Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Dragon Age: Inquisition. I Finally Have A Review!

90 hours and 22 minutes.

I was able to best the crystals, claim every piece of land, and defeat the Dragon...Age. Inquisition to be exact. Since departing on the quest just shy of a year ago, and battling really bad OCD tendencies with 2 playthroughs, I have finally completed everything in the game, including DLC's. I'm missing a few achievements, but for good reason. I'll even point them out:

  • Base game: Completing the game on Hard and Nightmare mode. DA is such an in-depth story that I didn't want to spend my evenings and weekends battling demons from the Fade. I came for the story. Difficulty doesn't matter. So those are 2 achievements awaiting my judgement.
  • The Descent DLC: Game glitch. I've read about this on a few forums, so I know it wasn't just me. And it's a simple one too - defeat the boss for the area. Because I'm an over-saver, I have a point right before this fight that I can jump back into and try again. Hopefully the achievement will unlock at that point.
  • Trespasser DLC: Part of the "bonus" with this DLC is that it adds new achievements to the base game. Which...requires me to start a brand new character. Damn. So these are not obtainable until I get my ass back to square one with a new game.

Which I'm totally doing as a MALE Inquisitor. I have to do this to stay away from Cullen. My female characters keep getting drawn to him, and this is the only way I'll be able to prevent that from happening. Again. Instead, I can try my hand at Dorian.

All together I have dumped well over 130 hours into Inquisition, besting my 109 hours of game play with Mass Effect 3, and that was with several different Shepards - DLC included. With Inquisition I have played with 2 characters. One was with the base game and getting most of the content done: I just wanted to get to the end of the story. The second was the in-depth play through where my goal was to get every damn thing in the game completed. Everything. Every quest. Every item. Every mount. Every Skyhold decoration. Every stupid seed for the stupid garden. Everything.

I should loathe RPG's but I appreciate the challenges they give me that I can't give up on them.

I've taken my time, but I wanted to provide you all with a full review of the game. A few hours of Dragon Age doesn't do it justice. With a game that is this in-depth in the lore, you really have to take the time to immerse yourself into it before you can come up with any form of a review. Which is why I'm a fan of Kotaku's new approach to game reviews. It's not a snippet of the first few hours of the game. You get a well-rounded experience in a few paragraphs.

So let me start this review with a note that I'm going to do my best to not spoil the recent DLC. I avoided Tumblr like the plague for the past week so I wouldn't get spoiled myself. Trespasser was released on 9/8. The content from the first 2 DLC packs, Jaws of Hakkon and The Descent, really don't give any game spoiling moments like Trespasser - which will break your brain, and probably your heart.

But enough of that.

The best way I can summarize Inquisition is it's organized chaos. There are very clear plot points and goals. The world is torn asunder by a giant Rift in the sky. Your character ends up with a weird mark on your hand, that will stop said Rift. You trot around the world to find the demon behind the Rift. Fairly straight-forward.

To be the Inquisitor means you can judge a man's fate for
throwing goats at your fortress' wall. Not even joking.
It's all the mess in-between that can make it confusing. And that's part of the charm with Dragon Age. There is so much lore that you can't help but want to dive in and learn more. You could spend hours reading through the history and codex entries before getting into the meat of the game. At the same time, when you're ready to move forward you are thrust into a series of quests that have no connection to the main plot and they can be frustrating. Most you can walk by. Some you can't. As much as the game leads you forward to your end goal, the open-world aspect for most of it can be quite daunting.

There's a well-known internet joke that you should get out of The Hinterlands as soon as possible. It's the first area you come upon where you can start collecting herbs and questing. Because it is the time sink of all time sinks that have ever been sunk. Easily 10 hours of your life will be spent in The Hinterlands if you intend to complete most of the quests. It's a large ass area. And the learning curve for leveling is steep. You can easily find yourself as a level 5 stumbling into a level 12 area and getting your butt handed back to you. And most of the game is like this. You'll think you're doing quests that help the story-line, but most of them are innocuous and unnecessary. Anything that can alter the game will only be in the main story quest. (There is still the possibility that my smaller choices will be affected in DA4 - and yes there will be one; it was heavily hinted at not only in the base game ending, but in Trespasser as well - but it feels less likely when comparing the previous games.) So after piddling around in Dragon Age Keep, a website that allows gamers to tailor past game choices and create customized "worlds" to import into Inquisition, I found out that those quests really do have an impact. There is a setting that unlocks the latest game content (it's hidden initially), and the side-quests will definitely impact future games in the series. Even how many rifts you close will change future plot lines! So. everything. Leave no stone un-turned. In a very literal sense.

But the lore. Holy. Crap. I thought The Old Republic was bad (with over 100k entries into their codex that it's more pages then Game of Thrones) but Inquisition trumps it by, well, a lot. You can make a full book out of 'Hard in Hightown,' a fictional romance novel in the game, based on the pages you find. In fact, some cosplayers have. It's walls upon walls of text. Not for the faint of heart.

This isn't meant to scare off people who are new to the series. In fact, if there were one game I would recommend for people to start with, it would be Inquisition. You don't need to know the backstory of the past 2 games to play. It helps, but it's not necessary. You may not understand some of the jokes or the nods to the history, but that's okay. You'll still have fun and not feel completely bogged down by not having played the previous games. And that's where I feel Inquisition becomes so much more approachable then most sequels. For all of the heavy text, the seemingly endless amount of quests, the open worlds, and the wonky language use (sometimes the English hurts my brain), the player isn't ostracized for not having played Dragon Age Origins or II. Everyone has to go through the basic game mechanics. You're given enough history to drive forward and start on your main journey. There's no mess. No fuss. Until you get into The Hinterlands, but then it turns into xp grinding and if you want to suffer through quests.

But what about the choices thing BioWare likes to do? If you've played the first 2 games, then you will see your choices affected in Inquisition. And if you haven't played? That's cool too. Because the options selected on your behalf for a default game are in a neutral pathway. Again, you're not penalized for not playing the other games. Instead Inquisition gives you a baseline that allows you to fudge with your choices as much or as little as you'd like. Want to be the bad ass? Cool. The default selections are not going to hamper your ability to be as bad as you want to be. (To note, there is no moral compass like with Mass Effect, but your companions will respond to your choices positive/negatively.) And that's pretty cool. There's no fear that I'm going to get screwed over by the game - I can take the story wherever I want to go from here.

The base game is fun. That's the bottom line. Much of that has to do with interactions with your companions, within your fortress at Skyhold or out on the field. The banter between the characters is worth playing. I love the fact that BioWare gives us characters that we can adore, or hate. I have a real visceral reaction to the character Sera. I dislike her. Immensely. Her personality completely clashes with my own. And that's awesome that we have games that allow us to feel so strongly about a make-believe person. It's something I appreciate about BW's writing team, and it keeps getting better with every game. I thought they couldn't beat the wit of TOR nor the dismay or ME3. Completely wrong - Inquisition beats them out.

Speaking of your compatriots, BW doesn't defy the tropes and provides us with the mish-mesh of characters that really shouldn't belong in the same party. There is no reason on Earth or Thedas that Sera, Cassandra, and Dorian would ever get along. Ever. But they somehow do. It's RPG logic, that's the best way I can explain it. As much as I would like to have a more logical grouping of like-minded people, banding together to save the world, let's face it. It wouldn't be entertaining. So! Random people we go! It adds to the comedy and the drama. Not so much to the sanity.

As the game has patched over the past few months, new items and content has been introduced that did not require you to buy the DLC. Such as the dye table, which allows you to alter the color of your armor and weapons. Really cool. One of my pet peeves was making armor that looked incredibly mis-matched. Every crafting material give certain colors or patterns. Dorian was looking like a fashion disaster in yellow plaid with blue culotte-pants. And there wasn't a thing I could do about it, until a patch in May/June gave us a table to fix all of that. My OCD appreciated it. But it was good to see that BW still invested in the base game to not leave out the audience who wouldn't be interested in the DLC. And there have been tweaks such as the gathering time for herbs and ore - which use to take 3-4 seconds: now it's down to 1.

My complaints with the game are few. The "Casual" game mode can be difficult at times. And not against the dragons, but common mobs. Something is weird in the coding because this is very pervasive in the DLC (and I'll address that in a moment). It shouldn't take my level 25 group 2 minutes to kill a level 18 mob. Ever. Detracts from the game.

Bugs are still apparent. My favorite is at Haven when you go to Commander Cullen for dialogue and there are troops training around the camp. Some of them are headless. Some of them have no swords but they're clanging away as if they are wielding one. It's still a problem, and it's still really funny to have in the background when you're trying to hold a serious conversation with Cullen or Cassandra. "Yes Cass. I want to talk about your Seeker days, but there's a man without a head behind you. Think he's a spirit?"

The forced side-quests are few, but tedious. This is more of a mild annoyance, given the amount of freedom BW bestows upon the player.

The stupid crystals and stupid parkour-ing. Okay. So. They have these crystals scattered around the world that you have to find using a skull (get the "Indiana Jones" reference there?). Again, it's an unnecessary side-quest but it can be quite beneficial. The crystals open doors in a tomb that allow you to gain ability stats to make your character more powerful. The crystals, however, are in some of the worse spots possible and you have to use the clunky walking controls to jump around and obtain them. One of the worse is in, guess what, The Hinterlands, near one of the game's 10 High Dragons. It's the type of jumping that would be a nightmare to Mario. The ledges are smaller then what your character can stand on. There's no way to maneuver without falling, so you have to land your jump right the first time. People have spent hours getting this stupid crystal from the stupid skull, and it is aggravating beyond all reason. I love to explore in games, but not when it's forced.

The multi-player sucks. And I say this because it's plagued with some of the worse server problems I have seen since Sim City. My last attempt was in July, so maybe it has improved since then. The idea was to allow people to create a base character (no face customization) and you work as an agent of the Inquisition. You and a team travel through ruins to end threats, find stuff, or claim a keep. And it sounds like a good idea, in theory. A way to extend the game beyond the main story.

But the sucky servers really make this a challenge. You can't level up or keep items unless you complete the level. You lose everything when you're booted from the game. And if you disconnect (DC) and are able to jump back in, assuming the rest of your party didn't DC as well, you return at only half health. I've only been able to complete one level with a party, and it took nearly an hour and  a half on what is advertised as a 20-30 minute experience. Just avoid the multiplayer until they get the kinks worked out.

Overall, this game is worth playing. Visually, it's majestically beautiful. The scenery could easily rival Elder Scrolls. I wish there were more out-of-body camera options. I would be taking screenshots all day! And if you're wary about chumming up with your companions on an intimate level, don't worry. None of that is required nor forced upon you. You can play the game pretty much however you want to. If you want to spend your entire time crafting and building the best armor and weapons possible, do it. Quest to your heart's content! Or just plow through the main story. Inquisition has so few restrictions, it allows gamers to build a character as they see fit.

But maybe don't spend 90 hours in it like I did. I don't know if I can handle another play through for a while.

Onto the DLC. Should you buy any of them? I'll make this really easy for everyone: Yes to Jaws of Hakkon and Trespasser. No to The Descent.

Biggest issue I found with all of the DLC is that the game does a horrible job of scaling you to the mobs. Hakkon is a bit more forgiving since you can get into the area around level 23/24 and muddle through it. Challenging, but not so much that you'll hate it. When moving to The Descent and Trespasser, it was a nightmare. Monsters taking upwards of 5 minutes to destroy. Mobs with one hit kills on CASUAL MODE. I repeat. CASUAL MODE. You choose this mode because you want to learn the game and/or enjoy the story. Not die a whole bunch. It's atrocious how difficult the game becomes when you hit level 27 (which is the cap, btw). I never achieved a "game over" screen until the DLC. I can't imagine how people in Hard/Nightmare mode are able to complete these if you can so easily die even in Casual.

And the gear they provide doesn't exactly level up with you. I was still wearing most of my non-DLC armor that I crafted by the time I hit Trespasser. To note, I didn't buy the additional Avaar or Qun packs (which run at $4.99 a pop before tax). But I shouldn't have to buy that extra bit for DLC that already comes with new gear. The equipment should scale with me and my super-powerful hand.

From a story perspective, Hakkon wins out. While it doesn't give you as much interaction with your companions at Skyhold (you do get comments on the field at least, and lots of great content with Scout Harding), this is one of the few areas of the game where the side-missions feel integral to the main story line. As you move throughout the Frostback Basin, every search, hunt, and fact finding mission brings you one step closer to the Avaar. It was refreshing to have the story crafted with this framework in mind. It wasn't The Hinterlands, so that's an A+ in my book. Also, fun dragon fight. So fun. And if you didn't know a dragon would be involved, go look at the title of the game.

Yes Bull. You have lovely man-nips. Now would you kindly
move out of the way? You're in my shot!
Not to mention, pretty landscape that has a day and night cycle after certain events are completed. I found myself wandering the wilderness when it turned to night just to see the fauna change colors.

Trespasser gets a close second because of it's heavily story-driven narrative. It also gives you companion banter, which was sorely needed in this last DLC. It's reminiscent of Mass Effect 3 - Citadel DLC. No spoilers here; I'm only reiterating what the developers mentioned about this content in trailers and at PAX Prime. Trespasser takes place 2 years after the end of Inquisition. People have gone their separate ways, but return to help your character determine the future of the Inquisition. And then some of the Quanari decide to shake things up, and the Eluvians are involved. And yeah. It's a mess of story that hurts the brain. It's also incredibly surreal because you know things that your character does not. If you've seen the ending of the main game, you have knowledge that your character will never understand. It's meta. And it's weird. And I don't know if I like it. It's fun to explore the story with your character. When you know more then your character because of bonus cutscenes, well, it's weird. So the jury is out on if I like this or not.

Trespasser also suffers heavily from improper mob scaling. This is the one with a one-hit kill boss that you have to stop (and beat him 3 times!) before progressing. It. Sucks. Donkey. Balls.

It's a good attempt from BW to try and tie up loose ends and set up the next game. It doesn't give you too much so you can still create additional pieces to the puzzle as you see fit. But it's enough to satisfy fans. Would have love to have seen more content with the mazes you trounce through, as well as more character dialogue, but it'll do.

I still don't know what this glitch is...
The Descent is off the list because it's a cumbersome add-on. I'd only recommend it for those who are really interested in Dragon Age lore or have played Origins. Your team is sent to The Deep Roads to figure out a way to stop earthquakes that are destroying the lirium mines. The same mines that your team uses to keep your Templar or Mage forces happy. It's a very linear story and path, as it should be. But it can be quite dull at times. Walk forward. Kill the bad guys. Walk forward. Kill more bad guys. There are very few story points that keep it interesting. The only thing that caught my interest was an area you hit deep into the roads of un-mined lirium. The place is stunning. Artists - you did good here. You did very, very good. Aside from that, it's lore heaven. The Deep Roads are not really discussed in Inquisition, so unless you've played the first game, it's not going to interest you. For me, I found the history quite fascinating. But I could have wiki-ed and saved the $16 bucks. Not the same feeling as playing the game, but I would have saved money. Maybe bought those $4.99 equipment packs instead.

Final call: Play Dragon Age Inquisition. You don't have to understand the past games to enjoy this one. And if you must get DLC, spend it on Hakkon. Let your imagination go wild on the end of the game. I prefer my version of the events after the game.


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