I’ve described the Elder Scrolls series games as, essentially, single-player MMOs, as the gameplay and quest structure seems to be designed more in line with that model than with the typical single-player RPG model. The Dragon Age series up until now has definitely been more of a single-player RPG experience, with Dragon Age 2 being fairly limited and linear, but charming in some way because of that. As I was playing it today, I finally figured out what game Inquisition most reminded me of: Oblivion. (I’d say Skyrim, but I haven’t played that game enough to really make that comparison). So far, an area opens up, and there are lots of little quests that you can do in that area, which gives you influence and power. Every so often, you return to your war table to activate some quests, so some things, and open up new areas, rince, repeat.
The problem with this sort of structure is that the engaging and deep story has been what’s been interesting about the Dragon Age series, and there’s a reason why the Elder Scrolls series hasn’t never really been known for having deep and engaging main storylines (besides Bethesda not really being able to pull that off). When you have all sorts of small, semi-related quests all over the place, they tend to swamp the main plot a bit. You lose the main storyline quests under the avalanche of small quests that you’re doing. In fact, as far as I can tell I’ve already advanced the main plot, but still have a ton of quests to finish in the Hinterlands area where I am, and so am planning on finishing as many of them as I can before advancing the main plot, which might mean that I don’t get around to advancing the main plot for a few days yet. Yes, there were things like that in Dragon Age 2 as well, but it did a better job — being a much smaller world — in ensuring that you always knew the relation between the small quests and the overall big storyline.
Speaking of world size, Inquisition also expands the world into a much more free exploring world, with limited trails. There are something like 29 areas in the Hinterlands that they encourage me to explore completely, which means running literally over hill and over dale (and creeks and streams and rocks and …) to get there. As someone who gets lost in my ship in TOR, this doesn’t exactly help me any.
It also impacts the combat, because many of these areas are forested areas, which sometimes makes it hard to see what’s going on (as my character is standing behind a tree). There’s a new “tactical” mode, but that just seems more confusing than a help, especially for me who’s playing on “Casual”. I’ve died a couple of times where I couldn’t tell if I was fighting things too difficult for me, or if I just did things badly. I don’t see any real improvement in the combat, other than to make it a bit more confusing. But the environments really are pretty on the PS4.
I do like the war table, and the fact that you can send your non-party members out to do missions that give you benefits and take some time to complete. Tying some of these in to the side quests is interesting. I wish it wasn’t run on a straight timer, though, because that just makes the game seem even more like an MMO — The Old Republic, to be precise — which this game really doesn’t need. I don’t like the fact that your advisers are spread out in the town instead of being reasonably close to you like they are in TOR and Mass Effect, as I might not spend as much time seeking them out to talk to them as I’d like.
So far, I like Dragon Age 2 better, and I didn’t think I would — and rather hoped I wouldn’t — say that. Given the inherent advantage that Mass Effect’s combat has over Dragon Age’s, I’m thinking that I might prefer ME3 to this game … which is not a good sign.