For our first discussion of Dragon Age: Inquisition, we look at how the game differs from its immediate predecessor, Dragon Age II.
This episode of Push to Smart contains spoilers for the Dragon Age franchise.
JAYLEE: Hello and welcome back to the Push to Smart this week we’re gathering around the digital water cooler to discuss the latest in the Dragon Age franchise, Dragon Age: Inquisition. This episode we’re going to be comparing Inquisition to the previous game in the series, Dragon Age II.
JAYLEE: We mentioned in our Game of the Year 2014 episode about how Dragon Age: Inquisition was almost good enough for our list but didn’t quite make it, and for me the easiest way to do that is to compare its failings in particular to Dragon Age II.
STACEY: Which is a funny thing to say because Dragon Age II took such a beating when it first came out, and it is in no way shape or form a perfect game.
JAYLEE: No. (Laughs)
STACEY: It has a lot, a lot a lot of problems, but it has weirdly different problems from Dragon Age: Inquisition that I think made it overall a better experience.
JAYLEE: Yeah, well the big thing that Dragon Age II was knocked for was how repetitive the gameplay was. I mean, they really did not have that many areas and you just kept going through the same ones over and over.
STACEY: It was necessarily minimalist based on the fact that they had nothing.
JAYLEE: And in this game it’s the exact opposite, where there are so many areas to go to and they’re huge and there are quests just everywhere. Although I will say that the combat isn’t as– It’s very similar to the second game.
JAYLEE: At least for me playing a rogue. It was very “Okay, I’m going to use the exact same attacks on the cooldown.”
STACEY: You didn’t really have a choice because you were limited to, what is it, like 8 quick-keys and that’s it? Like in Dragon Age II you could hit the radial menu, which we’re both playing on the Playstation platform, which is the shoulder button, and it’d pop up and you could choose the rest of your spells, or abilities and you can’t do that anymore. What the problem is, when you’re limited to those particular attacks you have to bank on the enemies you’re fighting being susceptible to these attacks, and there’s something to be said for the experience of going in, failing, realizing “oh, hey this giant ogre is actually vulnerable to XYZ, and I have ABC equipped, lets go redo that.” Except for it auto-saves before major battles like right before the battle starts where you can’t adjust it. So it felt like it wasn’t thought out totally. (Laughs)
JAYLEE: When I was playing I kept on having difficulties with a battle with this dragon but the auto-save was right before the dragon wakes up so–
STACEY: So it just steps on you. (Laughs) I had one of those.
STACEY: I guess I’ve never been any good of the tactics in the Dragon Age games but maybe its a skill thing, but I felt like regardless of what I told them to do they would eventually just follow me, all the other characters on the board. Like there was a puzzle, I didn’t even do it on my second playthrough but I tried doing it on my first but it has multiple switches you had to hit and I was like “Oh, I’m supposed to leave my characters on them.” Except for as soon as I’d tell them to hold position they’d leave. (Laughs)
JAYLEE: Oh, yeah! When you switch characters it would totally–
STACEY: Yeah, I was like “Oh, I guess that’s not how you’re supposed to solve the puzzle, I guess, but also what’s the point of holding if you don’t hold?” (Laughs)
STACEY: This is going to get far away from DAII, and just like my own general complaints about the game but there was so many weird stuff like that where it wouldn’t do what you’d expect it do. And you just had to expect, this is kind of how it goes. Which, again Dragon Age II, and Origins are not perfect games. Dragon Age: Origins especially was just incredibly bloated and this game bordered on those bad habits. Dragon Age II was very repetitive as we talked about, but I think it’s just the fact that this one was released with such confidence and such great word of mouth and then its just the same old stuff if not worse in ways.
JAYLEE: Its one of those things where it got really good reviews which is awesome and Dragon Age II was panned, well it wasn’t panned, it got goodish lukewarm reviews but it felt like, as time went on, people kind of looked at it as the black sheep of Bioware, but I still like Dragon Age II more.
STACEY: And I think a lot of it has to do, not necessarily with the combat, because I will confess I play Dragon Age games on easy, especially Dragon Age II because I just don’t have time for it. I’m not here for this. Like, I almost wish they would try… I mean they keep kind of circling this good fantasy RPG, and they never hit it so it’s just like quit while you’re ahead, do the Telltale thing and just make it about the story because that’s what’s interesting.
STACEY: And Dragon Age II’s story is just really well done in a lot of ways and part of it, especially in regards to Dragon Age: Inquisition, when I was trying to figure out what I didn’t like about that game was that Dragon Age II was such a personal story. it has such a smaller scope, which in a way makes it when all of a sudden that smaller scope explodes at the end that much more of a punch in the gut, like “Oh my god” But it starts out so small and tightly coiled. Like, it starts with the main character running away from the big bad form the original game. There’s this big conflict going on and she is not doing that, because she’s not that kind of person.
STACEY: And it gives her a family, a backstory, and then lets you decide where it can go from there. And I think as a result it fostered a bit more of a feeling of authorship with that character, but also I liked all the supporting characters more, I felt like I got to know them more and I think it really benefitted from that smaller scope where Dragon Age: Inquisition is almost too big.
JAYLEE: Mhmm. That’s one thing I keep coming back to is the smaller scope of Dragon Age II, I mean, its all about personal stakes and Hawke and his tightly banded group of friends, and in Dragon Age: Inquisition its the end of the world. There is a hole in the sky and there’s a guy who rides a dragon and he is going to screw everything over, and that is a lot harder to invest in.
JAYLEE: And another thing that Dragon Age II just really trumps the other games in is the cast. Every single character was interesting and unique and had their own voice and I was compelled by them in different ways, even if I didn’t really like them much, there was never really an Oghren of the group. (Laughs)
STACEY: There were parts in Dragon Age: Inquisition where I’d stumbling around Skyhold and I’d be like “Oh my god, Cole. Cole! I forgot you were here!”
JAYLEE: (Laughs) Which is funny because that’s kind of his character.
STACEY: Yeah (Laughs) Yeah, but there was nobody like that and I feel like part of it was because it was so small and then there was a lot of just hangout scenes. You’d go to meet like Varric and then Anders would be walking out, which sometimes wouldn’t make sense because you’d have Anders in your party and you’d be like “Why is he here?” Because you brought him with you.
STACEY: But it also gave the sense that these were people that existed outside of you and they had their own life and motivations and were fully fleshed out and in Dragon Age: Inquisition I didn’t– there was the wicked grace game which is great, and one of the best parts of the game and that’s it.
JAYLEE: I really think that where Inquisition, the characters shined the most were in those moments like when you have drinks with Iron Bull and his crew.
JAYLEE: And another thing, and I know this was mentioned as a glitch is in Dragon Age: Inquisition is a lot of players didn’t have characters interacting with each other while they’re just out exploring the world which was what made me adore the Dragon Age II characters. Because they all had their own little interactions with each other, different relationships, like Isabela and Aveline would always be kind of snarky and–
STACEY: They grew in that snarkiness, like they first disliked each other then they have this begrudging mutual respect and then they actually became friends and it was all through the dialogue that you just heard walking around.
JAYLEE: And then you’d have Isabela as kind of a mentor to Merrill which was just amazing.
STACEY: I know.
JAYLEE: And just everything. It was so easy for me to inhabit the character of Hawke. To want to be a part of this world.
STACEY: Like you brought up with the Merrill and Isabela thing, same with Varric too, he was very protective of Merrill, which that made me almost also feel that way towards Merrill. Other than the fact that she was just so cute and sweet and Welsh.
STACEY: It’s like everybody had this feeling of “oh, oh, oh honey, just no” and that kind of kept reinforcing my feeling of “I’m going to protect you even though you’re a blood mage and doing everything wrong. You’re just so sweet and who could leave you by yourself out here?” that kind of thing.
JAYLEE: But the problem with Inquisition, I think is that there are like three or four party members who I just didn’t care for, they just weren’t interesting or compelling.
STACEY: Yeah. Part of the problem, and I was talking about this with somebody else earlier today, is the fact that you have all these side characters, they all have one loyalty mission to keep up with the Mass Effect parallel, and the missions are way too short, they added way too little and that would be all you had to go on and it was just not enough for the scope they were going for.
JAYLEE: And the problem too was that a lot of times they’d have like two missions and one was always “go kill five guys” or “go find Grey Warden letters” but then for some of their actual missions like Vivienne when you’re trying to get the heart for the potion…
JAYLEE: You don’t actually have to have her there for the battle. You can just go there and bring it back to her and she’s just like “Thanks, come with me.” I mean, it just… (groans)
STACEY: Yeah, it was very detached, which I think is my biggest problem was that it felt too gamey at times. And then the game wasn’t even that good.
STACEY: So I think that the biggest issue going from Dragon Age II to Dragon Age: Inquisition is that Dragon Age II laid the groundwork for this conflict between mages and the templars. And there was a lot of groundwork laid to get there, you had the whole situation with Anders leading up to what he did in the end, but you also had a lot of things that we saw in the original Dragon Age: Origins that were repositioned to service this conflict. So for instance demon possessions suddenly became, where in Origins they were represented by a sexy lady demon seducing some dude.
STACEY: In this game it became more about this is what an oppressed people does when they have no other option, and that was a really powerful metaphor. And we see a lot of that kind of thrown away in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Which it feels weird for me to say because a lot of the criticism against the fan reaction to Mass Effect 3 was that, “well, your choices don’t really matter anyway.” Which yeah, they don’t matter in the way that no matter what you do Anders blows up the chantry, but they always mattered emotionally and that was always the key to a good Bioware game. And here it didn’t feel like they mattered emotionally it felt like the kind of curtain came up and you could see the mechanisms behind it and the templars versus mages felt more like a game-y kind of choose what color your cannon fodder is.
STACEY: And that just kind of deescalated anything and I never felt that there was ever a resolution to that conflict. Which was an important conflict and was so well done in Dragon Age II and it felt like it was either thrown to the wayside or just made into this very transparently game-y thing that had no emotional investment.
JAYLEE: The problem I had was that the game promises you everything is different, everything has changed, you can’t go back from this, and then you go into the Hinterlands and they’re like “Oh those kooky templar and mages…”
JAYLEE: “You have to get by them. You know they’re just attacking, just walk right through them you’ll be okay. You’ll have to choose a side eventually but, so does everyone.” (Fake laugh)
STACEY: Yeah, there’s this a lot of lip service paid to the fact that there’s a war going on and sometimes you’d find things, like you’ll find a body with a note on it but those things seemed so far removed from what you were doing. Like that was just another collection quest. Which oh my god this game has so many collection quests and it does not need them and it makes me (groans).
JAYLEE: But in Dragon Age II they never set up a mission and then you’re free to do whatever. They’re not like “Oh, the Arishok is going to kill everybody but you know just get to it when you have the time.” It was like you’d get a letter as opposed to “There’s a huge hole in the sky but could you find my grandmother’s ring in the snow over there?”
JAYLEE: And it actually reminded me of Lightning Returns. Which, there are a lot of sidequests in the game and the whole point is the world is ending in days time and the more that you help people the more time that you have, the more powerful you become. You literally get an extra day to prepare yourself for the end of the world.
STACEY: Oh, that’s interesting.
JAYLEE: And so it feels kind of like “Okay, yeah, I’m just killing X amount of monsters or helping this weird cat person become unpossessed…”
STACEY: (Laughs) As one does.
JAYLEE: As one does. You know, naturally. But its all to help my final mission as a valkyrie, or whatever they call her (Laughs). So it felt very, yes its game-y but there are narrative stakes.
STACEY: They give you enough of a hook.
STACEY: To feel like you’re not…
JAYLEE: That you’re not just doing a horse obstacle course. And in Dragon Age II they had different threats throughout the different acts of the game. But this one you have just one, it’s Corypheus, who is a part of the universe previously, and it was just DLC. It was supposed to be a very personal Hawke DLC because you learned about his father and now he’s just back and he’s this… he’s kind of like Sauron. He’s just this embodiment of bad guy.
STACEY: Right, which I think is why they chose him because he’s so clearly evil and wherein the mage versus templar conflict would have been a little too opaque for new players. And we should say that Corypheus does add this dimension too of the overarching conflict of the mage versus templar in the original DLC because if you bring Anders along he’ll comment about how he previously thought the stories of the magisters of which Corypheus claims to be apart was some kind of boogeyman tale made up by the chantry to make people afraid of magic where now there’s some truth to it so what else does that mean? That of course is not at all explored in Dragon Age: Inquisition a game that is about religion in a lot of different ways but doesn’t feel like touching that.
JAYLEE: He is really like Sauron, he’s just this bad guy.
STACEY: He becomes the boogeyman that Anders suspected him of being.
JAYLEE: Mhmm, but not in a compelling way at all.
JAYLEE: And he also kind of takes these very important instances from previous games like the mages and possession and kind of just…
STACEY: Steamrolls over them. (Laughs)
JAYLEE: Yeah, he kind of just steamrolls over them. So you know whenever there’s like “Oh, they Grey Wardens have turned bad” or somebody is possessed, its just “Oh its just Corypheus being evil again.”
STACEY: Yeah. Possessing them or brainwashing them.
JAYLEE: Yeah. And the thing that made demon possession so impactful and meaningful in the previous games was that it…
STACEY: It was a deliberate decision made by somebody with agency and that was their only agency. Like they could either be destroyed by this oppressive system or subject themselves to demon possession.
JAYLEE: Yes. The system has failed them and so they’ve turned to the dark side of magic.
STACEY: Which is their only way out. Whereas this whenever that happened it was just “Oh, Corypheus has brainwashed them.” Which I think is also part of the reason the templar versus mages conflict feels game-y and mostly cosmetic in this game was that because regardless of whether you choose to side with the mages or the templars the other side would be brainwashed by Corypheus.
STACEY: And that just destroyed everything that came before it that made everything so meaningful. And that was just a shame.
JAYLEE: It really is because you know Dragon Age II was all about the oppression of the mages and while its not the best metaphor for oppression because most oppressed people, as you often say, they can’t throw a fireball at people, you know?
STACEY: (Laughs) Right. They can’t turn into a monster.
JAYLEE: Yeah. If you side with the templars then the mages are so susceptible to this manipulation that it just kind of proves them right and you’re just kind of like “Oh, well…”
STACEY: I think that that is an important point the fact that so much of whatever side you choose the other side proves you right.
STACEY: And there’s not space to choose the wrong side, and feel regret.
JAYLEE: Yeah, there’s no grey area or nuance.
STACEY: I think thats its biggest flaw, there is no room for regret. You choose one side or the other and either side you are reinforced in your decision.
JAYLEE: Because in Dragon Age II, there were “good templars” and “bad mages” but in this game if you side with the mages then all the templars are bad and evil and addicted to lyrium. And Cullen is just like “Well I dodged a bullet there.”
STACEY: (Laughs) Yeah.
JAYLEE: Also with Dragon Age II, the characters you could have in your party, a lot of them were touchstones for a lot of conflicts. You had Fenris with the Tevinter slavery, Anders with possession with Justice and mages, and you had Merrill with blood magic–
STACEY: And being so sweet.
JAYLEE: And being so cute. But in this game really the only conflict within your party is… Vivienne doesn’t want Cole to be in the party, but Solas wants Cole in the party. So what are we going to do?
STACEY: Its weird.
JAYLEE: Its just off.
STACEY: Like, I couldn’t tell when characters would approve of what, like Solas seemed to approve if you farted.
JAYLEE (Laughs) It’s true! Like, literally if you just say “Hello” to him he’s like “Solas approves.”
STACEY: But then it was like, he greatly disapproved of me not doing the ritual for the well in my last playthrough, but then he greatly approved of Morrigan drinking from the well, which I would not have anticipated. And its like, I don’t know what you guys want from me. I don’t know what you guys are doing.
JAYLEE: LIke, other than a few examples these characters didn’t have as much defined personalities and relations between each other as well as with the Inquisitor so that was just disappointing.
So that does it for our first part in our discussion on Dragon Age: Inquisition. Obviously we have a lot of thoughts about Inquisition’s place in the franchise and how it compares to Dragon Age II and we would love to hear your opinions on them, what you think about the game, how you compare it to the other entries in the franchise. Please let us know in the comments below and don’t forget to subscribe to keep up to date on all of our latest episodes and water cooler discussions.
CULLEN: …Inquisitor, but our fortifi- Oh sweet maker.
IRON BULL: Cullen, how’s it going?
JOSEPHINE: Is the Inquisitor awake? I thought perhaps we– (Gasps)
CULLEN: I am so sorry…
JOSEPHINE: I cannot move my legs.