Comparing the Combat of the “Dragon Age” Games

Lately I’ve jumped back into Dragon Age: Inquisition. What’s weird is that I find the combat less interesting than it was in previous Dragon Age games, and I’m not entirely sure why. That’s why I’ve decided to break down how fighting works in each game!

Dragon Age: Origins (2009)

combat-580x463In the first game, playing on PC is the way to go. This is because the game feels very tactical. You can play on the Casual difficulty and just target enemies to throw hits at them, one after another — but that’s not the most fun way to play. It’s the easy way to play, and it’s arguably the best way to play on console since it’s harder to target tactically when you can’t pan around with your mouse. But it’s not the most fun.

To really enjoy Origins’ combat, you have to pause battles and peer down at them from above. This is the overhead tactical view I love. From here, you can select any of your playable characters, target an enemy, and choose which attack you would like to perform. Since you can control a party of four characters, this gets pretty fun. For instance, you can have your mage freeze an enemy, then swoop in with your warrior to shatter the ice sculpture you have just made. You can also issue other commands to your team, making sure everybody gets a health potion when they need one and using spells that boost your own party’s skills.

I didn’t always use a lot of strategy when I played Origins. I also have never completed the game on the hardest difficulty. But having played the game multiple times, I can tell you I’ve tried it all — on both PC and console — and playing at least parts of battles tactically on PC is the richest experience to me.

Dragon Age 2 (2011)

daii_combat_2_wmDragon Age 2 feels much more streamlined than Origins. You can tell there’s been a major jump forward in graphics and a seamless experience now that a couple of years have passed.

But for anyone who enjoyed the tactics, like me, the more streamlined style is a detriment. It came as a surprise to me, as everything from issuing commands to actually enacting them clipped along at a very fast pace. I liked the fluidity of the fighting, but I worried about precision. Besides that, tactics seemed to go out the window, as the best way to play 2 is to just turn on a low or medium difficulty and stick to your main character, fighting enemies in real time.

In some ways, Dragon Age 2’s combat feels much more like a modern fantasy game, in the same vein as The Witcher, Skyrim, Fables, or even some hack-n-slash games. The problem? Its speed didn’t make up for the fact that all you had to do was push buttons. There’s no major aiming in Dragon Age, so you can essentially just hold down your attack button until your abilities recharge, then hit enemies with some special skill and go back to your base attack for awhile. That’s a little yawn-inducing to me.

Playing as a mage helped here, as I enjoyed picking my skills. I focused on winter spells and crowd control. The diversity makes things much more interesting than they are when you play as, say, an archer who just shoots arrows over and over. (Archery just didn’t do it for me in Dragon Age 2.)

Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014)

Dragon Age™: Inquisition_20141114220802

Top-down tactics is back in Dragon Age: Inquisition, but it plays a little differently than in Origins. In Inquisition, you can press the View button (Xbox One) to pause any battle, and then select your party members to issue commands to them. That’s like Origins.

However, now you hold a trigger button on your controller to go to real-time action, which basically shows your characters running around the battlefield doing exactly what you just told them to do. As soon as you release the trigger button, they freeze in place, waiting for your next command. (Unless they’re not done with their latest actions. Then they’re waiting for you to hold the button again so they can keep moving.)

This sort of tactical combat is easy to grasp, but I don’t find myself using it all that much. Like Dragon Age 2, the combat is very streamlined and fast-paced, and playing on console makes that approach feel much more polished than trying to maneuver the frozen battlefield with the left stick. Besides, I don’t have so much trouble in battles that I feel like I need to set up a chain of attacks between characters the way I did in Origins. I mainly use it when one of my party members falls in battle, and I need to locate them on the field so my mage can go revive them.

I’m glad that Inquisition brought back the overhead tactical view,  but it still doesn’t quite work for me on console. Maybe if I play on PC someday, I’ll put it to better use.


Setting Up Tactics for Party Members

On a side note, Inquisition has done away with a lot of the detailed Tactics you can set up for your party members. Basically, there’s a menu where you can set up behaviors for these characters to help manage them on the battlefield when you’re not actively controlling them. For instance, you might decide that a character automatically uses a health potion when their health declines to 20 percent.

In Origins, you could do all kinds of things, like tell your mage friend Morrigan to use an area of effect spell whenever three enemies or more were clustered together in a group; if there were only two enemies together, you could set her up to do something else. It was very detailed like that.

Unfortunately, Inquisition just lets you manage health potions and skills in a very general way, so you can’t use tactical strategy on a secondary level anymore — you have to actually jump into that character’s skin in the middle of a battle to tell them which attack to use at any given time.


Conclusion

Of the three Dragon Age games, I feel that Inquisition offers the most variety to players. Go full-speed or plan some strategy — the choice is yours. But Origins created such a rewarding tactical combat system that it remains my personal favorite to play.

Ashley

9 thoughts on “Comparing the Combat of the “Dragon Age” Games”

  1. I felt that the tactical options in Inquisition became much more clear and useful on Nightmare difficulty. I did find myself mapping out and planning chains of attacks/potions. I would frequently freeze the game, set directions for the other party members, and then return back to myself (so rather than fast-forwarding or watching my directions followed in real-time, I’d be doing my own thing while the AI listened to the commands I had just established). I haven’t played the early DA games, so I defer to your expertise where comparison goes, but I personally found the rapid alternation between setting directions, unfreezing to do my own thing, and then freezing and setting new directions, fairly satisfying.

    But only on Nightmare. On lower difficulties I never felt like it mattered enough to be too tactical. On Nightmare, my decision to order this character to immediately take a potion or that character to move over there often made the difference between victory and game over.

    1. Interesting. That makes a lot of sense. Actually, one of my favorite things about Origins is that strategy totally changes based on your difficulty — on the hardest, you have to set up tactics that way. It’s really fun. Whereas on lower settings, you can get away with just running around in real time, controlling just your main character and nobody else.

      It sounds like that’s how Inquisition is too, the way you’re describing it! I am just playing on Normal now and haven’t ventured into harder difficulties. But it sounds like it could be a really fun combo. Makes sense to just return to real-time combat instead of fast-forwarding, I found the FF to be a little strange but I guess it didn’t occur to me not to use it when trying tactical view. I’ll try it your way now and see what I think! =)

  2. I’ll keep much of my thoughts on combat in early Dragon Age games to myself, since you seemed to enjoy them and I try not to bash things other people like. Suffice it to say there’s a reason I’ve only played those games once. I will note that I have never bothered with the tactical views, because I find turn-based or pause-based play in video games to be anathema. That’s what table-top gaming is for. I play video games for immersion, to be right in the action and feel the flow of combat.

    Inquisition, however, is the first Bioware game I’ve played where I’d cite the combat as a positive for the game. I still wouldn’t say it’s particularly special in the greater scheme of things, but I did genuinely enjoy it. Though I grant part of this may be down to how spectacularly overpowered mages could be with the right build… but then again playing an archer rogue wasn’t half bad, either.

    1. I do enjoy the mage build in Inquisition, I agree! But in general, just holding down the trigger to shoot until my special attacks recharge feels a little dull. However, I really like how you describe playing video games (immersion) vs table top gaming which requires more of that top-down strategy! I can definitely understand that. I know others who just hated Origins combat… But it all comes down to personal preference and it’s fun to hear everybody’s points of view! =)

      1. Out of curiosity, why do you feel holding down a button between cooldowns is less dull than doing nothing at all between cooldowns?

        That was my big problem with the early games’ combat — the auto-attack. Combat mostly boiled down to sitting there and watching the game play itself.

        1. The thing with auto-attacking is that I was able to jump into other characters’ skins and play with my whole party. At least, that’s what I did much of the time in Origins, which the combat seemed to encourage. In Inquisition, I feel like I kind of just stick to one character and spam the base attack — there’s no real reason to jump around when you’re playing on a normal difficulty — so it’s a little dull to me that way.

  3. After a while, I did find the combat in Inquisition a little boring. I forgot how much of the tactics aspect of Origins functioned, but I vaguely remember liking it a lot when I played. It might have been slower in terms of setting up attacks, but I think it’s a little more intuitive and I feel like you have more time to think out how you want your fights to go.

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