Dragon Age Inquisition Review: Mountain In Your Face

One of my less-defensible pleasures is a show called Dude, You’re Screwed, a show so insignificant it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry.  But the pitch is this: a group of hardcore survivalists drop each other in various hostile environments – deserts, ice fields, mountains – with no survival tools.  They have 100 hours to survive, and find other people.

The trick is, the hardcore survivalists know how other hardcore survivalists think, and they’re out to screw their friends.  So they pick the trickiest locations.

The classic screw is this: “I dropped him off high on a mountain so he can see the river.  Most experienced survivalists will head towards the water, knowing rivers lead to civilization.  Except this river goes thirty miles in the wrong direction!  Then it drops into an underground cave at the base of an impassable mountain!  He’ll waste days!”

This is what it’s like playing Dragon Age Inquisition.

Many people have noted that Dragon Age has stolen some techniques from Skyrim.  Unfortunately, they’ve stolen Skyrim’s utterly-useless map system, which consists of a constant stream of “Great, the quest target point is over here, and… oh, wait, no.  There’s a chasm blocking the way.  So how do you get there from here?  I guess I’ll have to wander around in random directions until I find the pass that leads there.”

All the mini-map gives us is a blinking dot and a compass point.  Which would be useful if “Traveling in a straight line” was a viable strategy at any point.  But it isn’t.  They’ve gone very far out of their way to make it an unviable strategy.  The map folds in and over on itself, creating eddies and alcoves.

I understand why they do that: they only have so much space they can pack into a given rectangle.  They want to make it rewarding for people who explore.  And I support that!

But can you give us poor lost bastards, who don’t enjoy exploring, some tools to find the next fucking quest point?

I’ve played Dragon Age for about 50 hours at this point, and I would say roughly 5 of those hours have consisted of “Fuck, I know the wolf camp is around here somewhere, but… oh, god, another mountain in the way.  Let’s backtrack and try again.”  Which means for me, roughly 10% of my time spent on this game has been tedium verging on frustration.  It’s like the fucking designers don’t want me to find all the cool things I’m supposed to do, and instead desire me to go on combat-free, quest-free journeys through the same goddamned valleys I’ve cleared out before.

Now, I’m a special case, as I have no head for directions.  I have lived in the same house for fifteen years, and I literally cannot tell you the names of our cross-streets.  I get lost going everywhere.  So the game is particularly punishing for me, because I’m not going to pick up on their visual cues.

But I’ve talked with others, and they too would like to spend less time fighting mountains and more time fighting monsters.

The reason we want to spend less time wandering is because it kills the story.  All your quests are variations on “Go here and kill a monster / get a foozle / kill a monster and get its foozle.”  The only thing that stops this from being repetitive is the tale behind it!  It’s not a foozle – there’s a grieving widower who wants to leave flowers on his wife’s grave!  And Bioware, you’re great at constructing moving mini-stories that capture my attention.

But those stories evaporate after twenty minutes of wandering around, yelling, “Goddammit, I have to get to the yellow dot, how the fuck do I get to the yellow dot?”  The widower gets forgotten.  The reasons I’m supposed to do this get forgotten.

You have reduced all this emotional impact to a yellow dot and pressing X when I get to the dot, and that does your narrative a disservice.

Look, there has to be a balance.  It wouldn’t be that hard to have an option that puts more details into the mini-map, so we can see that this straight-line travel actually needs to veer west.  Hell, make it a character option that I have to pay XP for!  You already do that with an Inquisition Perk that reveals more locations on the map.  I would give up so much fighting power to have a glowing yellow arrow that points me towards the major battles.  (And hell, I’d even understand if you said you could provide no arrows to optional gotta-catch-’em-all quests like the shards and the Red Lyrium.)

As it is, what I hope I’ll remember about Dragon Age is the sweeping storyline you’ve constructed.  What I fear I’ll remember is wandering around another fucking hillock in the Hinterlands, having long forgotten what I was supposed to do at the glowing dot, endlessly backtracking because it’s here somewhere, I just don’t know how to find it.

Help me find your cool shit.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

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