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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
I have to get this off my chest, because to be quite honest I have been fairly disappointed and ever so slightly worried about this Halloween event and the overall direction of the game. Not super worried, but perhaps a bit. Let me explain.
There are a couple of main reasons that this year was disappointing for me. The first is the fact that the Halloween event ‘Blood and Madness’ is basically a rerun of last year’s event. There is no new story and the achievements are the same as last year, so if you have completed them in the past there is no way for you to get more achievement points for the most part this year. The same will be true of this years Wintersday event according to their news post.
Although annoying, this doesn’t bother me too much since it could be a sign that they are spending most of their time and resources working on the Living World story content. It is also not that uncommon for mmos to have reruns of annual festival events. The lack of new achievements bothers me more than the repeating of the event to be honest.
The second disappointment is to do with the story part of the event that takes part in an instance. This is not functional for the second part of the quest, and after a lot of forum digging, it seems that the most likely reason for this was a player exploit where they were farming the boss in it for high-end event currency. While I understand this is necessary, it doesn’t stop it from being annoying, especially since ArenaNet have not been forthcoming with information about it. Players were left guessing and confused as to what is going on. Guild Wars does have a tendency not to spell out some quests etc leaving players to look things up on fan websites, and so many players thought that they were not doing something right. A better notice from the game really would have helped.
The most worrying thing for me about the whole event was the Event specific items. Breaking these down, the items come in several sections:
- Event Currency Items
- Event Gem Items
- Event Gambling Items
Event Currency Items
The Event Currency Items really are not that great, not for me anyway. There are 4 mini pets, 12 halloween recipes half of which are for non-combat use, a 20 slot bag (which when compared with the cost of a 20 slot bag vs the cost of selling the currency it would cost turns out to be a seriously bad deal), and a character outfit. The latter, while I don’t find it appealing myself, seems to be one of the only real thing of value from this vendor. There are also currency conversion items that can be used to craft halloween recipes from previous years, but not the recipes to do so, if you want those you have to pay a premuim on the trading post (The cost of which ends up, with the materials needed, being about the same as buying the weapon skin outright). Overall, not really that satisfying a vendor.
I would also note that one of these items is the Mini Candy Corn Elemental. To do the second part of the story instance event you actually need this pet, or need to be partied with someone who does have it. Last year you could get this elemental by completing a set number of achievements but this year the only way to get the mini pet is to buy it with event currency, which means more grind for you. Not great.
Event Gem Items
The game started bringing out Halloween Items earlier in the month, staggering their release to maximize profits I would guess. There have been a great number of them compared to some previous events that I remember. Most of the items are either Outfits, Armour Skins or Minipets. I have no problem with these, since they fund the game and do not cause any problem.
There is however one item that I am not that pleased with getting added. It is called ‘Foil Wrapped Candy’. You can (very very rarely) find these as loot, but you can also buy them in the gem store, 25 for about the price of £5.31, Why does this bother me? It is a gambling item, but worse in my opinion than the lock-box chests you get in the game. Why?
Event Gambling Items
The ‘Foil Wrapped Candy’ is an item that is basically a consumable that leaves you with a foil wrapper. It is this foil wrapper that you can then gamble with. Instead of offering weapon skins for a pre-defined cost, ArenaNet have decided to make it a gambling thing. You get a foil wrapper and you give it into the skritt for a chance, yes a chance of getting a Halloween weapon skin.
What bothers me is not that it is gambling so much as it is the fact that they have used an item that is in the gem store as the currency for that gambling. The more shiny wrappers you hand in, the better your chance of getting a weapon skin will be. But it isn’t like there are tons of them either, there are only 100 greatswords and 100 shield skins, and only 200 rifle, dagger, sword and staff skins each. For ALL of the GW2 players. Fairly recent statistics show that GW2 have around 460,000 concurrent players. Do you fancy your chances of getting one of those skins with those odds? Even if it were split for that many item skins per server (with 52 servers, that is an average of 8846 players per server with players handing in multiple sweet wrappers) , it is still a tiny amount, and this isn’t in-game time we are talking about here, it is rl money.
What we are seeing here is a very low yield gamble that will see most participants come away with nothing for their effort and money.
In previous gambling items, such as the Black Lion Lock Boxes, even when players did not get the really sought-after items (such as the black lion tickets that can be exchanged for special weapon skins), they still got things that were useful or fun from within them. This gambling event item will either give you something, or it won’t, and your chance of getting an item, because it is based on the number of wrappers you hand in, is primarily dependent on you spending rl money in the cash shop, and despite that you are likely to get nothing in return.
ArenaNet moneymaking with Guild Wars 2
This move by ArenaNet to introduce rl money gambling items to the game comes at a time when they have also introduced another change to the game.
With the Halloween patch, they have also changed the price of the Gem trading prices. Before the patch you could trade between 12.5 and 13 in-game gold for 100 gems, and this price had been relatively stable for months, increasing little by little over time. Now however, after the patch they seem to have increased that price to over 20 gold for 100 gems. Needless to say there are a lot of players unhappy about this. Ah, I remember fondly when 100 gems once cost me 3.5 gold. All things change, but this one doesn’t sit well with players, and rightly so. What this points to certainly is that ArenaNet want players to be spending more of their rl money buying gems than trading in-game gold for them. As annoying as this is, I can’t really fault ArenaNet for it, since they do need to make money.
Are ArenaNet really in financial difficulty that these changes are being rolled out? It has been mentioned on the forums that NcSoft may well have forced the change upon the game to try and recoup some money from the disappointing reception of Wildstar. It is possible. I really do hope that players make enough noise and do not fall into the trap of buying into the new gambling items to make it seem profitable for the company, because if it is, you can be sure as hell that more will be added.