Dragon Age: Inquisition reviews are going live today, but we've decided to hold off on a score for now due to the fact that our journey through Fereldan and Orlais isn't quite complete.
Unfortunately, it's also a bit broken at the moment, as many reviewers will likely attest. For anyone who has opted to review the PS4 version, Inquisition has been a nightmare of crashes and corrupted saves due to the recent 2.0 update. We've also had our share of difficulties with the multiplayer booting us out. It's been a fun review!
Still, Bob and I have played enough Dragon Age: Inquisition at this point to have a pretty good feel for what it's trying to do, so here are some of our initial thoughts. Look for our full review on Thursday!
Kat Bailey, Senior Editor: I've been so up and down on this game throughout this review process. At times I really love it and I think, "BioWare really knocked this open world out of the park." But it can also feel so clumsy at times.
So I might as well get it out of the way and say that I have real reservations about one of the core mechanics—Power. In story terms, it makes sense since it's meant to represent the Inquisition's growing influence over the world, being accrued by setting up camps, conquering enemy fortresses, and completing sidequests. But in essence, it's really just there to gate your progress, which makes a lot of the other content feel more like bloat than it should since you have to grind a lot of Power to unlock story quests. Just as an example, the average rift or camp yields between 1 and 3 Power, but one of the latter story quests takes 40 Power to unlock. And power also has to be spent to unlock new areas. At times, it comes off as padding.
Much as I don't like the notion of having grind Power, though, I've been largely enjoying Dragon Age. The areas are all huge and lively, and I've often enjoyed just riding around on my Dalish horse taking in the sights, watching the wildlife, and seeing what I can find. I'm a good 40 hours in and I still don't feel like I've found everything in the Hinterlands—one of the game's opening areas. But getting back to my original criticism of Inquisition being clumsy, the map doesn't list location names, which is really irritating when looking for a specific spot like the Western Road in the Hinterlands to grind items to unlock specializations.
Basically, Dragon Age: Inquisition's scope is ambitious, but there are times when I think BioWare's ambition gets the better of them. What are your feelings so far, Bob?
Bob Mackey, Senior Editor: I'm still liking it more than I assumed I would, and my impressions from last week's preview haven't really changed. Though I have to wonder if the fact that you're under the gun to finish it in time for review might be affecting your take on the power mechanic. If you look at the stats on those big, bold, and brassy BioWare games, only half of the people who play them actually make it to the end, so who knows if the same will be true of Inquisition? I will, agree, though, that Power should serve more a function than simply unlocking areas—I mean, you also have Influence to level up as well. If they were to tie both of these together into just one category, it would definitely feel more natural than the current state of things.
Like you, I'm having a ton of fun just working my way through these huge environments, mostly because the story isn't inspiring me to do much else. You companions are fine, I guess, but there doesn't seem to be much interplay between them, and I guess there's only so much you can do when you're working with broad and familiar fantasy tropes. I normally find mini-maps brimming over with dozens of objective tedious, but here, they work because finding them feels much more natural. For the most part, I've been ignoring the map completely and just heading off towards whatever looks interesting. I'm playing the Xbox One version, and it's hard to think of a game with prettier outdoor environments—okay, maybe the Vanishing of Ethan Carter, but that game's working with much less square mileage.
It's been a fun ride so far, but I'm still disappointed the combat isn't anything special. Battles can be fun, but I just wish there was more to them, you know? If Dragon Age is now an action game—there's a jump button, for Christ's sake—fighting enemies shouldn't feel so uninvolving. I'll admit I'm spoiled by action RPGs that really go all out in terms of combat options, but still, these games exist and we can't ignore that they've really raised the bar for this kind of an experience. Do you feel the same way, or am I just an incurable gaming hipster? (Keep in mind these answers are mutually exclusive.)
Kat: I've enjoyed the combat, actually. The battles get more interesting as the game progresses, and some of the boss battles are pretty tricky if you just rush in and start hacking away. I've found that I've had to be pretty careful about managing my cooldowns in such situations, not the least because some of the character-specific super attacks can really only be used once every few battles. It's really not that much different from Dragon Age II, but I've always felt that people unfairly harped on that game's combat, which made it much more console-friendly. That game had way bigger problems then its action.
As for the exploration, I find that it's best to think of Dragon Age: Inquisition as something akin to a single-player MMORPG where you're uncovering the world as you go along. You kind of hinted at this, Bob, but I think the exploration is the strongest part of the game. It's really exciting to enter a new area, get the lay of the land, and slowly uncover some of the main objectives. In one of the later areas, for example, there's a running battle between the Inquisition and a faction called the Red Templar across a broad swath of territory that culminates in a fight through a rather large keep. I like how organic such elements feel in light of the way the exploration is handled. It's still basically a theme park, but a well-constructed one.
I'm still really conflicted about the Power mechanic, though. I feel like its robs me of some of my ability to take the game at my own pace and forces me to grind for long periods of time. Like I said, it makes sense in the context of the story since it's meant to reflect the spread of the Inquisition's influence, but it feels more artificial than it should.
On that note, how do you feel about the War Council? I like that lots of side missions are handled on a large map, but I don't like how hard it can be to find individual missions (particularly story missions), and I don't think it always does a best job of making you feel like you're in a titantic battle for the world. For one thing, it feels like my little party and I are doing all the work. Where are all these soldiers that I'm supposedly recruiting? I really want to know!
What do you think?
Bob: That's a problem I have with a lot of games, past and present: The fate of the very world is always at stake, yet these conflicts never seem to involve more than a dozen people. And you'd think your status as the chosen one would entail that at least 100 soldiers would always be nearby to keep you safe, but I guess that wouldn't make the game very challenging. There's got to be a better way, though, since these THE WORLD IS IN PERIL premises have been done to death.
I do love stumbling across battles in the middle of nowhere, though, because, as you said, it at least gives the illusion that there's more happening in this world outside of the actions of your relatively tiny party. In an MMO, you'd see other players fighting instead, and I think that's the kind of approach they're going for here since Inquisition plays a bit like a streamlined MMO—that's how I've been playing it, anyway. I know someone had to spend an awfully long time writing all the text you find on notes, in books, and throughout the extensive codex, but god knows I'll never read it. It's strange that a developer like BioWare—known mostly for their skill at storytelling—would make a game that feels so comfortable when you play it aimlessly, but there you go.
Kat: You know what, though? I've come around to the story. You alluded to your dislike for the characters a little earlier, but I think Inquisition has a stronger roster of characters than Dragon Age II overall, even if it doesn't quite reach the heights of Mass Effect 2. And the story really shifts into high gear around Act 2 following a particularly great battle that actually does impart some sense of scale to the Inquisition.
Early on, of course, it's confusing as hell. As soon as I rolled my Dalish Elf, I found myself running around with a bunch of characters that I only faintly recognized from Dragon Age II, doing my best to pick up the battle system as I went. It throws so many numbers and quests at you early that it can actually get quite overwhelming, but it settles down soon enough into a nice flow that has you alternately meeting with your advisors at Haven and venturing forth into the wilderness.
Later, I realized that Dragon Age: Inquisition is meant to be intentionally confusing at the start, since the protagonist is similarly out of sorts. It's only later that you learn what really happened in those early moments, and it's actually quite effective. Most of the bigger moments also work well, including a big Helms Deep-style setpiece attack on a castle, and a much more subtle quest that takes place during a masque in Orlais.
For the most part, Dragon Age: Inqusition is one of those games that gets better as it goes along, which is definitely something I would not say for its sequel. It sounds like we're on the same page in that regard, Bob.
In any case, I feel like I'm getting close to the end, so you can expect a full review (with multiplayer impressions!) very soon. Suffice it to say, we've both enjoyed what we've seen so far. We'll see you Thursday!