Dragon Age: Inquisition + Jaws of Hakkon DLC Review

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There are other niggling problems with the combat. The targeting in third-person is extremely imprecise, to the point where I missed enemies at point-blank. The game showers the player with active abilities, but it's only possible to keep 8 of them equipped at the same time. Active ability loadouts have been quite popular as of late. They only make sense if a player is encouraged to swap abilities often to deal with different situations, or, to the contrary, if abilities can't be swapped very often. Dragon Age: Inquisition does neither. Abilities can be changed at any time, but the player is never encouraged to try new loadouts. The resource system is also quite inelegant and baroque: Mana and Stamina regenerate over time, but each ability also has its own separate cooldown. Both can be modified by abilities and items.

The game is also bogged down by a few of the problems the series has always had. The ability and stat descriptions are strangely opaque and never give the player a good sense of what's going on under the hood. I raised my armor level because I was under the impression that it would be good, but I still don't know what that value meant. Is it a flat damage reduction? That doesn't make sense based on what I saw on screen. A percentile reduction? Probably not. A special case system that takes into account the enemy and player's levels in addition to their damage and armor values? Most likely, but I'd have appreciated a chance to learn exactly how it worked. And frankly, while it doesn't bother me much, it's worth mentioning that the game still has a lot of overpowered ability combinations.

I did appreciate a few elements of the game's combat and character system, however. The encounter design is never inspired, but it's always at least decent. The game tends to mix different enemy types to force the player to separate the party and mix up tactics, though it's disappointing to see the same archetypes used for pretty much every different faction in the game. Focus is a new resource that is consumed when using special abilities, and gained every time anyone in the party inflicts damage. Every character has an individual resource pool but benefits from the work of everyone in the party. I'd prefer the focus to be on something other than DPS, but it's still good to see teamwork rewarded.

I also appreciated the way healing was handled in Inquisition. Healing spells and abilities are fairly limited and tend to use Focus. The number of healing potions that can be carried is also very limited, starting off at 8 and capping off at 12. The game instead expects players to use abilities that generate Barrier and Guard, which are essentially additional HP pools. Actual HP damage is more relevant than it's ever been in the series, because there's barely any post-combat regeneration. While the mechanic's tuning could use some work (potions can be refilled far too often, and there are item combinations that grant far too much Guard), I appreciate the intent. It's good to finally see designers move away from regenerating health to reward long-term management and skillful play.

Finally, a few words on itemization. It reminds me of a mediocre action-RPG in the vein of Diablo. The game showers the player with middling magic items, and the few unique handcrafted items are often inferior to anything the player can craft. The game would have been more fun if crafting was removed or made far less powerful. Being able to create such powerful items removes the thrill of finding new, unique loot. I was only ever excited when I found crafting schematics in a chest. BioWare made an earnest attempt to bring back customization (companions can wear different armor types with their own visuals again, for example), but not enough time was spent considering how the systems would interact.

Ultimately Dragon Age: Inquisition's combat fails because it's not good enough. Despite all its flaws, it actually coalesces into something eminently playable (I had a surprisingly fun time fighting the game's dragons, which feel like greatly simplified MMO raid bosses), but it's never engrossing. More than anything, it lacks a sense of clear direction.

Open World?

Prior to the game's release, EA talked about Dragon Age: Inquisition as an open world game. This isn't strictly true, given how compartmentalized the game is, but many of the game's zones are very large and do feel very open. Compared to Dragon Age II's oft-mocked single cave, this is an enormous victory. BioWare clearly put love and care into the game's areas. Each of them has its own topography quirks and lends itself to the use of the game's new traversal options, which include the addition of a jump button and less stiff, freer movement. BioWare also made some clumsy attempts to introduce features that are expected in open world titles. For example, there is some really light world simulation, with creatures interacting with one another and occasionally fighting between themselves. They feel strangely out of place in a game that doesn't make any other attempt to simulate a world. NPC schedules are absent, for example, and there is no trace of a day/night cycle.