I have all the guard-generating abilities starred (highest priority) with their hook-pull on manual. For Cassandra, I also have her Spell Purge set for manual use. Rogues, prioritize their face-kicking abilities, have evade set to manual. Mages, prioritize Barrier and, if you’re playing a Rift Mage, set Winter’s Grasp there too, to increase the combos/detonations you get from smashing a frozen target with Stone Fist. Set their Dispels to manual (because the AI is painfully stupid about using it. Same with Solas’s Pull of the Abyss), same with the Fade Step.

If you notice characters standing around and doing nothing, try tweaking their minimum mana/stamina requirements. Don’t be surprised if the game chronically ignores this though. It just seems to wake the AI up, just so they can ignore that you want them to keep 30% of their mana.

General Tips

  • Crafted gear is your best friend, especially once you can craft masterworks. Always prioritize guard-generating masterworks for everyone’s armor, but especially for Blackwall and Cassandra. Just remember that the masterworks don’t double up; you can’t slap the 5 Guard Masterwork on the armor and sword. You can, however, use the 5 Guard Masterwork on armor and the 3 Guard Masterwork on a weapon. This boosted Cole’s survivability when using daggers and it might help with Iron Bull. But, rule of thumb, your crafted gear is generally better than anything you can find in the world.
  • Don’t be afraid to quick-save constantly. It is very, very easy for a normal trash pull to go completely wrong.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Usually enemies will appear on your radar long before you see them. If necessary, switch to your tank, have the party “hold”, and scout a little.
  • Prioritize improving your healing/restorative potions. This includes buying the perks to increase the amount of healing potions you can lug around and unlocking the third elixir/tonic/grenade slot and improving the Healing Mist Grenade, Regeneration, and Health Potions as soon as possible. At Skyhold, I opt for the garden upgrade over the chantry for this reason. Sometimes, a fight will turn into a war of attrition and you’ll want as much resources as you can get.
  • Focus fire is imperative. It increases combos, burns down enemies faster, and decreases the likelihood of your squishy characters (ie, anyone not Blackwall and Cassandra) crumpling like tissue paper. Constant pausing and spamming the “attack my target” command can make or break a fight.
  • You can tackle dragons and rifts on-level, but some can be exceptionally difficult. Vinsomer on the Storm Coast is obnoxious for her sheer love of spamming electric circles with her whirlwind. Bringing along elemental-resistant tonics can make or break a dragon encounter, though if you outlevel it, elemental resistances aren’t as necessary for your survival, if you kill her fast enough. You can make elemental-resistant gear if you’re struggling, but I didn’t find it necessary for any encounter.
  • Speaking of elemental resistances, pay attention to them. I had a staff of each element (fire, lightning, and ice) in my inventory just in-case. I’d try to avoid giving the non-mages any runes with elemental properties unless you’re doing a specific encounter (punching Despair demons, dragon fights), since Corrupting Runes are pretty awesome.

Fighting Human Packs

  • Archers will rip you to shreds. Rogues will rip you to shreds. Mages are annoying but, as long as you’re paying attention to the ground, they aren’t too bad. Other melee opponents are easy. So your priority should be:
    • Rogues > Archers > Mages > Dudes with shields > Other Grunts
  • The best way to start an encounter with any pack of humans is to switch to your tank, pick who needs to die first, and drag them over with the chain hook so your party can wail on them. Sometimes you can even do this without the rest of the pack noticing. But, failing that, by the time the rest of the baddies get to you, Annoyance Number One is dead.
  • One you have Pull of the Abyss, you can toss that at the main group to slow them down while handling Annoyance Number One. Pull of the Abyss also makes wiping out packs of melee fighters easier, since you can spam your favorite AOEs for giggles.
  • If your target is a rogue (ie, liable to stealth and ambush your support mage), make sure he’s being hit with everything. Fire makes them visible when they stealth, so that should be your priority. If you see a cloud of fire moving towards your squishy characters, switch to that target, and get them away from it. If it’s a mage with upgraded Fade Step, you can Frost Step through them so they’re targetable by the whole party. Otherwise, an aimed ground AOE will kick them out of stealth.
  • Spam dispels whenever enemy mages have barriers going around. Be sure to laugh at them.


  • If you’re sweeping an area of rifts, bring Cassandra. Her Spell Purge, plus your mages’ Dispel, will trivialize the second wave of the rift. If you really want to be obnoxious, you could bring Cassandra and two other mages for maximum asshole potential; her Spell Purge and three Dispels to fling at the green things will mean you fight nothing or, maybe, just one demon.
  • Before the second wave, bring your dispellers close to the rift. There will always be at least one near it that Cassandra can get, as she doesn’t have the mobility of your mages and their Fade Stepping fun.
  • Your priority for wiping out demons….
    • Despair demons > terror demons > wraiths > pride demons > fear demons > rage demons > shades
  • Despair demons are awful, slowing assholes who will eat your guard bars and whirl away like manic spin tops. Always get them out of the way. Terror demons are just obnoxious with their lovely tendency to spam immobilizing and slowing effects; combined with despair demons, you will want to throw your mouse. Wraiths are squishy, but they will shred your mages if they hang around for very long. Pride demons are slow and easily kited, with their best range attack (the electric ball) telegraphed and easily dodged. Fear demons just wig out your screen but don’t seem to really do anything. Rage demons are a relief and the reason why you shouldn’t mind carrying a fire staff into rift fights, since they’re easily dispatched while Despair demons are more vulnerable to fire. Shades love to group up for Pull of the Abyss and get smacked around by your damage dealers.
  • If a fight is going south and nothing is actively attacking your Inquisitor, click the rift and weaken it. If a despair demon decided it wanted to fly halfway across the map, don’t chase after it, as you’re likely to reset the rift and have to restart the fight. Instead, just click on the rift whenever the option is available to make it falter.
  • In the first wave, save your dispels for the break between waves, unless if you’re certain your mage will have the mana and cooldown up for it. In the second wave, dispel any barriers that come up. Laugh at those demons too.

Dragon Fights

  • If all else fails, outlevel them.
  • Their whirlwind is the reason why everyone, even your range/support characters, should be partying near the dragon’s side, away from its head and tail. Chances are, it’ll be too busy with your tank to notice everyone flailing around its stomach.
  • Positioning matters, especially with the electric dragons with their static “don’t stand so close to me” abilities. Those can be dispelled, by the way. Try to keep your party members close to the dragon, but still spread around.
  • If you spread out too far, your companions will rubber-band back to you. If this happens while you have static/electric abilities happening, curse a little and hit Fade Step/Evade in different directions. Feel free to smash a bottle and scream “Scatter!” if it helps.
  • The AI likes to run into fire. Why, we don’t know. Try to keep an eye on your ranged characters and, if it looks like they’re wanting to join your tank under the dragon’s mouth, have them Fade Step/Evade away.
  • Keep an eye on your tank’s elemental resistance potions, if you brought them. Try to time taking them just before getting hit by the respective breath attack. It maximizes the uptime for the resistance potion. If you have enough firepower, though, chances are, you’ll only use two, at most, for the entire fight.
  • If the dragon summons adds, burn those down right away. You might want to save your Focus abilities (Mark of the Rift, Solas’s Firestorm) for them, to lessen their opportunity of eating your mages/rogues.
  • Otherwise, feel free to toss the offensive Focus abilities at the dragon as soon as its stationary. During a whirlwind, once everyone’s inside its area and safe, is my favorite time.


I’m usually content with just playing on Normal difficulty for most games, but Inquisition is really straightforward enough that Nightmare isn’t as difficult early-game Origins on Normal. Or Baldur’s Gate on Normal. There are some difficult encounters over the course of a Nightmare playthrough (In Your Heart Shall Burn, Gurd Harofsen in Jaws of Hakkon, even the Pride demon in the prologue can be tricky) that require resource management and a lot of luck (and, at times, a little cheese). If you’re struggling with getting through a Nightmare playthrough, or were just thinking about going through the game with it…I hope this helps!


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