Dragon Age Inquisition is Good… not Great

WARNING: SPOILERS

Since I’m an adult (ha!..right) with precious time to spare (another ha!…kind of), I try to choose my games wisely. That being said, the video game industry has really come a long way in the last 20+ years, hasn’t it? Remember playing Nintendo’s Dragon Warrior as a little kid and having your mind blown? The amount of progress is astounding when you make comparisons but still…that doesn’t mean every new game is going to be a gem. I wrote an earlier review on this game that is mainly related to it being a good play-through on PS3, which I still stand by, but boy am I glad that I didn’t buy a PS4 just to play DA:I.

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Ok. First of all, the games in the Dragon Age series are some of the best that I’ve ever played. DA:O was the pinnacle of awesome…I’ve played about 6 different play-throughs and it’s still exciting. As cool as Hawke was, DA:2 was a flop (and I base that solely on the recycled environments. I had to shut the game off 10 hours in because it was so boring and I never revisited it). And Dragon Age: Inquisition is good…maybe even really good but it’s not great and doesn’t come close to Dragon Age: Origins (I’ll explain why in the list below). I have hope that the staff at BioWare will be objective and ask themselves the important questions as they plan further games. And here we are with the list. I’ll try to keep it as concise as possible. Criticisms are in the front….positives are at the end. Hang in there. I’m a huge fan and want nothing more than to help improve these games…because I love the story!

1. The beginning was better than the ending. What do I mean by that? All the events leading up to establishing your base at Haven, Haven getting attacked by Corypheus, you being anointed ‘The Inquisitor’ and your first few journeys out (especially if you chose to support The Mages. Wow!) were more thrilling and emotionally charged than the games ending. They were actually phenomenal and flawless. I thought I was playing the best game I’d ever played before. How cool was it saving your townspeople during the attack on Haven? How amazing was walking through the snowy tundra after the battle at Haven and finding your team? That moment, and the scene that followed….was one of the best moments in the game. John Stevenson at The Writers Block provides a pretty stellar review, which is well worth reading (I’ll try not to copy you John but…I just had to write a review too). Also, all the reviews on Kotaku are very good. Basically, the games ending was flat. You traveled the world, found Skyhold, built the Inquisition, raised a huge force…I guess? ( A War Assets type situation would’ve made more sense here. You are the same company that created Mass Effect…right BioWare?). Essentially as you moved forward in the game, it felt like nothing that you did in terms of growing in power, forging alliances and gaining agents mattered (it didn’t) and the big final climax that you thought would take place at your castle Skyhold (the one that you’d been rebuilding all game specifically for protecting from an assault) didn’t take place there and it was really quick and boring. The game could have ended after thwarting Magister Alexius because that storyline, and the storylines that led up to it, were phenomenal and engaging. Temple of Sacred Ashes, Haven, Alexius’s time warp, giving the first speech at Skyhold and meeting the Divine in the Fade all were way more powerful than the ‘Hey I found you Corypheus! Bang, you’re dead. Mark of the Rift. Schwing! Go back to the Fade. Bye. Roll Credits’. It went from ‘Greatest Game Ever’ to ‘Boring and Trite’.

2. Why have a power score if it’s meaningless? At first I thought it was kind of cool. Similar to the War Assets of Mass Effect. That’s a great mechanic. The ending changes based upon how much power and how many allies you have. If you have a lot of power, your whole ‘main crew’ lives and survival rates are high. If you don’t have a lot of power, maybe some of your crew dies, maybe your army is decimated….maybe you can’t even beat the game! How exciting! Since BioWare had implemented that before, I thought that it was a no brainer they’d do it again or tweek it a little. Nope. Nothing. So, you basically just gain power for no other reason than to advance the game and choose missions (because the missions cost a certain amount of power to unlock). That’s fine, unlocking missions with power had controlled your leveling to an extent.. but that’s all it did and that was a HUGE DISAPPOINTMENT. This was an RPG, right? So, let me get this straight….all the hoopla about establishing base camps in the various immensely detailed and beautiful environments in the game, the companions urging you to increase your power and size of the Inquisition, the alliances that HAD to be made….were meaningless because it had no impact on the games finale? That makes sense right? NO! Not at all. Sorry BioWare, you dropped the ball on that one. For whatever reason it was, poor planning, politics, greed, technical issues etc….you ‘shit the bed’ and it made for a lifeless experience. There could have been a small ‘forces’ bar and that would have sufficed. RPG fans LOVE to see that they are making progress in the game. Oh, I just liberated this area….my Influence bar just went up AND my ‘Forces’ bar just went up, showing me that I command 1,700 troops now. That would’ve been nice.

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3. It was way too easy! RPG’s are supposed to be fun for all ages. Never can a video game company use the cop out that games are scaled down or shortchanged because of the age of their consumers. Many elements that hardcore fans and 18+ gamers expect, do not need to be eliminated because a larger group of 10-14 year olds will be playing the game. That’s where the difficulty setting comes in to play. Remember in Fallout: New Vegas where you could play Hardcore mode and you actually had to remember to eat and drink in-game? That was cool. Too hard for a ten year old you say? Ok…they can just set the game to ‘normal’ and poof! Problem solved. Not Dragon Age: Inquisition. One, all of the elements that DA:O fans wanted to see, that may have been too difficult for a younger or casual gamer to handle, just weren’t there, normally or in the hard settings. Two, this game was way too easy. On my first play through I tried the normal setting…after about 15 hours I was way too good for the game and destroying every enemy that came my way. So, I started over on the hard setting, which only took me about 40 hours until I was way too good and destroying every enemy. Then…I tried the nightmare setting….which was more like the hard setting. So essentially the gameplay settings are as follows. Easy=Extremely Easy. Even a dead person could play on this setting and win. Normal=Easy. Hard=Normal. Nightmare=Hard. I know lots of work goes into these games, but come on. BioWare figured it out before…there’s no legitimate reason to why they couldn’t make it work again. The games difficulty was way too painless and I certainly do not consider myself a master RPG gamer. I play about 3-4 games a year, totaling maybe 200-300 hours of gaming, so usually the hard setting is REALLY tough for me. But not this time.

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 4. Why half-ass the strategy and customization? Just do it….or don’t. Here’s one of my biggest issues. BioWare promised us, in all the press materials leading up to the game, that we’d be able to customize castles, take over territories, lead armies etc. etc. and what we got was just watered down customization options. Don’t make an RPG with strategy elements if you’re not going to fulfill them properly. Take the expansion Dragon Age: Origins- Awakening for example. It was an add on game, yes. But it added some cool elements that fans were yearning for. Elements that you’d think would be improved upon in the next full fledged game. Nope. So, ok…you can build a Mage Tower or a Templar Tower that states in game, that it’s only a cosmetic upgrade, and it has no bearing on your progress. And it serves no real purpose because your castle Skyhold never gets attacked. Woopdy doo. You can choose to create a Training Grounds or an Infirmary, and again this is a cosmetic upgrade that has no purpose other than to make your castle look different. Yay! Who cares? Oh and you can build a Chantry or make an Herb Garden. If you build the Chantry you get gold….or more followers….maybe? If you build the Herb Garden you get….wait for it…..6 POTS where you can plant herbs!! You’re the almighty Inquisitor and you get only 6 POTS!?! And you have to farm it yourself. What!?! What would’ve made a hell of a lot more sense would be….Build the Mage Tower or Templar Tower…get power points and a defensive bonus if the castle were attacked. Build the Training Grounds for an attack bonus for your troops. Build the Infirmary for a health bonus for your troops. Build the Chantry to gain more followers and power or spirit magic resistance for your troops. Build the Herb Garden to have a constant supply of herbs, farmed by your followers and deposited in your inventory. That would make a lot of sense right? The armor and weapon customization was a decent mechanic and tool, why not make the castle customization similar? You looted some weird materials off this Red Templar, sent it in for research and now you can have a special upgrade for your armor/weapon. Likewise, you found some strange materials in a ruin you excavated, you have your dwarves work on it and now you can have a special upgrade for your Mage Tower or your Front Gate or your Dungeon. Also, when you took over a keep…you couldn’t do anything with it. NPC’s just showed up along with some merchants. It would’ve been cool to choose what type of keep it would be (Military, Espionage, Political) and subsequently what bonus you would get (A recruitment bonus or attack bonus for your troops, A spy bonus or more secret areas unlocked to explore, A political bonus with more options for allies, gold and power). Ya know…the little things….allowing you to ‘see results’ from missions that you undertook and an actual impact in your game would’ve been nice rather than a childish…’Well I beat that mission. NEXT!’. Lastly, the judgments, which were very cool, lacked something that was established in DA:O-Awakening. Why weren’t there judgments or requests from regular townsfolk, nobles or members of your Inquisition? It would’ve been very rewarding to have you judge a petty squabble between an Inquisition Mage and Templar, or choose to commit troops to protect an Inquisition farm from attack or bring the citizens to the castle for protection, or to settle a nobles dispute that would gain you gold or influence. Again, the little things….that were developed in an add on to DA:O…that a fan like myself thought would be expanded on the grander scale of DA:I that simply…did not happen. If you’re going to make an RPG, with such a rich storyline and advertise that it’s going to be groundbreaking…you better satisfy your more mature fans (18+ or just veteran gamers) who expect this greatness that was promised.

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5. Harvesting and gathering loot. This can be fun sometimes. But seriously, with a game of this scope you don’t want to spend 10-15 hours harvesting and looting because you’ve already got 100+ hours of gameplay to go through (if you play out a majority of the missions). Remember the PC game FATE? It was a cool dungeon crawler but one really awesome element that it had was this dog that you could call and it would grab your loot for you. Then it would take a certain amount of time to leave, drop off the loot and become available to you again. Wouldn’t it have been cool to have a few squires that would follow well behind your party and grab all the loot for you, then one of them would report at your castle and show you what was looted and harvested? It would solve the constant problem of clearing your inventory, pausing to loot each corpse after a battle and stopping to grab every herb or mineral you see. I understand that this was done to a small extent in the War Table where you could send your advisors out to gather materials, but frequently the mission would come back with 5-10 herbs, a very tiny amount, considering that you can gather 5-10 herbs in a few minutes of gameplay. And it could be a simple option that you could turn on or off (for people who like gathering herbs). Want your squires & spies to follow you and scour every area you go to and then report their findings back at the Skyhold? Or do you want to do it yourself? That type of situation could also lend to a unique storyline with your subordinate(s). Are you putting them in danger? Can they be killed while doing this? Does it affect your overall power score? Ya know…just some simple detail. I mean, you have a nice dialogue with the short, cute, female scout in every place you go to…in which her character didn’t really have any purpose other than to brief you and fill some time. Why couldn’t that person serve a real in game purpose like I just mentioned? Ya know….the devil is in the details…or lack thereof.

6. Character approval means nothing. Remember in Dragon Age: Origins you had the character approval bar? And the higher that bar went, you could inspire Minor or Major abilities in that character such as combat bonuses. And the lower the bar went, the more pissed your character was with you…and they may even leave your party….or try to kill you? Now THAT WAS COOL. In this game, there’s no point to the approval system other than when you make decisions, some on screen text will tell you who approves or disapproves of your actions. There’s no status bar where you can check how much a person likes/dislikes you. And there’s no incentives such as combat bonuses or unique relationships (that I could tell). It’s just another area that fell completely flat. It’s as if BioWare started to create this portion of the game and just stopped at some point. Just another example of how DA:O is better than DA:I.

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7. You don’t get to appoint characters in branch off missions. Remember at the end of Dragon Age: Origins when you had to choose 4 companions to lead the second team that would defend the gates at Denerim while you took on the archdemon? A pretty simple side mission and very effective for engrossing you in the game. But again, nope. Nothing even remotely similar throughout the game. You’ve got this great group of characters. Iron Bull and his team of chargers. Blackwall. Cassandra. Dorian etc. etc. and you have to leave them out of battles because you only can pick up to 3 companions to join in on your missions. There was so much potential to work off of elements that were successful in past titles. Wouldn’t it have made sense to include the other companions in your sieges, for example the siege on Adamant Fortress and the final battle? Maybe your second team covers your back or attacks from another flank? Maybe, like in the ending of Mass Effect 2, if you choose characters who aren’t suited properly for the specific task….they will die…or someone else will die as a result of the lopsided team. It’s the little things, ya know?

8. You’re BioWare. Should you listen to the fans? Absolutely. Every single one. Look, I know you’ve won game of year and accolades upon accolades for this game. Congratulations. BioWare as a company and all of those involved in the creation of this specific game deserve all of that praise. This is a very good game that just falls flat in some key areas. And if you’ve learned anything from the Mass Effect 3 ending debacle, it’s that your fans know best. I’m sure there’s an amazing team at BioWare but the truth is….you didn’t live up to your expectations with Dragon Age: Inquisition. You didn’t pull a George Lucas prequels blunder….but if you don’t heed the advice of people outside of your internal ‘team’ then your games will continue to be lackluster. I love this game…I really do. I’m probably going to play it again but stop my campaign after Alexius is defeated.. where it starts to go downhill and it becomes obvious that your choices are meaningless. Now for the positives! The environments are amazing. The animations are fantastic. The armor/weapon customization is great. The loot is great. The War Table and missions associated with it were great (although could’ve been tweeked a bit more to make it more realistic with consequences for choosing the wrong advisor). The castle decor and style customization is really cool. The combat is good (though the AI wasn’t as effective as DA:O where you could choose their tactics). The talent tree is good. The writing was really, really good. The early plot twists and turns were awesome. The soundtrack and in game ‘bard songs’ were great. The characters were great and well developed. Dorian…amazing character. Solas! Perfect! The crossover from previous games was awesome too by bringing in Leliana, Hawke and Morrigan and it was done really, really well. Playing the ‘game’ in Val Royeaux was great. The Inquisition influence bar and perks were cool. The judgements were a lot of fun. The Avvar clan was amazing. Those small Inquisition War Table missions to build a bridge etc. were a really nice touch. The Dragons were AWESOME!!! The Solas & Flemeth twist at the end was cool. There are lots and lots of plusses for this game. But the minuses are just too big and they keep this from being a great game. Even though the gameplay and technology of the time in DA:O is about 6 years old, that’s still a much, much better, tighter and more fulfilling game. And I know that BioWare wanted this to have the same impact that Oblivion did at the time that it came out…but it just doesn’t. It’s just another game. DA:I was too big and some really important details were missed in the grand scope of it all. Details that make or break games for the consumer. I’m still a HUMONGOUS FAN. I would pay BioWare 200 or 300 or 1,000 bucks if they finally created the perfect, earth-shattering RPG. I love this series and the world that BioWare has created. I’m just telling the truth in the small hope that company folks and designers at BioWare, and other video game developers for that matter, will say ‘Ya know what….the fans are right. Let’s do better!’.

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In closing, BioWare did a very good job. The game was great….and then once the shortcomings became evident and the storyline got flabby, it dropped to being just ‘good’. So, they did make 1/3rd of the greatest video game ever. If I were 10 or if this were the first RPG I’d ever played, like I did many years ago with Dragon Warrior for Nintendo, I would lose my mind and praise BioWare as if they were Gods. But that’s not the case. They’re just people….in a big building sitting in front of computers and arguing in meetings. BioWare is a huge company that makes lots of money, with CEO’s and Presidents and a PR & marketing team that gets in the way of the creative department. There are so many people collaborating and so many rules to be followed that I understand why certain things do or do not happen in games. But the fact that I understand how hard it is for a big company to create a flawless game does not detract from the truth that DA:I isn’t flawless. It’s just good. And being just good….is a big disappointment in such a story rich franchise.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this M.A.V.B.L.O.G. and that it’s improved your video game life, your knowledge of the Dragon Age Series or the next video game that you’re about to make or play. Thanks for reading. As always. Be good to yourself. Be good to others. Even plants and animals. Have a great day!