Dragon Age: Inquisition
Total spoiler-fest, although story elements are not my focus. You’ve been warned.
In a way, DAI is more like Dragon Age: Origins again, in that it, despite being full with many generic, average elements, is – in its whole – still something fun to play. Something that I couldn’t let go of until I had finished playing it. And then at some point, I might play it again. Especially if BW is going to keep up the promise of more patches, which can only make a second go at it more reasonable.
DAI and DAII feel like exact opposites on the other hand. DAII had an interesting setting with a lot of potential and promise (which was sadly gimped by releasing it 6-12 months too early), but was small and most minor dungeons were just identical clones. DAI has like 10 hours of story (seriously, it has like 4 major story missions between tutorial and ending credits?) but an enormous game world size in terms of time it takes to walk through it all (there are mounts but they are barely faster than walking on foot and the party vaporizes, so there won’t be any banter either). I also noticed how the Hinterlands, the very first area in the game, is the biggest of them all (The Fallow Mire, in comparison, is so small that you aren’t even allowed to use mounts, which would make it even more obvious). Placing it like this (and it was for a long time the sole area of the game made available to game testers!), gave the impression all/most areas would have the same size, but none of them did. That doesn’t make them (too) small, but it’s still an interesting thing to note.
If you were to play only story I don’t think it would take longer than 10-15 hours to finish it. That’s pretty extreme for a game that can take over 100 hours if you try to collect everything. And this is how the game achieves its length, by trying to make the player run around its massive world to simply collect things. Like shards (no big surprise/reveal/easter egg for getting 100% of them, sorry), astrariums, codex entries, alcohol bottles, thrones, drapes, banners, herbs, metals, dragons, mosaics, landmarks, regions, songs, further Skyhold customizations like nursery seeds, windows, beds… I mean all these things are even listed under the category “collections” in the journal. This is why the mention of the term “open-world” never cheers me up, because I’m expecting negative drawbacks like this. I much rather play an intense story in a smaller world, than hardly any story in a massive world. And this is clearly the case here, cutting away all the running around and collecting items, reduces the playtime by up to 90%. This is a way too high number to still overlook this. I’m hoping The Witcher 3 will be different.
In light of this I don’t understand how anyone could slam DAII for the story and praise DAI. DAI’s story was weaker and shorter. I wish ’twas not so.
It’s somehow shocking, that the whole story of DAI is only an afterthought/epilogue to a Dragon Age II DLC. And I’m saying this as someone who really likes the setting and characters of Dragon Age II a lot (despite the games’ well known other weaknesses – there was still a lot left to love). Corypheus looks cool and everything, but how am I supposed to take an enemy seriously, who I’ve already defeated before? He hasn’t learned any new tricks that make him more dangerous and he was never more than a solo artist. He wasn’t operating like the Inquisition with its many advisers and support all throughout the lands (e.g. the Venatori/Samson don’t change this impression). Actually, the fight in DAI against Corypheus is much easier, than the fight against him in the Legacy DLC was. They should have asked the dudes who created that fight, to come up with something appropriate for DAI as well. That fight was hard and memorable (the same is true for the other DAII DLC Mark of the Assassin, both had above average boss fights!). The fight in DAI wasn’t at all, despite him having a dragon this time. This is the moment they say “what a bummer”, right?
As a result this doesn’t feel like a new story at all. It’s more of a re-hash of what we’ve already seen, in a shorter DLC no less. This really makes me wonder what the canceled Dragon Age II Expansion would have been about (okay the name allows for some speculation). Of course you’ll never know for sure from the outside, but it looks like this could have been a Hawke centric story, but they needed to distance themselves from the champion, after the (let’s say) mixed reception of the last game. To have a fresh(er) start. BioWare has definitely done short DLCs with a meatier story than the whole experience of DAI has.
I guess it’s important to be aware of the difference between lore and story. They are really not the same thing and realizing this clears up a lot. What is Dragon Age’s forte and that of all BW games really, is the lore. Their world building is among the best in the business. Their stories however, are really not. The lore (mostly from the previous games) and the world size are the game and have to distract from the reality that there is little else.
The ending scene back at Skyhold gave me a serious Red Wedding vibe, with the guards standing in front of every door, blocking them. But then NOTHING happened. Just ending credits. An utterly uneventful and anti-climactic ending to this game! I still couldn’t believe that NOTHING happened when the credits started rolling. I almost wouldn’t have noticed, that the Inquisitor sends Cory into the Fade, which… WASN’T THAT HIS GOAL ALL ALONG?!? Also, if that was the plan, couldn’t the Inquisitor have done this right away (okay, maybe we are supposed to believe that the Inquisitor only gained that power at the end when touching the orb again)? AAAND why didn’t Hawke show up during the Cory-fight to mock him?!? How much more awesome would the final fight/ending have been, if whoever was left behind in the fade earlier, would have jumped out of the fade rift at the end and delivered the final blow to Corypheus?
The epilogue slides, narrated by Morrigan, seem to agree that there wasn’t much of substance to the whole main plot, because the entirety of the game is summarized in like 6 of those…
At least Dragon Age II had the excuse of being a rushed game that was only 1 year in development.
Enchantment? Bodahn and Sandal are not part of this sequel, one of the few elements in this game that were truly surprising to me. “All” of DAII seemed to set up that they would be in DAI. They couldn’t have mentioned Orlais and being at Empress Celine’s court more clearly. And then they weren’t. I can’t even remember a codex entry about them. And this game sure has lots of codex entries (which are all dumped into a menu completely unsorted, which makes it hard to find anything).
I’m an enemy (usually) of all these ugly 3D portraits that too many games were using for several years now. I always liked the drawn pictures so much more. DAI doesn’t just bring beautiful real art back in the form of painted pictures, they even up the ante by making those animated. I honestly thought of Doom for a moment. If party members are severaly wounded, they start to look hurt in their pictures. That’s just so fantastic! Even I can’t ask for more!
I liked the bards in the taverns a lot. I think DAI is the first game that included such songs at all AND made them bearable. And I say this as a huge fan of The Bard’s Tale beer song. The inclusion of songs was different there and isn’t exactly comparable to that tavern flair in DAI. I can’t think of one other game with that exact feature that managed to pull this off. The fun isn’t even crushed by the fact, that oftentimes the bard won’t properly hold the instrument (or even not at all) and there is still audible music. :)
Another decent change is how they at least tried to make different classes matter again, by having exactly one thing in the game only a mage (dispels magical barriers), warrior (bashes in crumbling walls), rogue (opens locks – there are no traps in this game!) can do, so mixing your party accordingly is of advantage. In previous Dragon Age games it really didn’t matter anymore if there were no mages in the party, for example. This is definitely one of the moments where it feels like they listened to fan feedback.
Many of the previously known characters look different again, often not to their advantage (despite the different engine offering prettier graphics overall), but this might be contributed to taste, I’m not sure.
Especially at the start of the game it feels like they’ve taken some of it away, what made Varric such a cool character in DAII. He was this smart business guy with just enough charm to tell great tales in an interesting way and who could be menacing when he wanted to be. He was always hanging around in his favorite bar, The Hanged Man and no one knew exactly what he was doing there, it added to his mystique. Finally he could become a good friend to Hawke.
At the beginning of this game he was somehow downgraded to a mere chatterbox, that no one is really talking serious. That must have hurt, he was so much more than just a comic relief. It gets better later in the game, but it never really reaches the level of him as this skilled manipulator. He is another fine example, however, how good the lore in this game is. At some point in the dales he just drops a line how much he wishes “Daisy” could be here right now. I immediately remembered the banter in DAII, when he was talking with Merrill (who he nicknamed Daisy) and he kind of promised her they might go see this place together one day. Whenever these moments happen, the game is at its best. Players who are very familiar with all these details (and cherish them), have a lot of great things coming their way.
Which leads to the also highly subjective impression the other party members made. I have to say IMHO the cast was the weakest to me in all 3 games. I came to terms with Cassandra, who I didn’t expect to like, after how she treated Varric in the previous game and Sera was really noteworthy, because she’s so different. The rest was “just” okay. They are not bad, but nothing to talk about enthusiastically. Most of them could have been minor side characters just as well. Characters from previous games that made much more of an impression like Morrigan and Leliana are still in the game as advisors (which was a smart move), but it’s not the same and also makes it impossible to overlook how much they outshine most others. The most fun I had with Iron Bull was when I crafted him the custom armor named Red Bull and modified it with the arms “BullShock” and the legs “BullWare”.
The companions also demonstrate the lack of story content, because they all have one character quest with dialog – for the whole game. Most have also a secondary quest, which has the player collect books or fight certain characters (but that’s it). Dragon Age II had a major quest for every single party member in every single of its 3 Acts. Right there Dragon Age II has 3 times the content for its characters, Inquisition can offer. So weird I didn’t read that in any article. Cullen, as a non-party member, has the longest personal quest (that is also interrupted by operations on the war table).
I certainly didn’t miss Oghren, but the game could have needed a lot more e.g. Isabela (mentioned in 1-2 lines if romanced by Hawke) – she amused me for the entire duration of DAII, Velanna (not mentioned at all) or Zevran (mentioned briefly in text on the war table). Don’t even expect any kind of closure/resolution to minor characters such as the architect.
Of course they have to let go sometimes and try new things, but it wasn’t working for me very well. I’ve already forgotten all about Solas (and I’ve seen the scene after the credits) and you are only supposed to forget all about Cole. DONE.
What’s also seriously dragging the game down, to a level it should have avoided with all force, is that far too many actions have no consequences. Skyhold, as the seat of the Inquisition offers many customizations and even upgrades. Of course I immediately started to do all the upgrades, I had to expect an attack on my headquarters after all. An attack that never comes, but worse those upgrades have no other noteworthy either. Even the visual difference is neglectable. After I crafted the courtyard upgrade (I went for the infirmary), I thought nothing had changed at all. Only after some time did I find out that the surgeon who was standing around in the courtyard, then stood around inside. The difference is so tiny, that it’s necessary to look very hard to find anything at all. You might just as well skip them, without missing anything! And that’s what I COLLECTED all those quarry and logging sites for? These too, are only in the game to artificially inflate the length?!? Later I had the mage tower built, there’s no one to talk to in it, no items to interact with, nothing to interact with actually – it’s not even possible to equip a potion there. The leader of the mages, who was with the Inquisition in my game, never stopped by and kept standing around where she first appeared. The mage party members don’t care either, if you’ve built this mage tower, which was supposedly the envy of every circle in Thedas. This place is deader (a word that makes sense in this instance) than the Inquisitor’s quarters (where it’s guaranteed that nothing will happen EVER), because there, at least, you can change beds and the glass window, however irrelevant this might be.
Another fun part was to conquer certain keeps, in other parts of Thedas, apart from Skyhold. But these too, have no effect on events in the story or grant anything. The inquisition is as powerful with them, as it is without… :(
One area offers a lengthy campaign (depending on the level) against the red templars and it’s motivating to take camp after camp from them. At the end however, there is no payoff, no reward, no effect. It takes away from the victory (which is reduced to loot and XP). In Dragon Age: Origins, during the fight in Denerim, the arch-demon has generals in the city, taking them out before committing to the final battle, leaves him without these reinforcements. DAI has hardly any such elements. Mass Effect 2 had it near perfect. If the team mates would survive the suicide mission, would depend on several actions taken during the whole game, but also on decisions once the player got there. This is an entirely foreign concept to Inquisition. No one ever leaves or dies during the game. There are no stakes. No satisfaction.
At times, there’ll be new watch towers the Inquisition built, this mere visual display is the whole effect for the game-world, future quests and the player, just like the Skyhold upgrades.
Crafting, on the other hand, feels really great and useful in this game, because lots of the items that can be crafted are actually more powerful than lots of the stuff that can be looted. Most games are different from that, which is why I usually then don’t use crafting at all. Being able to name everything is a nice touch. I just wish there was more information before buying recipes. Oftentimes they don’t display their stats, so it’s only when using the crafting bench, that this vital information becomes known.
The game requires power points to start certain missions and sometimes to have something like a bridge built on the war table. When the game ended I had 250 of those. The final mission doesn’t even require any, it can just be started. I couldn’t have spent my 250 power points if I’ve tried. There was nothing to do with them. There was never a shortage. It’s a weird balancing decision. The influence level, that grants inquisition perks, did not make this mistake. I had several features left, I couldn’t unlock.
Another slightly unbalanced thing is the banter. I finished pretty much everything (I don’t count me having only 20/21 songs collected) and yet I still haven’t heard all of it. After spending so much time in the game, there was ample opportunity to trigger it all. It makes sense to ensure that it isn’t burned out right away, but it should orient itself a little bit more on the game progression. Maybe that’s too hard to do = next to impossible…
The gameplay itself is a little bit too MMO-ish (Recommended Levels: 12 to 15) for my taste. At times it feels as if they’ve played too much The Old Republic or let the same guys who made that develop DAI too. Over are the times, when the player could drag the item bar at the bottom of the screen to whatever size the monitor/resolution allowed. It’s a fixed size now and if the player character levels to a height in which he has more abilities than the available 8 slots can contain, those can’t be started that way (okay, it would be worse if you could change that by spending cartel coins – I mean platinum…).
Having to press R all the time to attack, while also having to do other things, makes fighting feel like a chore, it’s not comfortable and designing it this way was unnecessary. I played as a mage, I think it’s even more unnerving when playing as a fighter or rogue. I guess I don’t have to go into this whole mess, that the tac cam is inferior to the one Origins had 5 years ago. Because of this, I played the game on normal, so I wouldn’t have to rely on tactics to win a battle. It’s so bad, that they could have cut it from the game altogether.
Starting from the controls that were designed for consoles and poorly ported, the MMO heritage foreign to DA series and so many shallow further design decisions, it’s clear that they wanted to achieve something more casual. It just shows.
The game could have needed a sector inventory (a feature that shows all items on the ground in the vicinity in a list, ready for pickup), because after every dragon fight, in which the dragon spawned 50 dragonlings, I had to pick up all this loot for almost 3-4 minutes. :P
The only change in gameplay that comes to mind as awesome, is that you can jump now. But you can jump in TOR as well, so maybe that’s why it was added…
The game has a nice dose of bugs, starting with this graphical nightmare right at the beginning of the game, that looked as if my graphics card was dead, which luckily vanished after the opening and never appeared again for the rest of my 100+ hours (okay it did reappear ONCE more). This made room for the effectively worst bug of them all, a recurring crash to desktop (without Windows catching it and offering an error report/check for solutions), which was significantly reduced by changing the fullscreen mode to windowed fullscreen (also don’t forget to turn off the Origin overlay). I can’t tell if this was just a coincidence. But then again, I was still quite lucky under these circumstances, because DAI auto-saves like every 2 minutes. It’s as if they’d known the game could crash at any time. :P So there was never really much I had to repeat.
The rest of the bugs at least weren’t of a game-breaking nature, I’m happy to say. Often it’s stuff like jumping giants who end up killing themselves or party members who stand on a table or a barrel and refuse to follow the player. There is especially one cave on the storm coast, in which no one follows and I had to fight everything in there alone. The other party members would stay far away, or even outside and not show up again until I left the whole cave area. There was no other area in the game, where the companions left me like this. Though they would do other dumb stuff at times, Varric would too often run towards an enemy needlessly, only endangering himself. He was totally in his weapon’s range.
The rest was even more minor. People would be sunk into the ground every now and then, Haven and Skyhold could show up on the map simultaneously, the “A Present for Bianca” operation on the war table bugged out (Leliana seemed to be on 2 ops at the same time, although I never send her and couldn’t, because this op was blocked – the patch fixed this, also it wasn’t mentioned in the changelog!), people would be hiding in hedges, the throne would vanish, some items in the game world couldn’t be activated and camera angles wouldn’t always be optimal. :) And people could merge. :D Dialog error. :P And apparently Sera isn’t elf trained, which fits her character, so I’m not counting it as a bug. I killed all 10 dragons in the game and I got no achievement. I was told it pops if a savegame is loaded and the last dragon is fought again. Didn’t do that… Also, won’t. :) Just mentioning it because it’s a bug, not because it matters.
And what’s up with the loading screens, that first display texts for players to pass the time and then turn black which completely defeats their purpose? In the time the text is there, longer text can’t be read, while players still end up staring at a black screen. Timing! Can be everything.
I pre-ordered (retail, wanted to have a “box”, even if it doesn’t include the manual anymore…) and didn’t get the pre-order items, obviously not all vendors were involved in that scheme. At least, I was told they aren’t that great anyway. I got myself the red lyrium weapons instead, as a consolation prize.
The first real patch (actually they called it patch 2) was rather great, it really improved the game noticeably and I wish I would have had this ping ability with v from the start (highlighting objects also on the minimap). As already mentioned, it even fixed things like the broken Bianca war-table-quest, that wasn’t even in the notes (why not?). Their PR statement of continuing to patch/improve the game sounded great, like something inXile inspired them to say, who actually did just that and I so hope it is true. In the past especially BioWare was always known to throw out 2-3 patches shorty after release and then forget the game, even when they still continued to try and sell DLC. I actually found their supposed (and only recently repeated in their gameplay videos which are now removed from the youtube selection) arguments for the Keep (IMHO just another attempt to make DRM as water-tight as possible) almost offensive, which were that they needed the Keep because their earlier games often created faulty save games which seems to imply that they simply refuse to patch those – which should have been their reaction instead (I can’t even fathom how many people let that slide). So following this logic, the Keep is therefore a capitulation, they rather build something new from scratch, than touch those bugs they should have patched right after releasing those games.
I suppose now it’s time to get into multiplayer. The game seems to think so, because it now asks on the opening screen if I’ve already crafted multiplayer armors to gain new characters.