Reviews: Dragon Age Inquisition

Travels in Thedas

Dragon Age Inquisition is the safest entry in the series. This doesn't automatically make it bad but it does put restraints on the narrative, wrapping most of the plot threads the series has made with less drama and fanfare then it should have.

In DAO, you were a Warden making bargains and deals with different cultures in order to prevent a brutal massacre. In DA 2, you were the head of a family trying to provide for your family and not get crushed by city infighting and discrimination. In DA Inquisition you are an empowered Chosen One and political power with several resources at your disposal with which to crush your enemies. After the first half of the game, the player never feels endanger on their home turf, and often spends much of their quest resources pimping out their homebase like its a medieval Saints Row sequel. I felt the tension slowly suck its way out of the game like a deflating balloon, which wasn't helped by Bioware nerfing one of its more memorable antagonists into a cartoon villain that shoots rock candy from his wrists.

The game was supposed to be a war arc between the mages and the templars, but quickly became hijacked by a third party antagonist. Gameplay was less about sidequests with themes and more about exploring different areas and gathering collectibles. Its weird that stealth games like Assassin's Creed 3 and AC Origins were able to craft large scale battles yet DA 2 quests mostly have general encounters. Making quests that focused on defeating the enemy in strategic battle points would have made the player feel more integrated in the plot.

What does work in the narrative is the lore. Players learn about the various nations, their cultures, national views on sexuality, offspring of interspecies relationships, important historical events in Thedas, and much, much, more. Inquisition is a treasure load for fans who wants to write about Thedas. Its also great at answering long running questions while inventing new mysteries for the fans to theorize about. Its too bad the story couldn't measure up.

Gameplay is much more solid than DA 2. Instead of stats, DAI focused on skills and abilities. By diverting stats to crafting, players are given greater flexiblity to customize their characters, removing the danger of level scaling and possessing poor stat equipment. Enemies possess greater variations and abilities that can make battles fun if not as demanding as DA 2. My main grievance is that the poor quality villains make poor quality bosses making a less stellar experience then what could have been.

I like DAI, but I fear its going in the wrong direction. Out of fear of sparking controversy, the next DA may be another high fantasy and just let the dark fantasy elements pour down the drain.

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A Great Game with two Major Flaws

Let me get this out of the way real quick, as I've said elsewhere I LOVE Dragon Age: Inquisition, even more so then the whole Mass Effect Trilogy. I love the characters, I love the story, I love the level design, the combat is fun and it kept me guessing as I legitimately didn't know what was going to come next but doing so in such a way that didn't feel like a cheat as the game does foreshadow its twist but does so very subtly with a number of clues hidden in dialogue, journals and background events that you are likely to miss on your first play through.

DAI also has may absolute favorite Dialogue Wheel in any RPG which gives players the usual three options during conversations, Paragon, Humorous and Renegade but also introduced the tone options which gives players up to Seven options that help make your character a bit more fleshed out then other BioWare protagonists. And finally, the game does, in my opinion, a great job of standing on its own as I had never played the first two games until three years after I played DAI and I had no problem following the story as the few things I didn't understand the characters would help fill in the gap if I asked them to.

With all that said the game does have two major flaws, the first being that the areas such as the Hinterlands, Storm Coast and so on, while being fun to play through, IMO, didn't have a whole lot to offer in the way of story. There is a lot of plot but the game doesn't tie it altogether in a satisfying way which can make the areas feel like padding which hurts the game as a result. A good example of how these areas could have been improved would be to look at the DLC the Jaws of Hakkon which focused on giving a area, Frostback Basin, its own unique story independent of the main plot that made players want to explore with a intriguing main plot that had interesting and colorful characters and memorable set pieces.

The other major flaw is that the game's thread act was solid as DLC and while DAI does, for me at least, feel like a complete story, with a beginning, middle and end, the original ending is rushed and lacks the epicness of DAO and ME 2's endings. And while Trespasser is a great ending and some better elements, such as Vivienne and Sera's character development and being able to marry Cullen and Sera are likely a result of this being a DLC it still does bother me that BioWare sold fans a game that was largely incomplete.

I still love this game to bits but these are some rather huge flaws and ones I hope BioWare will avoid making in DA 4.

Hamartia

Inquisition is a veritable Greek Tragedy; it boasts improvements over it's predecessors that may have made for a winning combination, were it not for a single damning flaw.

Inquisition has incredible production values, which are admittedly tarnished by lackluster technical optimization. It has Bioware's signature fantastic voice talent and sharp dialogue. It has a cast of characters who are varied, colorful, and sometimes even complex. It has thematic elements with genuine dramatic, philosophical weight.

But from the very second you finish customizing your character, and the game proper begins, it proceeds to tie an anchor around it's neck and dive head first into a toothless rendition of Bioware's boiler plate "Save the world" story.

The boring, recycled plot structure that is usually an irritant in Bioware's other games becomes a Plot Tumor, as all the rich stories from the previous games are touched upon and unceremoniously resolved, sometimes with little more than a hand wave. All the pathos the series has accumulated is rendered inert as a new protagonist, absolutely stinking of Plot Armor skips around Thedas and cleans up every mess they come across, all of which is uninvolving because we experience it from an alien perspective.

The worst offense comes when one of my personal favorite characters from the first game shows up to resolve their character arc. Paradoxically, this sequence was my favorite part of the game, but it's presence served to drive home how fundamentally unworkable the narrative is. I was only engaged in this sequence because of my previous connection to the aforementioned character, but the Inquisitor, the character I was supposed to be roleplaying as, had no reason to care anywhere near as much as I did.

My agenda as a player became contradictory to my agenda as a character; it created a disconnect between the two of us that left me intimately aware that The Inquisitor was NOT ME.

This happens with practically every event in the story; you are relegated to the role of an impartial observer. All the while you slog through an uninspired central plot that is virtually devoid of tension and incident; the main cast is almost never in believable danger, and consequences are relegated to the background.

Inquisition is fun while it lasts but supremely unremarkable; form without substance.

A Hollow Experience.

Dragon Age Inquisition is by no means a bad game but it is a profoundly disappointing one and probably the least successful installment in the franchise so far. BioWare has done the once-unthinkable and made a game where story and character (their traditional strengths) are pushed aside in favor of the creation of a lackluster MMO-Skyrim clone.

Very clearly designed as an overreaction to the much-maligned (unfairly!) Dragon Age 2, Inquisition introduces open world environments to the series, a sharp contrast to the lone setting of the city of Kirkwall. Unfortunately, while expansive and often beautiful, these open worlds are nearly entirely devoid of memorable storylines and NP Cs, dominated instead by the endless unsatisfying fetch quests of which most of the game is comprised. And unless connected with a main story or companion quest, cutscenes are basically non-existent.

The saving grace of Inquisition is the exciting main questline, which finally offers closure on a lot of the unanswered mysteries and plots of the previous two games (while of course opening up plenty of new ones for the future). But once again the perceived faults of the innovative DA 2 result in Inquisition being saddled with a generic, safe story, epic where DA 2 dared to be intimate. And while playing as Hawke often left players feeling powerless, in Inquisition you seldom feel like any less than the invincible messiah everyone praises you as. Even with all its regressive design choices, however, Bioware still has left the franchise in a position where it is poised to return to greatness, provided they can return to focusing on their core strengths and not let fear of criticism defer their vision.

The Most Meaningful Roleplaying Experience Bioware's Ever Made

Dragon Age Inquisition is a big game with lots of angles for discussion, but for me the main one is this:

Every Bioware story previously has been entirely entertaining and entirely meaningless. The takeaway from Knights of the Old Republic is "Wow that was a fun Star Wars story". DA:I isn't like this.

Inquisition puts you in the shoes of someone leading a populist, potentially religious revolution. Think Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandella, Che Guevara, Lenin.

It dives into all the complex religious and political motivation of someone in that role. If I've always prayed that this injustice would get resolved, and suddenly I find myself almost miraculously in a place where I can solve it, is that me, is that God, is it blasphemous to think it's God? Or if you're atheistic but find yourself in a place to do enormous good by letting people falsely believe you've been 'divinely blessed', do you try to disillusion them? Would that even work?

And the thing is, you roleplay that person. You're not reading about what it was like for some of the most important figures in history, you're experiencing it. And the game reacts properly! Not in 'select option A, get reward B', but they surround you with people who talk back when you tell them your views. They challenge your conceptions, give you new ways of thinking.

It's the first roleplaying game where the game coerced me into changing and growing and adapting.

This is probably the most interesting exploration of religion in any game ever. It has people hurt by faith, left confused by faith, misguided by it, inspired by it, helped by it.

And it taught me about revolutions too. I always naively assumed that all that was needed to avoid corruption was a good man at the top, but events happened and I realised that's not enough. The second person has to be good and the third... and everyone who could seize power.

Unfortunately the tail end of the story devolves doesn't quite deliver.


Gameplay wise, DA:I has as solid core content as any Bioware game, but it has a large, fun and addictive but hollow outer shell. People ignore the main content because the outer shell is fun and addictive and then they get bored and stop playing because it's shallow because they were ignoring the main content because the shallow content is very fun.

Good core, lots of padding.

As I write this review, I have not yet finished Dragon Age: Inquisition. I chip away at it for a few days, then do something else with my free time for a few weeks, then come back to chip away some more.

Make no mistake, there is definitely a good game here. The characters, even Sera, whom I can't stand, are well-written and engaging, the story is epic in scope and builds on previous lore without copying previous games. The combat, while still rote MMO click-and-wait, is at least fast-paced and offers tweaks on the formula. And returning faces from earlier in the series are well-utilized, in-character, and generally don't take over the story or overshadow the new ones. Plus, the color palette finally moves away from Real Is Brown for some genuinely eye-catching environments.

I particularly like the political elements. The War Table, despite quibbles with its implementation, is a good idea for adding scope to the Inquisition's activities, and sitting on my Sweet-Ass Judgement Throne to hear prisoners plead their cases was a cool power trip. And, while I may not be fully happy with the conclusions available to the Orlesian Court storyline, I admit that that's probably part of the point.

But, all of the best parts of the game are buried in padding. Environments are good-looking, but many of them have too much empty space between the exploration rewards, and even if you aren't a completionist like me, detours will be required to unlock new parts of the map. Grinding pervades every level of the experience, from herb-gathering and metal-mining (craftable goods are generally better than anything you pick up too), to obnoxious wandering packs of enemies wasting time, to the War Table's implementation of Free-to-Play-style real-time timers to try to "train" the player into coming back. It seems to have added lots of MMO elements into a predominately single-player game, but not with a full understanding of the differences between the two genres.

Whatever you take away from this review, don't let it be that Inquisition isn't worth your time and money, because it absolutely is. But, keep in mind, the parts you want to do will often require lots of obnoxious busy-work first, and if, like me, you are something of a completionist, this game is going to drive you up a wall with its negative possibility space.
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