Five Reasons Why Dragon Age: Inquisition Probably Isn’t a Perfect Game.
So, routine readers will likely know this already, but for those who are coming in fresh, I like thought exercises. If we’re being honest, part of that likely comes from the fact that I’m an introvert and I’d prefer to just think about things instead of deal with large groups of loud people, and part of that likely comes from the fact that I tend to think about things so heavily that almost no one alive could deal with the hours of circular discussions I’d be having with them about things I enjoy. I’ve also kind of figured out recently that, oh hey, mentally deprecating disorders run in at least one side of my family (y’know, dementia, Alzheimer’s, the fun stuff), and I’ve seen some scientific research that says constant usage of the brain will keep it healthy. No one said what I had to use that thinking on, however, so instead of useful things, I think about dumb crap, like, well, video games.
I do this thing, a lot, where I sit down and deconstruct games I like in my head to figure out why they’re not a “perfect” game. My logic is pretty simple: a “10” in modern numerical rankings should only be handed out to the best possible game imaginable, the “best of the best,” as it were. With that in mind, there shouldn’t be a whole lot of “perfect” games, in the strictest sense, and if we’re being honest, there probably aren’t any. Site owner Alex Lucard once made the observation to me that everyone should be allowed one “10” in their lives (more or less), and I generally agree with that point, or more specifically, the intent behind it: if you enjoy video games so much that you think a whole lot of the games you’ve played are perfect, critical thinking probably isn’t your thing, and you probably shouldn’t be reviewing games. That’s true of anything really, though; someone who thinks that a lot of the books they’ve read, movies they’ve seen, CD’s they’ve listened to and so on are “perfect” probably can’t be considered an objective reviewer. It’s not bad to enjoy things, though, and don’t misunderstand or think that I’m saying you shouldn’t love stuff; it’s just that, if you want to be a critic or a reviewer, you need to be able to say, “I love this, but…” and have that sort of detachment that lets you acknowledge that even the things you love are flawed.
Hence, this column.
My ultimate goal is to do three things here:
1.) Write something short that’s easily maintained, because I’m old now and ten page columns tend to be harder to turn out than they used to be,
2.) Encourage critical thinking about your favorite games so that there are at least some people out there who see a “10” on a website and say, “Wait, that can’t be right,” and
3.) Given enough time, ideally, we can find a game that probably is as close to “perfect” as possible, if only so that I can say, “Well, there’s one”.
Whether or not any of those will happen remains to be seen, but it’s as good of a mission statement as any. With that said, let’s begin with a fairly recent release, and one that I’ve put about two hundred hours into at this point: Dragon Age Inquisition. Now, the objective here is simple: to take a game that’s scored particularly well, and outline notable flaws in the product that ultimately remove it from consideration as “perfect”. These flaws need to be at least somewhat substantial; that is, they need to be more than minor nitpicks, and they need to be at least somewhat disruptive to the overall experience in some way to the overall experience. Further, while one flaw would probably be sufficient, for obvious reasons (one flaw is an imperfection), it’s more productive to find a decent number, so for the sake of this column, our requirement is that a game must have five of said significant issues in order to be considered “imperfect” to such an extent that it’s decreed the game is imperfect. Obviously, what is and is not a flaw will be subjective to the person in question, but I suspect that the flaws listed will be notable enough that readers will at least understand them, if not agree, and hopefully will be able to contribute their own, or commiserate with those listed. Oh, and as a final note, we’ll ignore anything that’s obviously broken and awaiting patches in some fashion: this is meant more as a discussion on mechanics and functionality that were designed the way they are on purpose, though for older games that lack patching, those sorts of issues will be considered flaws worth mention.
With that established, let’s get started.
The Game: Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Release Year:: 2014.
Gamerankings Score:: The highest score for it is 90% for the PS3 version, followed by 89.93% for the PS4 version; the PS4 version also holds five “perfect” scores out of (so far) thirty reviews, while the PS3 version only has one review.
1.) “Inquisitor” means “Gopher”.
Not that this should be a shock to anyone, but roughly around the halfway point of the game, your group comes together and decides that the best possible option for everyone involved is to make your character the Inquisitor, or the head of the Inquisition you’ve basically been leading from day one. That makes sense; since you’re the one with the glowing thing in your hand, the front-line commander, and the person everyone looks to for decisions and advice, sure, you should probably be the lead person in charge. It also doesn’t hurt that a lot of people think you’re the equivalent of Christ incarnate for this particular universe, so hey, make that person the head guy or girl so that you can use that as a personal and political advantage. From that point onward (and technically before that point), you’re given free reign to run the show as you see fit: you can decorate and lay out the castle as you see fit, pass judgment on criminals, and perform all kinds of other functions befitting a leader as you see fit.
If you want something done, however, you’ll generally have to do it yourself.
Now, obviously there are plenty of operations on the war table that you can perform which require no input from you, and certainly you’ll have to perform actions yourself when they relate to your inner circle, but it bears the question, why do you have to do so much mundane nonsense yourself? Here’s an example: there are two camps of significance in the Emprise du Lion zone, between which is a cave system that is absolutely silly with third tier metals. You’d think that a mission sent into the zone could collect any of the metals in that cave, but oops, no, everything you can get from a collection mission is garbage, meaning you have to manually run the tunnel and do it yourself. That sure is a productive use of your time as the Inquisitor, isn’t it? Collecting metals from a relatively safe (once you’ve cleared out the enemies in it) tunnel because your own people are too stupid to manage it? Further, why do you personally have to visit every vendor in the game, directly, if you want to buy their stuff? Just have someone run the errand for you, pay a little more for the service, and save me the trouble of having to reload zones constantly just to check what vendors have in stock, especially since your game takes upwards of two minutes to load a zone, even when it’s installed to the hard drive. It makes sense that you’ll have to lead front line assaults, or perform the vast majority of actions in a zone yourself, but this isn’t Dragon Age: Origins, where you’re a person with a small warband, or Dragon Age 2, where you’re essentially a minor noble; you’re running an entire organized armed force, essentially. Streamline the process a bit. There is literally a vendor stand in the Undercroft you could use for this exact purpose, instead of as a glorified trash bin, so there’s essentially no reason to make the player zone around the free world except to do it.
Oh and while we’re on the topic again, good job on leaving out the storage box, AGAIN, guys. I mean come on now, didn’t we just have that conversation two games ago? Jesus Christ.
2.) Carbon-based life forms do not act like this.
There’s an interaction, fairly late in the game, where you talk to Leliana and she instigates a sequence of events that, no matter what, end up with her jacking up a person and holding them up to kill them. In the real world, a person’s opinion of you as a human being are the total sum of your words and actions, and decisions made based on your opinion and observations ultimately are based around those words and actions. In Dragon Age: Inquisition, however, if you answer one of two questions the wrong way in your two hundred or so hours through the game, Leliana will kill this person, then blame you for answering a question wrong a hundred hours ago that you no longer even fucking remember as the reason why she chose this path. It doesn’t matter if you’ve behaved in a fashion that’s been otherwise kind and merciful up to that point, nor does it matter if you say, “No, don’t, stop,” at that moment; all that matters is one of two conversations you had a hundred hours ago, because that will dictate exactly how she responds right now.
That is stupid.
It’s especially stupid when you realize that, oh hey, I’ve spared the lives of multiple factions that have actively and stupidly opposed the Inquisition up to this point, and even spared the life of several known criminals when it was apparent that ending the hell out of them would have been the easiest path. I spared the lives of two people who were actively trying to kill me, for crying out loud. Alas, no, Leliana totally has no idea that any of this happened, apparently, or did not bother to in any way take these things into account as lessons she should live by; all she knows is that one time, months (in-game) ago, I told her an answer to a question that, in the heat of the moment, made her decide she needs to kill everyone ever who opposes us. You don’t even get a “law of averages” deal here, something that fucking Bioshock 2 managed to do just fine; you get two instances, and if you fail one, she’s a cold-blooded killer for life.
The fact that this is by no means the only example of this problem, simply the most egregious, is bad enough, but it becomes especially problematic when you consider another major change made to the franchise here:
3.) Realism at the expense of fun.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is the first game in the franchise where relationship meters have been excised, so that you (in theory) have no idea how well you’re doing with your allies. The theory goes that you’ll have to pay attention to “how they react to you” to gauge how well you’re doing in their eyes, because it’s meant to be more “realistic” within the confines of the game. This would, in theory, be just fine as a concept, if it were in any way executed correctly; dating simulators have been doing this for a super long time, after all, so it’s hardly like there’s no precedent, and it’d be a neat idea that forced you as the player to understand your teammates better and really get to know them as people.
Except that in reality, all it means is that you’ll be keeping track of things by hand.
Look, this might be a shock to those in the pro-meter removal camp, but we know we’re playing a video game. This isn’t real life (as the above example shows), it’s a bunch of charts and graphs and variables, and everything increases and decreases according to set parameters. I mention this because, with that in mind, removing the visible meters that track how well you’re doing with a character don’t make relationships harder, simply more annoying. If you assume every “slight” change is a +/-1, every non-adjective change is a +/-2, and every “great” change is a +/-3, you can simply start from zero and have a pretty good idea how well you’re doing with your allies by endgame. That’s not to say the concept doesn’t have merit; you could set up a play option where, say, all meters and notifications are disabled for the player who wants to read facial reactions and conversation tone, but it should be an option, not mandatory, because the game is not as clever as it thinks it is. This is further compounded by the other major “realism” killer…
4.) We’re all (dis)connected.
… which is the fact that no one who isn’t in your presence at a given time has any idea what you’re doing unless it has far-reaching consequences (or they’re Cole), and the opinion of your advisors means jack shit.
First off, we all remember what happened in Mass Effect if you chose to chat up Liara and the other character you had romance possibilities with, right? Eventually they’d both confront you and say, “Dude, what the hell?” and you’d have to pick one. Dragon Age: Origins did much the exact same thing; after a set point, one of your romantic options came swooping in, said “HAY UR A CHEETR” and you had to deal with it. People generally didn’t care for that so much, which is why later Mass Effect and Dragon Age titles kind of leave it to you to decide as late as you’d like who you’re into, and why in Dragon Age: Inquisition, only Sera seems to care if you’re working on someone else at the time. That’s fine, theoretically, but it creates a sort of disconnected game world where no one is talking to anyone else, and you can behave completely differently when talking to people and tell them what they want to hear, which, in the real world is called being a suck up (at best) or a sociopath (at worst).
I’d like to point out here that this would be far less of a concern except that, say it with me, the meters used to track your relationships were removed in the name of “realism”, which creates this weird disconnect where you don’t know how you’re doing with characters because of realism, but you’re still told exactly how people feel about your decisions and never confer with anyone about how you act. You can’t change some things in the name of realism and leave others video gamey, because then you’re just creating a logical disconnect and actively pointing out that things are broken.
Also, the game makes it apparent that it doesn’t give even the smallest shit what your advisor’s think, and that you shouldn’t either. Why? Well, for one thing, it literally never tells you what your advisors think of your decisions. Of course, this doesn’t matter because it’s quite easy to say exactly what they want to hear, and of course they never talk to anyone in your team, even though they’re the ones advising your decisions and should probably take an active interest in how you’re behaving and acting so as to best advise you. Not even Leliana, the goddamn spymaster of the Inquisition, who knows everything about everyone who’s worth knowing about, gives the slightest shit about what you do (unless it’s Josephine), unless you do it directly to her, at two separate points in the game, then it’s important.
At least in Persona 4 you could kind of pretend that all the girls were embarrassed to actually be in a relationship and that they never talked about you dating multiple women because they didn’t want to make it a big deal. Yeah, I said it, Persona 4 has a more believable handling of relationships than fucking Dragon Age: Inquisition, I don’t even care.
5.) Dragon battles are kind of awful.
Oh look, an issue that doesn’t have to do with dialogue, I’m sure you’re surprised.
Dragon battles in the first two Dragon Age games are something of a special affair; they only happen once or twice, in total, and are meant to be something of a unique thing. Because Bioware sees The Elder Scrolls as something of a competing product with their games, however (which it in no way imaginable is), one of the new features of Inquisition is that there are roughly around twelve potential dragons you can face, if you include the battle at the end of the game and another plot specific battle that may not happen (oh and thanks for tying an Achievement to that, guys). You absolutely don’t have to take on these battles, but there are great rewards for doing so (including excellent gear, crafting materials, and Achievements), so it behooves you to do this thing. The first time you take on a dragon battle, you’ll almost certainly find it to be an exhilarating affair, especially if it goes on for an extended period of time and you find that you exhaust characters/potions/etc in the process. This was much the case in the first two games, and it made those battles special and memorable, because of their difficulty, length and rarity.
When you’re facing down eleven or twelve of them, however, that wears thin super fast.
The reality is that the dragons all pull from the same basic pool of attacks, so every dragon you meet pulls a couple of specific attacks from a grab bag: it’ll have a shield, a long-range blast, a dive bomb, a stun roar, a spinning tail whip, a tornado that pulls in characters and/or a roar that summons smaller enemies to do its dirty work, pretty much without variation. One battle with a dragon would be an impressive endeavor; when you’re on your fifth or sixth battle, and you realize dimly that the game has nothing left to show you for the next two to three hours you’re going to be stuck having these more or less identical battles over and over again, it wears out its welcome fast. Hell, one section of the game has three battles in the same map, as if that isn’t going to make it plainly apparent that the combat in these sequences is paper thin. It’s literally the most simplistic version of Monster Hunter I’ve ever seen, and every forum thread I’ve read through in the lead up to actually fighting one of the things for the first time was peppered with people saying “Wow these battles suck,” so it’s not just me and my Monster Hunter experience. These battles kind of suck a bit.
Oh and if you’re going for the Achievement associated, do note that the final battle and the optional battle don’t count, and oh yes, save before each battle, then check the Achievement tracker when you’re done to ensure that the tracker caught it, because if you don’t catch each one and save too far away from the one it didn’t catch, you’re going to smash your controller.
In the interest of fairness, I’ve put two hundred and thirty hours into the game, all told, and I’m actively contemplating putting in a Nightmare run to see if I can completely clear the game of its Achievements, so make no mistake: I like the game a lot, bugs and all. Once the game is patched enough that a player who wants to see and do everything doesn’t run into five to ten game-breaking bugs during their entire playthrough (I counted eight), it’ll probably even deserve those GOTY awards it’s winning in its current, generally still broken, state. I’ll even go so far as to say that I secretly love the fact that heterosexual males have the least possible romance options because fuck the whiners, and I also openly love that there’s a trans character in the game and nobody thinks this is at all weird, especially not the super macho Iron Bull. Hell, I even think it’s great that Iron Bull is voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr, because I’m pretty sure someone, somewhere is going to have to rectify that Iron Bull is voiced by the dude from She’s All That and their head is going to explode.
However, it’s important to realize that loving something isn’t the same as thinking it’s flawless, which Dragon Age: Inquisition most certainly is not, and even if they patch all the broken stuff, it’s still a flawed, imperfect game. Just something to think about.
So that’s a wrap for this time around. Join us in probably two weeks when I’ll see if I can’t sit down and write something about… I don’t know, Resident Evil 4 is what inspired this discussion in the first place, so probably that. Feel free to suggest other games in the comments, and oh yeah, I have a website now where I archive old stuff and make fun of it, so check it out right here. Until next time, this is Mark B, hoping your 2015 is better than your 2014… or at least that mine is, anyway.