Bioware tries to return to form with “Dragon Age: Inquisition”

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Courtesy of Electronic Arts
Courtesy of Electronic Arts

Bioware has been in an awkward position for the past few years. Their last two releases, “Mass Effect 3” and “Dragon Age II,” were met with much more negative reviews than usual, and it seems that Bioware is trying to win back some of their longtime fans with Dragon Age: Inquisition — the third installment in their fantasy RPG Dragon Age series. While Dragon Age: Origins was a sleeper hit praised for its tactical combat and immersive story, Dragon Age II was criticized for being a rushed-out cash-in with oversimplified button-mashing combat and lack of a plot. While Dragon Age: Inquisition does show much of the care and attention to detail missing from Bioware’s recent releases, it still has some serious issues that prevent it from being the work of art Bioware promised.

The story picks up where Dragon Age II left off, with a war between mages and templars threatening to destroy all of society, while a giant hole in the sky threatens to swallow the whole planet. In typical Bioware fashion, you, the protagonist, are the only person in the whole world capable of saving the world and restoring order. Much like Dragon Age: Origins, you can choose from a variety of races and backgrounds to personalize your role-playing experience. Along the way, you are joined by a cast of colorful and well-written party members.

Familiarity with the Dragon Age universe is necessary, as the story starts en medias res and many characters and companions return from previous games to make token appearances and spout exposition in typical stock stiff, uncanny valley-esque dialogue trees. In the times when you’re not questing or waiting for “Origin” (EA’s Steam knock-off) to start, you’ll spend countless hours talking to supporting characters and various NPCs spread across the world. They are written very well, however, and the extensive dialogue and scope of the main quest gives the game depth and main plot an engaging amount of profundity.

Where the game begins to fall apart is in its gameplay. During the initial hype that preceded the game’s release, the developers promised a return to Dragon Age: Origins’ top-down, strategic combat system. However, the combat is much more like a modern hack-and-slash game or a spectacle fighter, as any pretense of strategy is eventually abandoned for endless button mashing. Combat works by clicking on an enemy as fast as possible until everything that isn’t a friendly NPC on the screen is dead. The game also has a tendency to spawn ludicrously large mobs of enemies, and the wonkiness of the camera controls, along with the lack of any meaningful way to control your parties’ strategy makes any pretense of tactics laughable. Furthermore, all of the game’s side quests involve trekking across the map to either kill x-number of random enemies, or collecting y-number of objects for some random NPC. It all comes across as disingenuous; I’m the head of an elite group tasked with saving the whole word — why am I being sent across the map to find 10 blankets for a group of refugees? You would think some of these pointless fetch quests could be carried out by any of the other NPCs that stand around the camp spouting the same two lines of dialogue. So while it does offer more than 150 hours of gameplay, only about 10 percent of it advances the plot in any significant way while the rest is pointless padding.

The PC version of the game also has more bugs than the entirety of UCR’s entomology department. In the 60-plus hours I’ve been playing Inquisition, several of those were spent restarting the game after it had crashed or waiting for it to stop lagging at the title screen. There are not just game-breaking bugs either, as many emotionally significant moments in the plot were ruined when characters got hung up in a cutscene and kept repeating the same lines endlessly. While there is a patch in the works to address this issue, it seems like more time could have been taken during development to fix some of the more glaring issues. However, there is day-one DLC, and it feels disingenuous when EA has the audacity to release extra pay-to-play content when the base game is, at times, an unfinished mess.

As a fan of most Bioware games, I was really looking forward to “Inquisition” long before it was released, which served to make my disappointment even more bitter. While it does feature an immersive setting and characters and the same commitment to open-ended storytelling Bioware is famous for, the artificial padding of the story and the amount of immersion-breaking bugs ruined the overall experience. While it is still better than most of the artistically devoid cash-in titles endemic in the game industry today, it feels like Bioware has sacrificed attention to detail in favor of profit. Based on the storytelling alone, it’s worth playing for fans of the series, but I can’t recommend paying full price due to the repetitive gameplay and large amount of bugs. Given some time, I hope these issues will be addressed. Who knows, maybe EA will release a “Make the Game Better DLC” for the low price of $9.99.

Rating: 3 stars

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