Dragon Age: Inquisition was a controversial game. While the general consensus seems to be that the story is pretty good, even diehard fans will admit to some pretty serious flaws. The biggest among them is the game’s quest structure, which is more reminiscent of an MMO than a single-player RPG.
Now, what if I told you there was one simple change that could have radically improved the gameplay experience? That change is doing away with the Power mechanic or at least reducing its importance.
I realize this is hardly the most radical suggestion. Nobody, except perhaps the people who designed it, likes the Power system. In Dragon Age: Inquisition Power is gained primarily by completing quests. Its primary use is unlocking new areas and story missions. While that might be fair enough if the quests were worthwhile, Inquisition’s fun to grind ratio is pretty bad.
But how would the player progress to the next area without the Power mechanic? The obvious solution would be to let them advance directly from one story mission to another. That is technically what I’m suggesting, but there’s a bit more to it than that.
You see, each major area in Inquisition has what I like to call a Regional Questline. These are the side quests that lead directly into each other and tell the location’s story. If you’ve played Inquisition enough, you can likely guess which ones I’m referring to. These are the quests that begin immediately upon reaching a new area. The Fallow Mire has the captured soldiers, Emprise du Lion has the Red Templar fortress, and so on. In my opinion, they are among the most interesting side quests in the game, and frankly, I think they should be more than that.
To explain what I mean, let’s look at Dragon Age: Inquisition’s first and most infamous of questing areas, the Hinterlands. I’m in the minority here because I actually quite like the Hinterlands overall. In fact, I’d say it’s one of my favorite areas, mainly because it has the most stuff going on.
The player’s primary goal upon arriving in the Hinterlands is to rescue Revered Mother Giselle. She’s the local equivalent of a bishop with the big hat and fancy robes to boot. She is also apparently the only person who can get the religious authorities to take the Inquisition seriously.
This plot point resolves surprisingly quickly. The player is then left with vague instructions to gather more Power to advance the story. So now, let’s talk about those Regional Questlines I mentioned earlier. While most areas have one or two, the Hinterlands has five depending on how you count them. These subplots are the Apostate and Templar camps (which we’ll count as one), the Horsemaster’s quests, the quests at the refugee camp, the bandits/smugglers, and the cultists worshiping the Breach.
Out of those five, at least three should have have been part of the main questline. The first is Horsemaster Dennet’s quests, for purely practical reasons. He gives the player their first horse, and you need to hire him before you can buy any others. It’s an important part of the game that too easily gets lost in the torrent of side quests Inquisition throws your way.
More important, are the quests related to the Templars, the Mages, and the smugglers. The first two are relatively straight-forward, and most people seem to do them anyway. These quests matter because they show that the Inquisition can restore order and should be taken seriously. Doing both also demonstrates that the Inquisition forces can combat both the Mages and the Templars but shows they aren’t on either side. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a good reason for the Chantry authorities, as well as the Mages and Templars, to sit up and take notice.
Lastly, there are the smugglers. This as a very easy to miss series of quests since it involves going on a bit of a scavenger hunt across the Hinterlands. This is easily fixable by incorporating it into the main story, which would not be hard to do. Start with a character, it doesn’t matter who, pointing out that despite being officially cut off, neither the Templars or Mages have any trouble acquiring large quantities of lyrium, which both groups use to power their abilities. Someone would then suggest that both sides might be more willing to talk if the supply line was cut.
This would start a quest called “Find the Source of Lyrium.” The players would have five ways of advancing this quest. The firsts would be to complete the “East Road Bandits” quest, which is how the storyline usually begins. Alternatively, the player could find notes in the Apostate and Templar camps, hinting at the bandit stronghold’s location. Lastly, the player could simply stumble upon the fortress by exploring.
Once both of the questlines are complete, the player would be free to advance to the next area. This pattern would repeat for the rest of the game.
Before picking a side in the Mage-Templar conflict, someone will suggest the need to strengthen the Inquisition’s position in Ferelden. This would be accomplished by completing the Regional Questlines for the Fallow Mire and Storm Coast. Clearing the undead from Crestwood and the Venatori from the Western Approach could easily be written in as requirements for completing the story missions in those areas. The Regional Questlines for the Exalted Plains and Emerald Graves are already connected. In our version, they would serve to convince the Empress of Orlais that the Inquisition is worth her time. Lastly, the Emprise du Lion could serve as the final step before pursuing Corypheus into the Arbor Wilds.
That would only leave the Hissing Wastes and Forbidden Oasis as purely optional areas. Honestly, they can stay that way.
All the regions I mentioned would still have the same side quests. The existing main quest would also remain mostly the same. We would just be elevating some of the better subplots. It’s not that big of a change, all things considered, and it would go a long way to boosting player engagement.