Beware: this article contains spoilers. You have been warned.
It’s taken me over 130 hours, but I’ve finally finished Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Frankly, I’m disappointed. The way people have gone on about Inquisition, I expected something like Origins but much better. Instead, while I really do enjoy aspects of Inquisition, I still feel incredibly let down by it.
I’ve realized this is mostly because I’m a completionist, and Inquisition is a completionist’s nightmare. [For Laura, Inquisition inspires many nightmares. – Ed.]
In RPGs, I’m used to patiently finishing all the mini-tasks and side-quests laid out before me, fully exploring and making sure I complete areas before continuing with the main story, and being rewarded for this.
I’m also used to a fairly small starting area that you can just rush through if you want, but that you’ll really benefit from fully exploring, especially since you’re often unable to return to the starting area after leaving. In Origins, this area is the Korcari Wilds. In Inquisition, I thought it would be the Hinterlands.
It was only after wasting hours in the Hinterlands on quests that felt a lot like fetch-and-carry jobs that I found out you really need to let go of the area and move on with the main storyline as soon as possible. Not only is completing the Hinterlands before moving on not rewarding, it will take forever, is pretty boring, and will leave you far too overpowered to really enjoy the rest of the game.
This was a bit of a shock to my system. I also felt a little resentful that I had to rely on the Internet to give me this advice, as the game itself certainly doesn’t make this clear. Still, I left the Hinterlands hoping for the game to finally become interesting.
And, for a while, it did. But only when I focused on the main quest. Because it’s not just the Hinterlands that’s boring and unrewarding. It’s everywhere.
With both Inquisition and Origins, it’s possible to rush ahead and complete the main storyline with minimal attention paid to side-quests, but in Origins, side-quests and completing areas feels incredibly worthwhile, while in Inquisition, it feels like doing chores. Pointless chores. I think this is because, in Origins, the main storyline is tied into every part of the game, while in Inquisition, the side-quests and main storyline feel mostly separate.
…it’s not just the Hinterlands that’s boring and unrewarding. It’s everywhere.
Every area in Origins has its own important story, in which you play a crucial part. For example, in Orzammar, the dwarf kingdom, sure you’ll be doing side-quests like hunting down nugs (small, hairless, rodent-like creatures) and deciding if you want to help a young dwarf girl get into the College of Magi, but you’ll also be focused on the fact that Orzammar is in a state of civil unrest. The king is dead, and there is a feud over which of two candidates should be next to reign. Both have strong claims to the throne, but very different political agendas. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide who to crown. Of course, you don’t need to put much thought into it if you don’t want to, but if you’re like me, the person who does all the side-quests, reads the codex, and gets to really know the people and the area, you’ll have an extreme emotional investment in making this decision.
Inquisition never gave me this level of emotional connection, where I really cared about my decisions. Not once. Not even in the main quest. In each area in Inquisition there is a hell of a lot of running around, completing tasks, but nothing really ties these tasks together. Your rewards for these tasks mostly end up being sold to vendors, as I gradually out-leveled not just the various areas, but the entire game. There was no point to it all. I felt like a glorified gopher.
The one time the game really did make me feel at least partly invested was during the main story quest “Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts”. You’re at a ball at The Winter Palace, where you have to always keep an eye on “court approval” by watching what you do and say. There’s plenty to discover at this ball. Unlike the rest of Inquisition, exploring seems worthwhile.
So, of course, this is where you can’t explore everything. Scattered all over The Winter Palace are statues that you can use to open doors. You’d think that if you’re very careful and thorough, you’d be able to find all the statues and open all the doors. Instead, there are only 11 statues in all. The three final doors that you come across require five statues each to open. You do the math.
I decided to look up what lay behind each door, and decided that I wanted to open three in all. Two requiring three statues each, one requiring five. With 11 statues I should have been able to do this, but the main quest forces me to use a statue elsewhere, so I couldn’t.
Maybe I’m just petty, but this irritated me. I had spent so much time completing things with little to no reward, and here was something I wanted to complete, but couldn’t. Disgruntled, I finished “Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts” only to realize I was so vastly overpowered at this point that I wiped the floor with what was supposed to be the main boss. I decided to continue with the main quest line until things balanced out.
Before I knew it, the game was warning me that I had reached the final quest, and that if I had anything else I wanted to finish before completing the story, I’d better do it now. I was already four levels above the recommended level.
Ever the optimist, I decided to complete all the side areas before finishing the game. I was still hoping for it to somehow all feel worth it. Then I started the final mission. And it’s as if the game wants you to spend a lot of time and effort only to feel unfulfilled by it.
Warning: major spoilers about the final battle ahead.
In Origins, you build up alliances and decide who you want on your side. The final battle is a complicated and involved event wherein all your decisions come together, each one having its own important effect. Playing the game differently to how you have, making different decisions, will yield significantly different results.
In Inquisition, your decisions pretty much mean nothing. You fight the main antagonist, Corypheus, and a dragon, and then you’re done.
Then you have the traditional “walk through crowds of people celebrating and talk to each companion to hear what they plan to do next” scene. The credits roll, and there’s a short scene after the credits that, unless you’d been paying damn close attention to the codex, is bafflingly meaningless. Thankfully I had been paying close attention to the codex, so I loved this scene and it’s the one thing that’s made me actually look forward to the next Dragon Age, but still.
I kept waiting for something else to happen. Nothing did.
I spent the entire game waiting for something else to happen, to feel as emotionally invested in this game as I had in Origins. For the most part, all I felt was frustrated and cheated. This game does not reward the thorough player.
I will say this though: the one thing Inquisition does particularly well is companions. I grew to have genuine emotional reactions to the people I met in the game. I suspect a second play-through might be enjoyable if I focus only on the quests they have for me and the main story, especially now I know what a letdown the final battle is so I won’t be thrown by disappointment. But all in all? Inquisition just left me kinda wanting to re-play Origins.