It’s that feeling again. That don’t want to write on the internet/don’t want to socialize/don’t want to go to work/don’t want to eat or sleep feeling/DVR is filling up with unwatched shows feeling. There must be a new Bethesda or BioWare RPG in town. Wait, it’s a BioWare title with Bethesda elements? Mein gott! What life-devouring chimera has gaming wrought?
A game as big as Dragon Age: Inquisition comes packaged with expectations, not the least of which is finishing a trilogy that has spanned this console generation and is bleeding into the new one. Some of them are going to be met or exceeded, and some are not.
So, fellow gamers, do you want the good news or the bad news first? Lets’ go with the good news. If I start negative my fellow Biodrones may toss bee grenades at me before I can get to the good stuff. Here are five features in Dragon Age: Inquisition that make me say yay.
Good God, the SCOPE!
This is how I look every time I open up my map.
Holy shit, this game is big. Not necessarily in literal surface area, just….in everything. So much to do, so many free-roam locales packed with hidden depths; you could literally eat away as much time as it takes to play through an entire action game’s campaign just aimlessly wandering and collecting materials as soon as you finish the prelude without giving a damn about any quests at all. You also get an entire town crammed with characters with lots to say at your disposal.
And when you earn your official Inquisition hideout? Well, refer back to that gif. I had no intention of spending five hours just walking around it seeing what there was to see, talking to recruits, and perusing the facilities, but I did. It took me about that long before I even stepped outside of it. And I don’t think I’ve seen it all. YOUR HEADQUARTERS HAS ITS OWN FAST TRAVEL STATIONS. That’s just your base. Think about that. I’m about 40 hours in and I’m not even very far into the narrative as far as I can tell and I still have more active sidequests than I can keep track of. And I’m not even looking for sidequests. They just fall out of the sky. You will not be bored or underwhelmed with the amount of places to go or things to do in this game. I promise you that.
NPC Love is the Truest Love
It’s all fine and dandy romancing your companions, bonds forged in blood and all that. But I’m the hero. The whole world loves me! I shouldn’t have to fraternize with my battlemates. Nobody wants a spurned lover with a sharp object covering their six. In Inquisition, you get a couple more options in the form of advisors. It could be a really good thing for future games to litter more romance options aside from the playable cast across the game. It makes the world feel more alive and gives you someone new to visit.
This was kind of great for me because I wasn’t really feeling my companions that much. I love me some Sera, but who could date that? Girl’s cray. It’d be like going out with a female Deadpool. Or me. And Vivienne may be gorgeous, but I don’t heart the stuck up attitude. I had my longing sights set on the lovely and demure diplomat Josephine, but she’s not a fighter…is she a lover? I got a bit of a thrill seeing her actually respond to my advances against odds. It was an unexpected treat, for sure.
You Can’t Fight in Here, this is the War Room!
The War Council is one of the coolest new features in Inquistion. You have your advisors enter a room and look at your war map, where you can send out teams of diplomats, soldiers, or spies to help with your pacification of Ferelden and Orlais. The missions are combinations of alliance-building favors, side quests for your friends, and more story missions and areas to explore which can be unlocked based on how much power and influence you accumulate for the Inquisition.
In addition to that you have a list of perks offered by each of your advisors which can be unlocked as you gain influence and can get you things like rare equipment and materials, new dialogue options, and various other bonuses. The whole setup is really damn cool and adds a new wrinkle to the series. Plus, the missions take place in real time and not game time so if one takes several hours to complete, you can start it before you turn in for the night, and wake up with it already completed. It’s pretty much the only way to convince myself to get sleep anymore.
Combat is About Compromise
I’m of the opinion that the original Dragon Age: Origins is still the best of the series in terms of combat. The sequel made the grievous mistake of going for the less RPG-ish button mash approach while eliminating a lot of my favorite things like badass kill animations and booby traps.
Inquisition finds a very nice medium between the casual and hardcore RPG by allowing the player to button mash if they wish, or simply hold down the attack button and let the turn-based do its thing. Although there’s still no kill animations (whyyyyyy?) there are some traps and the game offers some pretty great grenades and really effective status ailments. Also, being able to shoot arrows and walk at the same time is badass. Sometimes it’s the little things
If you don’t have Sera armed with bee grenades, you are playing this game wrong. I can hear her giggling at the baddies fleeing with arms flailing even though she isn’t. I should probably see someone about that. Pitch grenades allow you to coat the ground in tar and slow enemies down so you can hurl laughter at them. Also arrows, bees, and hellish infernos. Have I mentioned the hellish infernos? Before just now, I mean. Fire has never been more fun in an RPG. Sooooo prettyyyyyy….
Do it Yourself Awesomeness
I’ve been known to whine about excessive looting in games and how it takes away the joy of really earning and cherishing your gear in favor of constantly farming and praying to get something better. Inquisition throws a crapton of loot at you at all times, but the vast majority of it is just to sell off or discard. The real game is in crafting and personalizing your gear.
While you will eventually need to upgrade, you usually spend a lot of time with your chosen loadouts before that happens and that is great. In addition to the core weapons and armour, which you can build to your own specifications depending on which materials you choose, you can craft, find, or buy additional components and magical runes which you can then mix and match to build the gear of your dreams. And the best part is that the components are reusable so you don’t have to worry about attaching them to one weapon and then finding a better one; you can just remove it from the old and busted and add it to the new hotness. This should be the shape of RPG’s to come.
So I’m pretty pleased. Dragon Age: Inquisition has taken most of the things I loved about the first two games and amped the scope of the narrative and the explorable world to truly epic proportions. And as you may have noticed, they have learned a lot from the Elder Scrolls games. If there’s any concept better than a BioWare/Bethesda mash-up, I have not imagined it. But it’s not all flowers and sunshine. Here are five things that make me want to strangle a nug with my bare hands.
I think I can say with some confidence that Inquisition was instantly the buggiest thing I’ve ever played. And I once gave myself a headache trying to kill a backwards flying/teleporting dragon who wouldn’t leave me alone to let me fast-travel in Skyrim for an hour before quitting. While I haven’t encountered anything game-breaking (yet), things like my character’s hair turning gray in cutscenes, NPC’s walking waist-deep in the ground, conversations stalling (every time Loghain speaks especially…another reason to hate that asshole), and not being able to switch characters has been typical, as are enemies that respawn at the same time you kill them, or possibly before. I’m pretty sure once I was fighting the same bear twice at one time.
The most persistent bug I’ve found is in the radial menus where you select potions, grenades, and the like. I have to close it and re-open it every time I switch characters or it doesn’t work. This is a constant thing, not a random glitch. But the big one is the nastiest thing that can happen in a game: a full freeze. And it happens a lot. Once the whole console froze on me five times in one day. It was possibly God telling me to go outside or talk to my family or something, but still. If you want that, set the house on fire or something. Don’t mess with muh vidya.
Oh, and the freezing usually happens during a save or load operation, meaning that when you restart, the last save is corrupted and my PS3 has to spend several minutes recovering memory before I can play again from the one before that. So don’t play on only one save.
Where Princess Mononoke At?
I’m not at all opposed to mounts if they are done right and granted, it’s pretty badass that my Dalish heroine can ride into battle on the back of a trumpeting elk beast. But unfortunately once you get to said battle you have to stop, wait a second or two to climb down, and then wait for your party to appear out of thin air before you commence asskickery. The uses for a mount are just not really fleshed out in this particular game.
One of my favorite features of BioWare games is the random dialogue between various combinations of party members. These spontaneous little conversations and interactions between characters do so much to make these virtual people real and contain some of the funniest and most memorable moments in their games. But those don’t happen when you are riding. You party just kind of….vanishes. I miss them already.
Another reason is that the world is so full of crafting materials and lootables that you either have to ignore them all or hop off of your mount so often there’s no point in having one. You may as well just walk and see how Iron Bull and Dorian or Solas and Cassandra will get along together. Plus, you can’t fight when mounted, which sucks.
Mounts are a good idea, but the execution here is flawed. Maybe if your whole party could have their own mounts and engage in combat from horse/halla/lizardback and you could snatch materials from there, it’d be pretty epic to explore the landscape that way. But as it is, it’s often more trouble than its worth unless you are just looking to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible while ignoring everything else.
I love games that give you the option to micromanage, but it shouldn’t be a necessity. And when the games makes it a necessity, but won’t let you do it right……grrr. Previous Dragon Age games let you go to crazy lengths programming each individual character on how to react to any combat situation. When to go for the combo attacks, which enemy to target, etc. I cannot for the life of me understand why they took that away.
Now your AI combat options are as follows. You may tell them to “follow” a specific character or whichever you’re controlling, or you may tell them to “defend” ” a specific character or whichever you’re controlling. I’m not sure I even get the difference. When I attempted to turn AI behaviors off and just have them just fight without goddamn following anyone, they stopped doing anything at all and just stood there.
And since they also took away the ability to switch between ranged and melee weapons, I find myself wading into the fray to support my tank and then find that my archer and/or mage have run right up on us and are getting creamed by the giant hammer-wielding maniac I’m flanking when I had positioned them elsewhere. I shouldn’t have to slow-mo the entire battle to babysit my ranged attackers into staying at range. Maybe if I tell them to follow each other? I haven’t noticed if that even works, but even if it did I shouldn’t goddamn have to when I already told them where to go.
Sometimes I feel like BioWare is trolling us with these load times. Just firing the game up takes way too long. When the “press start” screen comes press starting doesn’tregister for a few seconds so you end up mashing it until you’re sure it was read. Then it will make you wait for it to connect to the Dragon Age servers. Sometimes over a minute. Dude, even my phone can connect to my wifi in seconds and it’s not even close to up to date.
Then it must “enumerate” your save files which took a really long time until I realized it was taking all day to individually read the data on each of my 25 saves (the maximum allowed) because it…actually, I don’t even know why it was doing that. And if you select “load” it enumerates them all again. It got much better when I deleted the extras, but still: what the hell? I’ve never had this be a thing.
Then you get to the actual loading screens, which feature three text cards you can cycle through. Some of them are of the usual “gather stuff to have more stuff!” and “if you kill all of the enemies, you will win!” variety, and some are giant walls of involved text lore that require you to scroll down. Except that halfway through the load time, the screen blacks out, usually when you are not done reading the thing they put there for you to read and you spend another 30 seconds or so fuming that they are showing you a black screen instead of the wall of text they expected you to read in the thirty seconds previous but you couldn’t even focus on because you were worried that they were going to black out the screen before you were done. The fuck, BioWare? The fuck.
Thank You, Herald, but Your Loot is in Another Level
This is not exactly a Dragon Age-specific problem, but Inquisition is the worst example I can think of. Getting loot drops for equipment that you can’t equip because your level isn’t high enough is just about the most annoying thing I can think of, and a sign of shitty loot design. You have limited space in your inventory, why the hell would you want it clogged up with stuff that would be killer to have now but will likely be mediocre by the time you reach their stupid arbitrary level requirement?
What really makes this one a problem is that the level advancement in Inquisition is slllloooooow. Making you work for every level isn’t a bad thing in and of itself at all; in fact, I applaud it. But when it takes hours of gameplay to gain each new level and they are giving you equipment multiple levels above you, it’s an unnecessary annoyance. Make it so you get loot that’s appropriate to your characters’ level. Why is that so hard?
Just to reiterate, I am obsessed with Dragon Age: Inquisition. I raged, quit, and determined never to buy another Team Ninja game when Dead or Alive 5 froze as often as this one does. So why does this one get a pass? It’s just that good. Even though the game feels broken at times, but it is so goddamn massive and fun that quitting it is simply is not an option. It’s one of the deepest and most involved video games I’ve ever played.
Further evidence? I haven’t even fired up the multiplayer. I am so immersed in the adventure and story that I can’t even consider tearing myself away from the single player. I don’t even want to be writing this right now. On that note: I’ve got to go.