So I’ve sunk a lot of time into Dragon Age: Inquisition. A lot, like 140 hours or so. And I have thoughts about the game, all of which could be their own essay, but the truth of the matter is that I just don’t care about the game enough to devote an entire’s essay worth to it. That’s not meant to be a slight on the game itself, which isn’t a bad, but I just get weary thinking about the energy and time it would take to write an essay, especially when there already quite a few out there worth reading that sum up my issues with the game.
Here, a selection:
The following is basically a post that’s going to house all my thoughts on Dragon Age so I can get them out of me and focus on other games. Spoilers follow.
(1) The biggest sin that Inquisition commits is that it trades depth for scope. The game is focused on giving the player a huge world to explore, one filled with generic RPG quests: collect some ingredients, kill some bandits, rescue a farmer’s pet. There’s nothing inherently wrong with these standard activities except in Inquisition they serve as a direct contradiction to your role in the game as Inquisitor, one of the most important people in Thedas. You have countless people, legions at your command, and yet here you are, stuck doing silly quests because the expectations that go alongside the genre override the need for narrative consistency. Why can’t I just send the servants out to do this stuff? I’ve got dragons to kill, conspiracies to snuff, a world to save.
I’ve seen a lot of folks reacting favorably to discovering new areas opening up in the game. To me though, these discoveries are ones of horror and fatigue, not of excitement at the prospect of doing more…well, chores. Chores are what they are. A series of large locales filled to the brim with chores that lead to more chores. None of them are really that engaging, but hey, I’ve got at least four writing projects I need to procrastinate, so why not?
(2) The lack of urgency. I can respect why reviewers, like Phil Kollar over at Polygon, dig what they perceive as the game’s philosophy of generosity, allowing the player to do the quests they want in the order they want to while the game’s main plot is suspended in stasis for their benefit. Hell, Mass Effect 2 did the same thing, and that’s part of the reason I love that game.
And yet, DA:I’s plot just never sold me on the idea that I was a figure of importance saving the world, mostly because the game’s bad guy is an evil buffoon. Each sequence in the main plot is about you foiling his plans. Every. Single. One. There’s no moment where all hope is lost (like Thessia in Mass Effect 3, or Cailan and Duncan’s deaths in Dragon Age: Origins). The whole storyline is basically about the Inquisitor just beating the crap out of Corypheus. Nearly everything is always in your control and that’s just a dull shame.
(3) The characters are wonderfully written. There’s never been a Bioware game with a stronger cast. Nearly everything Iron Bull says is either hilarious or wise, and the moments that reveal how genuinely kind he is are well done. Cassandra is a fascinating character as well: a holy warrior with legitimate concerns about her religion who also enjoys romantic poetry and reading smutty novels. Cole, the withdrawn, miserable spirit who wants to help everyone. Then there’s Vivienne whose wit and bluntness make her a fantastic frenemy.
Too bad they’re part of a game set on minimizing interaction opportunities with them in favor of having you shuffle around mountains and forests collecting herbs.
(4) Why is there so much fucking elfroot?
(5) The combat is stale…at first, and then it turns into something pretty fun and satisfying once you start unlocking neat abilities, especially if you’re playing as a mage and raining down fire on your foes. I just can’t stand the overhead tactical camera though. The UI, on consoles at least, isn’t competent enough for the game to mimic tactical games like XCOM, or even Origins’ paused combat planning in a satisfying way.
(6) I wish Bioware would commit to showing the nastiness of relationships sometimes. Most Bioware romances have the same sort of courtship structure:
1. Interact with character.
2. Make the right dialog choices.
3. End up with character.
And those romance-specific conversations seem kind of creepily tilted to the player, almost always drawing attention to the fact that Shepard/Inquisitor/Warden/whatever is saving the world/universe during those sequences. I’d be interested in more variety here. Sure, there’s the standard breakup option, but what about integrating relationship difficulties. What about conversations that can turn into arguments? Petty jealousy? Helping someone try and get through memories of a traumatic incident only for them to snap at you?
Inquisition did some interesting things with romance in the game that could often result in a player being shot down by their love interest if they weren’t attractive to the LI (like Cassandra turning down a woman Inquisitor) but on the whole relationships in these games are still treated as relatively simple things to understand and do well at. And I don’t really think that’s the case at all, realistically, so it’d be nice to see future Bioware games strive for some of that complexity.
(7) Glitches. Glitches and bugs galore. This is, without a doubt, the most broken AAA game I’ve played this year. Shit just falls apart out of nowhere. I’ve had dragons fly up into the sky when their health was low and get stuck there; I’ve also had them glitch during their death animation so that I couldn’t loot their corpses for the victory spoils. I’ve had three quests break on me to the point that I had to restart several hours of progress since there was no workaround for them. I had one quest, related to tracking and killing a dragon, just break entirely so that I couldn’t progress in it at all without backtracking about 20 hours. Today, during my second playthrough, I uncovered another bug where an old quest that I’ve already completed remains stuck on my screen and will, according to other folks who have had the same problem, remain there for the rest of the playthrough.
Some of these are bordering on game ruining bugs, which I guess is a byproduct of what happens when you decide that you’re going to Skyrimify your character-driven series.
(8) The War Table is a great idea with an absolutely terrible execution. The countdown timer on each operation, designed much like certain segments in many F2P games, shoos player away to lengthen a an already ridiculous playtime for a game. I don’t understand why Power, used to unlock most of the main missions in the game, couldn’t have been used as the same currency to unlock the side quest operations or the operations that are tired to opening up certain areas in the game. Instead of being a well-designed feature allowing the player to draw themselves further into that fantasy of being the inquisitor making choices that have consequences for all of Thedas, it’s just another barricade to enjoyment.
(9) Tired. That’s the word that comes to mind with I think about my time with Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s a game that left me tired. The kind of tired I feel when I leave a theater after watching a three hour special effects extravaganza that didn’t know what to do with its plot. I’m tired of fetching things, tired of waiting for an arbitrairly placed timer to tell me I can play this quest, tired of having to replay an hour because the quest item I needed disappeared from the world, but most of all I’m tired of the most interesting sections of games, snippets of brilliant storytelling and risky narrative maneuvers, being devoured by the philosophy of “more CONTENT.”
(10) Inquisition seems like a game that was manufactured to win Game of the Year awards, with its focus on being the biggest RPG around, but it’s a bummer that in giving so much space to all those RPG chores it doesn’t give enough to its cast of characters, all of them well-realized and worth anyone’s time. What a shame.