Dragon Age: Inquisition Provides a Game-Changing Model for World-Saving Adventure
As RPGamers, we tend to focus on role-playing experiences, games that allow us to save the world, level up our characters, and journey into unknown destinations. We focus, too, on character interactions, battle systems, and AI behavior. We look at the entire presentation, how the game comes across to us, as we play. Certain games make a direct impact on the dynamics of how these things work together better than others. There is a game that I recently finished, a game called Dragon Age: Inquisition, that I believe demonstrates the importance of three essential ingredients to a powerful experience of world-saving adventure, ingredients that we as gamers can take for granted at times.
First, in a world-saving adventure, the player needs to believe in the mission. In Dragon Age: Inquisition, the player focuses their attention on defeating Corypheus. This focus is not built on revenge, but instead a desire to see the world a better place. This is not a presentation of good vs. evil in absolutes, however. The story does manage to weave threads that allow the player to understand why Corypheus is doing what he is doing. The player gets enough information to want to defeat Corypheus, not just because he is evil, but because the world needs saving from evil. The idea that the world is in trouble and it is up to the player to solve the problem is not new in RPGs. But it is essential, I believe, that players are invested in that mission. Otherwise, the overall impact of the story’s conclusion is not felt as deeply as it could be.
Second, the player needs a battle system that is easy to understand but hard to master. Dragon Age: Inquisition allows a lot of flexibility in party combinations. The player can freely select each member of the party at any given time. There are settings for AI, so that other characters will comply as the player concentrates on their favorite character. In my 90-hour playthrough of the game, including the DLC, I concentrated mostly on my own Inquisitor. My character was a human-rogue-archer, so I concentrated on applying as much DPS as possible. My favorite party combination that I used throughout most of the game was Cassandra as my Tank, Iron Bull as my primary DPS, and Dorian as my Mage. I found this combination to be easy for me to understand. I also had a habit of putting my characters in the same party order: Inquisitor at the top, Cassandra in the second position, Iron Bull third, and Dorian at the bottom. I knew that if I wanted Dorian to use a magic potion to increase his magic, all I had to do was hit up on the D-pad to select him and go to the option wheel.
The combat system in Dragon Age: Inquisition is easy to understand, but there are lots of little things working behind the scenes that make it more complicated. As the characters level up, there are skill trees that add a lot of variety and specialization. At the end of my playthrough, I still had a lot of skills to learn, even though I did max out a few skill trees for some of my characters, selecting to master a few over getting a lot from each tree available. Technically, if the player wanted, they could make a four-mage party, providing that the Inquisitor is a mage. I didn’t try this option because I focused more on the classic trifecta style of tank, DPS, and healer. But Dragon Age: Inquisition does not shy away from giving the player enough room to experiment with different playstyles. For the mages, one can focus each on the ice, fire, and lightning elements.
Third, there needs to be dialogue between characters that makes the player feel that the journey is worth hearing. We know how important voice acting can be in modern RPGs. We hear about what works, what doesn’t, and how the player might cringe when hearing a particular voice. Dragon Age: Inquisition has a lot of variety when it comes to voice acting, both in the performance of the lines and the script itself. Some moments made me laugh out loud. Some moments made me sad. Some moments made me stop and think. I suppose I make this a third essential ingredient because I prefer to play games with voice acting in them and the subtitles turned on. Modern games have really spoiled me in this regard. As much as I did enjoy Super Mario Bros., Contra, and Tecmo Bowl, having fully-voiced characters that react to what I am doing is particularly striking and engaging.
I believe that while other RPGs do have these elements, not every game delivers them like Dragon Age: Inquisition does. For example, when the player wants to relax a bit and talk with characters to learn their backstory, there is not only opportunity, but also an unique advantage to learning about the world. As the dialogue continues, the player gets more dialogue options to choose from, adding into the mix how certain story sequences can play out. BioWare is known for conversation and dialogue options in their games, and Dragon Age: Inquisition creates experiences that are well crafted and entertaining, beyond any game it had developed before. It is easy for us as gamers to take dialogue for granted in any game, but when we realize that a dialogue tree option that took place with one character adds more variety to gameplay options further along in the story, that is unique indeed. Dragon Age: Inquisition provides this feeling throughout the journey, creating numerous opportunities to appreciate details found throughout the game.
When the final credits were rolling after I finished the third piece of DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition, I was legitmately sad that no more DLC had been made. It is true I can go back to a previous save and explore some more of the content I have left behind (the map in the game is filled with content). And I might just do that at some point. But during my experience, I was fully engaged in the mission, I had a battle system that was easy to understand but hard to master, and the dialogue between characters made me feel like the journey was worth hearing. I was on-board from the beginning, and I was happy that I could enjoy the game as much as I did. Dragon Age: Inquisition created an experience for me that took what RPGs have done well in the past and masterfully put it all together like no other game has done, making it a game-changing model that future RPGs can look to for inspiration and player immersion.