Curiously nerdy posts.
It’s typically rare for me to talk about video games on here, but sometimes I like to make exceptions. I’m especially eager to make exceptions for Bioware games. I’ve probably touched on this before, but I’ve been a fan of Bioware’s games since the late 90s, aka the days where every game came in a HUGE box with thick manuals and about a hundred CD-ROMs. My first game by them was the original Baldur’s Gate. It was revolutionary to the games industry, and especially to teenage me. You had a general idea of where to travel, but it was a huge world to explore, full of different random characters that might have nothing to talk about but the weather… or they might be the start to an epic quest. You never knew, and it encouraged you to explore.
But it did more than that: rather than playing a character with a set of morals carved into the game, you could choose your moral path, much like its parent material, Dungeons and Dragons. Sure, you could be the upright hero and save the day for everyone you meet. But you could also carve a bloody path up the Sword Coast and become a name as feared as the antagonist of the game.
This aspect definitely was a game changer for the industry, no pun intended.* It’s kind of Bioware’s calling card now, all these years later. They don’t tell the absolute best stories in a game, but by god, they will always innovate in making you really feel like an active part of the stories they do tell.
*Okay, maybe a little.
So what’s my point with all this? Dragon Age: Inquisition reminded me a lot of the original Baldur’s Gate. In a myriad of ways.
I have a love/hate relationship with the Dragon Age series. I enjoyed Origins, but felt like it fell short in some ways that the developers promised. Sure, it had plenty of roleplaying and tactical gameplay, but for the most part, being tactical meant controlling your mage and using freeze spells at the right time. And the game’s main story felt like it ended right when it was getting started. Sure, the game is about 80 hours long if you do everything, so this is just a perspective thing, but it sure felt that way at the time.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I played through the game 3 times, so I loved it.
Dragon Age 2? Well, I mostly hated it. There were definitely some bright spots (Hawke, Varric, and the overall story concept were stellar), but bad gameplay and repetitive areas killed any chance of it being a classic. Oh, goodness. It was like they had to recycle the exact same warehouse for every dungeon. There was no exploration at all.
This lowered the bar considerably for me. As a result, Dragon Age: Inquisition was the first Bioware game ever that I didn’t buy on the day it was released. I actually just put it on my Christmas wishlist, shrugged, and figured I’d buy it on sale if no one bought it for me. I did end up getting it gifted to me after all, though, and I’m sure glad I did.
I loved it. My wife hated it. Mostly because any free idle time I had for the past month or so, I spent playing this game.* The difference between a good game and a great game, I feel, is that a good one entertains you, but you can put it aside any time you feel like it. A great one grips you, and makes you annoyed you have to go sleep and work the next day. And then you spend the next work day looking forward to getting to go home and play it again. It’s a feeling that gets rarer and rarer for me every year now that more and more adult responsibilities pile on my shoulders.
*Don’t worry, I didn’t ignore her or anything. I still snuggled, watched TV with her, did the dishes, etc. It’s just that when she was busy with anything, I would go play this game.
Why did I enjoy this game so much? Well…
This game is HUGE. It’s almost as if Bioware looked at the criticism surrounding Dragon Age 2 and said “Oh yeah? We’ll show you guys what a big world looks like.” Then they decided to build a sandbox that feels big enough to rival games like Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto 5, or any Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Game you can think of. Each individual zone is large enough on its own, but they additionally harbor dungeons that often have their own seperate map.
Most of the time, when games boast about having a lot of ground to explore, I just roll my eyes. Yeah, yeah. It’s big. But what is there to do in that space? Well, DA:I feels like Baldur’s Gate in that aspect. You’ll find random characters wondering the maps, some of which hold simple quests, and others who have massive branching quests. You also have boring fetch Pokemon style quests, but those are purely optional. I mostly ignored those.
It’s funny, really. My first time playing the game, I found myself getting bored exploring the countryside. But then, something clicked, and I got sucked it totally and completely. There’s something about the exploration aspect that really works when it’s placed inside a setting as organic and meticulously built as Thedas.
The lore. Ironically, the lore behind a game like this is usually low on my wishlist, despite my obvious love of fantasy novels. It’s nice to have, but I can forgive when it’s not there. After all, no amount of detailed descriptions can make up for a boring game. Luckily, this game is definitely not boring, and they make the rest of the game interesting enough that you might actually stop to read some of those random documents that you come across dozens of times as you explore the regions this game puts in front of you.
The story. One thing I can readily say about all three Dragon Age games is that they all have a great story behind them. The first covers the story of the Fifth Blight, and the battle the Gray Wardens led across Ferelden to save the world. The second took a more personal tone, choosing instead to follow around Hawke as he rose from a nobody into the de-facto hero of Kirkwall over the span of a decade. This game takes your character and meshes the previous two concepts together, following your character rise from a simple prisoner to the Inquisitor, savior of Empresses, Kings, and all of Thedas. It really feels like a sequel to Dragon Age 2 moreso than Origins, but that makes sense, I suppose.
You start with a headquarters in the middle of nowhere, and by the end you run the Inquisition from a massive fortress in the mountains. The natural visual progression is immensely satisfying, to say nothing of the actual plot progression. Again, not a shock. This is Bioware’s wheelhouse.
The only flaw, really, is that the ending is not nearly as detailed as the rest of the game seems to be begging for. Sure, you get informed on what happened to some major plot points, but details on what each companion does after the main game would’ve been nice. Maybe in the expansion…
All that being said, there are a couple of issues with the game.
The companions in this game aren’t particularly interesting, for the most part. Varric makes his return, which is a great thing, considering he is one of the best companions Bioware has ever made. There’s a Tevinter mage named Dorian who is probably my favorite new character among the bunch, just because he’s so fabulously sarcastic. But the warrior companions are very dry, for the most part, and the other rogues are either very wooden or very annoying. If you enjoy companion banter in these games, there’s not as much fun to be had here as usual.
The difficulty balance. Honestly, if you do even half the quests this game gives you, you’ll probably max out your level. Through a combination of doing a lot of the quests and picking a class specialization that felt game breaking at the end, I kind of bulldozed through most of the threats the game threw at me. I could seriously take down dragons with just my one character. I do intend to go back to this game eventually and play a warrior on hard mode. That should give me a better challenge.
So, in conclusion, this game rocks if you like RPGs. I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite not wanting to like it at the beginning. Bioware is making a comeback, in a big way.
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