Dragon Age: Inquisition is not a game that feels like a failure. It’s got a world’s worth of stunning environments to explore. Its characters are universally layered with compelling and cliché-defying personal story arcs. The combat can get tedious, sure, but it’s a soundly designed system with some bonkers dragon fights. And certainly it has sold. Yet the game still fails and it does so for the very same reason Mass Effect 3 failed — it doesn’t stick the landing.
Lest I give the impression that I’m picking nits over nonsensical cut scenes and weird star children, my problem with Mass 3’s ending was largely quite different from everybody else’s. I’m not talking about denouement. I’m talking about climax and how it relates to the rest of the game. Star child was incomprehensible, sure, but he’s not what made Mass 3’s climax bad. Likewise, the lackluster final confrontation with Corypheus isn’t what tanks Inquisition either.
The key to a memorable and satisfying ending isn’t the implication of what happens after the camera fades to black or even whatever tedious boss battle kicks it into gear. It’s the question of whether or not it fulfills the promise set up by the rest of the game. Like Mass Effect 3, Inquisition is a game that beats you over the head, telling you over and over that it’s about team and coalition building. You face a threat that requires uniting disparate factions and disparate people to face a common foe. You dare not face it alone or you’ll be too weak. So you spend a good 100+ hours working your way through the world and sending lackeys on assignments in the name of building a better, stronger Inquisition.
Cool. Cool cool. Shouldn’t it follow, however, that when you reach the final stage of events that the strength of your Inquisition should, oh I don’t know, matter? At least a little?
Let’s dive deeper (minor spoilers ahead)…
With the possible exception of Baldur’s Gate 2, a game so far removed from modern Bioware as to not be particularly relevant, I’ve long thought Mass Effect 2 is the best game Bioware has ever produced. (KOTOR also rattles around in there somewhere.) Yes, it’s slick in the way that all Bioware games are, but it also sets you up with a promise — this is a game in which you must build a team and the better, more united your team, the more likely you are to survive. And then, upon passing through the Omega 4 Relay, it does exactly that.
There is plasticity to Mass 2, make no mistake, and it’s not particularly difficult to solidify your team and ship merely by doing everything and gaming the dialog system. That’s not what really matters, though. What matters is that if you don’t do those things, your ability to succeed is diminished and you put your crew members at very real risk. Not so with Inquisition.
Emprise Du Lion. The Hissing Wastes. The Western Approach. The Forbidden Oasis. The Emerald Graves. You can devote a hundred hours to exploring every nook and cranny, resolving every little quest. Is there one thing that happens in any of these areas that is of consequence to your confrontation with Corypheus?
Not really, no. And that might be okay if the game didn’t explicitly tell you that there is. If it did’t tell you, “Hey, you’re out there making your Inquisition better.” But it does tell you those things. Repeatedly. So, what the hell am I doing out there beyond spinning my wheels and admiring the visuals? I’m like Charlie Brown with the football over here.
Ditto, the War Table. If I complete the Hard in High Town War Table questline in Inquisition, I get a nifty, if rambling bit of story, Varric’s approval, and maybe a bit of useless swag. Inquisition quests are full of useless swag, not to mention excess Power points that you’ll never need. And it’s not that none of these missions are compelling. I mean I like me some Varric, particularly in this iteration. But when you’re told, “Hey, if we find out Corphyeus’s real name, it might weaken him,” I expect a successful conclusion to that quest to result in me having some kind of advantage over Corypheus; at least at some point and in some way, even if it’s only barely consequential. What I get instead is a Master Spirit Rune. It doesn’t even have his name engraved on the back or anything!
Looking through wikis of every War Table quest in the game, it’s not clear that a single one of them, beyond the mere act of completing a handful that are directly tied to plot progression, affects your ability to win the game.
Just as bad is the lack of practical impact the state of your companions has on the game. Again, through the use of approval ratings (which are reflected, sort of, in each character’s Tarot card), your companions evolve over the course of the game. The implication is that if you can keep them happy, they’ll be more stalwart and trustworthy to your cause. You’re meant to ask yourself, “If I do something that wildly upsets Vivienne, will I be able to trust her if I have her with me when it all goes down? What might she do to further her own ends at my expense?”
You needn’t bother worrying. Sure, you could piss someone off so much so that they’ll just leave the Inquisition, but as long as they’re still in the Inquisition, you can call on them whenever, for whatever, and they’ll perform exactly the same.
Again, compare this to Mass 2, where if you don’t upgrade the Normandy’s shields, weapons, or armor, people in your crew will die. During the sequence following entry into the Omega 4 relay, who you assign to do different jobs also matters. Assigning Miranda to use her biotic powers to protect the group while you fight your way deeper into the base produces less desirable results than having Jack do it. Why? Because the game has made clear that she’s the more powerful biotic. And Jack, herself, will do the job more capably if you’ve earned her loyalty. If you have Grunt protect Normandy crew members you send back to the ship, he perishes where a better leader would survive. The amazing consequence of all this being that I’m forced to think like a leader trying to survive when I’m choosing who to bring with me. Who I like personally, or am snogging, is irrelevant.
It’s a shame that, after so many games, not only is Bioware not making forward progress in the realm of choice and consequence, they’re actively taking steps back. It doesn’t erase the fact that Dragon Age: Inquisition has a lot of wonderful pieces, some of the best work Bioware has ever done, but when you create a game about coalition building, about leading, and the choices you make as a leader simply don’t matter, then you have failed. For Bioware, it’s the continuation of an unfortunate trend.
5 thoughts to “Why Dragon Age: Inquisition Fails”
There’s a single player portion to Dragon Age? :O
I’m always worried that a dearth of comments will be interpreted as a lack of interest in the article. In fact, I just can’t comment on Inquisition’s ending because I haven’t reached it yet — playing space trucker in Elite: Dangerous has seriously derailed my momentum.
I do have some thoughts on the abundance of side quests, though. I agree that it would be preferable if completing that extra content was rewarded by meaningful branches in the plot. Or at least some worthwhile loot. Origin puts my game clock at 89-hours so far, and I don’t think I’ve gotten exciting loot from a quest reward since about the ten hour mark.
Still, I’ve gone around picking up shards, connecting constellation dots, and retrieving wedding rings because those things contribute to my perception of my character and her place in the story. Part of that comes with the lore you discover by completing the tasks. Some of it is that I think the world design in Inquisition is absolutely gorgeous, and it’s rare that I turn a corner without finding something to gawk at. Mostly, though, I enjoy the the freedom to define my character through her deeds, whether they’re central to the plot or not.
It’s similar to how I view the Telltale Walking Dead games. Some people are disappointed when they replay a section and discover that CHARACTER X dies no matter what choices they make. They feel it means that their choices don’t matter unless they drive the plot off onto different tangents. My response is: regardless of whether or not I have the ability to manipulate the plot, my *perception* of the story can be greatly affected by my character’s personality. Successfully defusing an argument or siding with one friend over another — those choices define my character’s story in the moment and go on to influence more decisions later on. That’s valuable player agency, whether they cleave the plot line or not.
So my Inquisitor looks out for mosaic pieces and brokers trade deals with wandering Dalish clans. True, these things may not produce much in terms of material gain, but I’m glad to have the excuse to explore the world and listen to the banter of my party members. Eventually I’ll decide I’ve had enough and make a beeline down the main quest line to finish things up. Until then, I’m really enjoying the journey.
I’ve been splitting time between Elite and Darkest Dungeon. I really like Elite, but man do I find it hard to get going. I’ve got around a dozen hours in, pretty much exclusively running cargo missions (a couple black box style pickups) and doing independent trading. Yet, even selling off my free Eagle, I’ve only amassed about 150k in wealth (with another 20-30k going to modest ship upgrades) with an eye on buying a Cobra once I get up to around 350k. I’m enjoying it, but when I read about more experienced players netting 1M+ per cargo run and a good run for me gets me 6k, I feel like I’m going to be at it forever before I can start getting into ships that can accomplish more. Any advice?
On Inquisition, I don’t so much mind that there lots of quests that aren’t plot-tied. I agree, you can justify to yourself the motivation for returning a person’s wedding ring. It’s the stuff that *should* tie in that bothers me. Anything that implies that by doing x you’re going to strengthen your Inquisition needs to have some kind of role. I think how much you’ve gained the respect of your allies should play a role. That they don’t is what really gets to me. Ah well.
Sorry for the late reply — we seem to be moving straight from one snow storm into the next over here.
I started Elite with the express intent of playing a trader, so I moved out of my starting Sidewinder and into a Hauler as soon as I could afford a few upgrades. The increased cargo space opened up a lot of the straight delivery missions on the bulletin board, generating much more reliable income than filling my hold with random cheap goods and wandering around trying to find someplace to sell them. Over time, browsing through the marketplaces as I passed through each station gave me a better idea of how the economies were structured which coalesced into a good trade network.
Profitable trade runs are very rarely within one or two jumps along an “Economical” starlane. AI traders are usually filling those needs themselves. When I find a station with a High supply of a profitable good, I usually look 3-4 jumps out for a station that’s looking to import — the leap in profits easily outweighs an extra minute or two of travel.
There’s also good money to be made in exploration. Simply flying to an uncharted star and firing off the Basic Discovery Scanner before jumping to the next can generate some decent cash when you’re first starting out. Taking a few extra minutes to fly around and scan any “Unknown” astronomical bodies will increase the value of the map data quite a bit. Just remember to keep an eye on your fuel gauge — those early ships aren’t built for deep space expeditions.
I think you’re going to LOVE the Cobra! That ship can be configured for anything you want to do: it’s got the hauling capacity of a good trader, the weapon mounts and speed of a good bounty hunter, and enough internal slots to make for an excellent exploration ship or mobile refinery too. It’s up there with the Asp as one of my favorite ships so far! I’m actually on the cusp of trading my T7 Transport in for a Python, which is the next ship in that “multi-purpose” line.