Inquisitor Review

Eschalon: Book II

Release Date:2012-09-05
  • Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • Isometric
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At first glance, Inquisitor sounds like a game out of every RPG fan's hopes and dreams. Developed over the course of nearly ten years by Czech developer Cinemax, with the English translation and additional bug-fixing occupying several more after the original release, Inquisitor is an extremely ambitious RPG that feels like a blast from the past. Everything about RPGs from the late 90s and early 2000s is present in Inquisitor: highly detailed pre-rendered backgrounds, an extremely large amount of text dialogue to read, an original fantasy universe, an extensive character system full of skills and attributes, lengthy dungeons to crawl through, and roughly one hundred hours of gameplay (apparently a point of pride for the developer).

Unfortunately, though Inquisitor has all the right ingredients to put a smile on an RPG fan's face, Inquisitor is let down by some colossally bad design choices which result in a game which is one-quarter charming and engrossing, but three-quarters frustrating, repetitive and monotonous in the extreme. With some of the worst game balance I have ever seen in an RPG, overly linear quest design, a lack of player influence on the story, awful combat, and massive amounts of filler content, Inquisitor's ambitions never amount to anything that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the classics of the genre. While it does have its strong points, it will take an incredibly strong-willed player to endure the dozens upon dozens of hours of torturous gameplay it takes to reach the good parts.

The Devil's Calling

Inquisitor starts out very promisingly. The game takes place in a rather original setting - one which is based off of European history, specifically the Dark Ages, but blends it in with a more traditional fantasy setting. In Inquisitor's world, the source of evil creatures like orcs, trolls, undead, and so on is the Devil - that is, literally, Satan, the Prince of Darkness himself. The Inquisition, which is made up of the Holy Office and Brotherhood of the Righteous, the priestly and paladin orders of the land, is tasked with uncovering and extinguishing heresy throughout the populace and keeping the world safe from Satan's clutches.

Beyond this detail, the country of Ultherst, and the continent of the "Old World" as a whole, is not especially interesting. As it is based on medieval-era culture, expect to see a lot of stone walls and thatched roofs, huge ornate churches, and green-brown forests. The backstory of the land is rarely discussed, and while the world itself has all sorts of myths and legends, it's a bit under-explored with the most interesting part of being the Elenians, a long-dead pagan people based on the Roman Empire. You won't find as much interesting lore to sift through as something like Icewind Dale, but in general it's enough to keep the game going.

The story for the game revolves around the events taking place after the so-called "Star of Doom" appeared in the sky above Ultherst and meteors rained from the heavens. This was the herald of the end of the world in the eyes of many, as monsters began to encroach on the land in increasing numbers and cases of heresy began to climb. Your story begins with your rescue from an Inquisition prison in exchange for your help in a simple murder investigation into the death of Kurt Ollimer... but what begins as a simple detective job quickly unravels into a huge heretical conspiracy spanning the whole country.

This theme of investigation is one of Inquisitor's defining traits, and it's also probably its strongest point. Progress in the game and story is made by uncovering evidence against heretics and criminals in the various towns, either through dialogue and testimony or through exploring the world for physical objects left behind. There is a great sense of paranoia in the game world as witnesses (rightly) fear for their lives should they testify, and there's a sense that you can't trust anybody but yourself. There has been some talk about the themes of torture in the game, but truth be told, while you will have to use it a handful of times, and later burn criminals at the stake, the game does not revel or glorify this at all - if anything it presents these parts of the game with quiet discomfort.

There are a few complaints to be made with the story in Inquisitor. The big plot twists are pretty obviously telegraphed, and unfortunately the game actually reuses the same plot twists multiple times over, which leaves the game feeling predictable. There is also very little in the way of choice or consequence, which is a shame considering there's a lot to be done with a game that lets you arrest and execute the wrong people. Last, while there is an incredible amount of text, the translation is not up to par. Some parts are fine, but you will often come across awkward phrasing, grammar issues, and spelling mistakes; there is a sense much of the text wasn't proofread or verified with a native English speaker. Much of the text itself is also uninteresting, as every character can be asked, Ultima VII-style, about tons and tons of topics, but only about 10% of this text is really useful to you in any way, and the answers are often unnecessarily long-winded.

The quest design is a mixed bag, as most of them are simple fetch or kill quests without much to them. There is little deduction to be done during investigations, as the game often prevents you from making the wrong decisions and only lets you progress the plot when you have gathered enough evidence - in other words, the game does the rational thinking for you. Sometimes, the game isn't very good at explaining what it wants to you, either. One time, for instance, I had to escort a captured woman back to "the city", but I wandered around for twenty minutes before finding the exact trigger spot that would let me return her properly (the quest journal was also no help).  If there is one thing the game does quite well, it's that the distinction between main quests and optional quests is blurred, and many quests will affect each other, though only in pre-scripted ways, and the flip-side is that you will often need to complete just about every quest available to move the game forward. Occasionally you there are a few interesting solutions, like using the "destroy item" feature to destroy a quest item, like an immortal enemy's heart, but this sort of novelty is pretty rare.