As I said in my quick review, I think that the plot or story of the game is in some ways a weak point. The main plot is fine, and does what it is meant to by taking you from the start of the game to the end, linking into previous content and future content. However the other quests do seem unfinished, and their placement within the game could have been improved upon. This has only become more obvious on my second play-through. Let me explain.
Character back-story creation
The game’s main plot hurls you into the action right from the outset, much like it did in DA2, and although I cannot argue with the fact that for mass-market appeal to the broadest of audiences this works well as an engagement strategy, it does make building your character’s back-story far more problematic. (For more information on game pacing, check out this video). Most games that use this starting type of action are ones that have you playing a pre-made character, a person whose character and look is already defined by the game to a larger extent, even if it is merely that his job or role has a massive influence on his character. Dragon Age has always been more about creating YOUR character.
You start your game with only the paragraph you are given on character creation and then flung into the action. This lack of back-story is compounded by the fact that the game doesn’t allow you really too much room to be your own character, but forces you into the role that of leader/inquisitor. This is part of the plot (or rather most of the plot), I get that, but this, added to the fact that you have no character background setting (like you had in DA:O) means that it isn’t until you get into far more into the game that the scope for your character’s personality through decisions and choices relating to others become more obvious. This lack of space to build your own back-story actually hinters the replay value of the game.
Part of the reason that DA:O worked so well for replay value was the fact that you had the variety of origins to choose from, and each of those had choices in them that allowed you to build your character’s story. I could play an elf each time, and each time through the choices at the beginning my character would be different. I might have a really arrogant but pious elf escaping persecution, or I might have an fearful but determined elf wanting revenge, or a number of other options. I must have played a male elf perhaps 5 full play-throughs, and each one was completely different, not to mention all the other race/class choices I had characters of.
Each of the interactions with npcs allowed me to build up my imagination of my character, become invested in his journey before the real one began, and when events did conspire to take me from my origins, I knew roughly how my character would act and why. Even when you did get to the areas that were the same for every origin it felt different because you brought along your own story to it.
You have none of this in DA Inquisition. When you replay the game, you have no real back-story and just the same content from the outset, and that is an issue.
The companion quests in DA Inquisition bear the brunt of the character building and rpg aspects of the game, and I do love them, but because there is so much of the rpg aspect of the game (in relation to your character) only explored in them, there really doesn’t seem to be either enough of them or put in early enough.
One of the fastest companion quests you can really get is starting to romance Solus (if you are a female elf), and even going through the content as fast as possible to get to that fist kiss stage, it took over 12 hours. That is 12 hours of doing exactly the same content as the first play-through with the exception of the change in mage/templar option and race/class. I found myself struggling to find the will to continue, knowing that even then, getting to the next bit of that story was going to be perhaps another 15 hours on top of that, and likely the same again to get to the more decisive bits.When you know all the quests from the first play-through (especially if you were like me and did pretty much every tiny quest you could find), the second play-through is to play it differently. To take what you know from the first one and explore another way of looking at the world through your actions and experience is what I do in a second run, but because so many of the quests are merely the same no matter what you choose, you are chasing after the companion quests that are doled out.
Don’t get me wrong, once I got that first kiss and the story moved on, I became more interested in the game again because I had more options for leveling up to get to the next one, but the fact that companion quests are so important remains, and so many, even at the very end of the game, remain feeling unresolved and unexplored properly. These are people you work with, fight with and whose lives are entrusted to you, and yours to them in return, and yet there are fewer times to explore those interactions as I would have liked.
Lilliana for example, near the end of the game has a situation, and it is a pretty big one in terms of her story. So much so that upon getting no more conversation from her I went to each of the other companions and tried to get more conversation options out of each one about it. The situation seemed dire enough and worrying enough that I needed advice. Surely there was something that should be done, someone I could talk to that might even be able to reach out. But no. There was nothing. NOTHING. Not only was there nothing then, but there was nothing after that except one other conversation that also was exceedingly worrying, but again, nothing ever came of that either. If anything, it was like neither of these two massively anxiety provoking situations had ever happened, no consequences, no mention of it, nothing. No one even changed their behavior outside of the cut-scene conversation.
This was not the only time that I felt like that, though the one with her was the most obvious. Each companion has his/her own quests and such, but few of them gave that feeling of satisfaction that they were indeed dealt with. I might get a letter on the war table on completion, and that was it, or I might get a short comment from them about what was to happen if they lived after the big event was dealt with, but afterwards nothing was mentioned of it, even in the summary narration. There was a massive event set in motion through one of the companion quests, but there was only a short conversation and a small slip of narration at the end of it, we didn’t even get to witness the event ourselves!
There were glorious gems in the companion quests, ones that had me in tears, or contemplating them for hours afterwards. I treasure these even now when writing this, and it makes me feel bad for voicing my concerns about the quests, but the fact is that many of the companion quests just seemed to be unfinished and the gems in there only highlight the fact that many endings fall way short. One can hope that future content either in dlc or in expansion will include more on these, but since the game here does in fact sum up the event completion off-screen is worrying that they may not. I would like to be wrong in this, but only time will tell.
Plot, purchases and pre-knowledge
Another thing I feel I should really mention in more detail is the fact that the main plot actually relies heavily on the player having knowledge of the previous games and books in order to get the most out of the main plot. There are codex entries and the Dragon Keep website to fill you in, but I wanted to talk about the books here.
The Dragon Age franchise is fairly large these days, thanks to the success of the first game and the hoard of loyal fans that stayed through it despite a less-than-successful second game. Personally I didn’t hate Dragon Age 2 like many people did, but I can totally acknowledge that it certainly wasn’t as good as the first. But I digress. The company had got the lead writer, David Gaider to write a novel after Dragon Age Origins exploring more about Loghain and King Maric, as well as another one about the Grey Wardens and the origins of Duncan, and they were a real success. Both books were prequels. (Details of the books at the bottom of the page).
The books were so popular that there are now other books out as well as a comic series. What is interesting here is that there were two books released between DA2 and DA3, (I cannot comment on the content of the comic, I have never read it), give the back-story of events between DA2 and DA3 and many of the characters in the books you will meet, especially in Orlais. I have not read the the latest book that deals with Orlais, but I know from researching into it that all the main characters are in it, even auxiliary characters.
While I didn’t struggle too much with the main plot in Orlais, I am very much aware that the depth of information and knowledge of the stories and characters from the books would have made this part of the plot far richer and more meaningful. As it was, I left the quest, yes, satisfied I had completed it to my satisfaction, but not really invested in it. Likewise, the story about Cole is actually in the book about mages and templars, which is a fairly significant thing since he is a companion.
I mean, yes, you can play the game without reading the books, but there is a lot of knowledge that sort of relies on your investment in the franchise enough to have bought and read the books to get the most out of the game. There are many instances where I felt my reading of the books gained me a better depth to the game and times, and then times like in the Orlais nobility plot quest that I felt I was missing out because I didn’t have all the information since I had not read the book that related to it.
I am in two minds about this. On one hand, Bioware is known for its story-based games and I do love the books, but on the other I just feel that the reliance on knowledge gained from books before playing the game is too high in this case. It worked fine with Dragon Age Origins, because the books were released after the game, and they didn’t directly affect information about the game story itself. The knowledge in the books released before DA Inquisition does relate to characters alive, and situations that are still happening and that you as a player have to interact with instead of keeping the books and game content separated as I feel they should be.
When the game already has, in my opinion, a bit of a struggle in some places with player investment in stories, having other ways of getting that information to the player is indeed critical. I just don’t think they went about it the right way here. If nothing else, the game could have come with another option to it to have kindle/ebook editions of the book added onto the game, so players were actually more aware that there were books available relating to the plot.
I almost don’t know what exactly to say about the book issue, other than the fact that the game DA Inquisition already struggles to get in enough content and I don’t know how they could have gotten more in without compromising in other areas. Perhaps the books were indeed necessary, but I think the company should have dealt with their existence better.
I know I moan a lot, especially about games that I actually do like, but perhaps it is because I want them to live up to the promise of what they might be. Dragon Age Inquisition is a great game. I have clocked up about 135 hours in it now, which is pretty amazing in such a short time. The game has so much to offer, and yet there are aspects that, while functional, are not as great as they could be, as great as other parts of the game show they can be.
I think it is without a doubt that Bioware will release DLC or an expansion for this game considering the success of it. It has, after all, already been named ‘game of the year’ and ‘rpg of the year’ by the Game Awards. Bioware certainly listened to player feedback after DA2, and so I have hope that my concerns and hopes, shared by many who are likewise vocal, will feed back to them and into future content.
Here is to hope for the future. 🙂
Dragon Age books
- The Stolen Throne by David Gaider (Story about King Maric and Loghain)
- The Calling by David Gaider (Story about the Grey Wardens and Duncan origins)
- Asunder by David Gaider (Story about the struggle between mages and templars)
- The Masked Empire by Patrick Weekes (Story about the Orlais nobility)