The Failure of the Inquisitor


So, one last swipe at this dead horse before I leave its carcass to rot, okay? Let’s talk about one of the most disappointing aspects of Dragon Age Inquisition, the inquisitor itself. For a roleplaying game, Dragon Age Inquisition didn’t provide a lot of opportunities to play a role.

Despite being able to customize your character to an insane degree, from gender/race to which voice actor you wanted to represent your character, the ability to define that character in game was anemic at best. In fact one could argue that it was because of this extreme amount of customization that the character itself was a blank cipher. Obviously the player character is supposed to be blank so that players can project their own personalities into the game, that’s not the problem. The problem is that projecting a personality into Dragon Age Inquisition is damn near impossible.

While different dialogue choices in the game allow you to react differently to different situations, there’s no coherent structure tying those dialogue choices together. The dialogue suffers from the same problem as everything else: it’s completely isolated from the rest of the game. The only character you can play is a schizophrenic suffering from multiple personalities, because there’s no way to craft a fully realized character.

The inquisitor is an empty helmet with no way to fill it.
The inquisitor is an empty helmet with no way to fill it.

Let’s talk about Commander Shepard for a moment; as I pointed out in my Mass Effect 3 review, no matter what choices you make, Commander Shepard still has several important characteristics that are always present:

Courage

Loyalty

Perseverance 

There are several others but let’s focus on these three. As I said, these characteristics are present in every Commander Shepard, but it’s the player’s input that helps to define those characteristics. Is Commander Shepard’s courage simply conquering his fear of death and charging into danger, or does it extend to moral courage too, the ability to do what’s right even if it isn’t easy? That depends entirely on how you play the character. Shepard is courageous no matter what, otherwise Shepard wouldn’t be the last hope for humanity, but it’s the player’s choices that help to define that characteristic and make it feel real. Is Shepard Loyal to his friends or to Humanity as a whole, willing to put human interests above everything else? Does Shepard’s perseverance come from stubborn pride or righteous morality?

Every dialogue choice and every action you could take in Mass Effect helped to make Commander Shepard feel like a living, breathing person. It’s why there are dozens of Facebook fan pages and twitter accounts for Commander Shepard. It’s why people cosplay as Commander Shepard at conventions. Shepard was a fully realized character, someone we could not only project ourselves onto, but also relate with.

Now name me three characteristics for the Inquisitor…

Anyone?

Okay, let’s make it easier, is there even a single characteristic to work with?

Courage? One of the first dialogue options you can pick is trying to wiggle out of going to the Rift.

Loyalty? The inquisitor doesn’t even know any of the characters when he first arrives, and can choose to kick out almost every companion he has.

Perseverance? The inquisitor certainly does persevere through a lot, but there’s never any motivation for him to do so. He perseveres because the plot demands it, nothing more.

I wish these amazing characters had appeared in a story worth the telling.
Ugh, do I really have to collect 10 ram meat, again? This is an inquisition, not a shopping mall!

There’s a reason you’re not going to see people cosplaying the Inquisitor, and its not just because that uniform is so darn generic: it’s because he’s nothing but a uniform.  There’s no way to consistently project any characteristics onto him. And I think one of the main problems is that, once again, Inquisition needed a prologue: an opportunity to get to know our character.

Mass Effect started out with Admiral Hackett and Captain Anderson giving us a brief description of Shepard’s past, whichever one you chose, followed by an opportunity to meet some of the characters. You’re conversation with Dr. Chakwas and Ensign Redshirt (I forget his name), allows you to decide whether you’re going to play a hardnosed no-nonsense commander, or an informal commander who treats his soldiers like friends. Then you meet the Turian Spectre, and you can choose to be either diplomatic or xenophobic in your reply.

More importantly though, these choices continue to present themselves throughout the game. You can continue being xenophobic when talking with aliens, or maybe as Shepard works with Turians, Krogan, and Salarians, Shepard becomes more accepting of their cultures. Shepard can continue to be an aloof commander that keeps a discreet distance from his soldiers, or one that likes to share a drink with Garrus after a hard day’s sniping.

1764420-mass_effect_3_garrus_4_super
And if you don’t want Garrus as a drinking buddy, you have no soul.

Dragon Age Origins gives you a pretty blank character as well, but again the prologue is what allows you to get to know your character and decide how you want to play the role. If you picked the Dwarf Noble origin, are you a stuffy aristocrat who refuses to even speak to the lower castes or a rebellious heir to the throne who is disheartened at how the lower castes are treated?

The Dalish Elf, are you the curious adventurer who wants to explore that ancient ruin or the cautious voice of reason when your friend decides to investigate?

The City Elf, are you bitter and resentful at how humanity has treated your people, or do you rise above it and hope your calm resolve eventually triumphs over human arrogance?

And once again these choices can continue to be reinforced or changed during the course of the game. Elves will be continually harassed by human characters for the rest of the game, and you can react calmly or threaten to gut them. Then your actions within the game will determine whether your character is brave, cunning, cruel or compassionate.

You butcher one castle's worth of people and suddenly your the bad guy. Go figure.
Kill ’em all.

Now let’s look at Dragon Age Inquisition. When you’re first arrested you can act like a total coward and try to talk your way out of leading Cassandra to the Rift, but later on in the game there is no option to continue playing your character as a coward. When you’ve officially been named head of the Inquisition and move to Skyhold, one of the options for your speech is “for my own power!” and yet there are no future dialogue choices that allow you to continue playing as a power-hungry dictator in the making. Even the romances are badly designed in that there is no way to screw it up.

Romancing a character in Mass Effect or Dragon Age Origins meant picking the appropriate responses, ones that would please whoever you were romancing. If you were romancing Zevran, crude sexual innuendos and a certain amount of arrogance would get you a long way.  Try being arrogant and crude with Lelianna and you’ll lose relationship points fast. The same was true with Mass Effect, their responses to your flirtations was dependent on how you flirted and their personality.

Come Dragon Age Inquisition and this has all been replaced with a single dialogue option in the upper left of the conversation wheeled marked with a big goofy heart. You want to romance someone, just click that button and your character will take care of the rest. No need to actually get to know the characters and what they like, oh no, that’s too complicated. And sometimes if you want to romance a certain character, the Inquisitor ends up making decisions that are totally out of character for the role you’re desperately trying to play.

I was trying to play my character as a ruthless Inquisitor, willing to do anything and everything to obtain his goals. This was already difficult enough with the shizophrenic dialogue choices and lack of any meaningful input for my gameplay choices, but when I romanced Josephine all of that went straight out the window. I had to duel Josephine’s suitor to win her heart because apparently someone at Bioware had just read Romeo and Juliette before writing Dragon Age Inquisition. Was I given the option of poisoning my opponent before the duel, and thus ensure my victory? Or could I send one of Lelianna’s assassins to kill him and make it look like an accident? Could I throw honor to the wind and simply plunge my sword into my opponent’s heart?

I wanted to go Count of Monte Cristo on his ass?!
I wanted to go Count of Monte Cristo on his ass!

No I couldn’t do any of those things. My Inquisitor showed up and had a stupid duel when that would have been the last thing my character would have done, but that didn’t matter because the game just railroads you along a very specific path.

Would Josephine still have loved my character after I presented her the severed head of her former lover? No, she absolutely wouldn’t have, that would be totally out of character. She probably would have spat in my face and never spoken to me again.

But that’s what I wanted: the ability to fail.

I wanted to be able to fail to romance her. Not a stupid dialogue option that allows you to end the relationship, but a real, plausible way that our relationship could have been irrevocably broken. Instead every single romanceable character in the game will fall in love with you, just so long as you’re the correct gender and you keep pushing that Love button in every conversation. Your character will shift personalities faster than a sociopathic serial killer in order to match the desires of your love interest.

Yes I'm talking to you and your bullshit ground AoE attack!
No wonder the Envy Demon couldn’t copy the Inquisitor’s personality…he doesn’t have one.

The fact of the matter is that Dragon Age Inquisition was badly mislabeled when it was declared an RPG, because it’s impossible to play a role of any kind. The infrastructure necessary to make the Inquisitor an interesting character that feels real just isn’t there. I never felt any attachment to my Inquisitor. I’ll always remember Commander Shepard and the first Hero of Ferelden I played because they both felt like real characters.

The Inquisitor, just like the game he stars in, is utterly forgettable.

Thanks for reading and don’t forget to check out my Patreon Page! And a huge thanks to Eric for becoming my first patron, I’m already playing through Planescape Torment and hope to have the review for it soon!

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9 thoughts on “The Failure of the Inquisitor”

  1. Once again, spot on. I wish people would have read your review before giving this thing GOTY. Bioware made a less than stellar game and got congratulated on it. We fans do not stand a chance in the future.

  2. You know, I think if they had gotten this right all else would have been forgiven. Choices might matter less to the plot, but they still matter to me because I am roleplaying, and thus am engaged.

    Personally, many of these RPGs would be better served by lowering the stakes. Why does every, or any, choice need to be world changing? In the witcher 2 many of Geralts decisions affect his adventure, but I always liked how the game treated him sensibly: geralt is just a witcher, his affect on the north is at most minor, even if he does kill a king. As Geralt your first major choice is to give a rebel his sword or not, which has an immediate and local consequence in the area and for the next mission, and will determine what happens to the town at the end. In the grand scheme of things it probably doesn’t matter if the dastardly mayor gets away or not. The choice is local, but that’s why I am engaged. I just spent 10 hours around this town, and I sorta grew to care.

    In DA:I your first bug choice is templars or mages. These are the largest factions outside of established kingdoms, and the game gives you the choice that will determine their fate, four hours after meeting them. There’s little engagement with them, so when you’re expected to make the super big choice it feels kind of flaccid.

    So yeah, you can raise the stakes all you want, bioware, but I am only going to care about something if you take the time to get me invested in it. I never really felt that with these choices.

    The witcher 2 was actually pretty clever about how it got you invested. First, choices usually came down between two characters. As much as anyone can feel down with Iroveths cause, I have to say I really liked Roche as a character. The wticher tends to present choices as a choice between two compelling characters, the philosophy being that if player doesnt care about the sploy point, they’ll care about the characters. The major choices are also made early, so we can see them play out through the game, and they also serve to develop Geralt.

    Sorry for commenting late, busy week! Keep up the good work.

  3. I stumbled across something interesting – basically it is an article about how the developers were gunning for a much different DA:I in 2013:

    http://kotaku.com/dragon-age-inquisition-used-to-be-a-way-different-game-1684304172

    I haven’t really looked into why that is not what we ended up with? Maybe the execs thought it was too complicated like nambulous said? Maybe the developers where too rushed to make a release deadline and couldn’t get the bugs worked out so had drop a lot of things? Maybe they oversold there ideas but couldn’t make it acutally work?

    Either way – it seemed like, with that version of the game, your actions could at the very least could affect whether a whole village was burned to the ground or not – even if they still shoe-horned the story arc a certain way.

  4. actually it is possible to fail – Sera breaks up with you if you don’t agree with her views on the Temple of Myral, certain choices cause the Cullen romance to fail or for him to become colder and more detatched towards you – the second part is also true for the Iron Bull romance

    I think there’s mentality of blame EA when could be that Origins just left a lot to live up to and even then a mate of mine who has just played it complained you couldn’t mess up the romances there unlike Baldur’s Gate where he recons you could.

    DAI isn’t perfect but it’s a pretty good game – I’d love to play Witcher up I know this will cut no ice with you ‘I like my gameplay to challenge me’ lot but I play games for story and characters and Witcher doesn’t accomodate people like me apparently who aren’t great computer strategists and need to be able to turn the difficulty level of the fights down.

    Just out of interest was there anything about DAI you actually LIKED just asking?

    1. As I recall when there was a dialogue option for a relationship that would cause it to end, there was also a note saying “Warning: this will cause the relationship to end”. That was what really bothered me, it was like they were afraid of letting you make a mistake so they labelled everything to make sure you couldn’t screw up accidentally. That’s what ruined it for me.
      Origins did indeed leave a lot to live up to, but just because the bar is set high doesn’t really give Inquisition an excuse for not meeting it. And Origins was by no means perfect, I just felt it was far more emotionally satisfying than Inquisition.

      And your complaints about the Witcher totally cut ice with me. One of the biggest complaints I have about the Witcher is how unforgiving the combat is. I really wish they’d fix that because I think a lot of people would find it far more accessible if it wasn’t so complicated. Unfortunately there’s a weird trend of “supposed to be hard” genre games, like Dark Souls and Witcher, that if they make it too easy a vocal minority starts complaining. To be honest I used to cheats to get through Witcher 2, it just wasn’t worth the time and effort to do it normally. So I totally know where you’re coming from, I’ve stated up front in multiple posts that I’m actually terrible at video games. I just love their stories. 😉

      And there were some things I liked about Dragon Age Inquisition. First of all the graphics were amazing. I also loved the characters, in fact I think these were some of the most well rounded characters I’ve seen in a game for quite some time. Everyone had a deep, storied background, a unique perspective and a great personality. The party banter was also terrific.

      But that just made Inquisition all the more disappointing, because I felt they didn’t really utilize those amazing characters. They had no real impact on the story itself, which I felt was really sad. In both Origins and Dragon Age 2 you had characters who pursued their own agenda’s throughout the story. If you brought Shale with you to the Anvil of the Void and sided with Branka, you were forced to fight and kill Shale. Dragon Age 2 had Ander’s rebellion against the Circle and the Templars. None of the Inquisition characters had a chance to become part of the story, they were simply present for it.

      Anyway thanks for your feedback, I actually enjoy hearing about other people’s opinions on the story, especially if they’re different than mine.

  5. I think your opinions are interesting and obviously well considered and I do find interesting debating things with other people who are douches about you disagreeing with them.

    The problem is being ‘allowed to fail’ is that it can be frustrating if you click a dialogue option and suddenly you’ve lost your relationship – the reaction it will probably provoke from most gamers is not ‘oh I’m glad the game allowed to be fail’ but ok load the last save game and replay the scene if the game didn’t show what the consequences of your action was before you did it.

    I actually ended up replaying the “Left hand of the Divine” because I clicked the “wrong” dialogue option at the end and it had a consequence I didn’t mean to happen and everything else I said had lead up to softening Leilana.

    I think pretty much all of the reviews acknowledge Cory as a weak villain and he could have been done better but the problem is that there is only so much dialogue that you can reasonably record – sure I’d like more dialogue with my companions – I’m near the end of the game and no one has anything interesting or new to say to me (I’ve just hit Josephine/Blackwall hopeless romance dialogue options which is the first new dialogue I’ve had in a while) but I accept that probably most gamers don’t spend as long talking to people as I will. The problem is that in order to fail you have to have some people re-playing vast sections of the game and a lot of gamers won’t be prepared to do that. Like or not the game does have to cater to a cross-section of people with different priorities.

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