About a week ago, I had to call it quits playing Dragon Age: Inquisition. I went into it with a ton of excited anticipation, and even found myself loving the game for the first ten or so hours I spent with it. The exploration of beautiful and varied environments, the entertaining banter of my party members, and that signature Dragon Age ass kicking combat system that I so enjoyed. Then some dickhead showed up on a dragon, killed all my bros, blew up my new home, and humiliated me, The Herald of Andraste, in front of my friends and potential lovers! I was a sad, disheartened, and broken man, and all I got out of that epic and heart breaking moment was a cringe worthy song and an impossibly hard to navigate fort.
It was at that moment that the honeymoon ended and the flaws really started show. I had to ask myself the serious question: is this really the game I want to spend another 70 or more hours with? That’s a long time. Maybe this isn’t the game I hoped it would be. Maybe I should just take half the elfroot and put a stop to this while we’re still somewhat happy.
It’s no secret that Dragon Age: Inquisition is a tremendously ambitious game, and the fact that something this expansive and deep exists is a remarkable and commendable accomplishment in video games. It’s a very impressive and extremely beautiful game, and something this big and beautiful, not unlike the author’s Qunari warrior, is going to be without its bugs. However, there are five design choices that make me scratch my head as to why they exist the way they do that really detract from me enjoying the game. None of these are bugs, because I understand that when I buy a BioWare game, there’s going to be a deliciously rich cornucopia of bugs that come with it which will never be fixed.
Helmets on Qunari
Starting with the most trivial of my complaints about this game: Qunari “helmets”. Before I jump into the bulk of my problem with this, I actually want to give BioWare some praise for being very creative about the armour and helmets work in Dragon Age: Inquisition. If you’re unaware of what I’m talking about, let me give you a quick explanation. In Dragon Age: Origins, you were able to equip different armour pieces which would result in an aesthetic problem where the characters lost their intended “look” and would end up looking like a generic npc. In Dragon Age II, you could no longer equip any armour to a party member, but instead bought or found armour enhancements that increased their stats throughout the game, and any possible aesthetic changes came from specific in-game choices.
In Dragon Age Inquisition, each party member can equip the same armour piece, but they each retain their own unique aesthetic look, regardless to whether they are all wearing the same specific item. Qunari are a race of very large people, where the majority of them have horns on their head; more of a humanized version of a Minotaur. This presents a problem when it comes to wearing a helmet: they can’t. So what the developers did to get around this is make the helmets seem like more of a tribal-warpaint thing, which sounds like an *awesome* idea. The problem I have with it is that every time I equip a helmet on my Qunari warrior, he ends up looking like he just escaped an ambush from the beauty section of a department store of poorly trained makeup artists. So, my gargantuan, menacing Qunari with a suave faux-brit accent looks more like he’s part of the Raptor’s Dance Pak than someone who’s ready to take on the worst of Thedas.
There’s nothing quite like trying to intimidate and threaten a powerful political leader while wearing bright green face paint and dark red lipstick. “Join me, or else I’ll make you pucker those lips, baby!” This helmet work around is so ridiculous looking, that I’ve had to completely disable helmets from the game, which is unfortunate because Cole and Vivienne just don’t look the same without their trademark hats.
Now, let’s jump into something a little meatier: that god damn atrocious inventory system. Not all of it is bad; it’s actually organized quite well. Each type of item – weapons, armour, accessories and valuables, are all kept separately and then further broken down into subsections; for example weapons can fall into one-handed, two-handed, ranged, daggers and shields. Beyond that, this thing is a broken mess.
Let’s start simple; there is no junk inventory section. If you want to mark something as the equivalent of junk, such as a generic long sword, you can send it to valuables so it no longer appears in the weapon selection. Once you have all your excess weapons and armour in the valuables section, and the useless junk like dolls, you can mass sell your valuables. That’s great right? Wrong! Do you know what else are considered valuables? Quest related items. I’m sure by now you can see where this is going. This requires a lot of micro managing of your inventory and leads to a lot of unintentional sales of important items, forcing you to buy them back, usually at an increased value.
Inventory problem number two: why aren’t a character’s equipped items placed at the top of the list? When trying to compare new items to those currently equipped, the way they differentiate between what’s equipped and what’s not is a little yellow box around the equipped item’s icon. The problem is, it’s the same box that acts as your cursor highlighter, so when you have the item that’s currently equipped highlighted, it can get a little confusing, and I had a hard time telling the difference between the two. Would it be too much to just have the currently equipped item sitting at the top, then do a simple swap?
Oh my god. The maps in DA:I are nearly useless.
More specifically, the Quest Maps are nearly useless. Now, the quest map is a wonderfully illustrated, old-timey looking map that displays approximate locations of quests. The quest maps are unique to each dungeon and large area of Ferelden and Orlais, and are just beautiful to look at. Seriously, I’d hang these things on my wall or leave one up on my TV as a wallpaper.
However, as a functional and helpful part of the game they fail miserably. I’m not a cartographer;
I don’t understand how to tell the difference between something being on the top of a mountain or in a cavern. In fact, I can barely tell if something’s up a slope or on the same elevation as my Inquisitor. The quest markers on this thing may as well be on a blank sheet with a secondary marker that says “YOU ARE HERE”. Because that’s what the mini map is anyway, and that thing’s somehow far more useful. At the very least it fades items at different elevations slightly so you can tell that you either need to climb or descend.
This may sound like an odd complaint; however, coming from playing Dragon Age: Origins and the poorly titled Dragon Age II where the maps were detailed and maybe too helpful at times, this feels like a regression of sorts in terms of the series’ features. It’d be like if they drastically overhauled the combat for the PC Master Race.
Pointless Jumping Mechanic
When I first noticed the Dragon Age had added jumping to its list of capabilities, I thought it would make for some interesting gameplay sections. That is not the case; far from it, in fact. From what I can tell, this mechanic has been shoehorned in for two reasons: to make you rip your hair out trying to collect shards, and to avoid getting stuck in areas that would otherwise force you to reload your save.
I’m not going to dive into what a shard is, or why you must collect them, because I honestly have no idea yet, but they are almost always placed in ridiculous locations. Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out where exactly they are, because according to the map, you’re standing on top of it, but it’s just not there. When you do finally realize where exactly it is, it generally requires jumping across the most inane platforming ever added into a game, like up the side of a cliff made up entirely of rocks that are smaller than your left foot.
The other time you might actually use jump is because you walked off a platform somehow, and are stuck behind a fence and a bag of some nondescript contents. There’s no clear way around these and you obviously weren’t supposed to be here, so it’s a good thing that jump option is there. While this is a helpful situation to use the jump, I can’t help but feel like it’s a failsafe for bad design. Similarly, I sometimes don’t like using the path to walk up a hill or mountain, so if you jump enough, there’s a brief moment of hit detection that you can exploit to “climb” up a steep slope before sliding down. Otherwise, there’s not much point to the jump mechanic in the game, besides its short-lived entertainment value and picking up items by accident in battle, which leads us to my next point.
Picking up *Everything*
A large part of Dragon Age: Inquisition is collecting herbs, metals and other materials for crafting items and gear, and the occasional fetch quest. This is a great feature in the game and the environments are littered with helpful materials for crafting and questing and you could even make a game out of just collecting everything you pass. Here’s the thing, you pass something to collect nearly every two or three steps you make in the game, which would be awesome if you walk around spamming “X” , and just collect a myriad of crafting materials. But, of course that’s not how it works. (Interesting side note: “X” on the PS4, which equates to the “A” on XBox, is the action button. It’s also the button for jumping. If you’re trying to initiate a conversation, but for whatever reason jump by accident, this can lead to a pretty hilarious glitch that my girlfriend and I have dubbed “The Moon Walk”)
Every time you want to collect something, there’s this neat animation where your character will bend over and appear to be gather the materials with his or her hands. It’s a nifty presentation but it gets in the way of the game, because if you stop every few steps to pick something up and have to watch a 5 second animation every single time, it really adds up and becomes extremely annoying. Especially if it’s for a quest or a requisition, and you’re in an area that is rich in that specific material. Blood Lotus, for example, appears in most ponds throughout the game and is required for a lot of requisitions and potion upgrades; you really just want to be able to spend 10 seconds and collect five of them. Instead, it takes over a minute.
I now understand why Dragon Age: Inquisition takes so long to finish; you spend hours being lost because of a fairly useless map, jumping across nonsensical areas for little to no reason, and just looking at your character’s ass as they pick up crafting materials.
I want to love Dragon Age: Inquisition, I really do. I just don’t understand why it doesn’t want me to. I keep reaching my hand out to show that I want to play with it and love it, and shower in its greatness, but it keeps biting at my hand. I think I’ll stick with it though, for another 70 or more hours of emotional abuse, because I deserve it, and it deserves me.