Posted by Eric Schwarz at 10:25 am on 09.23.2012 (1 year ago)
Unfortunately, though Inquisitor has all the right ingredients to put a smile on an RPG fan's face, Inquisitor is let down by some colossally bad design choices which result in a game which is one-quarter charming and engrossing, but three-quarters frustrating, repetitive and monotonous in the extreme. With some of the worst game balance I have ever seen in an RPG, overly linear quest design, a lack of player influence on the story, awful combat, and massive amounts of filler content, Inquisitor's ambitions never amount to anything that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the classics of the genre. While it does have its strong points, it will take an incredibly strong-willed player to endure the dozens upon dozens of hours of torturous gameplay it takes to reach the good parts.
The Devil's Calling
Inquisitor starts out very promisingly. The game takes place in a rather original setting - one which is based off of European history, specifically the Dark Ages, but blends it in with a more traditional fantasy setting. In Inquisitor's world, the source of evil creatures like orcs, trolls, undead, and so on is the Devil - that is, literally, Satan, the Prince of Darkness himself. The Inquisition, which is made up of the Holy Office and Brotherhood of the Righteous, the priestly and paladin orders of the land, is tasked with uncovering and extinguishing heresy throughout the populace and keeping the world safe from Satan's clutches.
Beyond this detail, the country of Ultherst, and the continent of the "Old World" as a whole, is not especially interesting. As it is based on medieval-era culture, expect to see a lot of stone walls and thatched roofs, huge ornate churches, and green-brown forests. The backstory of the land is rarely discussed, and while the world itself has all sorts of myths and legends, it's a bit under-explored with the most interesting part of being the Elenians, a long-dead pagan people based on the Roman Empire. You won't find as much interesting lore to sift through as something like Icewind Dale, but in general it's enough to keep the game going.
The story for the game revolves around the events taking place after the so-called "Star of Doom" appeared in the sky above Ultherst and meteors rained from the heavens. This was the herald of the end of the world in the eyes of many, as monsters began to encroach on the land in increasing numbers and cases of heresy began to climb. Your story begins with your rescue from an Inquisition prison in exchange for your help in a simple murder investigation into the death of Kurt Ollimer... but what begins as a simple detective job quickly unravels into a huge heretical conspiracy spanning the whole country.
This theme of investigation is one of Inquisitor's defining traits, and it's also probably its strongest point. Progress in the game and story is made by uncovering evidence against heretics and criminals in the various towns, either through dialogue and testimony or through exploring the world for physical objects left behind. There is a great sense of paranoia in the game world as witnesses (rightly) fear for their lives should they testify, and there's a sense that you can't trust anybody but yourself. There has been some talk about the themes of torture in the game, but truth be told, while you will have to use it a handful of times, and later burn criminals at the stake, the game does not revel or glorify this at all - if anything it presents these parts of the game with quiet discomfort.
There are a few complaints to be made with the story in Inquisitor. The big plot twists are pretty obviously telegraphed, and unfortunately the game actually reuses the same plot twists multiple times over, which leaves the game feeling predictable. There is also very little in the way of choice or consequence, which is a shame considering there's a lot to be done with a game that lets you arrest and execute the wrong people. Last, while there is an incredible amount of text, the translation is not up to par. Some parts are fine, but you will often come across awkward phrasing, grammar issues, and spelling mistakes; there is a sense much of the text wasn't proofread or verified with a native English speaker. Much of the text itself is also uninteresting, as every character can be asked, Ultima VII-style, about tons and tons of topics, but only about 10% of this text is really useful to you in any way, and the answers are often unnecessarily long-winded.
The quest design is a mixed bag, as most of them are simple fetch or kill quests without much to them. There is little deduction to be done during investigations, as the game often prevents you from making the wrong decisions and only lets you progress the plot when you have gathered enough evidence - in other words, the game does the rational thinking for you. Sometimes, the game isn't very good at explaining what it wants to you, either. One time, for instance, I had to escort a captured woman back to "the city", but I wandered around for twenty minutes before finding the exact trigger spot that would let me return her properly (the quest journal was also no help). If there is one thing the game does quite well, it's that the distinction between main quests and optional quests is blurred, and many quests will affect each other, though only in pre-scripted ways, and the flip-side is that you will often need to complete just about every quest available to move the game forward. Occasionally you there are a few interesting solutions, like using the "destroy item" feature to destroy a quest item, like an immortal enemy's heart, but this sort of novelty is pretty rare.
Culling the Legions of Hell
With all the story stuff out of the way, how does Inquisitor actually play most of the time? The unfortunate fact is that while the game can call Baldur's Gate, Diablo, Divine Divinity, and more its influences, it only takes from them superficially. Outside of the towns, Inquisitor has the large world map and overland exploration of Baldur's Gate, as well as the deep dungeons of Diablo and related titles. Unfortunately, it is all marred by the excruciatingly awful combat and some of the most pointlessly over-long dungeons I have ever seen in a game.
Combat makes up approximately 70-80% of the time you will spend with Inquisitor, and it is not good. It superficially resembles Diablo, or perhaps Lionheart or Arcanum's real-time mode - you click on monsters and hack and slash at them until they die (or cast spells, or shoot arrows as the case may be). Party members are available and pretty much indispensable, not so much for their damage output, but because they will absorb incoming damage from enemies and keep them distracted. On a basic level, it sounds alright.
Where it all falls apart is the "feel" of combat and game balance. Character movement can be very floaty and imprecise at times. Even though Inquisitor is a point-and-click game, characters will often "slide" and "bump" each other around, especially in close quarters, which can sometimes make targeting enemies frustrating or will lead to mis-clicks which send you running to your doom. Due to the size of battles, the visuals can also become very cluttered as you will routinely have 10 or more characters duking it out in close quarters, in which case it can be nearly impossible to tell what is actually going on.
But the real sin of Inquisitor's combat is game balance. I do not exaggerate when I say that have never, ever seen such a poorly balanced RPG, in everything from the character system, to enemy stats, to equipment and items, to the magic and spells available. To start, one of the reasons combat is so incredibly frustrating is that enemies have far, far too many hit points and resistances. On the normal difficulty, many enemies can individually take anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds to bring down, each. Combine that with the fact that often just about every dungeon room you visit will have 5 to 10 of these enemies in them, and then consider that the average dungeons might have 10 to 20 rooms all full of these numbers of monsters, and you can now start to see why this game is indeed "100+ hours long".
Inquisitor is also not a very challenging game, or at least, when it is challenging, it is rarely because of difficult encounter design or enemies with interesting spells that need to be countered, like some other classic RPGs. Rather, many enemies are loaded with extremely annoying abilities. Area-of-effect spells that damage and stun all your party, leaving them stun-locked with no effective counters? Check. Debilitating status effects that prevent you from regaining stamina? Check. Slows that make you attack at half speed? Check. None of these have any reliable resistance whatsoever, and the enemy AI ensures that they will spam these abilities constantly. The enemy AI itself is very primitive too, and they have no real behavior beyond "cast all spells until mana is depleted, then follow the player and keep attacking with primary weapon" which also adds to the repetition.
Instead of a puzzle to be figured out, combat is more like a grueling gauntlet. Inquisitor's challenge comes less from the gameplay mechanics and more from the simple question of "do you have potions?" If you do have potions, you will be able to constantly quaff them down and keep your health/stamina/mana levels up. If you do not, you will die, usually very quickly. Party members also like to consume potions far faster than they actually need to, and they always drink the best ones first, so you will likely have to micro-manage their potion-drinking habits. If you run out of them and don't have a Magical Box to summon a djinn and open a shop interface, usually your only choice is to slowly walk back to town and restock, wasting 10 to 20 minutes of your time in the process. It's surprising Ultherst doesn't have a potion-based economy, as they are basically the only items of value worth buying. Speaking of, equipment available tends to be pretty poorly balanced as well - you can buy the best items in the game even in the first act, and the stuff you find in the world, including unique artifacts, rarely competes with what you can get by re-rolling the shops around town, so there is almost no equipment progression once you have collected a decent amount of money.