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Analysis / Dragon Age: Inquisition

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Things to learn from Dragon Age: Inquisition

DAI is not a perfect game by any measure, but more AAA RPGs would profit from picking up on some of the features it pioneered (at least, as far as modern AAA RPGs are concerned).

Greatest innovation of them all

  • Dragon Age Keep. If nothing else, BioWare deserves credit for being the first company in 25 years to innovate on the concept of Old Save Bonus in narrative games.
    • It should be said that they've definitely taken this one to heart and gone to the most logical place with it as there's now a Mass Effect Archive that (albeit superfluously as there isn't currently a game that utilizes it) serves the same purpose as the Keep.

Social interaction gameplay

  • Social main quest. The Winter Palace mission is essentially an evolution of Samara's loyalty mission in Mass Effect 2 and revolves mostly around your actions and words. It is unusually light on combat (even the last Boss Fight can be avoided if you have enough court approval), and its outcome is decided in dialogue that largely depends on what the player managed to learn throughout the mission.note 
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  • Persuasion through knowledge. The persuade dialogue options are no longer tied to a Skill Score (like in Origins) or the Karma Meter (like in II). Instead, the best dialogue outcomes are attained by picking special dialogue options unlocked (or not) by previous exploration (PC origins, Inquisition Perks, Event Flags, etc.), which also makes a lot more narrative sense.
  • Hidden approval ratings. Hiding Relationship Values makes the companion interaction less game-y and more personal by forcing the player to think about things the character would or would not like to hear, rather than about maxing out their approval "thermometers".

One possible way to build upon the Winter Palace mission would be to add "social boss battles" in the vein of the Persuasion Minigame in Deus Ex: Human Revolution to it, wherein gaining cooperation of a few key NPCs would be secured or forfeited through several consecutive dialogue choices, tailored to each character.

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Class system

  • Prestige class sidequests. A Side Quest required to gain a specific Prestige Class is a great idea—as long as it isn't a generic Fetch/Collection Sidequest that Inquisition offers. Instead, such sidequests should be mini-plots revolving around specifics of the specializations they unlock (e.g. the Assassin specialization may be unlocked via a solo mission to assassinate a bad guy without being spotted).
  • Class-specific context actions. Warriors breaking things down and mages restoring Broken Bridges is a great addition to rogues' traditional lockpicking, which encourages class representation within the active party and gives every party member a function outside of combat and, occasionally, dialogue.

Combat

  • Stealthy mooks. An evolution of Geth Hunters from Mass Effect, these bring additional variety into the combat gameplay.
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  • No auto-heal. The lack of Regenerating Health adds a strategic element to exploration, where the player must repeatedly decide whether to push ahead or to return to safety. A limit on Healing Potions makes prolonged boss battles (such as high dragons) more thrilling. Reliance on renewable defensive layers like Guard for warriors or barriers for Mages becomes of critical importance.

Miscellaneous

  • Convert money to influence. Like many RPGs, Inquisition suffers from Money for Nothing problem, but it is offset by the ability to convert money into "XP" for the Inquisition (at least until it reaches the level cap).
  • Search function. The 3D successor to the "highlight all" button in isometric RPGs, it makes sure you don't miss any loot.

...and the sting

You'd think that BioWare learned from the Mass Effect series that not everyone equally enjoys the manual collection of Item Crafting resources. Collecting a resource in Inquisition is always a chore because the game plays the same animation for every single plant and ore nugget you come across. Manual harvesting only works in Skyrim because it happens instantaneously, and even in that game, mining gets boring quickly despite requiring you to press a single button to extract all ore in the vicinity.

Why can't the Inquisition agents collect those resources for you? Instead of the Inquisitor doing everything, you could "mark" the collectible resources with the search function and have them automatically claimed when you return to a camp or leave the location. Not only would this reduce the tedium, but it would also enhance the feeling of leading a massive organization with an army of agents at your disposal.

Inquisition DLC as a panorama of Western RPG subgenres

As Mike Laidlaw said in the interview, each one of Inquisition DLCs represents one of the distinct subgenres of Western RPG:

  • The Jaws of Hakkon is a sandbox RPG, with its huge open world area, side quests, and non-linear exploration.
  • The Descent is very much a Dungeon Crawler, with its classic top-down dungeon, increasingly deadly enemies, and generous loot.
  • Trespasser is a "narrative RPG", focusing on the companions and providing closure to the Inquisition story arc.

As an aside, most attempts to have a single game belong to all three subgenres at once have resulted in watered-down and indecisive gaming experiences in the past, but Inquisition devs seem to have been aware of what they were getting into and handled it better than most.


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