*Spoilers for Mass Effect and Dragon Age ahead! You've been warned!*
Recently on Reddit I saw a few posts regarding Dragon Age: Inquisition. While the majority of people were praising the game, the ending came under particular scrutiny, with one user saying "Dear Bioware, when designing endgame sequences, ask yourself: 'is this enough like Mass Effect 2's endgame? The answer is always No". While I certainly got a chuckle out of it, it makes a good point on the state of player choice.
BioWare got it right with Mass Effect 2. Depending if you're a Hammerhead or Mako fan or whether you preferred the heavier RPG elements of the original you might have some issues with the gameplay but in my opinion the story was nearly perfect. It was simple but compelling, well paced but allowed for freedom and most importantly, every choice you made had impact, particularly during the Suicide Mission ending. If you didn't make sure your companions were loyal, they would die; if you didn't make sure your ship was ready, people would die; if you delayed when you were clearly told time was of the essence, people would die.
It was perfect because every consequence was avoidable by player choice and nearly every choice had direct impact on the way the story ended. If you made terrible choices you could kill your entire team and die yourself; kind of a bummer sure, but it meant your decisions mattered. Nobody was going to Deus Ex Machina you out of the Collector Base. This is also why people had a problem with the Mass Effect 3 ending; because the choices you made, the alliances forged had little or no effect on the ending at all. Choice was seen as an illusion in that game when the potential result was limited to different coloured explosions.
In my opinion, Inquisition suffers from the same issue. Now let me be clear, I love Inquisition. I am currently in the 60th hour of my second playthrough and I'm planning a 3rd; I have a stack of games I haven't played yet because I've been swallowed whole by this game. The only issue I have (besides illusive schematics, I mean seriously where is the Tier 3 Rogue stuff!?) is the final encounter.
I spent 90 hours building my Inquisition, I recruited the Mages, redeemed the Grey Wardens, saved the Empress of Orlais and did countless war table missions and side quests to bolster my forces and it had exactly zero effect on my final confrontation. I fought Corypheus with my regular party and beat him and everything was fine forever. Yes, I know my forces were far away and could not march back fast enough but I think we all saw this for what it was; a cheap cop out to avoid having to include them in the final battle. That could have been fine, but nothing factored into the final battle. You only bring 3 of the 9 companions you spent 90 hours getting to know, the other 6 deciding you can probably handle it until the aftermath. Yes it's a 3 companion party system, but what were the other 6 doing, just chilling at Skyhold playing Wicked Grace?
I missed a few companion quests by chance in my first playthrough, nothing happened as a result. No other Inquisition soldiers appear; what, we didn't leave a few guards back at Skyhold to mind the gate? Not even Cullen or Leliana pick up a sword, despite them both being well-established as extremely capable fighters. Its this dissonance between the story I created and the ending I experienced which has made me look back at my favorite game of the year with such a critical eye.
Oddly, the Adamant siege in the games second act conveys the weight of the Inquisition handily. Maybe the story team got their cutscenes mixed up but it certainly feels strange to have the epic scale confrontation come at the 40 hour mark of a 100 hour experience.
I want to reiterate that I love this game, I was just disappointed in how little my choices, my game impacted the conclusion. BioWare is the "Player Choice" company, their RPGs are based around the idea of the player authoring their own story where every decision is supposed to have weight. When Mass Effect 3 was pitched as having dramatically different endings, gamers were so incensed they approached the Better Business Bureau with claims of false advertising. It seems BioWare recognized the issue this time because Inquisition came with its Extended Cut DLC built in, a slideshow with a voiceover to address results of your actions; which I would bet is BioWare's effort to avoid another Mass Effect 3 debacle. Seeing similar issues appear not 3 years later from the same company nonetheless makes me worry the industry isn't learning from its mistakes.
The reason I don't feel bad or whiney or entitled for asking for more from BioWare is because I know they're capable of it. They had choice, stakes and consequence down pat in 2010, I don't think it's unreasonable to ask them to cut a Hinterlands quest or two to spend a little while longer on the ending. So for Mass Effect 4 or the next Dragon Age I'd just say one thing; "Is it enough like Mass Effect 2?"