Dragon Age: Inqisition — Bioware, Why Did You Do This?

I’ve talked about Dragon Age: Inquisition before, but not here. In fact, I don’t think any of those articles still exist anywhere, but that’s just as well because now, I think three years later, I really have to tear into this game.

I bought Dragon Age: Inquisition the day that it released, only to learn that Bioware’s Minimum Specifications actually meant something this time around, and that the game absolutely would not even launch on a dual-core CPU, even if it was technically capable of running the game. This infuriated me, but I bit the bullet, ordered a new motherboard, a new CPU, and new RAM. About fourteen days later, everything arrived and was installed, and I finally was able to sink my teeth into this game that I had eagerly awaited since the end of the phenomenal Dragon Age 2.

I was so unbelievably disappointed.

Prior to that, Bioware was the last developer that I trusted, the last big name developer from whom I would buy a brand new game at full price. Everyone else had betrayed that trust with non-working titles that routinely crashed, were extremely unoptimized, or bore misleading specs. Dragon Age: Inquisition destroyed my trust in Bioware, not just because of the dual core thing, but because the game itself is an abject trainwreck, and I honestly find it hard to believe that anyone likes it. So what’s wrong with it? Well, get comfortable.

Dragon Age: The Single Player MMO

I hate Quest Systems. I hate them so very, very much. They were designed for use in Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games to allow players to fulfill tasks while making no changes to the world beyond character-specific boolean flags and dialogue options. They were necessary, because no MMO can handle fifty different characters running around and doing stuff that actually permanently changes the world state.

For example, in Final Fantasy VI, the player goes to the Floating Continent, and the world is basically destroyed. If this was a multiplayer game, only one player could do that, and every other player would be trapped with the consequences. Obviously, this won’t work. To get around this, two things were done: quests and respawning enemies. It does other players no good if Player A receives a quest to clear a cave of kobolds, does it, and then no one else can ever do that quest, because the world state has changed, and that cave no longer has kobolds. So each player is able to do the quest, and the kobolds respawn indefinitely. The world never changes. Only dialogue options do. A level 100 character can return to the cave and wonder, “Why in the world are there kobolds here? I killed them all when I was level 2.”

This is an acceptable break from reality for MMOs. It’s a clever way of handling an enormous problem. However, it is a bit cheap. Various MMOs have done different things to get around this. Blizzard disastrously attempted “phasing,” which was implemented rather poorly and turned entire zones into basically single-player areas.

But then something even more disastrous happened.

Lazy developers realized that they could take the same system and put it in single-player games, which would allow them to create basic templates that consisted of a few variables, fill in hundreds of possible variables, and simply write dialogue for the variable combinations. Basically, they realized they could take one “Who,” one “What,” one “How many,” and one “Where,” and generate hundreds of different answers for each one, stringing them together with short, boring, generic excuses.

Lord Tyrennius wants ten bears killed in the region of Alcren.

Lady Merian wants one silver necklace.

Game design made easy.

Then all they had to do was create a few dozen generic titles or other statements from NPCs that would give the illusion of an adaptive world. After killing the bears for Tyrennius, there would be a 3% chance for an NPC to say, “Hey, didn’t you kill those bears?” Even though the bears probably respawned, it gave the player the illusion that they had changed the world, that they have achieved something. Again, for MMOs, this is fine, because actually changing the world isn’t an option.

Some games even took this as far as creating an infinite number of quests, like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. There is no greater example of quantity over quality than a game that has an infinite number of generic quests. And oh yes, they are generic. Procedurally generated worlds and quests sounds cool in theory, but the result is something totally non-descript and generic.

Take Minecraft for example. If you’ve seen one Minecraft world, you’ve seen them all. Sure, you can create billions upon billions of worlds that are different from one another to varying degrees, but after just one of these, players have seen everything there is to offer. The same is true of Skyrim‘s quests–once the player has done one of them, they’ve seen everything the game has to offer, and after that it’s just a matter of how many times they can repeat it until they get sick of it. This is why I have never completed Skyrim, and probably never will. Invariably, I get tired of doing the same freaking quests over and over, with only slight differences. Oh, I’m clearing this cave for the Companions instead of the Blades. Oh, yeah, that totally makes it different…

To be fair, Dragon Age 2 also utilized a quest system, but there are a few things to note. First, every quest was hand-crafted by the developers, and it shows. Every bit of dialogue in that game is expertly done, and expertly acted. Beyond that, though, even with areas being repeated ad nauseum throughout the game, the story changes enacted by the quests (which are far more sweeping than people will realize until a second or third playthrough) are large in scope. Beyond that, the quest system was built directly into the overall plot. Hawke needs 50 gold to pay for the excursion into the Deep Roads. It’s an excuse plot, but it’s better than just “Oh, there’s a quest, I need to it, because it’s a quest.”

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

It should be alarming to people that Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning actually began development as an MMO, and was converted into a single-player game when the developers began running out of money, and yet its gameplay is identical to the gameplay of Skryim and Dragon Age: Inqusition. You go from one area to the next doing quests, and only dialogue changes. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning at least had the self-awareness to lampshade this by weaving a repetitious cycle of fate into the plot. With Skryim and DAI, it’s just there. It’s just lazy.

Skryim maintains its excellent because it does have a lot of possibilities for players to get into totally unscripted things–emergent gameplay, it is called. Like when I accidentally wandered into a keep of bandits and got my horse and Lydia killed, whereupon I turned into a werewolf, killed everyone, and ate them. I didn’t have a quest for that. I didn’t need one. The game itself created the circumstances and motivated me to do it by giving me attachment to Lydia and my horse. The game didn’t have to tell me with some generic ass quest, “Go eliminate the bandits in this keep.”

Something almost similar happened when I was playing Dragon Age: Inquisition not long after its release. I came upon some templars who trapped mages inside a house, and then set the house on fire, killing the mages inside. Furious, I pounded the templars into the ground and killed them all. And that was it. That was the end of the encounter. I couldn’t bury the mages, I couldn’t seek out and punish templars (because they’re randomly spawning). I couldn’t interact with the encounter in any way except by killing those four or five templars, and then it was over. It was so limited that I think it was probably a randomly generated event, to be honest.

That’s freaking bad game design. You can’t put me firmly on one group’s side–and after the events of DA2 (we’ll get to this in a moment), I’m absolutely with the mages–and then hand me a freaking tragedy like that, and then shrug and continue on, because there’s no quest for it. It’s like Egoraptor said in his Ocarina of Time video. I don’t need you to give me some asinine story reason why my character wants to go up Death Mountain. I want to go up Death Mountain. It’s what I want to do. That’s why I’m playing the game, because I want to go on an adventure and explore stuff. But no, Ocarina of Time had to grind to a freaking halt until Link had the right motivation to want to go up there. My motivations don’t matter.

Isn’t Dragon Age: Inquistion supposed to be a role-playing game? If that’s the case, you would expect that my desires, as the player, would be my character’s desires. But no. That’s not the case. My character needs quests, plot reasons. My character can’t find and decimate the templar stronghold because they burned some mages alive because I’m outraged by it and trying to role-play the game as my character. Instead, my character has to wait until someone gives her a freaking quest that makes her want to do it. And if no such quests exist, then my wants go unfulfilled.

Give us dynamic worlds. Give us the chance to role-play in role-playing games. Stop spending obscene amounts of money on graphics, and stop adding in hundreds upon hundreds of generic, basically identical quests. Instead, spend that money on creating a living, breathing world that I can actually impact. Not one where I trigger the next cutscene by doing the right Story Mission. Screw that. Don’t take me on a fucking tour; let me play the game.

Plot

But my biggest problem with Dragon Age: Inquisition is the plot. Oh, man, what went wrong here?

The plot of DA2 was incredible. Bioware took me on the Hero’s Journey, where Hawke had the role of hero thrust upon her mostly without her intention. A series of events lead to another series of events that lead to another series of events, and it culminated in one of the greatest and most underrated role-playing games of all time. Never before have I been so firmly in a character’s shoes. Never before have I loved a character so much. And the plot, how it built so slowly, and then exploded in this extraordinary climax…! Damn. I was on the edge of my seat through all of Act 3. I flew through Act 3 in a single night, anxious, nervous, itching to see how the rest of it played out. And I was not disappointed.

The Mages Circles were dissolved. Ferelden fell into chaos. Mages rebelled. The Chantry fell apart and created Seekers. It was full-blown war, and it was easy to see, once the name “Inquisition” was announced, what was going to happen in the next game.

The game would fix almost entirely on the Mage/Templar war, and the Chantry would be undertaking an inquisition to round up and kill all of the mages. The player would probably select one of the sides throughout the game, and fight slowly to restore order, either culminating in the freedom of the mages or the return of the Mages’ Circles. It was going to be epic, filled with religious symbolism and making callbacks to the Spanish Inquisition, with people being drowned to see if they were mages…

And then Corypheus happened. The entire plot of Dragon Age 2 wrapped up in a single quest in Dragon Age: Inquisition while the game was instead shifted into yet another “You’re the Chosen One–Jesus and Mohammad rolled into one. Now go and save the world from yet Another Big Bad with questionable motives who wants to destroy the world.”

It’s so heavy-handed that I have to wonder if Bioware, angry at the fans for their reaction to Dragon Age 2, trollingly said, “Oh, you guys want to be yet another chosen hero, saving yet another fantasy world from yet another big bad who wants to destroy it? Fine. You’re literally the Chosen One in this game. The freaking Herald of Andraste. You want that? Then we’re going to give it to you, dipshits.”

Because that’s what Dragon Age: Inquisition is. It is almost immediately derailed by the player literally being the Chosen One. They call her “The Chosen One” in the game. I’m almost positive I remember being called “The Savior” a few times. “The Herald of Andraste,” certainly. Several times.

There’s no way to identify with such a character. It’s not possible. I don’t have a glowing thing in my hand that makes me special out of everyone on the planet. I’m not literally the one person who can do something. See, Hawke wasn’t either. Hawke wasn’t special. She was the one who did the things, but that was just circumstance. She wasn’t destined to do those things. She wasn’t the Chosen One. She was just some person who happened to be there when it happened and who did whatever she thought was best. She was just trying to survive and lift herself up. We can all relate to that.

None of us can relate to honest-to-God Chosen One.

Instead of being what anyone expected of “an inquisition,” the entire game devolves into being about the Chosen One using her Chosen Ability that literally no one else has to be the Chosen One and save the world from a Big Bad who has some godlike aspirations. The Inquisition isn’t about the Mage/Templar war that was interesting, relatable, and unique for a fantasy setting. It’s about putting together an army to close these Magical Rifts that the Big Bad created.

It could have been so much more. Instead, it’s a series of generic quests through regions that are identical to any MMOs–in fact, you’ll notice that the starting areas have a huge concentration of quests (just like MMOs), while later areas have far fewer quests. This is entirely typical of MMOs, as well, because more players will play the starting areas more often. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they originally planned for DAI to be an MMO, because it’s identical to Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning in every conceivable way. And the plot, instead of being this awesome, relatable thing with a newly relatable character, was another generic Save the World from another Big Bad.

So how could anyone like this crap? It represents everything that is wrong in modern role-playing games. It sacrifices role-playing in the name of the Quest System. It sacrifices a dynamic world for lots of generic, boring quests through non-descript and uninteresting locations. It cast aside the masterful and amazing setting that it had crafted through the previous game and instead became identical to the plots we’ve been seeing since Dragon Quest on NES. It sucks.

Score?

1 Dragon Quest out of 10 Dragon Age 2s.

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Publishers, Developers, and Consumers–Don’t Be a Tool

It’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed in many areas, and there are many more serious places where I’ve seen this. The most serious one I’ve seen in recent years was in regard to NSA spying, where a horrifying 50% of Americans supported the NSA. They don’t realize, it seems, that in life it is a matter of us versus the government, and that they have clearly not sided with “us.” Which is particularly odd, because they are a member of “us.” It doesn’t really matter if one personally approves of the NSA or not–that doesn’t change the fact that you’re not part of the government; you’re part of the people, and you should side with the people. It’s really that simple.

In regard to video games, I’ve noticed an alarming tendency of gamers to take the side of developers and publishers. This comes in many forms. The one I’m dealing with now is that I am being blamed for what is clearly a glitch in Final Fantasy VI on PC: http://plays.tv/s/Kbq334Jv4lmP

Let’s just think for a moment. After I made a post in the Steam forums discussing how much I love Final Fantasy VI and how easy it would have been for Square-Enix to make me give it a 10, and pointed out that I simply can’t do that now, the responses I got met one of a few clear types:

  • It’s your hardware/drivers.
  • You don’t meet the system requirements.
  • Don’t go looking for glitches and bugs, and this won’t happen.
  • Why would you give this version a 10 anyway?
  • Go away.

It’s primarily the first that I want to focus on, because that is the go-to response we get from developers and publishers any time there is an issue with their game. Nevermind that this is almost completely irrelevant to a game that doesn’t use 3D Hardware Acceleration because it’s a 2D sprite game with everything pre-rendered. The System requirements for the PC version of Final Fantasy VI are laughable:

  • OS: Windows Vista / 7 / 8 / 8.1 
  • Processor: Pentium 4 2.4 GHz 
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM 
  • Storage: 950 MB available space

Does anyone out there truly believe that I’m not sporting something superior to a Pentium fucking 4 and 2 GB of RAM? As it happens, I’m running on an AMD six-core at 4.2 GHz. For that matter, I’m in the town of Zozo. Do people seriously believe that I made it 4 hours into the game with invisible sprites, CTDs, and other major issues, and just suddenly decided I couldn’t handle it anymore? Did it seriously occur to no one that this is an issue that just appeared, and that drivers and hardware therefore cannot be the issue in this pre-rendered sprite-based game?

They’re parroting that response at me because that is what they’ve been trained to say–and they don’t realize it, because humans are very easy to train, especially when they don’t realize that it’s happening.

A few years ago, I watched a friend be trained by his Ford vehicle to use his seatbelt. It used an irritating sound that went off any time the vehicle was cranked and the seatbelt wasn’t clicked, until he finally got to the point where he fastened his seatbelt first thing upon entering any vehicle. He had been trained. Thankfully, he did realize that he had been trained, but we aren’t usually aware of how we’re being trained.

When you contact a developer or publisher to tell them you have a problem, their response will always be a request for you DXDiag, a reinstallation of Runtimes and other packages, as they do everything possible not to fix the issue but to make you into the source of the problem.

This is, with almost 100% frequency, what I’m running into in regard to this glitch in Final Fantasy VI. It’s my fault; I did something wrong. I, the owner of an I.T. consultant firm, a VB.Net, Java, Python, Ruby, and C++ programmer, did something wrong. I, the person who once wrote his own drivers for the HD4350, did something wrong. It can’t possibly be that Square-Enix was just being Square-Enix and released a glitchy, buggy game prone to CTDs and game-breaking bugs.

I don’t blame them for this, to be clear. They aren’t bad people, and they aren’t really wrong; just misguided. They don’t see things for how they really are. In reality, there are two sides here: the consumers, and the suppliers. Know which side you’re on. Because even if you disagree with the other consumers, they are doing things that will benefit you.

Emulation rights is a great example. I know tons of people who are against emulation and blatantly conflate it with piracy, shown here:

This is what a modern day Uncle Tom looks like.

This is what a modern day Uncle Tom looks like.

Consumers have already fought this battle–we fought it in the 80s when VHS gave us the right to record broadcasts and view them at a later time of our own choosing. The courts basically decreed that publishing meant “to make public,” and that, by publishing, the publisher relinquishes most of their rights over it. This makes… total fucking sense, and that it makes sense is the reason I continue to be surprised the judges made that ruling.

It’s like if I wanted to stand on a street corner performing with my acoustic and singing–if someone wanted to record it to watch later, what the fuck right would I have to stop them? None at all. If I’m doing something publicly then it’s largely up to the public what they do with it.

No emulation is not closely associated with piracy–it’s only so associated by fuckwits like you, Fish-E, who can’t think without the publisher’s permission to have a given thought. You have the legal right to modify your games in whatever way you want in order to make them playable in a way that is convenient for you. We fought for and kept that right in the 80s. Try to keep up. Ripping a game to your computer to play it with an emulator is absolutely no different from recording a broadcast through VHS. What you’re saying is, “Because some people use VHS tapes to make illegal copies of movies, VHS itself is associated with that, and deserving of a ban for discussing.”

No, you fucking moron, and you don’t get to conflate two disparate concepts like that. We have different words for them for a reason. “Emulation” and “piracy” are different things. That’s why we have two different words–to describe these two different things.

As it happens, I’m in favor of both, and fuck the publishers and developers. I’m not here to make EA, Square-Enix, Ubisoft, and WB money. I’m here to enjoy my life.

I will not:

  • pay full price for an incomplete game. See Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim GOTY Edition.
  • pay for a game that I don’t know works correctly. See Civilization 5, Final Fantasy VI.
  • pay more for a game than I think it is worth.

I happen to use piracy largely to try out games, as glorified demos. I never felt that Skyrim was worth $60, plus the price of all that DLC. It had too many problems: it was shallow–oh, so shallow–glitched, bugged, and barely working. I paid $40 for the GOTY Edition not too long ago, and I feel it was worth that.

Last year, I paid $60 for Dragon Age: Inquisition on launchday, even though it cost $10 more than it had any right to cost, in what was clearly a bald cashgrab by EA. It almost the last on-or-near-launch-day purchase I’ve made. Since, I’ve bought a few other games on or near launch day, but, curiously, they are all Nintendo products. Nintendo, I have not and will not pirate your games until you give me a reason to, and I say with a sincere clap and genuine approval that you have never given me a reason to.

I’ll get into the problems with Dragon Age: Inquisition–like the fact that Bioware evidently doesn’t know what an “inquisition” is–one day. For now, let’s just say that purchase bit me in the ass, and that I did not get $60 of entertainment out of that World of Warcraft Wannabe. Prior to that, Bioware was one of the few companies whose games I wouldn’t pirate, because I knew that I was going to get a high-quality product. Dragon Age: Inquisition destroyed that faith.

So if developers want people to stop pirating their games and to stop waiting for GOTY Editions to purchase them, then all they need to do is release working, complete products. Sectioning off parts of the game to sell later as DLC? Nope. Not gonna pay for something that should have been included in the game already. Nintendo has started doing that, with Mewtwo being locked behind a paywall. The really messed up part of this is that you already have the characters and stages if your game is updated–you’re just not allowed to use them until you pay Nintendo an extortion fee. That’s my issue with DLC and multiplayer: if something is on my system, you can’t fucking tell me that I can’t use it. Because at that point you did give it to me, whether you want to admit it or not, and I don’t give a fuck what legal shenanigans and word games you can play to convince another lawyer that you’re correct. I’m talking basic right and wrong here and simple ownership rights, and the fact is that you gave me that DLC in the last update.

The entire gaming industry is a FUBAR mess, and it’s not helping that a large portion of consumers have no idea that they’re being Uncle Toms for developers and publishers. With indie developers, I get it. They’re small studios, and they don’t have the cash flow to keep their studio going. But then you have them saying things like:

“Just pirate it,” Notch said in response to a fan who couldn’t afford Minecraft.

Team Meat actually presented the argument, as I am, that piracy is good for example–the indie studio behind Super Meat Boy. I’ve actually had multiple people bitch at me for using pirated versions of Minecraft and Super Meat Boy. That’s right–these people are such Uncle Toms that they’ll be an Uncle Tom even when the developer itself doesn’t give a shit. People bitch about me pirating Minecraft and hurting Mojang when, prior to being purchased by Microsoft, Mojang themselves didn’t give a shit.

lolwut

lolwut

These Uncle Toms remind me of this dumbass image. It is “extremely offensive”? To who? No one fucking worships Isis. And if they do, they’re retarded, so fuck them anyway. I laughed hard the first time I saw this image floating around Facebook as people expressed how “offended” they were on behalf of this non-existent deity that no significant portion of the population believes in.

Since we're getting offended on behalf of fictional characters now...

Since we’re getting offended on behalf of fictional characters now…

Yes, if you believe that Isis is a real goddess with an actual existence, you’re retarded, and fuck you. Of course, I’m an atheist and think this about most religious beliefs, but the pagan ones that dust off old, defunct gods and believe in them anew are definitely a bit more retarded than others.

Anyway, I’ve digressed a lot, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 2 is finished downloading. lol–I already had a pirated version. And I just bought it on Steam. Half of my purchases on Steam have been for games that I’ve already pirated. It’s just different to play a game legitimately. I don’t know why it is, but it is. Team Meat is correct; I am correct.

So know whose side your own. Are you an Uncle Tom? Or are you a consumer?

Long live the Pirate Bay.