Warning: This article may contain some minor Inquisition spoilers but I endeavored to keep them at a minimum!
As a fan of the Dragon Age gaming series, I knew going in playing Inquisition was going to be a challenge. That challenge became even greater than I thought as I started to play the game. So I hate played Inquisition until I came to love it in a weird sort of way. Here’s how it went down.
I hopped aboard the Dragon Age bandwagon early on playing the first in the series Origins. As a a huge gamer who trends toward RPGs (role playing games) Origins was fantastic. Its still in heavy rotation when I’m fortunate to have time to play video games.
The successor to Origins was simply titled Dragon Age II and it wasn’t great but it was playable and I enjoyed it. With so few options for women to play as a female protagonist it was still better than the alternative. Fans of the series were disappointed and Bioware promised to do better with the third installation.
When Bioware announced the third installment of the series was named Inquisition the doubts started to surface. The name carries some heavy negative vibes even though ultimately it meshes somewhat the storyline. Still, it was an inauspicious beginning.
Inquisition came out on November 18, 2014 to mostly glowing reviews. I read many of them but stayed away from anything that might contain too many spoilers. I knew it would be the Christmas holidays before I had any time to indulge myself and play the game. The anticipation would be worth it I told myself as I waited not so patiently for my opportunity to play it.
Santa was good and the game was in my stocking as I woke up on Christmas morning. The day had arrived but alas I was hosting Christmas dinner for a group of friends. My guilty pleasure would have to wait a bit longer.
Following a day of good company, good food and excellent wine the house was finally mine. My whole body was tingling as I opened the package and opened the box. My moment had arrived!!
I bid the world goodbye and settled in to enjoy the moment. I turned on my vintage XBox 360 (more on that later) and slid the disc in. The tingle turned to waves of emotion. I could hardly wait.
The game started with a resounding boom jolting me out of my romantic reverie. This wasn’t going to be a gentle introduction I anticipated I said to myself as the game rolled on. A few minutes later I arrived at the character creation screen and thus the disappointment began.
For many fans of RPGs this is one of the singular most important moments in the game. The opportunity to create your own living breathing persona of whatever you choose to be is what attracts many gamers to the genre. The ability to play that character as you choose and frame who they are destined to be is what keeps them in the game. Loving that process and how the game allows that to go down is what makes gamers fanatic about a gaming series.
Allow me to digress momentarily and fill you in on my favorite gaming franchises. The cream de la cream is The Elder Scrolls series which I began in earnest circa 2000 with the original XBox console version of Morrowind. I still occasionally play that game which definitely stands the test of time. Next in line is the Mass Effect series followed closely by the Fable series and finally the Dragon Age series. All these games are in heavy rotation in my playing arsenal.
Of those four, Dragon Age had one advantage over them all and that was character creation. The female characters were badass and you could make them attractive or not as you so chose. The features were female friendly as were the clothing and hairstyles. While options were limited, you could create a good character with relatively little effort. More on this later but you simply don’t get that from Inquisition. It’s disappointing.
Also, as the game was getting ready to launch Bioware encouraged you to utilize The Dragon Age Keep prior to starting the game. Inquistion does not allow you to upload old save files but it does gather gaming data from your Origins account. The method is very imperfect however and through three times utilizing it with a gamertag it has never gotten the decisions correct. You have to manually create your decisions.
Further, only twice during the actual game did I notice a real direct connection to those decisions. I won’t spoil any plotline here but the effort seems useless having played the game over 300 hours and running right now. As a frequent and longtime player of both Dragon Age: Origins as well as the sequel I felt extremely disconnected from the series. In many ways, Inquisition strikes you as a completely new game independent of any connection to the first two games in the series.
I know that sounds weird since the game includes a few characters who appeared in DA:2 most particularly Cassandra Pentaghast and Varric Tethras. Also, Hawke plays a major role but is completely butchered in the process. A few characters show up from Origins (depending on your game choices there) but they are mostly irrelevant to the storyline with the exception of Morrigan and Flemeth and while happy to see them again like Hawke they too were disappointing and far removed from their original characters.
Yes, there is a disconnect there that was palpable for me. Starting with the choice to make DA:2 the focus of the sequel which was a slap in the face to fans of the series. I have one word for you Bioware. Yuck.
Fans of the series pretty much viewed that game as mediocre at best and a step back from Origins. Yet, you chose to make it the focus while pretty much dissing the first, and truly great, game in Origins? I’m not sure what handle you have on your fanbase.
Really, Inquisition didn’t pay homage to the series as much as it snatched bits and pieces from it in order to masquerade as a sequel. Instead, playing the game you feel the developers cared more about being in competition with other large gaming series such as the ones mentioned above mixed in with some serious competition thrown at games such as Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning (which I loved).
Inquisition freely draws from other games as if to say “what you did we can do better.” That it largely succeeds doesn’t detract from the feeling you were being played in that competition. It didn’t win any favors with this gamer. Unless you count laughing at the number of times you ran across something “borrowed” from another game. A number that is quite high mind you.
Still, as I hate played the game over the course of the past three months, I came to love it in an odd way. As a standalone game it was incredibly good. Great even. As a sequel in the series? It failed miserably.
I mentioned earlier I started out playing the game on the XBox 360? I started three characters before settling on one I liked and began a real playthrough. Sadly, as I was nearing the conclusion of the game my game disc got scratched making it impossible to complete the game without either downloading it or purchasing a new one. This sadly happens with that aging console and I had a decision to make.
Flush with cash from winning a fantasy football league, I purchased an XBox One. That might be my best purchase ever. Ok, I’m kidding but really the game is meant to be played on it. To say its a big difference might be an understatement. Far quicker loading times, much better sound and graphics quality and generally just an overall improvement in the gameplay itself.
Now that the stage is set, here are my thoughts on the individual aspects of the game. Warning: there might be spoilers!! With that said, let’s forge ahead.
Some of my criticism of the storyline can be gleaned from my review of the game. The storyline is recognizable for fans of the game who understand most if not all of the backstory. That the game seemed disconnected from its predecessors didn’t prevent me from playing it and ultimately enjoying it but the disappointment in the storyline and treatment of the prior games was palpable throughout my game play.
One area the storyline seemed somewhat limited is for gamers who might prefer playing as a rogue. I preferred playing a rogue in Origins because it was basically the best thing ever and second only to playing as a mage. Conversely, in DA:2 I far preferred playing as a mage over any other class. Whether by design or not Inquisition continues the trend started in the second game.
I felt playing as a mage or warrior carried more significance to the storyline than the rogue character. A rogue Inquisitor simply doesn’t have the same kind of personal connection to the storyline as the other two classes. Sure, saving the world is fine and dandy and being self sufficient unlocking doors is great but the major fighting is between the Mages and the Templars and you get the opportunity to have a personal stake in the choices you make. I didn’t get that same feel as a rogue.
Again, the storyline seemed more borrowed from the series instead of flowing naturally from it. That it was taken from the least desirable of the games in the series made it all the worse.
Leveling, Specializations, Races and Classes:
I really have few complaints here. There is a leveling cap which I reached but I felt it to be a decent one. It seems likely that cap will be raised with added DLC as well. The cap for leveling Inquisition points doesn’t feel as strong. I felt it could be higher and wonder if that too will go up with upcoming DLC. I guess we will see.
Playing as a Qunari just felt weird man. Again, I play as a girl and while I loved my character I felt the voice options should have been different for the Qunari character. In fact, the lack of voice options was a major disappointment. Which is my clever way of taking you to the next section.
Characters and creation:
My reaction to the the Dragon Age character creation initially was extremely negative. Frankly it isn’t very user friendly on initial usage and it operates counter intuitively. Once you get the hang of it, the creation process goes a lot smoother but it still has severe limitations for female characters. There is a decided lack of quality and variety with the hairstyles for female characters. They suck.
Added on top of the decided lack of voice options and this is perhaps my biggest disappointment with the game. I like the characters just fine. Love them even but the disappointment remains like a bad taste in the mouth. The lack of quality hairsyles for the female characters is frankly unacceptable and big departure from what I once considered a strength of the game series.
Verdict: Major disappointment
The combat system makes use of a tactical camera which I found more annoying than gratifying. So much so that I abandoned it early on. Like the character creator, I believe it could become more user friendly with greater use but having spent so much time and effort figuring out other aspects of the game that became disposable. Tactics are rather important but with careful planning and party control you get by without more than the use of the tac cam. Tac cam sucks anyway.
Here to is where I felt playing as a mage or warrior was an advantage. My rogue character felt rather weak and wasn’t the damage dealer I had grown to love from Origins. Upon leveling a bit however, that concern disappeared. Still, the combat system for rogues in both DA:2 and Inquisitions is poor. Here is where Origins really does shine. Rogue combat there was awesome.
Verdict: Almost deal breaking disappointment
Armor and Gear:
The good news is that weapons and armor are once again customized and interchangeable among race and class. The bad news is that the look of your armor doesn’t change a lot as the protagonist as it is pretty vanilla. Armour choices in Origins were interchangeable and completely and totally badass with a ton of variety. The successors? Not so much.
Allow me an opportunity to weigh in on misogyny and sexism in video games. Its real and its spectacular. The gaming industry has a problem and there are far better women than I out there talking about it. Unfortunately, they are receiving some rather disturbing and serious threats over it too.
Portrayals of women in gaming can fairly well be represented by two dichotomies. The oversexed “whatever” and the far less sexy “smart one.” Origins handled armor well. You had options and the look for women could be sexy or not depending on your choices. The sexiness was handled tastefully. DA:2 armor wasn’t as good but it was acceptable and you did have a variety as well.
As a self professed feminist and gamer, I don’t mind dressing somewhat sexy in a video game. Women are beautiful and sexy creatures. Having the option to dress a little more sexy than you might (or might not) otherwise is a good thing for female gamers. Speaking from personal experience, I enjoy it.
To be sure a lot of it just goes too far. I think the industry knows it. I know the industry is aware of the criticism. I could be wrong, but I felt the game tried hard to avoid any criticism of overly sexing up its female characters. If so, I appreciate the sentiment and thought because its important that we as women be heard and that the industry be responsive.
Allow me to add my own voice. I don’t mind being viewed as sexy and I don’t mind playing as a sexy gaming character. However, what I despise is being treated as an object, a possession or a plaything. The Princess that needed rescuing by her Knight in Prince Charming if you will (I loved the Mario Brothers gaming series though!).
Also, the armor at the end was significantly better than what you started with so it got better. Still, overall I was disappointed in the aesthetics of the armor for women. Also, the pajama look a the crib Bioware? Nope.
Crafting Armor and Potions:
There is a game glitch that affects this portion of my review and I’m will try hard not to spoil anything but it does affect my scoring. However, based on how I gameplay I use only 4 or 5 potion, tonic and grenade variation so this is not a big deal.
It prevents you from completing some minor quests which is rather annoying. Some of the recipes are difficult to obtain. Obtaining the ingredients to upgrade is super time consuming but oddly it fits into the storyline enough that I didn’t mind picking super duper amounts of elfroot.
Mindful of my no major spoiler promise I will say only one thing. There are options in all three categories that with upgrades and usage will make your character virtually invincible and which are rather necessary on some of the major boss fights you will face. Its well worth your effort to find them and use them!
Companions and Romance:
I spoke a bit about Varric and the other characters who appeared in prior games earlier. At first, I didn’t feel like Varric was true to his character in DA:2 at all. Now that I’ve completed the game and put significant playtime into it, my disappointment isn’t quite as strong.
I’m mindful that the game takes place 10 years after Origins and one year after DA:2. The events at the end of that game and during Inquisition aren’t to be taken lightly. In real life they have life altering consequences for people and that should be no different in gaming.
I have zero complaints about the romance portion of the game. Well almost. I know the creators took some flack over the sex scenes in Origins (to which I say screw ’em) and DA:2 was rather vanilla. Inquisition follows this trend and that’s fine. You have to work on the romance (gifting is not an option) through dialogue and I am totally fine with that too.
Inquisition continues the series trend in allowing romance options between same sex characters and even features a trans character! I cannot express enough my admiration for the creators in including that character and for the discussion over the character in the game. More of that please gaming creators.
Verdict: Rather perfect
I am truly glad that achievements are still an option on the One because I love them. A lot. The achievement system is fine but bare in mind I’m pretty much happy they are there. While there are definitely hierarchies in achievements throughout games I can say with all honesty I have zero complaints here too.
In summary, while this game isn’t the homage to the series I would have liked its still a very good game. I hate played it at first but ultimately I came to love it on its own merits. As a sequel, it’s not that good. As a stand alone game however? It’s really good indeed.