Stan and I had been kept busy these past 2 months. With my major assignments due and exams to sit and Stan’s transition from his old job to a new one, we had been neglecting this blog for quite awhile. We had played a couple of new games during our free time and also visited a few eateries but never really had the time to edit the photos and write up any blog post. And since my semester is finally over and with a lot of time on my hands, I have spent the last few days cooped up at home playing the new Dragon Age: Inquisition. Since this is my second time writing up a game review, I’m still experimenting on how to structure it.
The events of Dragon Age: Inquisition take place sometime after the events of Dragon Age II. As the player, you play as any chosen class, gender, and race, who will later be known as the ‘Inquisitor’. The story began with the protagonist being caught in the destruction of the temple of the Scared Ashes and the murder of the Divine, as the Veil (something like an inter-dimensional world that connects between reality and the spirit world) was breached. In the process, the protagonist somehow stumbled out of the fade, having possess a glowing green mark on one hand and fell unconscious. After being interrogated by one of the party members, Cassandra, the player is later released and is told that the mark she possesses is the key to close the breach and is the only hope for saving Thedas from total destruction.
Of course, sealing the breach is not only the protagonist’s worries but if you have played Dragon Age II,you would know that the tension between the mages and templars have gotten far worse and as the Inquisitor, you need their help (actually either one of) to defeat the culprit behind the breach and the demons he had let loose.
Map and Quests
The game has taken up a more open world concept like most games these days and involves 2 regions- Orlais and Ferelden and consist of many areas to cover and explore. Though this might be the developers’ good intentions to make the world of Dragon Age more interactive, the execution itself somewhat backfired. The mini map especially is utterly useless as I find myself using the actual quest map more than the mini map. Besides consisting of the north point and little markers pointing out the countless quests you have, it does not really assist the player in finding the location as it does not show the terrain. So, you will be following the marker but only to find out that you have been blocked by a giant ass mountain, which you will then have to refer back to the quest map.
The main quests and some new areas now have to be unlocked using a “Power” point system, which the player will gather by completing various tasks, side quests and recruiting agents scattered throughout the regions. It is an interesting system in ensuring that the player is leveled up enough to tackle the main quests. Like Mass Effect 3, the Inquisitor plans strategies, gather resources, recruit allies (also unlocks quests) with his/her 3 other advisors at the War Council. I find this concept fun and rather immersive in the beginning but was left a bit disappointed that the decisions I have made so far did not make much impact on the storyline but instead it is another means of gathering more power points, experience, influence, and unlocking certain traits. However, since I am only 30+ hours in and still have many areas to explore, perhaps the little decisions I have made on the war table might make a difference towards the end. The ‘influence’ gathered allows the player to unlock different perks available that might be able to improve or unlock certain traits.
On the other hand, Stan and I have rather mixed feelings about the side quests offered in this game. The side quests can be found scattered across the map and some of them can be unlocked by looting and finding journals, maps, and artefacts from either dead bodies or certain spots. Most of the tasks involved either killing enemies, finding more artefacts, returning items or finding various herbs and resources. Anyone who has played Dragon Age: Origins will realise that the current side quests available lack the depth in story-telling and decision making that its predecessor once had. Instead of offering more story-driven side quests, they started to feel repetitive and mundane. The mini games such as the puzzles available were rather lacklustre but at least by completing them they do unlock some sweet sweet loot.
Gameplay, Skills and Stats
Since Dragon Age II, the gameplay itself has gotten more console-friendly, making the combat style more action packed. The use of the tactical camera on the other hand could be rather clumsy as sometimes depending on the terrain your characters are on, certain objects can block the eye view. Thus, making it a little frustrating to plan out the combat strategy. Stan and I are very disappointed that we could not increase our stats manually as they are automatically allocated based on the skills/abilities that the player selects. We felt that our agency is taken away as we could not structure our character the way we want it. Hence, we felt that the game took away a lot of the elements of characterization.
Characters, Storyline and Graphics
Storyline wise, I personally find it quite generic but interesting enough to keep me entertained and sometimes in suspense. The characters, especially the party members despite rather conventional, are still more likeable than the ones in the second instalment (I’m looking at you Fenris, Anders and Merrill). The only character I sort of dislike so far has to be Sera. She is kind of a cross over of an Australian bogan and a manic pixie dreamgirl. Let’s just say that combo proved to be somewhat annoying rather than cute and quirky. The antagonist is generic and I really wished he has a cooler alias that strikes fear rather than just called the ‘Elder One’. The romance options are mainly based on personal preferences. Despite the ‘array of choices’ given, I still find my romance options pretty limited. Blackwall seems rather old for my character; Iron Bull, I do applaud him being open with his sexual preferences but he’s not my cup of tea and for the same sex options (females) is either Sera or Josephine and as I have mentioned I dislike the former. Contrary to the guides I have read, I realised I could flirt with Cassandra though she is meant for a male only character. However, I ended up with Cullen and am glad that his character is neither like the male romances in Dragon Age II, whereby you either go for Anders, a whiny mage or Fenris an angsty elf.
The graphics are breathtaking but the animation of the characters are still very stiff especially for most of the big budget games out there tend to use motion capture for a more realistic animation. The creatures and characters do get glitchy at times. For example, Varric kept sinking into the snow whenever I initiate a conversation with him back at the Frostback Mountain stronghold. However, as long as these glitches do not interfere with the gameplay, I do not really mind since glitches can be funny to watch.On a side note, I do wish the developers invest more in some nice background music and party banter since I find that most of the time besides the ambience, it does get a little boring as I explore the vast areas.
Overall, despite the flaws, the game is still fun to play and much more entertaining than the second instalment but I do wish the developers include some of the elements from Dragon Age: Origins, especially the story-driven side quests rather then making them like tedious chores to finish.
Another aspect of the game that I have forgotten to mention is the crafting section. Crafting has become more detailed in this game as the type of resources gathered and used to make your armour or weapons really do affect their damage and stats. Despite crafting is not as essential for on normal mode and also can be rather tedious to gather the items but I realised that the extra effort did pay off for me for some of my playthrough. Sometimes it takes quite awhile to find really good loot so the items you and your party members are equipped with at that moment are not as effective. Crafting with rarer items that you possess at that moment allow you to make armour with better defences or weapons that cause more damage.
Update: Final thoughts
After finishing Dragon Age just last week, I have a few final thoughts that I would like to share. Despite there were complaints about the storyline on some forums or comment sections online, I found it very immersive and everytime I finished a main quest, I could not wait to unlock the next one just to find out what happens next. I understand the whole inter-dimensional and time travelling concepts have been done to death in most fantasy games but I will always be a sucker for those type of storyline. The last mission however, was quite lacklustre as I was expecting an epic war between the main antagonist’s men and the Inquisitor’s army. Instead, the Inquisitor and her chosen companions only got to battle it out with Corypheus. I wished the developers could have made it like Mass Effect 2, which you got to send out the rest of your other companions to lead a small party each to help you out at various locations. With all the preparations done at the war council and side missions gathering agents for the inquisition, you thought you might at least be treated to a brief cutscene of all these men and women marching to fight Corypheous. There was however, an indication of a major fight but that only took place during the last third last mission. When it was finally the time to face Corypheous, Cullen conveniently said that most of the men were still marching back to Skyfold and the Inquisitor and her companions had to take him out themselves. Well, at least I got to watch a cool brawl between two dragons.
Speaking of unlocking quests, though the whole power points to unlock quests idea was interesting but I find the concept was not executed that well. Initially, it took me quite awhile to gather the points as the main quests and other areas on the map took about 20-40 points to unlock. However, towards the middle of the game and after unlocking and exploring the new areas, I have so many points that could just easily unlock and breeze through my main quests and finish them. Sure, the power points could also be used for unlocking other smaller areas or operations but they only cost around 5 points. I read several advice offered online that it is alright to finish the main quests and come back again to do all the side ones (except for inner circle quests aka your companions’ personal quests) but I guess I have a different approach to my play style as I treat the main story quests and cutscenes that come along with them as rewards for all the ‘hardwork’ done on the side quests. I did try to do some of the side quests after defeating Corypheous and despite there were some post-game comments from your companions, I still find playing after the main story has finished a bit empty. This is when I wished Bioware still stick to some of the elements from Dragon Age Origins when it comes to developing the side quests. Sure, the quests still followed the conventional RPG style, such as looking for an item or killing a certain number of enemies but there were brief stories or background behind these quests. In Inquisition however, even with vast areas to explore, the side quests were more or less the same and any background provided were mainly presented in codex entries. I am alright with that but 20-30 hours in, it got really repetitive. Despite the advertised 100 hours gameplay, you could get through the storyline in half the time or less.
The main quests and companion quests, though short, they really did make up for all the mundane and repetitive side quests. I do wish the developers include more main story quests but perhaps that is too much to ask for? Stan and I have been discussing about the whole ‘open world’ concept becoming a hype in almost every game and how this concept is not always the ultimate answer to make a game enjoyable or immersive. We both agreed that a game with a well-written storyline but a smaller or no open world concept can be enjoyable and pack more punch than a game with huge areas to explore but offer little else in terms of storyline or gameplay wise.
I can overlook all these flaws and hopefully whatever feedbacks the fans out there have given, hopefully Bioware will take that to heart (or break ours) and continue making and improving Dragon Age. With a twist ending after the end credits and a world filled with rich lores and my attachment towards my companions, I could not wait for any of the next instalment of the game.