Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014)

 It's peculiar. Or funny. Either way, I find it interesting, that The Witcher 3 and Dragon Age: Inquisition were in production and were released around the same time, DA:I in late 2014 and The Witcher 3 in mid-2015. What I find funny is, that they both are a bit similar in how they approach an open world concept: instead of fully open world, you have larger maps which provide you with multiple locations and quest lines. But in The Witcher 3, these locations are huge, filled with villages, cities and points of interest whereas DA:I reminds me more of an old school game, where those locations resemble levels rather than real open world areas.  There where TW3 lets you go where you want, DA:I feels more like it's putting you in a corridor with multiple paths.

Dragon Age has never been my favourite RPG series. BioWare did much better with its sci-fi epic Mass Effect whereas Dragon Age has always felt like a forced attempt at making "cool" fantasy RPG. It throws in political intrigue, sexuality, war and all that, but in the end, it just never felt like a well-written series to me. None of the games in the series has managed to pass the level of cliches and this is more than visible in DA:I, where I stopped caring about the main plot around 10 hours in. There's some main baddie half demon god man thingy who wants to conquer the world and all that jazz. You obviously are the chose saviour, as you have this anchor thing on your hand and you soon are the head of an Inquisition, aimed to take out the trash. Then there are all kinds of other political, racial and what not stuff going on, but I really couldn't muster up interest keeping up what it all was trying to be.

The way DA:I handles its story and lore dumps is a huge issue within the game. It never manages to make anything feel very important, whereas TW3 manages to make even the side missions feel important, if not to the world, to the people who give those missions. It has a lot to do with how these different worlds have been built: TW3 manages to feel like a real, living world where done things have consequences, DA:I doesn't. The way DA:I is constructed makes it feel almost like an MMORPG, where the world state doesn't change when you do missions. Everything goes on just as ever, you might not see the mission anymore, but you most likely see the mission giver, who's in process of giving that mission to someone else and the end result has no effect on the world around you or around the people whom the mission supposedly affected.  Of course, after the game ends, you'll get a slideshow, in which your most notable things are collected, but none of it is really that visible during the game itself.

The game itself is divided into two sections: the main inquisition keep and the mission areas. In the keep you can do such useless tasks as change free time apparel of the hero and play with the keep decoration. Neither of those has any real effect on anything, Then there are stables, where you can get different kinds of mounts, an enemy research table, where you can get bonuses against enemies, blacksmith where you can upgrade stuff and the war table, where you can open up new areas and perform tasks from material gathering to politics.

The war table has one of the worst design choices of the game, especially if you want to do all the additional tasks. Each tasks can be solved by using one of the three main generals, of which one is military, one is political and one is a spy. Each person uses a different amount of time to do the task. This time can range from about 24 hours to a couple of minutes and it all is real-time. So if a task takes 24 hours it really is solved only after 24 hours. This design choice makes DA:I feel even more like an MMO game, where nothing can happen too fast unless you pay for it, but in this case, you don't, you just wait. Thankfully, the new game areas are unlocked with power points you gather by playing the game missions, like closing rifts or what have you.

Speaking of the game missions themselves, they also have the air of MMO in them. Most of them feel like objective gathering tasks, be it closing rifts or killing dragons. Most of the time you just run around the game map, discover hotspots and do something, which usually is picking up stuff or just plain killing something. In these areas, you also gather upgrade items, like minerals or plants. In the end though, especially when you get to the really good arms and armour upgrades, it's just simpler to buy the stuff, as at that point you probably have so much money gathered, that running around is just waste of time.

As I've compared DA:I to TW3, I'll do it again. The Witcher 3 might not be the most brilliant game in all of its aspects, but it does manage to make even the side missions a bit more interesting. Sure, there's a good deal of optional scavenger hunting, but there's also a good deal of missions, which feel like worthwhile tasks to do. DA:I rarely manages to do so and most of the time the things you do in it, you do, because they happened to be on your task list. If that wouldn't be the case, you'd probably forget.

DA:I, like the series as a whole, doesn't really shine brightly in any area. As far gameplay goes, it's a competent production and that's probably the highest praise I can give to it.  The combat is okay, the crafting is okay, the graphics are okay and the characters are just that, okay. Technically speaking there's nothing much wrong with as such, but it all has a feel of blandness about it like it was done by people who either were too familiar with RPG fantasy tropes or not familiar enough. Most of the time it just feels like it's too tied up with a too conventional way of thinking.

 As far the story and the narrative goes, DA:I never does manage to tie up the semi-open world aesthetic to a good narrative mechanics. The same was as a problem with the first game but was done better in Dragon Age II, where the plot always moved with the personal story of Hawke. DA:II wasn't a great game as such, but it was engrossing in a way DA:I rarely manages to be. It does succeed at that at times, at best it does with the final DLC chapter, where the fate of the Inquisition is decided. It works well because the chapter itself is a very straight forwarded pipeline, but during the missions, it still fails to bring the comrades of the inquisitor front and centre and it's easy to miss plot-centric lines.

So there you go. It took me almost a year play DA:I through, as I just couldn't muster up interest to do it any faster. There it lingered in my hard drive and unlike some other games I deleted before finishing them, I just let it linger until one day I was watching the closing credits. And now I can finally delete it and probably never play it again.