Tag Archives: RPG

Twisting Fate: Zero to Hero

This is part of a series of posts looking at some questions about Fate Core – usually questions I’ve had and seen repeated by others – and some of the underlying topics that may lead to these questions in the first place.  Take a look at the first post – Twisting Fate – for a better explanation of why I’m writing this.  Also take note of the obligatory disclaimer that I am not trying to “fix” Fate – it’s not broken.  I’m just trying to expand my own understanding and apply it towards my game.

I also want to acknowledge Rob Hanz.  I’ve encountered him a number of times on Google+, and his explanations have been invaluable to helping me understand Fate better.  Somehow I only came across the Book of Hanz and began reading it.  Not only are Rob’s posts a great resource for those of us still learning more about Fate, but they have also made me feel much better about the questions I have about the system.  There are definitely a lot of elements of the system that “click” for me now that didn’t before I read Rob’s advice, and many of the underlying “issues” I’ve had with things have at least been validated by some of his posts – as well as others.  So at least I’m not completely crazy.  (Or if I am, at least I’m in good company.)

Zero to Hero

I came across a post recently in which a player wanted to create characters that were “lower level” than the typical starting Fate character.  He was planning to run a long-term game in which the characters went from no-name average characters to eventually becoming world-saving heroes.  He had an idea of how to accomplish this and was asking for feedback.

I’ve seen questions similar to this numerous times, and I myself am also looking at different ways the character creation process could be modified to produce characters that are closer to what might be “average”.  In typical awesome fashion, the broader Fate community usually provides some insight and feedback, throws around some different possibilities, and answers follow-up questions.

That being said, in discussions like this, I have often seen two particular responses that got me thinking.  The first is an immediate reference to D&D and its style of character advancement.  (I’ll save a discussion of that cognitive leap for my post focusing on progression.)  The other discourages using Fate for this type of game.


Give a forum thread talking about “low-level” Fate characters enough time, and you are extremely likely to find a player post a quote from Fate that the game is “about competent, dramatic, proactive characters”.   The implication being that if you are seeking to run a game about more average or weaker characters, Fate might not be the best system to use.

It may very well be the case that the player in question might be better served by another system, but as Fate is often said to be designed to simulate fiction, it seems odd to suggest that Fate cannot be used to tell a story about normal, everyday characters that become something more extraordinary (a not uncommon trope in a variety of media).  I’ve asked questions about this in the past, and based on the ensuing discussions I’ve come to believe that there are a few reasons that veteran players sometimes jump to this conclusion.

In short, I think players place too much emphasis on the competent part of “competent, dramatic, proactive”.  When you start comparing what types of characters do and do not work well in Fate, being proactive is by far the most important element in this concept.  Characters that stand around and wait for things to happen don’t work well.  Being dramatic is also important to varying degrees depending on the genre – think of dramatic as being interesting or non-boring, and you’re on the right track.  Now, being competent is important in that only a very particular style of game will work if the player characters are stumbling around in a perpetual state of incompetence.  However, as long as the characters are passably good at something (or at least are likely to succeed periodically) the game can still work.  There are two important reasons why a game with less-skilled characters can still function just fine (and be lots of fun), but both require effort on the part of the GM – which isn’t to say that they require any effort beyond what is usually expected of a GM.

Lower Level Conflict

First, we have to remember that there are plenty of ways to make the characters seem normal, especially at first, and many of them require little or no mechanical difference.  Want to play more “average” characters?  Then just focus the game on a more “average” playing field.  Instead of tackling political corruption in a capital city or averting empire-wide catastrophe, just deal with the problems in your neighborhood.  Keeping the characters grounded in a smaller scale, everyday environment can go a long way to making them feel “normal” – especially in contrast to when they do eventually start taking on bigger issues.  Scale the conflict (little c, not talking Conflict mechanics here) down to an everyday level, and gradually scale the stakes and scope of the conflicts the characters face as they grow in power and influence.

Fate Core does caution players on trying to simulate every little negotiation, and rightly so, but keeping the conflict at a small scale doesn’t mean you have to deviate from that guidance.  Just make sure that the stakes of the conflict are meaningful to the characters and that the results of rolling the dice are always interesting.  Which brings me to…

Failing Forward

The other issue with assuming a high level of competence is necessary for Fate to work is largely rooted in traditional tabletop games: an aversion to failure.  If the players keep failing rolls, and the characters aren’t successful at anything, no one is going to have any fun.  To some extent, the could certainly be true.  Of course, if you scale the conflict to fit the characters, that shouldn’t happen too often.  More importantly, it ignores one of the the elements of Fate (and many narrative games) that make the system so effective at telling great stories: failure can be just as interesting as success (often even more so).

Fate Core presents this idea largely in terms of Success at a Cost.  One possibility is that the character doesn’t get what he wants, but it’s also possible he gets the result he was hoping for – it’s just that something else happens too.  Traditional games can pose problems when the characters really need to succeed at something in order to move the story forward, but that is easily remedied by the concept of failing forward.  The story moves forward no matter what, it just becomes a little more complicated.  Not only does this mean that a game about everyday characters can still be interesting, it also gives the GM all sorts of ways to propel these average people into decidedly more unusual circumstances.

I’m not going to go into a long discussion about how awesome failing forward can be or how to use it (run a quick search and you’ll find plenty of advice), but the point is that if failure is not that significant a problem in Fate, then neither is competence.

Maybe Not Zero… But One…

There are certainly approaches to using low level characters in Fate that can cause serious issues.  You can’t have a system as elegant and interconnected as Fate and not expect some ripples when you start tinkering with mechanics.  That said, given the flexibility of Fate, there are almost certainly at least a handful of ways to handle this kind of game that should work just fine.  If this kind of game interests you, there are plenty of posts out there with ideas of how to do just that.  Just don’t get discouraged if someone suggests maybe Fate isn’t the system for you.  You may have to check some preconceptions at the door and step outside of your comfort zone, but there’s a better than fair chance you can find a way to use Fate for your game if that’s what you decide you want to do.


A Fateful Exercise in Flexibility

I’ve started adapting my setting and existing Proteus material to Fate Core while I continue to learn more about the system and how it has been utilized by the community. One thing that is very apparent with Fate is that there are almost always multiple ways to accomplish the same objective within the rules. There is no one right way to handle a given situation. At the same time, there may be a best way to handle a situation to get what you want out of that particular scene in your game. For me, this comes down to understanding what the character’s intent is and where you want your narrative focus.

I’m still working to refine my understanding of when to use different actions, both for myself and so that I can provide clear guidance as I continue to convert things over to Fate. Attack and Defend are easy, and I’ve already decided to include Discover – in addition to being conceptually helpful, I think it can add something to certain situations and styles of play. Of course, as I continue to read posts and comments from around the community, I still encounter situations when I’m not sure which action would fit. Sometimes this is just due to lacking information on the intent and context of the action, but I think there is still room for significant improvement in my understanding of where the lines are drawn between Overcome, Create an Advantage, and Discover.

A related topic is that of zooming in and out within the story – essentially deciding how you want to handle a situation based on where you want the narrative focus. Frank Hanz discusses this concept here, and Malcolm Reynolds touches on it in his comments about creating advantages to impact different layers of play. Malcolm refers to the Fate fractal in his comment, and I agree that this idea is very much a fractal – but I don’t think it’s the Fate fractal.

Typically, the fractal refers to the application of the Bronze Rule – the idea that anything in the game can functionally be treated as a character (though there are limitations). But that’s not necessarily what this is; this is a second fractal. This one holds that any action in the game can be handled with varying levels of detail by adjusting its complexity and the number of rolls required to achieve the character’s intent. This is handled primarily by varying the number of tasks which must be required to accomplish a goal, the scale of those tasks, and the use of pacing mechanisms (challenges, contests, conflicts, etc.).

In other words, any event or action in the game world can be handled by a single roll, a series of rolls, a scene or two, an entire scenario, or even a whole campaign. It all depends on where you want to focus the story, and that focus can vary from one event to the next. Fate likes to name some of its rules, which I think helps players remember, apply, and refer to them. (Technically, this concept is not limited to Fate, but Fate’s scalable mechanics make it extremely well suited to applying this concept.) So I’ve taken to calling this the Glass Rule – as in you use a magnifying glass (or telescope) to zoom in and out of the action in order to change your focus and level of detail.

The rest of this is just a few examples of how to handle the same situation with different levels of focus and different actions. It’s something of a “thought exercise by way of hypothetical gameplay scenarios” just to help me work through this and codify it in my mind.

General scenario: The PCs are agents or operators of some kind and are currently attached to a military battalion. That battalion is preparing to assault and take control of an enemy research compound, and the characters decide they want to recon the compound to give the battalion an edge in the battle to come.

Example 1: The players and the GM are more interested in the battle to take the compound, so that’s where the scene will focus.

Scouting the compounds defenses is handled with a single roll to create an advantage. Success creates a Defenses Identified and Mapped aspect on the compound with a free invocation which can be used in the battle.

Example 2: The players and GM are focused on the battle itself, but the GM wants to illustrate how valuable having operators like the PCs can be to preparing for the battle.

The GM calls for an overcome roll to first infiltrate the compound, followed by a roll to create an advantage as the characters sabotage the security system. Success creates an Automated Security System has been Compromised aspect on the compound with a free invocation for the upcoming battle.

Example 3: Similar to the second example, but one of the characters is a hacker so the GM wants to show off how he can contribute to the battalion’s victory. The GM decides to handle this with a challenge with the team working together.

The team will have to enter the compound (overcome), hack the security system (overcome), hold off any guards during the hack (overcome), and then escape (overcome). One of the characters also wants to set some traps to help deal with the guards (create advantage). The PCs roll a success at minor cost to enter the compound (boost to the GM when holding off the guards), fail to set the traps (boost to the GM on the escape attempt), succeed to hold off the guards, success with style on the hack, and success with a serious cost to escape.

The GM narrates that the team manages to infiltrate the compound through a sewer access, but a guard stumbles upon their wet footprints and lets his team know to be on the lookout for anything strange. They discover the traps and sound the alarm. The team manages to hold them off while the hacker not only analyzes the compound’s security, but also finds a way to control it remotely. Unfortunately, the guards decide to focus on locking down the compound to prevent any escape. The team manages to make it out without any serious injury, but now the compound is aware of a possible attack. A Security System Remote Access aspect is attached to the compound with two free invocations, but a second aspect, On High Alert is also created on the compound.

Example 4: The players are far more interested in infiltrating the compound than they are in the actual battle, so the GM sets up the attempt to recon the facility as a full scene.

GM: Okay, you arrive outside the compound a couple hundred yards from the entrance. You identify a few guards on patrol, a number of cameras, and a couple of automated gun systems. Some areas of the perimeter are also protected by fence, and it looks electrified.

Player 1: I don’t like the look of those guns; let’s see if we can find another way in.

GM: Like what?

Player 1: Maybe a small service or delivery entrance with less security?

GM: Okay, that sounds like a discover action; roll Scout. Assuming you’re trying to avoid being spotted while looking for a way in, this will be against the guards’ Notice (+2).

Player 1: Okay, I got +2 – does that mean they saw us?

GM: No, just a minor cost. How about this? You find an emergency exit door that’s left open with no camera coverage, but the reason it’s open is that the guards like to use it while they’re on taking a break. There are three guards on break right now, milling around outside the door and talking.

Player 1: Well, that gives us a way in without being spotted, if we can just deal with these guards.

Player 2: Let’s setup some sort of diversion to draw them away while we slip inside.

GM: Okay you’ll need to Stealth to slip passed without being seen (overcome action), but you can create an advantage to lure them away first. How do you want to do that?

Player 3: Well, we don’t want to do anything that lets them know someone is here, just something to get them to move and look away for a couple minutes.

Player 4: What about a fire?

Player 3: Wouldn’t that tip them off that we’re here?

Player 4: Not necessarily, I can use my Engineering skill on the fence to make it look like the fence just shorted out and started a grass fire.

GM: Nice. Cool plan and with your Engineering it shouldn’t be a problem, so no need to roll. There’s a Grass Fire Near the Fenceline and the guards move off to investigate. They’re still being watchful, but they’re definitely distracted. You’ve got a free invoke.

Player 2: Okay, we’ll use it and make our way inside. I’ve got the highest Stealth, so I’ll lead everyone in. With the invoke I’ve got a +4.

GM: Okay, while the guards are dealing with the fire you manage to slip into the building without being seen. You’re at the end of a corridor on the ground level. Seems to be an office area. What now?

Player 3: We need to try and find information on how their security is setup, but we’re going to need to blend in if we want to look around. This is a research facility right, so there are probably scientists and lab techs all over the place?

GM: Yeah, most of them would be in labs and such, but you’d expect to see them throughout the facility.

Player 2: Let’s snag some lab coats from a supply closet!

Player 3: My thoughts exactly.

GM: Okay, the trick will be finding a supply closet before someone sees you. Lab supplies would probably be near the labs on the lower level.

Player 3: Yeah, but wouldn’t there also be recent shipments that need to be processed? That would be in an office area like the one we’re in now. Somebody’s got to fill out the paperwork when they get new supplies in right?

Player 4: Discover to establish there are supplies in the office area – with Bureaucracy?

GM: We could, but I don’t want to get bogged down in how you guys find some lab coats. Just use Bureaucracy to create an advantage so you can start looking around. Shouldn’t be hard, so roll against Average opposition.

Player 3: All right! I succeeded with style.

GM: Okay, so you find an office marked Logistics. It’s vacant, and the storeroom has all kinds of supplies, including the lab coats. You also find some newly encoded ID badges. They won’t hold up to serious scrutiny or get you into high security areas, but they’ll help you blend in. You all look like Just Another Lab Tech and you’ve got two free invokes. Moving around outside of any restricted shouldn’t be a problem if you don’t do anything to draw suspicion to yourself.

Player 4: Now we can get down to business.

Player 2: Well, we already know what security is like at the front of the building. What else do we need to get?

Player 3: We need something that will help the military take the facility.

Player 4: Like access codes or something?

Player 3: Maybe, but those would probably be hard to get without going into high security areas, which we want to avoid if we can. I was thinking along the lines of how many guards they have, when they’re on duty, and what other forces might be in the area. Stuff like that. Though even those kinds of details might not be easy to find.

Player 2: Maybe there’s something going on with their research projects that would make it better for the battalion to attack at a certain time – like a big test or something. Lots of people might know about that.

Player 3: I like it. Now where should we look?

Player 4: Well, we’re in the Logistics office. Maybe there’s a directory or lists of offices around here.

GM: Okay. You find a list with a bunch of offices listed. It includes room numbers, phone numbers, and the name and title of whoever is assigned to the office.

Player 4: We don’t want anyone too high up the food chain; they might have extra security. We want an office with just one mid-level person. Important enough to know what’s going on, but not too important…

GM: How about an Assistant Government Liaison for Research?
Player 4: Sounds promising.

GM: Dr. Agnew’s office is on the laboratory level, along with a few other offices, but it’s outside any restricted areas.

Player 3: Let’s go.

GM: All right. A quick elevator ride later you find yourselves on the lab sub-level heading down the corridor to Agnew’s office. It’s at the end of the hall, next to a stairwell and across from a breakroom being used by the scientists. [Reveals Scientists on Break.] The office is unoccupied, but the door is closed and locked.

Player 2: Doesn’t anybody work around here? Everyone’s on a break!

Player 3: Okay. We need to get into that office.

Player 2: I can pick it with Tradecraft, but not with all those scientists around.

Player 4: What if we distract them?

GM: How?

Player 4: We could start talking about work – but none of us have much in the way of Science skills. Maybe I could use Engineering?

GM: Without any idea of what they’re working on, that might be tough. If you’re just trying to hold their attention long enough for him to unlock a simple office door, it doesn’t have to be about work. You just need to avoid causing suspicion. How about Mimic?

Player 3: So Mimic to create an advantage for his Tradecraft roll?

GM: The lock isn’t hard to pick, it’s just about not being caught. Just roll a straight overcome action with Mimic against their Insight. I’ll also burn a fate point to invoke Scientists on Break. That puts the opposition at Good (+3).

Player 3: Okay, I’ll head into the breakroom and strike up a conversation family or something while he picks the lock. Maybe stand in the doorway and listen to me to block their view. I rolled a +2, but I’ll use one of our free invokes on Just Another Lab Tech to push it to +4.

GM: Good enough. You hold the scientists attention while he easily unlocks the door. They’re soon tired of listening to you prattle on about your kids and decide to get back to work. [Removes Scientists on Break from play.] As soon as the coast is clear, you duck into the office and lock the door. It’s a Messy Office, with a desk, a few filing cabinets, and a computer.

Player 4: Okay, so we’re looking for any information on upcoming events or tests that might create an opportunity for our guys to come in and take this place. I’ll check out the computer, hopefully it’s not too hard to get into, because I don’t think any of us are good with computers.

GM: Just a username and password. The username is already displayed, but you don’t have the password. You could hack the system with Tech.

Player 2: I don’t think that would go well unless we can create an advantage or something first. Not sure how we’d do that.

Player 3: Maybe we can figure out the password. Look through his desk to see if he wrote it down. Maybe a date or a name.

GM: Hmm. Okay roll Insight to discover what he might have use as the password. Opposition is Average.

Player 3: Can we use teamwork?

GM: Sure.

Player 3: Okay. Not the greatest roll, but +2 is enough.

GM: Okay, you notice that all of the pictures in the office are of a young boy, a few with a woman that you assume is Agnew’s wife, but the boy is in all of them. Looking through the photos, you find two names written on the back of one of them: Samantha and Tim.

Player 4: Let’s try Tim for the password.

GM: No joy.

Player 4: How about Timothy?

GM: You’re in.

Player 4: Score! Now let’s start looking for any information on upcoming tests or events.

GM: There’s a lot of information to look through, and you don’t want to stay in the office forever.

Player 3: It’s a government computer system right? Can I use Bureaucracy to find schedules or emails?

GM: Sure. Another discover action to locate the information you’re looking for, but I’ll spend a point to invoke Messy Office. This guy is seriously disorganized, and that extends to his computer as well. So opposition is +4.

Player 4: Ok fine. [Rolls] Not going well today, I’ve only got +2. I’ll spend a point to invoke my Government Calls Me to Solve Problems aspect to make it +4 and at least avoid a serious cost.

GM: Fair enough. You finally manage to sort through his nightmare of a file system. You find a few references to an upcoming project demonstration scheduled for a couple of days from now. Agnew has been coordinating a visit by some other military and government officials to observe the test.

Player 2: That’s not going to help us at all! If anything there will be more security.

GM: Actually, you notice that the demonstration will be held at a place called the Clearmoor Test Range. A quick search reveals that the range is about four hours away. There aren’t any detailed security plans for the event on this computer, but from some of the messages it seems that most of the security and military forces in the area will be used to protect the test equipment in transit and secure the range.

Player 2: So there won’t be much security here at the time, and everyone else will be a few hours away. That should give our guys a big enough window to take this place.

Player 3: Yeah… But what’s the catch, where’s that minor cost?
GM: Just then the phone in the office rings.

Player 4: Don’t answer it!

Player 3: Right. Just let it ring while we get out of here.

GM: The call goes to voicemail, and a woman’s voice leaves a message. “Dr. Agnew? This is Janice in lab 3. I know you just left here, but I need to get your signature on another form so we can finish making the preparations for the test. You mentioned you were headed back to the office, but I guess you’re not there yet. When you get this message, could you please drop back by the lab before you leave for the day? Thanks.”

Player 2: Great. We’re about to have company. Make sure you leave everything how we found it, and let’s get out of here.

Player 4: Yeah. Let’s get moving!

GM: You put everything back in its place and head out the door. As you step into the hallway you see a small man in a lab coat and glasses come around the corner and head in your direction. His eyes go wide when he sees you – a look that quickly changes to one of suspicion as he realizes were you just came from. “Hey! What are you doing in my office?!”

Player 3: Uh… “We heard the phone ringing and saw that the door was open, so we were going to answer it.”

GM: He continues to walk towards you after pausing momentarily. “You were just going to answer someone else’s phone?! How did you get in there?”

Player 2: No. This sniveling lab geek government flunky is not going to talk to us like that. I’m walking right towards him. “Look pal! We heard a phone and thought it might be important. We’re trying to help you out! And you thank us with this kind of attitude?! Maybe if you kept your door locked in the first place you wouldn’t have this problem! Come to think of it, that’s probably a security violation.” I turn to look back at them. “Aren’t we supposed to report that sort of thing?” I’m not breaking cover, but I want to intimidate him into backing down.

GM: Okay. We’ll call that creating an advantage with Manipulate. Roll against his Resolve. You’re right about him being a flunky; his Resolve is Mediocre and he defends with… [Rolls] zero.

Player 2: Hah. I got +2. How about Quaking in His Lab Boots?

GM: Sounds about right, with an invocation, but he’s still suspicious.

Player 3: Okay so now we need to press the advantage. We follow right behind and go to move past him like any other scientist.

GM: All right. Another Mimic roll to maintain your cover as you make your way past him to get out of the facility without him notifying security. Remember he’s a government liaison, so his Insight is Great +4.

Player 3: We’ll use our remaining free invoke on Just Another Lab Tech along with the invoke on Quaking in His Lab Boots.

Player 4: As we approach, looking like the lab techs we obviously are, I tell him, “Janice called and said she needed you back in lab 2 to sign some more forms. Don’t you just hate it when that happens? Like we don’t have enough paperwork to fill out already!”

Player 3: [Rolls] We’ve got +6 with those invokes.

GM: Okay. He stammers for a second, looking back and forth between the three of you. Then his shoulders slump and he turns around, heading back towards the lab section while muttering to himself.

Player 2: Right. Now can we get the hell out of here?

Player 3: We should have enough to make battalion command happy, let’s move before we press our luck any more than we already have.

GM: All right. You make your way through the facility and out the front door, still wearing your scientist outfits. No one gives you a second look. You remove your lab coats and head back to the battalion staging area. You’ve got the battalion a free invoke on Security? Just a Skeleton Crew. That should come in handy during the battle.

Player 4: Hey guys, what do you say to letting the grunts take care of the attack on their own? With security that light they should be able to handle it without us, and I’d like to see if we can find out what’s going on at this test range.

Player 3: I’m kind of curious to find out about this Clearmoor place myself.

Player 2: I guess it doesn’t do us much good to take that facility if they get away with whatever they were making and we don’t know anything about it. But this time we’re going armed.

Okay that was longer than I first intended, but I think it illustrates the point. All four examples end up with largely the same result: an advantage is created for the battalion’s attack. But there are four very different levels of detail and focus involved. Plus the actual advantage was established using different game mechanics. Only the first two examples used create an advantage. The third example used overcome actions in a challenge, and in the fourth example the aspect was created at the conclusion of the scene. The necessary information was actually uncovered with a discover action, but it didn’t become useful until the team got it back to the battalion.

I also tried to point out a few places in the last example where a roll could have been handled differently. Again, a key concept in applying the mechanics is to focus the story on the parts that are interesting. There are obviously a number of other ways that scene could have gone down. For example, the encounter with Dr. Agnew could have been handled as a full-blown conflict, starting out as mostly mental, but possibly transitioning if the PCs had to resort violence.

Or if the team had rolled success with style while looking for information, they might have learned that a captured scientist (perhaps a long-time acquaintance of one of the PCs) was being held in the compound and forced to assist with research. That one roll could take the scene in a completely different direction if they try to rescue him. Similarly, a failed roll could have resulted in guards being alerted at several junctures – which could easily have led to a contest to locate the information while the guards search the building floor by floor. That all assumes the characters try to remain covert; they could always escalate things and try to fight their way out.

That’s more than enough for now.

Dragon Age: Inquisition – Review

More than any other game I’ve played recently, Dragon Age: Inquisition is a game experience that reflects what you, the player, put into it.  While claims of 20 to 200 hours of gameplay based on previews and developer interviews are still being debated, the fact is that this game contains an impressive wealth of content.  I’ve already experienced one moment in the game when I though “a lesser developer would have ended the game here and saved the rest for a sequel or paid DLC.”  Inquisition is a great game, a more than worthy addition to the series, and in my opinion, more than redeems Bioware’s reputation after the widely criticized DA2.  I’m roughly 30 hours into the game and still feel like I’m much closer to the beginning than to the end.

To give any readers some background on my perspective going into this game, I’ve played both Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2, but I did not finish either of them.  (It’s not unusual for me to leave games unfinished, owed largely due to my widely varied interests and busy life.)  I enjoyed DAO, but like many players, I felt DA2 was an utter disappointment.

For those that have never played a Dragon Age title or, like me, did not finish one or both of the previous titles Bioware has created the Dragon Age Keep.  This site allows you to review all your decisions from past games, edit them, and make any decisions you missed out on.  Then you simply hit a button to prep your world for Inquisition.  This is all based on your Origin account, doesn’t require you to export or import any save games, and functions regardless of platform.  For example, I played the previous two games on PC, reviewed and edited my choices on the site, and am playing DAI on PS4.  Since both my Origin account and PSN account use the same email, everything synced automatically.  Oh, and unlike many other games lately, Origin’s servers seem to have no trouble at launch.  Everything connects as it should.

This all make it possible to get into DAI even if you’ve never played a Dragon Age game in the past, but there are a few resources that might be beneficial to you.  One of the greatest aspects of this series is the effort that has gone into crafting the world – a fantasy world that feels both familiar and unique – and taking a look at these sites can help you get the most out of Inquisition.  First, there’s Kirk Hamilton’s A Beginner’s Guide to All Things Dragon Age on Kotaku.  This is a great primer on the game world and provides everything a new player needs to understand key concepts like “What are the Blight’s?”.  There are numerous sites out there that provide info on the two previous games, two examples of which are Michael Rougeu’s article on Digital Trends and the Dragon Age in 5 Minutes video from IGN.  This will introduce you to some of the key characters and events from past games, and ideally I’d recommend hitting all three sites, then visiting the Dragon Age Keep before starting the game.  This will mean you have to delay a bit, obviously, but in my opinion it’s worth it.  Anyway, on to the review!

Mountain Overlook – GameInformer

Character Creation

Upon selecting the option for a New Game, you are immediately greeted by a large explosion (always a plus), and so the story begins.  I’ll avoid spoilers, but during the first few minutes you are given the opportunity to fine tune your character’s facial appearance in a fine degree of detail.  You’ll also select a race, gender, and starting class.  You must choose between one of two subclasses, but this merely determines your starting skills and gear; you have access to both skill primary trees (plus two secondary trees) for your class from the beginning.  Many of the changes you can make may be subtle, but you can easily spend a fair amount of time fine tuning your character’s appearance.  Some player have criticized a lack of broader variety in the available options, but the available options are obviously based on the game’s art style.  It simply wouldn’t make sense to have a character with bright pink hair in Dragon Age.

Graphics, Art Style & Technical

Inquisition is a beautiful game.  The first major area following the prologue (Hinterlands), is a land of rolling hills, valleys and woodlands.  In terms of overall style, DAI falls somewhere between Skyrim and Guild Wars 2.  The bright color palette of the Hinterlands might not meet the everyone’s desires, but players should also visit the swamps of Fallow Mire and the frigid coastline of Storm Coast before making up their minds about the game’s visual style.

The game is well polished and remarkably bug free.  I’ve experienced only a single crash, and the only issues I’ve encountered involved either a hang during dialog with a character – which resolved itself after waiting a couple minutes – and a problem finding an NPC to turn in a quest because the NPC had somehow traveled to an unreachable location.  Simply leaving the map and then returning to a specific fast travel waypoint respawned the NPC in a nearby location.

The quality of graphics on the PS4 is high.  Draw distance is good, as are visual effects.  I occasionally experienced a slight pause in Haven (your main base of operations following the prologue) and an area loaded, but this would occur once or twice at most and only in that area.  Weather effects, wildlife, spell effects, building designs, etc. all lend to the immersion of the game world.  Cutscenes are done in-engine, and while part of me wishes they were full cinematics (mainly because Dragon Age cinematics are usually superb) the fact that so many scenes include dynamic dialog options makes this impractical.


Further enhancing the game’s immersion is the sound.  Ambient noises of rain and wildlife are superb, and the occasional dialog between members of your party is likely to make you want to try different party combinations just to hear more.  Listening to a Grey Warden and a Qunari discuss combat tactics is entertaining, particularly when the massive Qunari explains that wearing an eye patch makes his opponents predictable – often resulting in the loss of his opponent’s head.  The voice acting is excellent and helps the characters come alive.  Voices generally do a good job of conveying emotion that fits the scene, rarely feeling forced or out of place.  The game’s musical score is simply outstanding.  Sometimes the music offers the subtlest background, while at others it asserts itself to match and reinforce a particularly epic scene.  The scenes leading up to your introduction to Skyhold make especially excellent use of music.


In terms of gameplay, Inquisition would probably be best categorized as an action RPG.  It feels less tactical than previous entries in the series, but this may be due to the fact that I’m playing DAI on a console and played the previous games on PC.  My character is an archer, so my experience is largely limited to ranged combat, but the overall gameplay and feel of combat is positive.  Most animations are good, and the camera is generally cooperative.  Character movement feels fluid and natural, though perhaps a bit sluggish at times during combat.  Bioware has also included a tactical mode which can be switched on and off as needed.  This allows you to issue orders to your party in a much more tactical manner, though the camera in this mode could use some improvement.

Two of the most obvious issues with gameplay involve jumping.  For starters, the jumping animation leaves something to be desired, and your characters seems to jump straight up in a very limited fashion.  The tendency to get caught by small objects while moving makes jumping tedious and frustrating.  Fortunately, you don’t have to jump too often (though I found myself cursing my bunny-hopping rogue as I tried to dodge the fireballs spewed by a dragon).  The second issue is that the jumping button is also used as your primary means of interacting the with world.  This means that, more often than not, you will literally find yourself jumping up and down any time you try to pick up loot.  More critically, in instances where your interaction is time-sensitive, the fraction of a second it can take for the game to recognize an interaction opportunity can have dire consequences.  Perhaps they should have mapped the interact function to the right side of the d-pad.  It’s counterintuitive, but I do not believe that button is used for anything else, and it would solve some issues.

The game’s AI also bears mentioning.  Enemy behaviors are nothing special, but the behavior of your party members can sometimes be problematic.  Put another way, “Could you guys stop bunching together when we’re being strafed by a dragon?!”  The tactical mode still allows you to control all your party members throughout a fight, so it’s not a big deal.  As in previous games in the series, you have access to a system that allows you to customize the behavior of your party, though many players feel the system is less robust than in the past.  While occasionally frustrating, this is not a huge problem.  I was able to defeat the aforementioned dragon with all the behavior settings left at default, while only exercising limited control over my party members’ movement and potions.

As any reasonable player would expect, missions are functionally fairly standard.  You’re tasked with killing targets, collecting items, talking to people, and exploring areas.  This isn’t a bad thing; just don’t expect some groundbreaking approach to RPG gameplay.  While generally straightforward, missions tie in closely with the story and events of each area.  They all have a purpose beyond simple filler, are well-written, and make you want to complete them.  There are no quest hubs, and missions are equally likely to be introduced through a conversation with a character or by stumbling across a note in some abandoned campsite.  For a game that prides itself on incorporating player choice and consequences, it would be nice to include choices and branching plots into more of the missions, but most consequences outside of the main storyline are based more on if you completed a mission, not how you completed it.  Inquisition still embraces meaningful consequences more than most games, but there is still room for improvement.

For all you completionists out there, don’t expect to finish off all of a zone’s content your first trip there (not counting trips back to Haven to clean out your inventory).  Content in some areas requires you to face stronger opponents than you are probably ready for, some quests require materials you have to acquire from later zones, and still other missions (like quests for your companions) will not be available until later in the game.  This keeps you returning to areas multiple times, further minimizing the sense of a simple linear progression.

While combat and traipsing about the countryside are arguably the most significant aspects of gameplay, they are far from all of it.  Crafting is involved and requires both raw materials and schematics which can be found throughout the world.  Varying the materials used allows you to choose both an effect and appearance of your gear, and items can be upgraded with hilts, blades, pauldrons, and the like for added effect.  Another critical element of the game is the War Table, which is where you manage the Inquisition on a strategic scale, sending agents on operations to gain favor, recruit allies, investigate rumors, and explore new areas.  This keeps the gameplay connected to the big picture and ties in nicely with the other game systems.

Story & Characters

Last, and absolutely not least, are the story and characters.  This is where DAI really shines, but also where you have to invest some time to get the most bang for your buck.  Characters are all well-rounded, with distinct personalities and strong backstories which are revealed throughout the course of the game – if you take the time to talk to them.  It’s generally a good idea to check-in with at least one or two characters any time you return to your base of operations, and always after major advancements in the storyline.  I’ve frequently noticed myself spending more than an hour in Haven just swapping out some gear and talking to people.  It’s not simply a scrollfest, as you have to make decisions about how you talk to people, decisions which have consequences.  Your compatriots’ opinions of you can and will open up new missions and War Table operations for you through the course of the game.

Being invested in the characters helps with any story, but DAI doesn’t need much help in this area.  The overall story can be best described in a single word – EPIC.  While it may seem like your standard fantasy, save-the-world fare, Inquisition still manages to set itself apart.  The events and scenes leading up to the introduction of Skyfall are outstanding.  The way the world’s politics and religions are incorporated into the story are some of the best I’ve seen.  To say there’s a rich historical backstory would be a massive understatement, and most of this is presented through excerpts from books, notes, and songs you find throughout the world.  While I’m ashamed to say I have read many of these so far, it’s worth mentioning that you don’t have to read all of them to still get a strong feel for the world.


I’m certain there’s a lot I’ve overlooked, and I’m not even close to finishing the game yet.  While there is still room for improvement, Inquisition is easily one of the best RPGs of the year.  In fact, it’s probably one of the best games of the year, period.  A great story that’s written and presented well, made even better through the fact that you actually have a say in how it turns out.  The Dragon Age games usually lend themselves to multiple playthroughs if you want to experience everything, and DAI is no exception.  Most importantly for Bioware, Inquisition goes a long way towards reestablishing the proud tradition of the Dragon Age series.

This post was modified a couple hours after the initial posting to include additional information on bugs, AI, and mission difficulty.