I don’t love Bioware and I don’t hate them either. Overall, the company’s games get an honest “meh” out of me. When I first tried Dragon Age, I think it was the second one and this didn’t help my impression. DA: Inquisition was what finally brought my attention to the series leading me to get Origins on sale and really enjoying the little I played out of it so far. Very honestly, I bought into the hype of the game. I love fantasy and when I’m playing Dungeons and Dragons, the dwarf might be my go-to race and if we’re talking about a fantasy game where I have to lead my followers into victory with huge choices to make that shape the story, I’m going to salivate.
DA:I has been out for a couple months now and I’ve been able to take my gameplay so far and compare it to what might have spoiled me in action RPGs and that is The Elder Scrolls. I won’t be comparing it to other franchises like Mass Effect since this is more from the perspective of a fantasy lover and I can’t compare it to turn based RPGs. Dragon Age and Elder Scrolls might be apples and oranges in certain ways but there are so many similarities for what they’re trying to accomplish. Let’s break this into chapters.
1) Why Am I Obsessed With TES?
Morrowind is damn fun and Oblivion is absolutely fantastic. In Oblivion, you go through a tutorial dungeon that tells you almost everything you need to know right before Patrick Stewart dies. You will have to get used to sleeping when the leveling meter is full before you level up but its “figure it out yourself” method of running quests gave a sense of satisfaction when you completed anything. You leave your first dungeon and the game tells you to go explore and do whatever you’d like. You need to go find the deceased emperor’s son but it’s okay if you get distracted. Even visually, the game from 2005 has aged very well.
Then came Skyrim, a game that set the bar so high to me that if a new RPG promises open-world, there will be expectation to uphold. The game is so alive and fresh. The character faces don’t look as awkward as Oblivion’s anymore and there are hundreds of mods to go through. There aren’t as many games that have had my attention and dedication as Skyrim. I will sit for hours upon hours playing through even if I have already done the scenarios just for the sake of trying different races.
2) Player Characters
Yeah, you can customize your character in Skyrim but good luck going through all the settings figuring out if you’re absolutely sure that you’re ready to move on. Nords were my go-to at first but then I decided to try orc and realized how much fun it is trying to slam an enchanted hammer into someone’s face. But there are many other races including Argonian, a lizard based race that can even breathe under water. There’s a good sense of diversity to pick from and while Oblivion and the games before asked what your focuses on skills might go towards, you could still try other ways of killing things. If your focus was on spellcasting, you can still pick up a mace and build up melee skills.
DA:I should be diverse in character building, right? You can pick a race and customize the features and even skin color, eye color, facial shapes, tattoos and more. This is nice but, what about the races? Turns out that you’re stuck with humans, elves, qunari and dwarves. That’s not horrible but, it’s not great either. I love playing a dwarves and elves can be fun. The only standout race is the qunari with horns and different skin colors. I can understand the appeal to them for people who want to play as tanks but otherwise, I don’t find them particularly interesting.
One of the worst parts for me on character creation for Dragon Age Inquisition might have been the beards. Beards can make a character much more badass and in Inquisition, you have options for beards, but they can look really awful. While Skyrim’s selection of beards can look more like they naturally go with your character, my first character in Inquisition looked like he had his drawn on as if you took a picture of someone, used a paint brush from Photoshop and did the job. This is a minor complaint with the fact that not everyone wants to have a beard.
In tabletop RPGs, you pick your class and if you’re a wizard, you’re going to be doing wizard things. Some RPGs will allow you hybrid classes together under certain limitations. In Skyrim, you’re not stuck doing one form of combat but in Inquisition, I can only do mage things if the mage class is what I picked. Sure, that’s how most video game RPGs will be but at least tabletop allows you the option of using a backup weapon like a crossbow if you’re a wizard.
I’ll use the tabletop RPG titled Dark Heresy to illustrate my point. I have a priest who primarily uses a flame thrower or speech to do do damage but, my GM was nice enough to give me a big ass sword to do a huge load of damage if I rolled well enough. What I’m saying is that the games that give me options for a character I already have are spoiling me.
3) Environment and Areas
Morrowind is a huge game and with how old it is, it has aged very well and the same goes for Oblivion. Playing Oblivion while listening to symphonic power metal makes for a relaxing night but I’ve lost count on how many times Skyrim has made me say “holy shit” to myself.
From the inside of cabins to the outside world, the attention to detail given to Skyrim is something I’ve long appreciated. Grass, trees, rocks and so many other everyday parts of nature are designed in a way to immerse the player. The weather even changes from a nice cloudy sky to rain and the night sky is something to behold. During the winter, do you ever just stop and look up at night? It’s pretty, isn’t it? Skyrim tries to adapt that feeling into the game and the first time I saw an aurora while traveling during gameplay, I didn’t know how to react. It’s beautiful and you can’t just make it happen; you have to wait until it shows.
You feel day and night actually passing you in Skyrim and there’s a giant and open world. Your map says “you need to travel all the way over here and you need to figure out how to get there.” Your first lengthy travel is to go talk to The Greybeards who have summoned you. Is there a trail of breadcrumbs to find them? Nope. Now, go find them and don’t get yourself killed in the process.
You can fast travel but only after you have visited the location you’re going to already and what this does is it makes you go out and explore with some very good distractions along the way. How Skyrim is designed allows the places I’ve visited to be more memorable to me. I’ve been able to think back to gameplay, remember specific things about where I’ve been and think about how cool it was.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the same experience from Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s about as open-world in the same sense as Destiny. You look at an overall map, point the cursor on the place you want to go and then explore separate regions. It’s not a horrible downgrade but, you can’t really say that you took a long journey from your base all the way to the Hinterlands. Instead, you explore smaller maps to find more rifts to take care of or find quests to do that don’t require too much thought or work.
This would all be forgivable if I could get myself to care about the areas inside Dragon Age: Inquisition. But, I don’t care. I’m playing in areas where time never quite seems to move forward. It’s always daytime with the sun shining in The Hinterlands. It’s alway raining in Strom Coast. Doesn’t the rain ever end? Do people experience night time in The Hinterlands? Could I ever see a sunset there?
Nothing that I have explored really drew me in. The lands of DA:I were bland to me and I can’t interact with much. I can’t steal weapons that are just lying there. Mean while in Skyrim, I can grab a shit ton of skulls and go to my house where I will dump all of them creating a skull storage house. My problem with the environments of DA:I is that not much is memorable and the best part of them is the background. I even avoid Forbidden Oasis and tried looking for quests and XP elsewhere just because I hated it enough. I think Bioware could have done much better. Even if games like Lords of the Fallen are more along the lines of a linear RPG, there’s still more memorable places in that game. If you want to create an open-world experience, you have to work on a design that draws us in and makes us want to explore.
Obviously, this is what matters the most. It doesn’t matter how the game looks so long as it plays well and is fun. Both games have a fun storyline but, it’s not all about the climax of the game but, it’s about the journey.
This is where the game becomes like an apples and oranges comparison because even with Dragon Age: Inquisition, there are two ways of playing the combat part. You can either treat it like an action RPG and you will primarily control your own character as your party runs off its own AI or you can use the overview mode. In overview, the action is automatically paused by default and this is something you’re able to change. But, this allows you to tell your party members what to do and where. After this, you can hold a button to let time move forward to see what happens. It’s not a bad way of handling combat in a strategic way and it can give a bit of a tabletop RPG feel.
In Skyrim, you’re not able to just pause and look around for what options you have. You need to think on your feet sometimes. What’s nice about the environment in Skyrim is that you’re able to take advantage of it by taking cover when a dragon is breathing fire. Large rocks have been so helpful. I have also played peek-a-boo with giant spiders just so I could aim and shoot my arrows at the bastards.
What Skyrim nailed that the previous games didn’t is that when you swing at something with a melee weapon, you feel it. The animation, the blocking causing a push back and a controller that is able to vibrate all makes for more of a tense fight. I don’t get that in Dragon Age and this is something that keeps me immersed and tense.
With the positives in mind, it’s hard to say which way of playing the game is better because it truly depends on the player and what they want to do. However, the system in DA:I is not the tightest. Very often, your party doesn’t know what it’s doing and might get itself cornered and will consume all of your health potions because they’re too dumb to get out of the way from a swinging sword.
What does kill my enjoyment for DA:I is when I’m fighting something that takes forever to kill and isn’t even hard. Bears are a huge example. Fuck the bears. I have not been so pissed off more than having to chase a bear that won’t stop chasing a small creature while my party is trying to do some damage to it. Does Bioware want to tell me that if a bear is chasing around a small animal, arrows won’t put that chase to the side to focus on something trying to cause harm?
In Dragon Age: Inquisition, your character’s background isn’t really picked by you and so, the character doesn’t exactly feel like my own when I have him exchange dialogue with NPCs. Your character is supposed to have personality while in Skyrim, your character is like a fantasy Gordon Freeman with lines here and there. But, the difference this turns into is that Dragon Age may feel more like a choose-your-adventure type of role-play while in Skyrim, you can wear your character like a suit especially when the story doesn’t rely on cutscenes and instead makes you feel like you’re involved in what’s happening.
Ultimately, your character in DA:I is directed by your choices and it gives you more freedom than more traditional RPG video games. The only thing really holding the role-play back is how the choice the player picks for what the character will say can feel different from what the character actually says. In other words, what your character says may not be as harsh as what the choice you picked implies.
I’ve talked a lot about much of the gameplay aspects and characters but, none of that matters without the most important part to any role-playing game:
4.3) The Journey
Role-playing games are not fully about the destination. It’s also about the travel from the beginning of the game to the payoff. Unfortunately, this is where Dragon Age: Inquisition begins to fall apart for me. In Skyrim, you begin by going through an introductory dungeon teaching you about exploration and the basics to playing. After this, you can do whatever you want. Travel anywhere in the map and you’re bound to find more dungeons, caves and quests to do.
Dragon Age doesn’t give the same type of freedom and instead, you go to a map and pick an area that you want to go to. I want to be fair and state that Bioware made it clear the game would not have the same kind of open world as Skyrim. Once the game loads, you start exploring and quests will be more pointed out to you. You start in the Hinterlands and you’ll be combating enemies but take a look at what else there is. You can claim landmarks and learn some lore, which is a little fun for me. Meanwhile, you learn lore in Skyrim primarily by finding books and reading them or talking to the people.
RPGs have the character grow and gain XP to build up. In Skyrim, you do that by practicing the basics on playing the game. Slashing, blocking, conjuring and shooting arrows are all skills that you increase which then help you get to the next character level and you can bump up to the next level with a trip inside a cave. I have been able to play though the entire Skyrim story without any real issues of not being at a high enough level because between parts of the story, I would get distracted by something else to do and then would be rewarded with better armor, weapons and skills to take on what comes next.
What’s important here is that Skyrim’s quests are fun. Solving a murder mystery leading you to discover a child tried to summon a demon to kill an old woman who ran an orphanage is damn enjoyable. What did Dragon Age: Inquisition have?
While sometimes listening to my party members bicker at each other, the quests simply haven’t been as fun. Delivering flowers to a grave for a widower was okay. The player also gets to close rifts. So many rifts. And it’s the same process: kill two waves of demons and close it. There can be about 4-5 rifts in each area and you may run into issues like having a mage only making attacks the enemy is immune to. Eventually, the rifts become boring but, there’s more.
You begin each area with a camp that has a decent handful of people in it. The reason they’re brought up is because for some reason, the leader of the inquisition has to go out and gather resources for the sake of XP, power and influence in the game. Is that actually fun for people? Do people also enjoy looking through a scope to locate shards and collect them? What about quests like hunting bears that, like I mentioned, take a long time to kill and aren’t even difficult but actually tedious?
Bears aren’t the only thing that are tedious to me. The whole damn gameplay has suffered from this problem. I know it’s not fair for me to bring up The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion if I’m comparing to Skyrim but, while the player closes rifts in DA:I, the player also closes Oblivion gates in TES:O. Closing Oblivion gates take longer while there are plenty to go around but, look at how they’re designed. I enter an Oblivion gate, get to the main tower in the realm and close the gate. The thing is, each Oblivion gate has a different way of getting to the main towers and you need to figure out how to do it. That’s fun.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is just not fun. Each area I unlock has me doing a lot of the same thing. Set up camps, close rifts, gather resources, collect shards. I don’t want to do any of that after doing it for the first few areas I start exploring. After thirty hours into the game, I’m not even done with the storyline nor have I even encountered a dragon and I’ve just lost the ability to care.
DA:I was one of the most hyped games this year and there are journalists raving it as game of the year. Meanwhile, I’m comparing it to a game that is three years old. Why? Because when I play tabletop and video game RPGs, I play them for the sense of adventure. Not only did I just go through the main storyline for Skyrim again recently but I’m doing it again now just for the sake of playing as a different race and I never get bored doing so.
I may feel foolish for catching on to Inquisition’s hype but, is it a bad game? I can’t say that it is. It’s certainly not broken and there are people that like it. I want to love Inquisition. What I am saying is that we have had so much better than Dragon Age: Inquisition. Not only can Bioware and EA do better, I think we should start demanding they deliver.