Dragon Age Inquisition Review
“The only Inquisition you should have about the new Dragon Age is why you were playing it.”
I thought we’d just get that shit out of the way right now. Incidentally, that’s about as much actual inquisition as goes on in this game. I wasn’t expecting a detective story but I was at least hoping that it’d tie in somehow. Nope: Just like everything else connected with Dragon Age, Inquisition is a rip-off in every sense of the word.
We start out the game introduced to the world of Europe in the Middle Ages. They say it’s called Thedas, but it’s Europe. Ferelden is full of rustic, hardy, earthy folk who respect their kings but won’t take no guff, all qualities that British people boast insufferably about. Orlais is all “courtly intrigue” and “manners” and a whole lot of condescension for no good reason, which is what England (and us Yanks) think about France. Tevinter Imperium uses Latin for everything and they’re a big ancient empire, so I’m sure you can figure out who they’re supposed to be. And so on and so on.
Now you might pull out your “Simpsons did it!” card here. Skyrim’s got the same issue, with it’s Empire being Rome, its Skyrim being Norselands, etc. But it goes farther than that in the Dragon Age world. Elves are ported straight in from general fantasy literature: arrogant, frail, hiding from humans at all costs. Dwarves are your typical mining squat underground guys. Both of them, as usual, are condescending to humans despite the fact that humans control everything (another aspect ripped from the archetype). They do give them something new: the Carta, a criminal organization that screams “Mafia!” The religion isn’t your usual polytheistic fantasy stuff, that’s true. It’s an near-exact copy of the Catholic Church, its major difference in its having female priests which changes the character of the group not at all.
Then you have the Templars, who are connected to no temple at all, and the Inquisition, whose main goals are to close the hole in the sky and to stop the Big Bad, not to inquisit anything.
What bugs me about all this is that it all relies on you knowing about the real world. Nothing in Dragon Age stands on its own: the only way “the Inquisition” makes sense as a name is if you already know that there was the prosecution of an Inquisition in actual history. Same with the entirety of Orlais wearing full face masks at every second like no one does, which is ludicrous even if you have this idiotic conception of aloof French court culture and makes absolutely no sense if you don’t.
When I say that Dragon Age is unoriginal, I don’t mean that it just takes ideas. Skyrim took ideas, like I said. The Wheel of Time series took a ton of cues from Tolkien and other literature, and from Arabic traditions and ideas (especially in the Aiel), but both of those made a lot of effort to present these things as natural in their setting; they made cohesive worlds. Dragon Age is a nonsense land: it’s a bunch of pieces sketched up in separate rooms and stuck together with Elmer’s glue.
Unfortunately, if you choose to play this game, it’s your job to save that nonsense land. You wake up from a fugue with a glowing spot on yourself and are told that you are the only person who can close the big hole in the sky. After you give that the ol’ college try, you find out that the Big Bad was supposed to get the mark but you “stole” it (the story of what happened is offensively lame and I won’t do that to you). Now you have to try and prevent the Big Bad from finding another way through the hole in the sky, because if he makes it through there, game over.
Oh, and the Pope is dead. Did I forget to mention that? Yeah, when the sky-hole was created, the lady Pope was killed. That’s what you’re supposedly inquisiting, but it’s not your main focus at any point. In fact, if people never talked about her, the fact that she’d been killed would be forgotten entirely. That fact doesn’t affect anything you do in the slightest. But she did get killed so, well, there’s that.
The storyline you play through is extraordinarily linear, and I mean that not in a forking sense but in a mathematical sense. There are no curves, no twists or turns. Just an endless march up a mountain. First of all, the thing that makes you special in the first place fucked up the Big Bad’s plan, but for some reason he just has a new one ready to go (the reason being they wrote themselves into a corner because you should have the climactic battle about 1/5 of the way through the game). But don’t worry, his new plan is pretty much the same as his last one in that it entails bringing together a big army to fight you. And he sends his lieutenants at you and all. Ooooh, scary.
Except for that, at every stage of the game you defeat him. In fact, you never lose. Not once. Even when your first base is destroyed, all it really does is enable you to take the mysteriously vacant amazing castle up in the mountains, where it is thereafter completely secure. They talk about a huge threat to the world from his armies but nobody is ever threatened, not even you. If there’s supposed to be tension in the story, there should be the specter of defeat and death always looming over you. There’s not a point in this game where, story-wise or game-wise, I felt as though all the odds were against me.
There’s supposed to be a big war between the Templars and the Mages’ Guild going on, but apart from one area, you never see it. Even then, it’s not as though it affects anything. Just like the main storyline, just like everything else in this game, it takes place in a few isolated events that don’t mean anything to anybody else.
This is a problem because Dragon Age: Inquisition really puts itself forward as an open-world game. It has a lot of features that seem geared toward that. You can establish a few strongholds throughout the game and you can personally set up camps for fast-travel within maps. The war table feature allows you to see your operations throughout both countries in the game. On top of all that, you’ve got the story itself whose events range from one end of the map to the other and are supposed to have world-affecting consequences.
But it really isn’t. The war table is nifty for about thirty seconds before you realize that all it’s there for is to waste your time. The bonuses you get from it are incredibly minor and they never really change your experience much. More than that, there is no actual war on the war table: you don’t get to see where the armies of the Templars and Mages are, or the armies in the Orlais civil war, or the Big Bad’s army. You don’t even get to interact with them. They might show up in a few war table missions, but even those are automatic, completed while you’re busy exploring the world.
And what a limited world it is. Again, you’re presented with vistas, hills and dales, woods: let loose to explore. You look on your map and see that your next objective is just a jump over to the left. You turn and try to go there, but oh no. Impassable mountains. You try a little further down, same thing. And so on and so on until when you finally get to go around, you see that #1 you didn’t save any time at all, and probably wasted a ton trying to climb the mountains, and #2 this was the way that the road went, anyway. That’s the whole game until you figure out to just go by the roads. It doesn’t matter how close something looks and how far away the road goes, going by road is always quicker. What looks like a big open world to roam through is really a series of corridors: some wider than others, but all defined. It’s beyond just “there are mountains,” because sometimes you can climb the mountains. How can you tell which ones are scalable? You can’t. There are several where it looks like you should definitely be able to get over it, but it’s a hardcoded block.
Just take the exact road that they tell you to take and don’t ask questions.
That was really why I played this game so long; make no mistake, I sunk a lot of time into it, but that’s because I could just turn my brain off. Read what it says on the screen, do what it says on the screen. Don’t do your own thing. Just do exactly that. Did you think you could remember your objective? You can’t. You have to walk to a specific place and unless you click the objective and bring it up on your screen, you cannot find the one spot in the middle of the forest where the letter is for the next part.
Combat is profoundly unsatisfying. Some of the abilities look cool and it’s fun to link a bunch of things together, but those are never the most damaging things to do. I had more fun using my person’s hook shot to zoom around a battle than anything I would do to actually win it. Plus, its idea of tactics is absolutely busted: everybody moves far too fast for you to really get any formation type thing working, and your AI teammates don’t move to take advantage of anything. If you wanted, you could play the whole thing in tactical mode, but then it’s just a boring game of shift over and set to attack. At least in hold-RT mode (a.k.a. active mode or whatever), you get to move around and see the actions close up. All you really need to do to win is keep attacking and spam all of your moves. If you have high enough traits you’ll win. Otherwise, you need to grind more.
(As an aside, stop making games where grinding is necessary. It’s idiotic.)
Luckily, though, combat isn’t the bulk of the game. No, that would be fetch quests. Every single thing is a fetch quest in this game. Do you need to get groceries? Run around this province. Beat the demons? Well, we’ll need a sword, if you could just run around and get that stuff. You wanna fuck me? Can you run around a couple countries and pick up a single flower petal from each one? It doesn’t matter what stage of the game you’re at or who you’re dealing with, you will be told to go there and fetch these. Usually, you’ll be told to do this by random idiots on the street or servants or something. As the head of a mighty organization which is marching against the demonic hordes of the Big Bad, you will have to get your hands dirty and pick up the six green seashells for some stranger’s sandcastle.
That brings me to my favorite mechanic: the Bottles of Thedas finder. They call it “Search” in the game, and it comes up when something “interesting” is nearby. It makes a little ring sound and flashes until you get out of the area or find it. That means that you don’t really look for it, you just stumble across it and are annoyed until you go look. After you dig into whatever ancient nook this squawker is leading you to, what do you find? A bottle. Doesn’t give you anything. Can’t sell it. Just a bottle. There are about 21 of these around the map and it’s the most annoying shit. You’re putting an alert on my screen which directs me to find something unknown. Sometimes, in actual missions, they use it for advancement. You can’t just ignore the alert. Most of the times, though, it’s a fucking bottle.
That really is the story of Inquisition, isn’t it? A lot of effort for a really poor result. You get quests that require you to explore 90% of a map and at the end you get 50 coins, a small shield, and a scroll. You bust your ass to beat an enemy 10 levels higher than you and as a reward you’ve earned a sword that’s level locked so high that by the time you can use it, you’ll have three better swords that you just picked up off the ground. You put 100 hours into this thing and you realize that at the end you’ve saved a fictional world that barely noticed and had absolutely zero fun operating a mind-numbing hodgepodge of lights and colors.
It’s not a good game is what I’m trying to say. Spend your time doing something better.