Thoughts on: Dragon Age: Inquisition

You know that feel when you’ve invested yourself in a story that has multiple parts and then the newest one comes out and everything points out that it’s going to be terrible, but you feel like you have to check it out anyway? Dragon Age: Inquisition is a bit like that.

Dragon Age: Origins, and a much better Awakening, were games that I enjoyed, but at the same time found rather boring. They’re attempts at being tactical didn’t feel like classic Infinity Engine RPGs, and were more like Neverwinter Nights aRPG-ish boring fights. But the game had a really good world, a lot of interesting characters and stories. Even the usual framework BioWare story about visiting different places to get allies and then fight some great evil had some curious changes to it, that made it so much better. Dragon Age 2 had extremely simplistic, but very cool to look at and experience combat, a lot of copy-pasted locations and some other issues. But at the same time was a fantastic story with very memorable characters, being, probably, the best story BioWare ever made.

You’d think Dragon Age: Inquisition will be the combination of the best elements of the above. A game that will finally make Dragon Age as good as it always deserved to be. You’d think.

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Game even starts by completely shocking you in a pretty bad way. You see, when I think Frostbite 3 engine, I think very good visuals. And some later game locations do show that. But the opening of the game, with it’s ugly dark greens, lack of any kind of dramatic lighting for any scene or dialogue and surprisingly ugly update to the fantastic character designs from Dragon Age 2, made me recheck my game settings a few times. It’s strange for me to criticize visuals in games, especially RPGs, but a lot of the time, DA: I looks downright ugly, completely undermining any kind of art direction the game tried to have. And the animations are often just amazingly terrible, especially when you watch NPCs and your teammates spawn in thin air or just love to stand on top of boxes or open doors for no reason. Or the trees and low-framerate animation birds hanging in the air. All that while still being based on a technologically impressive engine.

And it delivers, at time it does. There are moments where you can see how the engine power and art designers look comes together to show some very nice looks… that look just like in DA 2, just more advanced. Artistically, not that much, but visually – sure, more effects, particles, dynamic lighting and all that stuff. And all of that still without having time of day or weather changes on locations, unless the quest or location sets it.

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And I wouldn’t really talk about this, seemingly minor for an RPG, topic if not for the fact that it’s something that shows a lack of passion and polish in the game, and spreads into every part of it. Like, since we’re talking about locations in the game… why do we have all of them? You can, no joke, skip pretty much 70% of giant expansive locations in the game and miss nothing in the main quest and almost nothing story-wise. Most of the huge locations in the game are just there to keep you busy and give you stuff to do. There are occasional stories, of course, not a lot of them any interesting. And there are some more or less curious side-quests sometimes. But most of the time and most of the territory of any location is taken up by things. Semi-randomly places stuff. Crap to kill, crap to loot, crap to do.

Most impressively, this approach to design is even found in all three DLCs, which are 80% unrelated boring stuff, and about 20% of something relatively interesting. I’ve never felt so angry at myself for my love to explore and do everything (or mostly everything) in story-driven games as I did playing DA: I. Every time I lulled myself into thinking that THIS pointless thread will not be pointless and will lead to some story, some character, something that is worthwhile. And it was always a lie. You can get all you need in the areas you’re told outright to visit or visit along the main story. And everything else is useless pointless crap that sometimes doesn’t even add anything of note to the world lore. The entire Descent DLC can be summed up with one short sentence final revelation that is more of a curiosity about this game world that might not even be revisited ever again, than an interesting story point. Jaws of Hakkon gives even less. With only hyped “true ending” Trespasser DLC adding something to both the game story and the world lore, and yet still having 80% of it’s entire content being pointless boring running around and fighting.

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And god damn this fighting. I’ll just state it here openly – about halfway through the game I started using a trainer that gave me the ability to deal about triple damage to enemies. Simply because I was extremely hopelessly bored with how terrible, grindy and uninteresting the combat in this game is. I’m not sure if part of it was due to my main character being an archer, but controlling other party members didn’t show much more in terms of having more interesting combat. It felt like something out of a cheap korean MMO – spamming the abilities, waiting for the cooldown, spamming more abilities. Which is similar to how DA2 combat worked, except now it’s slower and much less flashy and cool looking. Instead of either improving the more tactical approach of DA:O and flashy action one from DA2, it’s just a boring mess that feels unfun no matter how you play it.

So why was I even playing it, right? Well, I was asking myself this, for hours straight at times. Usually just reminding myself of my own principles and desire to give the game a proper go. But then a story dialogue, or some side-dialogue with your party members would happen. Or a side-quest. And I’m laughing and loving every bit of it. And then I think – yeah, this is why I’m playing the game. Truly great dialogues, memorable characters, fun interactions, interesting story quests. And yeah, the main story is again weak. It also has so many incredibly stupid cliche moments. Like, there’s one time, everyone feels bad because a big bad thing happened, and everyone’s depressed, and then, I kid you not, they all start singing some heroic ballad in the most cliche Tolkien-inspired way. A Disney musical number would’ve fit that part better and less awkwardly.

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And yet, there’s good stuff. And it keeps on pushing away memories of how boring the main villain is, even if he’s better than in his first DA2 DLC appearance. And how hilariously downplayed some exciting stories hinted since DA:O are. Because then you also see how playing three games pays off as you see one of the characters, who appeared in all of them, grow. You’ll see some very nicely and lovingly made references and conclusions/continuations to stories you’ve seen. Yes, some of them are handled not particularly well, some of the characters are just so much less interesting then before. But it still clicks into a pretty picture.

That is, unless you spend dozens of hours doing pointless stuff and “completing” terrible “operations” on the tactical table which are just things that take real life time. Which contain such a sad implementation of a feature I wanted to see in RPGs for a while, since Chrono Trigger. A feature I had in mind for a game I’d do if I could – rebuilding parts of the level. Remember the Frog side-quest with the castle in Chrono Trigger, where you’d have to clean up a bit and later ask someone to fix the castle to explore more of it? DA:I has parts of the level that were broken due to age, which you can fix to explore more areas. Which is a great feature if, yet again, it didn’t feel to be more of a time waster, than a fantastic cool thing, because apparently there aren’t enough things in the game to waste your time already. Because despite it’s attempts to hide it, Dragon Age: Inquisition has, probably, less story content than the Dragon Age 2. And yet, dozens more places to run around in, things to do that take up time. It’s a thin layer of a 15-20 hour story in a 80 hour game.

If you can play this game, focusing just on the important bits, only on important quests, you might even forgive the terrible combat and enjoy a pretty fun story driven RPG. It’s nowhere near as exciting as Dragon Age 2 or even DA: O+A, but it’s pretty good. Is it worth spending your time on it, though? Not really.

P.S. Oh, and there’s multiplayer too, because of course it is. Also, the game crashes all the time. A known issue that was never fixed.