I'm bringing this back to life with something I wrote a long time ago but should've posted here...
Dragon Age: Inquisition Review
Welp, I finally got around to playing Inquisition. I do like it more than not, but I had a lot of problems with it. What better way to vent my frustrations than to write an excessively-long essay about them?
1) Dull open world
There are entire zones that don’t really matter; the side quests are simplistic, repetitive, unimaginative, and boring; things like shards and astrariums require massive amounts of grinding for little reward.
The saving grace is that most of this is optional, though you will have to do at least some to get enough power to progress the main questline. Also, you can easily get “tricked” into doing quests or spending points that seem important or at least useful, but actually aren’t.
2) Protagonist is poorly-defined/has little backstory or connection to the world and story
The Inquisitor is an empty shell. Why is he involved? Why should he care about anything that happens? Origins provides answers to these questions by including six origin stories you can play that detail your character’s personal relationships, give him strong personal reasons to care about the game’s story, and give him a “baseline” from which to grow as a character. DA2 has only one basic origin story with some variations, but it still accomplishes the same things. Inquisition barely touches on your backstory, except for a few minor conversations and war table missions—which is not enough to emotionally invest you in it or your character. While leaving the player character open to player definition is a good thing, Inquisition leaves it too open.
2.5) Both 1) and 2) are probably a result of trying and failing to emulate Skyrim
DA2 and Skyrim were both released in 2011. Skyrim was vastly more successful, despite lacking features that were added to DA2 to make it more “commercial,” such as a voiced protagonist. EA and/or Bioware likely decided that emulating Skyrim was a formula for success. The problem is that Bethesda games are very different from Bioware games. Combining the two styles, if it can work, needs to be done with greater care than was used in the case of Inquisition.
3) Limited dialogue choices (leading to limited character definition)
Closely related to point 2, not only does your character lack a backstory to tie him to the world, you lack agency to define your character’s personality. Origins, by having an unvoiced protagonist and tons of dialogue options, allowed you an amazing amount of variety in how you could role-play your character. Its personality, morals, and beliefs were almost entirely up to you to decide. DA2 was much more limited, because there were really only 3 personalities to choose from (nice, witty, mean), but each of these was well-written, and the addition of voice acting made them engaging. Inquisition attempts to merge these two approaches, but it comes to an unsatisfactory compromise. The Inquisitor is fully voice-acted, and has more dialogue options than Hawke did in DA2. However, too many of the options are essentially different ways of saying the same thing. Furthermore, the voice acting is very bland, so that you can pick any choice without breaking character. (This was an issue in DA2—Hawke could seem like a maniac if you frequently switched between, for example, nice and mean responses.) But since the line delivery is bland, and many of your choices are illusory, the Inquisitor comes across as a very boring person almost no matter what you do, or what kind of person you intend for him to be.
4) You feel like the team's boss, not their buddy
Probably the biggest selling point of Bioware games is the incredible sense of camaraderie they make you feel with the characters in your party. In most Bioware games, a key aspect of that feeling of close friendship with pre-programmed NPC's with no actual minds of their own is that, though you are "in charge" of whatever mission you're on, you bond with most of your team members as social equals. You can joke and banter with them, argue with them (DA2 in particular gave many opportunities to do this), and bare your soul to them. While Inquisition retains some of that, "it's lonely at the top"--there is a distinct feeling that you, as the lofty savior of the world, are socially "above" your comrades. This makes your connections to them more formal and distant, and consequently less intimate and fulfilling. While most of the characters themselves are interesting in their own right, or at least have the potential to be, you can never connect to them the way you connect to your companions in Mass Effect or the other Dragon Age games.
4.5) Too many companions for the length of the story
Inquisition features one of Bioware’s largest casts in one of its shortest stories. This does a great disservice to its cast. While most of them are well-written and interesting, you don’t get the feeling of really getting to know them that most other Bioware games give. Morrigan, Alistair, and Leliana from the first game may not have had the benefit of all the improvements Inquisition features, such as companions interacting with each other independently of the player, but I find them much more memorable and interesting, because DAO gave me time to get to know them.
5) Yet another save-the-world plot
The main plot focuses on the wrong things. First, let me back up and describe the stories of the first two games. DAO had a very generic save-the-world-from-the-monsters story, but it used that as a backdrop to a sprawling political tale (or really, several interconnected political tales). The more political side of things had all sorts of interesting characters and choices, including an excellent villain in Loghain--a man who was deeply misguided, but understandably so, and posed a real threat. DA2 didn’t have much of a cohesive storyline—it was essentially “10 years in the life of some random loser in a fantasy city.” If there was a villain, it was the city itself, or Thedas’s flawed social systems. This is a love-it-or-hate-it approach, but at the very least, it has the virtue of being unique. Now we come to Inquisition. DAI was handed a very interesting “political” plot thread in the form of the Mages vs Templars conflict. However, it rushes through this, largely abandoning it after Corypheus (Cory, for short) appears. The rest of the game is focused on fighting Cory. Most political conflicts that arise along the way are ultimately due to Cory manipulating and/or mind-controlling people, instead of genuine differences of perspective. The exception to this is the ball in Orlais, which is an outstanding level, but is not enough to carry the game on its own, and suffers from not giving you a clear enough picture of what the different factions are like (because they don’t really appear outside of that one level). Having a game focused on saving the world from a villain could work, but that leads me to my next point.
5.25) Corypheus has a lot of wasted potential
When Cory first appeared in DA2, he was quite interesting—a person from ancient times who claimed to know certain truths about the world because of his unique experiences. Unfortunately, Inquisition doesn’t really expand on this. We don’t learn any more about him as a person, what makes him tick, or whether he’s even telling the truth. He is ultimately a dime-a-dozen evil overlord who wants to destroy the world and can’t be reasoned with. Furthermore, he never really accomplishes much. He creates the rifts and blows up a bunch of people at the Temple of Sacred Ashes, but he loses control of the rifts to the player character. He destroys your first base, but most of your people survive and you find a better one almost immediately (though this is actually a very well-presented portion of the game with an unexpectedly moving scene). After this point, Cory and his minions completely lose every encounter you have with them. This makes him feel less than imposing, as a villain of this type should.
To sum up: Inquisition has a generic plot, which could have been salvaged by an interesting villain. As it happens, the villain is generic. This could have been somewhat mitigated by having a villain who was at least threatening, but they couldn’t even manage that.
Now, this is mitigated by the plot twist in the DLC, which reveals that Cory wasn’t the true villain—someone else was behind everything. Still, for the majority of the game, you have to contend with a generic plot and a dull, unimposing villain. Cory absolutely could’ve been presented better, and it’s a shame that he wasn’t.
5.5) Chosen One player character
Origins had shades of this, but you really had to work to be recognized as a hero, and there was nothing particularly special about you other than being in the right place at the right time.
DA2 completely eschewed Chosen One tropes.
Inquisition does at least raise the question of whether you’re really the Herald of Andraste or were just in the right place at the right time, but you have unearned unique powers needed to save the world regardless, so everyone treats you like a savior without you really doing much.
5.75) “High fantasy” tone
High fantasy in itself is not a problem. However, the way the game makes use of that style is questionable. You rarely have to deal with commoners, which was an important part of the appeal of the first two games, because it gave them a “grounded” or down-to-earth feeling. Inquisition feels very disconnected from that.
Also, you face only one major setback (which turns out to work to your advantage). The game is so focused on making you feel powerful that it forgets that, to truly feel accomplished, you must overcome great adversity. Because you’re in charge of a massive military organization, you never have to go through the hard work, difficult choices, and potential failure the Warden and Hawke did.
6) Abandoning plot threads
The first two games heavily built up the Mages vs Templars conflict. Arguably, the entire point of DA2 was to set up the war between them. As previously alluded to, Inquisition resolves the war in its first act in favor of the much less interesting Corypheus storyline. It also removes the moral ambiguity from the situation by revealing that Cory was propping up both sides. If you liked DA2, this makes Inquisition somewhat disappointing as a follow-up.
You hold down attack, cast your powers, wait for the cooldowns to end, then recast until the bad guys die. There is little need to strategize, as in an RPG, or skillfully time attacks, as in an action game. Admittedly, this may be partially my fault for playing on Casual difficulty, but I was discouraged from playing on a higher difficulty because of the ridiculous barriers some enemies can use which make them take forever to die.
Taste in music is very subjective. That being said, while Inquisition does have some wonderful songs (“The Dawn Will Come” is breathtaking), the soundtrack as a whole lacks the unique identity those of the first two games had. Music also features far less prominently; long stretches of exploration go by with almost no musical accompaniment.
9) Maybe this is a nitpick
You don’t really have to upgrade Skyhold very much. It would’ve been nice to have to improve the defenses, upgrade the guards’ equipment, or make it self-sustaining. As it is, the place gets cleaned up/repaired automatically between missions, and the only upgrades you can make are purely cosmetic.
I do still like the game overall. Really, I'd say the characters save it, as is par for the course with Bioware. But it doesn't shine as much as it should even in that regard, which makes it frustrating.