Well hello there, Ace of Geeks readers! I’ve been away for a while but it feels great to be back with another unpopular opinion! Didn’t ya miss me? Now, just to be clear here, the Ace of Geeks has already reviewed Dragon Age: Inquisition. But I had such a vastly different experience that I begged my editor in chief to let my opinion be known.
When I completed the story missions in Dragon Age: Inquisition with my level 21 Rogue, I couldn’t help but just stare at the screen. I had spent more hours than I’d like to admit roaming the world of Thedas, slaying demons and faux French soldiers (wondering why there are more French accents in a Dragon Age game than Assassins Creed Unity, which takes place in France, but that’s a story for another time), and of course, hunting Dragons. I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t got lost in this world, trying to find every piece of Elfroot and Bloodstone I could find, saying to myself “just one more quest” for hours and grinding my way up the levels so I could fight that dragon who kicked my ass the night before. And I was enjoying myself, immensely, while doing it.
Still, it was during the last third of my play through that I slowly started to realize what was happening. I was playing an extraordinarily bad game. Despite all the improvements from Dragon Age II, the shiny “Next Gen” graphics (which I will get to in a moment) and addicting game play, its a hollow shell of a game from a developer that used to give us deep and engrossing worlds and stories and characters. BioWare has lost it’s way and I hope they can right the ship before Mass Effect 4 comes out.
I played on the Xbox One. Say what you want, I understand it’s not quite as powerful as the PS4 and undoubtedly the game looks best on the PC. I’m not here to argue 1080p/900p, or console vs PC. None of that matters. What matters is this game looks like crap and is not a next gen game. All they did was add a nice shiny coat of paint to make it sorta almost look like a Next Gen game.
That’s not to say that there isn’t some impressive stuff in the game. The maps are huge and the locales varied and there are a lot of them. The character models, however, look horrifically last gen. Hair doesn’t move in any natural way, the eyes look dead and unnatural and only the Elf characters seem to have natural looking skin, although is seems extra shiny for whatever reason. Are Elves in Thedas shiny? Not a single character has hands that seem to be animated in even the most rudimentary fashion. While most other studios have relied on performance capture for their cutscenes, BioWare seems content with using the same canned animations they had left over from the original KOTOR.
The most egregious display of graphical ineptitude is that there is no day/night cycle. You can spends hours upon hours in some of these maps doing not much of anything with no discernible change in time. How, in the modern era of video games, you cannot convey the passage of time in your game is beyond me. Only two of the maps take place in the evening, but how long are we supposed to believe that day/night goes on for in this world? If you are spending so much of your time in one place, the passage of time is critical for making your world seem believable. It’s unforgivable for a modern open world RPG not to have a Day/Night Cycle.
Huge Maps… Utterly Useless.
Speaking of the huge maps, many of them are pointless and don’t need to exist at all. How useless exactly? Well… I completed the main story quest, and somehow managed to not even visit one of the larger maps at all. I didn’t even realize that it was there. For a moment I was excited. I thought that this would be some grand epilogue or endgame content that would show the state of the world after my victory. Incorrect.
The map opens up the same way, talking to that cute little Dwarf scout talking about how horrible the place is. She and my character also talk about the big bad I just finished killing (oh, yeah, spoilers) as if he was still alive! So, clearly, not endgame content, not an epilogue. I just managed to miss an entire map.
This huge worlds play almost no part in your quests. Every now and then you have to find a party member here and there, but these worlds exist exclusively for grinding and side quests. They aren’t really a part of the narrative in any way. You don’t see the world changing around you. You wipe out one set of bad guys only to have them be replaced by another set of bad guys. Your choices have no impact on these worlds, and every story mission and narrative plot point takes place in their own, linear maps.
Why did I just wander around the Hinterlands for four hours? Just to make Varric happy? Why did I scourer the Western Approach for darkspawn dens? Just to raise my Influence? Which seems to be a completely arbitrary number, by the way, and speaking of arbitrary:
Characters, Story, Decisions, None of it Means Anything.
This is the worst crop of characters I have seen in a BioWare game. Except Blackwall. and Sera. Ok, and Varric. They’re all awesome. But everyone else is a complete and total bore. I loathed talking to Solas as not only is he a boring character, but talks slower than molasses in January. Dorian practically said the same thing over and over again “Tevinter sucks, but its my home!” I didn’t talk to Vivienne once after she joined my party and Cassandra… WOW, how boring.
I usually have to wrestle with who I’m going to take out in my party because I like everyone too much. Inquisition had the exact opposite problem. I couldn’t decide who I wanted to take because I simply didn’t care enough. I played a straight male character (usually my first playthrough in a BioWare game, and then I branch out for all my other playthroughs… which there won’t be this time) and they way I played him, he wouldn’t have romanced anyone in the game. I forced a relationship with Cassandra because, well, I didn’t really see any other option.
The story is bland as hell. You are once again a “chosen one.” The only one who can defeat the big bad before he gains some sort of supernatural power and destroys the world. Yawn. There are lots of moments about nature of faith and the role of organized religion in society and that stuff is really interesting, but the plot isn’t about that. It’s about destroying the big bad before he destroys everything else.
Dragon Age: Origins was interesting because, depending on what starting path you chose, you could have been a poor beggar begging for scraps and rise up in power to become something special. I loved my Alieange Elf playthrough for that very reason. You have to struggle with racism if you play as an Elf or Dwarf, fear if you play a mage, and political turmoil and the death of your family if you play a noble. Even Dragon Age II, a vastly inferior game in just about every way, had a more interesting story and characters. Your charged with defending your family during a time of uprising and turmoil. Make the wrong decision and members of your family start dying off. You have to make big decisions about members of your party, and if your party members disapprove of you enough, they can leave or turn on you.
Inquisition has none of this. The approval system doesn’t seem to have any weight behind it, and a high disapproval is easily corrected by a side quest. Cassandra wouldn’t give me the time of day in the beginning and she seemed to disagree with everything I did. One side quest and we were getting it on in the woods outside Skyhold (Wouldn’t it be really cold?). I went out of my way to earn Vivienne’s disapproval because I disliked her so much, still no consequences. And speaking of consequences!
Wait, it’s over? That’s it? That can’t be it…
The game ends in a boss fight… Depending on your level, a very easy boss fight. Not a single member of my party died during this fight. I kept waiting for something more to happen, a second stage or something, but nothing. There wasn’t even any build up to the boss fight, it just started. And then it ended. I got to “party” with my party (hehe) at the end, a quick little scene with your love interest in the end… Then the credits.
I’ll give the game a little credit, I was forced to make some very difficult decisions during the course of the game. The result of those decisions? A brief little narration at the end telling me what my decisions have done for the world. BioWare broke the first rule of visual story telling, show, don’t tell. All that my choices and countless hours of game play have gotten me is a stupid boss fight and a little narration at the end? It’s basically the ending of Super Mario Bros. All I had to do was jump over Bowser and the game was over. Nothing I did mattered, nothing I did changed how the story played out and unless I really missed something, there were certainly no possibility for multiple endings. And I found that little bit after the credits really confusing. I won’t spoil it for you, but if it played out the way it seemed like it did, they’ve just gotten rid of one of the best parts of the universe for no reason at all.
This game sucks you in with a seemingly endless amount of things to do, quests to partake, resources to find and items to craft in a vast and interesting world. But when it comes down to it, the game’s shallow and uninteresting story and your lack of real impact on the world and that story. You’re meant to be the chosen one, but the ease in which you accomplish your task makes it seem like any Joe Everyman could succeed in your task. The fact that there are zero consequences for your actions and decisions is, in my humble opinion, unforgivable. This game makes the choice machine that was Mass Effect 3’s ending look like freaking Shakespeare. Dragon Age: Inquisition is winning a lot of Game of the Year awards but the only award it deserves is “Most Improvement.” But when the game you’re following up is Dragon Age II, that’s really not saying much.
Kyle Johannessen is a Writer and Director of Films living in Boston and an avid player of video games. He usually doesn’t like being a contrarian, but damn it this game sucked.