3 Bad Designs - Dragon Age: Inquisition

4/13/2015 - C.J. Kimberlin

This is not a review of Dragon Age: Inquisition. Inquisition is a fun game and Bioware does what Bioware does best, which is creating an epic storyline with interesting characters to interact with. However no game is without its flaws and, since I am learning to be game designer, I decided to pick out three design decisions that I thought were not the best and could be improved upon. Bad Decisions

Pressing a button to search.

In Inquisition you can find nearby loot, resources, and quest items by pressing a button that pings the surrounding area highlighting interactable objects. A mechanic like this is absolutely necessary as it would be incredibly difficult to locate all of the resources (especially important quest objects!) without some sort of search.

The primary intent of this mechanic is pretty straight forward. It makes finding all the interactable objects in the surrounding area easy to find. This way players do not need to tediously hover over or keep a keen eye out for every object. It forces players to make an active decision to check their surroundings which guarantees that the player is looking out for objects when otherwise objects might just become noise in the background. It also has the added benefit of being incredibly exciting when the search "pings" indicating an item of importance is nearby putting the player into a directed search mode.

Why is it bad?

It's tedious and annoying. While it may be less so than manually searching I still found myself spamming the search button constantly as I walked around. The 'press a button to search' forces players to repeatedly take an action that gets old after a while and takes away from the game. Since it's a high frequency repeated action, it also has accumulates button fatigue. It's gets tiring pressing one button over and over.

What I would have done different.

I would have sacrificed having the player explicitly press a button to look out for objects and just have nearby objects show up on the minimap. I would have to try it out but my initial thought is to go with a button being held down to highlight objects on the screen (like Diablo 2 did with tab). This is less tiring than pressing a button over and over and still has the player take action when looking for objects. And if objects always show up on the minimap then the player only needs look for items when they are nearby. This allows the player to focus on the more fun parts of the game.

However the audible ping for important items is definitely exciting but could work in my suggested system. Ping the player when they are near an item (at some interval and not when the player is 'engaged' to avoid becoming annoying) and it'll get their attention.

Astrarium Puzzles

Another set of quests that the player can engage in while exploring the vast zones. The player interacts with an object that presents a puzzle to the player. Solve all of these puzzles in a zone and the player is rewarded with a loot cache that has a higher quality item in it.

Why is it bad?

It breaks the player's immersion in the game. Inquisition is a massive RPG where a player can get lost in the world and their character. Yet periodically the player are taken out of that and forced to play a mini game. Most of the puzzles are easy, but that's not really the point. It doesn't harmonize well with the rest of the game. I do not accept that it ok because the quest is optional. Many players will feel obligated since there is a reward for completing the quest.

What I would have done different.

Simply put, remove it from the game. The only plus to this feature is that it’ll force the player to search more of the map and can be used to guide the player to interesting points on the map. That is a very nice plus but the astrarium puzzles aren’t needed for it as there are other quests that accomplish the same goal.

Tactical Combat

This one is tough for me because this is how I wanted to play the game. In Dragon Age: Inquisition the player has two primary ways they could approach playing the game. Play the game as single character and set up behaviors for the allies (making the game more action oriented) or play in the tactical camera, pausing the game, and controlling every ability each character uses. Now players can play the game in whatever way they would like!

Why is it bad?

Playing tactically is not a great experience. I’ll even ignore that the tactical camera was frustrating, buggy, and didn’t work well on PC. The game was designed around playing the more action oriented style and that means the pacing is terrible for a tactical approach. For an action oriented design, you can have more repetitive fights for the player to get through as they will tend to be much quicker. Now take those many repetitive fights and approach them tactically. The game slows to a crawl and the repetition feels more annoying than rewarding.

Dragon Age: Inquisition is a very long game. Some people like that, others don’t. Because the game was design around playing the actin oriented way (which gets through fights much quicker), playing tactically always means the game length grows to be even longer. This would be fine if it was fun for the entire length but given the pacing, this means that the narrative drips (arguably the best parts of the game) come much much slower which degrades the entire experience and the player spends more time grinding through similar fights as they explore the zones.

What I would have done different.

Upset the many fans (myself included) by committing to the action oriented style of play and removing tactical play completely. Trying to give everyone what they want doesn’t work if what you give is a worse experience (well maybe it at least gets them to buy the game). Instead of spending resources to build out the tactical combat in the game, those resources could have been spent making the action oriented approach even better.

Would I have been disappointed that I couldn’t play the game in the tactical way that I wanted? Sure. But I would have had a much better experience when playing.

Wow! He couldn’t be any more wrong! Let me know at @cjkimberlin.

C.J. Kimberlin is a Seattleite professional programmer, aspiring game designer, amateur artist, and the most awesome guy ever, just saying.

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