The video games industry is relatively porous, and it’s no secret that its subgenres have been borrowing from one another for quite some time. First-person behemoths like Call of Duty have been iteratively employing RPG-like mechanics to bolster their replayability, while MMORPGs such as TERA have taken cues from third-person action games to improve upon traditional MMO combat. By and large, I’d say this cross-fertilization is a good thing for the industry as a whole, giving us all a bit of variety throughout disparate genres and keeping things fresh.
At the same time, I’m not so sure that such double-dipping in game design automatically leads to an improved gameplay experience. I do like, for example, the amalgamation represented by the Borderlands series, which mashes together twitchy shooting mechanics, RPG-like character progression, and action RPG-style loot (the stylized art design, open world exploration, and hilarious sense of humor also go a long way). Say what you might about Borderlands’ hit-or-miss narratives and sometimes repetitive gameplay, but the interconnected systems work together well, and provide for an interesting gestalt that is addictive as it is fun to play.
Where the borrowed gameplay systems in the Borderlands series work, carryovers in other games don’t seem to have the same additive potential. The Power and Influence mechanics in Dragon Age: Inquisition immediately come to mind, as they emulate certain aspects of MMORPG reputation systems, which haven’t proven to be very interesting themselves. Essentially, you gain Power through completing quests, unlocking camps, closing Fade Rifts, and making other repetitive forays, while your Inquisition levels up with your accrual of Influence. Through the metagame War Table, Power will allow you to unlock new regions to explore and missions called Operations, while Influence gives you access to different perks (check out Suzie’s review for more).
In theory, I suppose the War Table is an interesting way to provide a metagame that ties together the different parts of Inquisition’s gameplay, but the Power and Influence mechanics that it relies upon feel lacking. MMORPG reputation systems, which are by and large implemented to provide casual players with an alternative to the dungeon and raid cycle, are the dreariest kind of grind. Requiring you to kill an inordinate amount of mobs and turn in a metric ton of gathered items, only to award you with one meager piece of an armor set, these systems are normally intended to keep you playing for as long as possible. There might be some small narrative associated with the faction for which you’re grinding reputation, and some mildly interesting activities to undertake, but the repetition usually far outweighs the fun factor.
Granted, it’s a little tough to definitively say that Power and Influence in Inquisition comprise a rep grind, mostly because the game is fun and exploring its expansive world is a reward in itself. Bioware’s game offers a lot of different activities, with enough variety that the slow road to leveling your Inquisition doesn’t seem like such a chore. Furthermore, the combat and writing are exciting enough that clearing out campsites and completing quests are fun. Still, Power and Influence feel like thinly-veiled reputation systems, requiring you to take repetitive actions in the cause of advancing your character and party’s progression. To be honest, I don’t touch rep grinds in MMOs anymore because of the tedium involved. Why would I want to do them in a single-player RPG?
Perhaps that’s the main sticking point for me with Inquisition. In an MMORPG, you get the sense that no matter the grind, everything you’re doing ties into a larger, mostly dynamic world community into which you somehow fit. That world community necessarily depends on its persistence, and on the people who make it feel alive. A single-player or multiplayer RPG has a difficult task creating that same lived-in, persistent feeling, without having other players around to show off your stuff to or participate with in larger game systems like economy. Granted, Inquisition has a huge world with such great characters that it can feel like a rival to some MMOs, but the rep grind feels a little bit like it’s happening in a vacuum. The War Table is an interesting concept as a metagame, but I’m not so convinced by Inquisition’s Power and Influence mechanics, particularly as carryovers from grindy systems in MMORPGs.
Of course, there are systems in other games that have been shoehorned from one genre into another for the sake of financial gain and make Inquisition’s borrowing from MMOs seem groundbreaking. The implementation of Facebook-style energy timers on some MMOs’ in-game activities, for example, is unbelievably exasperating (cough cough Labor Points cough). Inquisition has no such issues, and I like the idea of borrowing between genres for better variety of gameplay, but I’d like to see that cross-fertilization result in a more organic and exciting gameplay experience.
What do you think about Power and Influence in Dragon Age: Inquisition, and about reputation systems in general?