Game: Dragon Age: Inquisition
Recommended price: $25
Metacritic Score: 85
Completion Time: 40-90+ hours
Buy If You Like: Dragon Age, CRPGs, Bioware titles
Dragon Age: Origins felt like a seminal moment in computer gaming when it came out back in 2009. Here was an epic RPG written by Bioware that followed in the Baldur’s Gate style with all the conveniences of modern gaming. The lore was deep for a brand new IP, and turned many of the traditional fantasy tropes on their head (elves are actually slaves in the ghettos instead of immortal elites, etc). While certainly not the first title to do so, Origins also featured quite a few deliciously vexing moral decisions with no good answers. Although it stumbled here and there, the game nevertheless took me on a 100+ hour journey with characters I sorely missed after the ending credits.
Then there was Dragon Age 2. It went okay.
The first dozen or so hours in Dragon Age: Inquisition felt distressingly similar to Dragon Age 2. For example, combat remains more Action than Tactics. In fact, Bioware removed the pseudo-AI programming you could do in the prior two games and replaced it with… not much. The plot begins with a limp handshake via two factions warring that I care nothing about and no inklings that things will get better. In short, I was very, very worried.
Once I finally had a base of operations though… you know that feeling in the Mass Effect series once Shepard reaches the Normandy? Inquisition had that moment for me, and suddenly it felt as if my peripheral vision widened. The fun switch was flipped and stayed on for pretty much the entire ride.
The game feels massive. In fact, one of the big criticisms of Inquisition is that people end up staying in the first map (Hinterlands) doing quests for 15+ hours, long past the point when they could be exploring new lands. And I totally fell into that same trap myself. Honestly, Inquisition could easily have been the first draft of Dragon Age Online. It would not at all have felt out of place to see other Inquisitors running around, killing bears and closing Fade portals. Hell, the game already features a rather needlessly complicated and fiddly crafting system complete with dozens of resources nodes spread across the map.
Combat is much more like Dragon Age 2, as mentioned before, but gone are the magically spawning waves of enemies. As a result, most of the enemies you encounter feel as though they are actually part of the world you inhabit, and thus fighting them feels “real.” It also helps that there aren’t necessarily any prescribed “combat zones” – you could be fighting in the woods with trees blocking projectiles, or attacking up the side of a mountain, or using a boulder for elevation to trigger your Archery talent for bonus damage. Indeed, the sheer amount of verticality in the game is a huge triumph in making the world feel more organic.
In terms of plot, character development, and companion dialog, it is difficult to nail down my feelings on the matter in terms of whether it surpassed prior titles. I ended up playing Inquisition for over 90 hours, largely because I wanted to squeeze every ounce of party banter blood I could from even the stones of irrelevant sidequests. At the same time, most of the excellently written characters were from the first or second games (notable exception: Iron Bull), which feels like… cheating, somehow. Were they particular good in this game, or was I carrying over emotions from prior ones? Tough to say.
What is not at all tough to say is that I very much enjoyed my Inquisition experience overall, and am sad to see it go. I would not rank it amongst my favorites of all time, but Inquisition is the Dragon Age game we deserved after Origins. In short, it has renewed my faith and interest in the series as a whole, and was a joy to play besides. I am ready to follow Bioware into whatever form Dragon Age 4 takes.
Considering I was pretty down on Dragon Age: Inquisition at first, I feel like it is only fair to state how I have been pretty obsessively playing it for the last week or so. By the time this post goes Live, I will likely have past the 40 hour mark. There are some rather annoying design decisions that will be examined in my final review, but for the most part I am very pleased. The plot has picked up significantly, and I am enjoying my time – this is what I remembered being good about Dragon Age: Origins.
In the off-chance you were wondering about how I handled the FPS thing, the short version is I overclocked my i5 2500K processor from the stock 3.3Ghz to 4.2Ghz. It’s actually pretty goofy that I never even tried to do that before, as bumping it from 3.3 to 4.0 appears to be the safest thing in the world; it is only past 4.2 or so that you might need to mess with voltages.
The process I followed was updating BIOS, booting BIOS, clicking Advanced tab, clicking AI tab, clicking manual, and then typing 40 (later 42) and saving. That’s it. My rig was custom built with water cooling already installed, so heat was not that big a deal. I mean, it went from the usual ~30°C to ~60°C under load, but that’s well within acceptable temperatures.
I later tried to overclock my 560ti graphics card using some values I saw on the internet, but after my computer crashed to desktop, I figured the 5-8 FPS I got from the processor overclock was enough. Well, that and I downgraded everything to Medium settings… which is likely where the bulk of my gains were realized. I have since increased Meshes back to High despite the 10 FPS hit for the sake of Scout Harding’s cute freckles. And Varric’s chest hair.Hey, don’t knock it till you play it.
I was trying to describe the Dragon Age series to a friend the other day, and failing miserably. You see, this friend is a huge fan of the Mass Effect series. Should be easy, right? “It’s like a fantasy Mass Effect. It’s even made by the same studio!”
Except that is not really true.
I mean, yeah, it’s made by Bioware. But the longer I look at the Dragon Age series as a whole, the less it looks like a coherent narrative and more a mishmash of one-dimensional fantasy tropes. Dragon Age: Origins was a breath of fresh air with the Mage/Templar relationship, turning Elves into wandering Gypsies, and otherwise subverting a lot of traditional fantasy. Perhaps the genre has evolved in parallel or the novelty has worn off, as these days I’m finding the Dragon Age setting floundering for an identity.
I liked the Grey Warden schtick in the first game, even if it ultimately meant you were fighting dragons and orcs. In Dragon Age 2, you really weren’t doing anything of note; things just happened around you. While there is still time for Inquisition to kick into gear plot-wise (no spoilers, please), I’m at a bit of a loss in mustering up the motivation to care about anyone around me. Don’t get me wrong, party banter is pretty much the reason someone plays Bioware games; I just find it hard to like someone when there’s no real context for their decisions or personality.
For example, I have lost all investment in the Mage vs Templar narrative arc. The concept of anti-mage knights overseeing mage initiation rituals was pretty cool in the first game. It evoked a sort of Wheel of Time “mad dog on a leash” image; I started thinking that perhaps a similar thing should exist in the Star Wars universe vis-a-vis Jedi. It gets the mental gears moving, you know?
But now we are left with insane Mage vs insane Templar generic fantasy 101. My next Inquisition plot point indicates I will need to choose between seeking Mage support or Templar support, with the decision being mutually exclusive. I’m honestly about two seconds away from looking it up on the Wiki and making a decision based on which side gives the better loot. Quite simply, the game hasn’t given me any reason to care about the outcome. Compare that to my utter agony over the Genophage decision in Mass Effect 2. Same sort of binary, morally grey decision, but Mass Effect managed to get me to care. Dragon Age doesn’t even try anymore.
If someone asked you to sum up the Mass Effect series, you could say “scrappy Commander gets ship, builds galactic coalition to defeat Reapers.” As for summing up Dragon Age… uh… hmm. “Series of unrelated scrappy heroes collects NPCs and fights mobs.” Obviously it’s a lot harder to come up with a coherent narrative when you change heroes every game, but I’m not sure how much slack Dragon Age deserves. The Far Cry games have nothing to do with one another, and yet I can feel the thread that binds them. Where is the Dragon Age thread? What is Dragon Age even about?
I think Bioware would have been a lot better off sticking to the Grey Warden angle. Having a new Blight every game would be pretty formulaic (and unsustainable), of course, but I would of loved to have seen a more nuanced exploration of what life is like for the condemned Wardens in the post-Blight period. Sort of like a subverted fantasy plot, wherein your coalition and party members start strong and then fade out, slowly ground to dust via political machinations that find the Warden treaties inconvenient once the world is no longer ending. Perhaps there is a schism that develops amongst Wardens that desire children and security for their families. Maybe the Mage vs Templar rebellion could have started by the Mages deciding to free themselves en masse by joining the Warden cause.
Shit, can you imagine? Do you allow the Mages to essentially subvert the Warden code to emancipate themselves? They get their freedom, but there won’t be enough safeguards amongst the Wardens to keep a check on their power. Plus, what of the nobles who suddenly see the Wardens become a stateless army whose treaties supersede their sovereignty? Do the Wardens become complicit in the subjugation of Mages by rejecting them, especially when the Templars crack down extra hard after the attempted mutiny? Meanwhile, an Archdemon stirs from the all the conflict and bloodshed…
That would be an interesting decision. Not choosing between two NPC leaders that I was introduced to 10 seconds ago.
Who knows, maybe Inquisition will turn out to be super interesting in the final analysis. It isn’t terribly interesting now though, and it will have a hell of a time matching the plot I just invented a minute ago. The game is still fun, but I’d rather be playing Skyrim 2. Since I can’t, Inquisition will have to do.
After around 20 hours of Dragon Age Inquisition, I am more convinced than ever that this is all an elaborate beta testing of the inevitable MMO sequel. Seeing other Heralds running around and closing rifts would not at all have seemed out of place. Hell, there are already dungeons, bosses, grouping, abilities with cooldowns, action combat, mining and herb gathering every 5 feet, crafting, gear upgrades, something approximating reputation meters, companions, mounts, talent trees, and repeatable/grindy quests.
After 20 hours, I am also convinced I am playing this game all wrong. Witness:
Basically, I have 4 Inquisition perks, 67 “Power,” and hit level 10… all before recruiting another party member beyond the default ones. No, I did not stay entirely within the Hinterlands; I simply did most of everything aside from the Main Plot that naturally unlocked as I leveled up. If they didn’t want me completing the swamp zone until after the first major encounter with the Chantry, perhaps they should have made the enemies stronger.
Or… maybe they did, and I didn’t notice because I’m goddamn level 10. Oops.
Although I have clearly screwed the game up for myself this way, I am not entirely convinced it is my fault. The genre in general – and Dragon Age in particular – is fond of having plot progression tied to permanently closing areas and eliminating quests. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in of itself, but if I am always paranoid that this particular foray into Zone X might be the last chance I have to acquire Something Something Y, you can bet I am going to do all the things.
It is one of those unfortunate Design Catch-22s wherein you give the player a variety of activities to complete (in case they don’t like a particular kind) and then the player ends up doing everything. What’s the real alternative though? Only having a very limited selection of quests? Relying on a player’s self-control to move on from an area simply because one has become a god amongst men?
Hah! We’re MMO players: we pay by the month for the privilege of performing pointless activities.
In any case, an hour or two after I took that screenshot I advanced the plot by one degree and suddenly recruited four new party members. I am guessing that there is still one more out there somewhere, if only because my total party is otherwise mirror images of each other: male/female shield warrior, male/female mage, male/female ranged rogue, and then just male 2H warrior. Perhaps it will be a melee rogue, just to shake up the symmetry.
I’ll find out eventually, I suspect. Just as soon as I feel like advancing the plot one more degree. In the meantime, I got some more shards to find.
Looking back in the archives, it does not appear that I have any sort of New Years tradition, be it predictions or year-end reviews. I don’t see any particular reason to start now. Happy New Year!
…okay, I’ll write a little more.
Currently playing Dragon Age: Inquisition, at around 40 FPS on a good day. The overclocking worked for 5-8 FPS, which sounds small, but makes a big difference going from 35 to 40. There were a few moments of glorious 60 FPS when I wasn’t overlooking vistas and such, so I may chase that dragon at the expense of plastic hair or whatever people complained about at certain graphic settings.
One thing this year has heralded the end of, at least in my mind, is the tyranny of Steam sales. Between Humble Bundles, Amazon price-matching, insane GreenManGaming discounts, and general aggregators like IsThereAnyDeal.com, the best deals are generally not on Steam. This point was hammered home a few weeks ago when I realized taking advantage of cheap Steam dollars actually limited my options – almost to the point that I might end up paying more.
In the 11th hour though, Steam finally delivered some historic lows prices for the following:
- The Long Dark
- The Forest
- Child of Light
- Wasteland 2
- The Banner Saga
Two of those are Early Access games and both are sandbox roguelikes at that, but I enjoyed Don’t Starve so… yeah. Perhaps by the time I get around to playing The Long Dark and The Forest, the full games will be out. There were two games I eyed but did not pull the trigger on: Divinity: Original Sin and Wolfenstein. The Steam discounts of both were above historic lows, so I figure I can keep waiting a bit longer for them to fall deeper into discounts. It isn’t as though I’m hurting for games, right?
And that’s about it. In 2015 I anticipate coming back into WoW for at least a brief period of time; longer depending on if Blizzard goes forward with WoW PLEX, and what price gold price it ends up settling on. If the going rate for time-codes is 20,000g, it would be difficult to argue against buying the expansion and immediately buying 20 months of playtime. Even if I do not end playing that long, it would be a good hedge against inflation to keep gold locked up in time-codes (assuming the codes do not decay). You can take the goblin out of the AH, but you can’t… something something.
Beyond that, we will have to see what catches my eye.
As you may have noticed in the sidebar and/or prior post, I have picked up Dragon Age: Inquisition. I have not played it as much as I should have been however, because it is the first PC game in which I’ve ran into a hardware wall.
I am still strategically turning settings down, but I’m talking about Medium settings and getting maybe 40 FPS on a good day. Yesterday, my gaming session was cut short by the game randomly diving down to a literal 4 FPS level every 30 seconds. I “solved” that issue by spending a long time on Youtube weeding through arcane practices, many of which sounded suspiciously similar to “blow on the dice to make them roll high” from D&D players. One of the suggestions was to turn off FRAPS and other FPS counters; I was, of course, unable to ascertain whether it actually worked or if things ran better because I was unable to actually tell how bad it was running.
In any of these sort of situations, I come back to my experience with Skyrim. Basically, if your game doesn’t look as good as Skyrim on my machine, that’s your fault. Perhaps it’s not entirely fair to have that as a benchmark – I do notice a lot more NPCs milling about in Inquisition – but I still end up questioning whether my rig is truly outdated or if the designers got lazy with the PC optimization.
Regardless, my Inquisition FPS woes motivated me to start looking at weak points in my gaming rig:
- i5-2500K Processor (4x 3.30GHz/6MB L3 Cache)
- 8 GB [4 GB X2] DDR3-1600
- NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti – 1GB – EVGA Superclocked – Core: 900MHz
Now, I’ve heard a lot of people talk about getting GTX 970 cards recently, so I figured that my ole 560ti might finally have been gotten to its obsolescence phase. On the other hand, I am not about to spend $300+ on a new graphics card either. What I want slash need is a way of determining the price points of various GTX cards in terms that I can understand.
For example, while I like this chart, it doesn’t really tell me much:
Actually, the chart did tell me quite a bit, as I was very seriously considering the GTX 750ti because bigger numbers equals better, right? I would have been quite pissed at that $100+ purchase for the tiniest of gains, let me tell you. But off-hand, I have no idea what 20,000 more… units translates into FPS terms. Eyeballing PCPartPicker.com shows that a 760 costs $170, the 770 is $260, and the 780 sits at $283. Which is a little weird considering the performance increase on the chart, and the fact that the rest of the 780s on the list are north of $400, above even the the 970s.
What ended up further confusing me is the fact that YouTube videos like this one exist. For the click averse, the title is “Battlefield Hardline ULTRA SETTINGS – NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560TI 1GB DDR5 @ AMD A-10 6800k 4.30Ghz.” And it looks like it runs okay, although there is no framerate counter in the corner. So… what gives? I’m pretty sure I wasn’t playing BF4 on Ultra on my rig. I think the person might have been playing at a lower resolution than 1920×1080, but would that make that big of a difference? I’m pretty used to 1080p at this point though, and am not sure I want to give it up even if it magically fixed all my problems.
From my research on the processor side of things, I have heard that the i5-2500K is still pretty pimp as far as things go. I did verify the speed at 3.3ghz, which means it has not been overclocked. I basically know nothing about overclocking other than what I have read on the internet, so I’m not sure whether that is an avenue worth exploring versus the risk of my machine bursting into flame. Then again, it is liquid cooled, so… yeah.
What this post boils down to is this: I’m open to any suggestions. It could be Inquisition settings, GTX card comparisons (I’m sticking with Nvidia), overclocking guides if that would actually help, and so on. As it stands, it’s still early enough in Inquisition that I likely won’t miss much by turning down settings before I get too invested in my characters actually looking good, but I’d prefer that they do. I mean, come on, Far Cry 3 and Tomb Raider and Titanfall looked fucking fantastic. Why can’t Inquisition? Bah.
[Fake Edit]: I did end up finding this site that compared Inquisition FPS on Ultra settings across multiple cards. The short version is that the 760 gets 30, 770 has 39, and the 780 hits 45. The 750ti is the closest equivalent to my own card, and it eked out 22 FPS. Which, let me tell you, is not indicative of in-game FPS at all at Ultra settings. Still, at least I have some sense of scale now. Will I spend hundreds of dollars on a new card to get 8 more frames per second? Well, I don’t actually need Ultra settings, so hopefully that 8 multiplies out a bit on, you know, High settings or whatever.
Back in the day, one of the big draws of Amazon for me was the free shipping on any orders over $35. If you waited long enough to accumulate a decent enough shopping cart, it worked out rather well as you were spending more than $35 anyway. Other times, I would really want that $25 item right now, but was faced with the prospect of eating shipping costs and “getting nothing” versus just finding ten more bucks worth of whatever. Of course, that is kinda Amazon’s entire plan, right? Once Prime came out, my worries disappeared and these days I routinely pick up $15 items whenever I feel like it rather than saving for one big purchase.
Enter Amazon’s Add-On items. If you want a thing of $1.59 Scotch Tape, Amazon won’t ship it to you at all unless you pair it with $25 worth of other items.
So last week, I found some random item I wanted to get for someone. “$2 add-on, huh? Okay.” I started looking around Amazon for other things that perhaps I had been putting off purchasing. So I picked up a 3-meter HDMI cable for $7.50. And… err… let me look around some more. Oh, here’s an anti-static wrist strap for $6. You know, for that distant future in which I install another SSD or upgrade my video card or whatever. Then it was one of those shake bottles with the metal ball inside, for protein shakes, for $8. I was close now! And you know, I always wanted another end-table and here’s this one for $19. Done!
Oh. The end-table isn’t shipped from Amazon, so it doesn’t actually count towards the limit.
At this point, I’ve been on Amazon for almost an hour and decided to basically say “Fuck it” and bought what I want. Which was this:
So, you win this round, Amazon. And, I suppose, I win a little too.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
- 11/18/14 – Released for $59.99.
- 11/24/14 – Discounted to $45 via GMG.
Far Cry 4
- 11/18/14 – Released for $59.99.
- 11/24/14 – Discounted to $45 via GMG.
Now, you may be tempted to chalk this up to being a holiday thing. Or a GreenManGaming thing. And you would be right in that prices (probably) don’t drop this quickly under normal circumstances.
But, guys, it hasn’t even been a week.
The GMG deal apparently expires on Thursday, so there is a little tension as to whether we will still see a similar price drop on Black Friday from somewhere else. On the other hand, the Steam sale begins on Wednesday, so you can probably safely hedge your bets then.