It's a bit late to write a full-blown review of Dragon Age: Inquisition, but I've had such a tumultuous time with it that I really just want to write something about it to let off some steam. DA:I definitely has some high points, but last night I was playing the mission Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts and I just about threw my controller across the room because of how bad a mission it is. So consider this a "mini-review" (slash-rant) about game design and how this particular mission gets it so, so wrong.
I've had a somewhat rocky relationship with the Dragon Age series over the years. I love me some western-style RPGs, and I love BioWare as well. I first played DA:O on my Xbox 360, but never finished it since the game hard locked my console about 4 times. I recently returned to the PC version of DA:O, and liked it enough to drop $20 to round out my collection with DA2 and DA: Inquisition. I could rant for longer than anyone cares to listen about the lazy design decisions of DA2. That particular game feels like a rush job from start to finish. But it's not why we're here. We're here for Inquisition, and specifically one main plot mission.
The Plot is Meaningless
The backstory of Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts can be summarized as follows. One of the major countries in the DA setting is a "France stand-in" called Orlais. Orlais at the time of DA:I is undergoing a civil war. There's the currently ruling empress, and she's fighting with a duke that controls a lot of the army. There's also this elven girl who runs a spy network or something and opposes them both.
"Team Good Guys" has reason to believe that the empress is going to be assassinated by "The Big Bad," (both completely unrelated to any of these warring factions) so they get themselves invited to a big party to try and stop that from happening. The party is actually a cover for peace talks to end the war. It takes place at a palace, with members from all the factions under one roof.
My first problem with this quest starts even before the quest does. None of these factions has played a significant role in the game so far. I've never met any of these people before. The civil war has similarly not been a focus of the game at all either. The characters and the war are introduced in an exposition dump between two of my advisers before the mission starts. I'd be willing to bet that once the mission is over, I'll probably never see any of these people again.
So why should I care what the outcome is?
During the course of the quest, this issue is compounded. As it turns out, all three of these bozos are assholes. They're all backstabbing, exploitative, out of touch jerks who have personal vendettas with one another. It's probably a pretty accurate representation of politics in general, but that doesn't mean that it's fun to play. I don't feel invested in the results of this mission at all, even less so once I learn more of the backstory.
The Main Objectives are a Disaster
Okay, so the story sucks, no big deal, that's 99% of video games, right? The gameplay in this mission is so, so much worse.
The entire quest takes place in the palace, which is not a very large zone, despite its very odd architecture. For some reason, it's divided into maybe 5-6 zones. The palace is loaded with guests, but for the most part they all repeat the same snippets of dialog over and over. There were more people concerned about the "number of canapes that were being served" or "whether or not the servants could hold them all" than I could count.
The main thrust of the quest is building up and maintaining your reputation with the nobles in attendance. This "reputation counter" is represented by a number between 0 and 100. If this number falls to 0, it's instant game-over. In order to convince the court to see things your way, you need this to be higher than 85 by the time the quest is over.
The effect of your actions on this number are mysterious and vague. Dialog choices can raise or lower it, but what works and what doesn't is nearly impossible to guess unless you're aggressively save scumming or using a guide. DA:I uses the sort of abbreviated conversation wheel that means what you see on screen is often not what is actually said, so it can be hard to even figure out what the appropriate response is from the information you're given. Further, things that work with one race/class combo, or with one group of party members just don't work with other combinations.
Much of the quest involves areas of the palace not included in the party, and for every minute you're away from the party, the reputation counter decreases by one. It's not always clear what zones are "safe" and what zones decrease your reputation, so you've got to move quickly through hostile areas and be careful not to linger looking for loot or side quest items too long. The lack of feedback and the pressure to speed through wide sections of the palace doesn't help the pacing or the fun factor of this quest one bit.
The Sidequests Are Garbage
I mentioned looking for side quest items just now, and that's kind of an important yet mostly meaningless part of this quest. There are something on the order of 60 "collectibles" to find. Fifteen of these are coins that can be tossed into a fountain for a small reputation counter boost. Finding these is a pain in the ass because you have to get relatively close to them in order to be able to track them and expose them.
Thirty more are "scandalous secrets" - many of which are circles on the floor where you have to eavesdrop on conversations nearby. The eavesdropping doesn't always work - it's random - so sometimes you have to eavesdrop on the same circle a bunch of times to get credit. The rest of the secrets are notes/books you can find and pick up.
Did you just spend a half hour combing the entire palace, carefully trying to avoid lingering in the reputation drop areas too long, lest you fail the mission or get a bad ending? Too bad, some don't spawn until later stages of the quest. Even if you find every last one, sucks to be you. There's no real reward for either of those collections! Surprise!
The final group of collectibles are statues. These statues are magical keys that can be used to unlock doors in the palace. There's a limited number of statues, and it's possible to miss some of them. There aren't enough to open all the doors. Some of the endings to this quest require that you find and save the statues to open specific doors. Otherwise, you'll miss out on plot-specific items.
All of this is not explained, at all, within the game proper. It's very easy to miss statues or waste them on rooms that have sub-par generic loot and nothing else. One of the statues is up on the rafters above a room which makes it seriously painful to grab. Compounding this is the fact that the area is "off limits" and so you're losing hard-earned reputation the whole time.
This Quest is the Worst
So let's recap. Here we have a mission where:
- I have no idea what is going on until 30 seconds before the mission starts
- I don't really care what happens during this mission
- It's mostly long and boring and full of politics that don't impact me at all
- All the side quests are irritating pixel searches that give little to no rewards
- The outcome is decided by a bunch of forces I can't know unless I cheat
- Almost all of the mechanics are irritating at best and actively hostile at worst
Why is this in a video game again? What makes this fun or interesting?