While I plowed through Dragon Age: Inquisition’s single player campaign shortly after release, its multiplayer segment left me relatively cold. I dallied with it briefly the first few weeks, but decided I’d rather keep on playing as Hedda, my trusty Qunari — okay, technically Tal-Vashoth — champion. What a difference with Mass Effect 3, the campaign of which I practically put on hold because I kept dipping into the multiplayer for ‘just one more game’.
Perhaps my initial misgivings about Inquisition multiplayer were due to that comparison being fundamentally unfair. When I began the ME3 multiplayer, the game had already been out for about a year, and all expansions were in place: new maps, everything balanced out; the game was already the well-oiled machine it still is today. Not so with Inquisition. The multiplayer there had a quite a few bugs when it came out, the movement was sluggish and jittery here and there, much less seamless and immediate than the tense flow of a multiplayer match in ME3.
The biggest difference, at least at first, lies in the maps. ME3’s multiplayer maps are essentially boxes: small contained spaces, with a bunch paths and corridors that all loop back into each other. Enemies can come from any direction, and you’re constantly on your toes. Inquisition, however, has paths. The maps are cut up into five zones and you can’t backtrack; each mission is a journey forward that essentially leads nowhere, unlike what the notion of a path suggests. The scenery, like that in the game as a whole, is beautiful, but in this case it signifies nothing. Not that ME3’s maps are particularly rich in significance, really. However, their space and use makes that we don’t pay attention to those surroundings all that much. The team is under pressure to perform a few tasks quickly, and then brace for an extraction: a clear arc of get-in-and-get-out that to me feels absent in Inquisition.
The Dragonslayer expansion to Inquisition’s multiplayer that came out earlier this week does a lot to alleviate these problems, however. The three new characters (an Avvar warrior, the bard-like Virtuoso, and hey if it isn’t dear old Isabela!) add some nice and powerful variation to the existing mix, but it’s particularly the new map that impressed me. In addition to the three original areas, which were pleasantly overhauled in the previous update, there is now the Fereldan Castle as a new map, an area that culminates — as the update title suggests — in a battle with a high dragon.
The map itself feels more coherent than the others as well. Gone are the seemingly random branching paths; we now have a continuous ascent, from the beach, up through the castle, and finally to the top of a huge tower where the final battle takes place. The dragon — either a fiery, chilly, or stormy variant — is always fluttering around, lobbing balls of death at your band of adventurers when you really, really don’t want it to. To be able to fight and defeat it, though, someone has to ring an ancient gong in the third zone of the map, an item which has to be crafted beforehand and can only be used once. Even when the mission doesn’t culminate in a dragon battle, though, the map still feels like a much more natural journey than the others.
Having spent some hours again in the Inquisition multiplayer the past few days, I feel like the game is finally coming into its own. It still feels different from ME3 multiplayer, and that’s actually a good thing. The multiplayer segments of both games match the general tone of their respective host settings: cramped and in ME3, journey-based, open, and progressive in Inquisition.