Monday, October 08, 2012

Thoughts on Inquisitor

I have just finished GOG's Inquisitor, a rather intriguing old school Czech RPG. It plays like a mashup of Baldur's Gate and Diablo, with the interaction of the former and the combat and potion guzzling of the latter. You control a single character, either a paladin, a thief (amusingly a nobleman) or a priest on a quest to find heretics and (in the time ordered fashion) burn them at the stake.

The plot is roughly this - after a series of events heralding the beginning the apocolypse the king of Ultherest has signed away most of his authority to a religious inquisition set up to root out heresies. This has caused friction with the Brotherhood of the Righteous, the Knights Templar who previously bashed in bad dudes. You become a member of the inquisition, rooting out heresy and chasing a cult of Fallen Angel worshippers.

The game starts off fairly investigatory, with you talking to lots of different characters about the schennanigans that have been going on in a village. There is a lot of dialogue as every character has something to say about everything. The previous bishop is rumoured to be undead, the current bishop and duchess have disappeared, the head templar has run away, the local relic has disappeared from the church, the local wise woman needs a tome.

There seems to be loads going on - almost too much given there is supposed to be a militant church supposedly rooting out heretics. Amusingly it also seems a running theme that every settlement used to be ruled by an obvious heretic who publicly bathed in blood and made a deal with the devil.

However the problem with the game is that as soon as you leave town you are at the mercy of the fairly lethal game. At times it feels completely unbalanced. There is a lots of instant death moments. One lead I got early on suggested I visit a place called Dragon Rock. However Dragon Rock is crawling with monsters that can finish off a starting character with 1 hit. In fact the only place I reasonably stood a chance of surviving was in the zombie infested cemetary, as I could outrun the zombies. Even though I had no reason to want to visit the cemetery.

You also discover that the only real way to find any clues or points of interest is not to follow any particular guidance but rather to wander aimlessly everywhere. For instance the aforementioned clue that was supposed to be at Dragon Rock eventually appears at the bottom of a huge dungeon. There was a completely different clue at Dragon Rock.

I decided to play a priest (since it is an inquisitor game). As effectively the 'mage' character you have a limited selection of weapons, constantly have to worry about health, stamina and mana. Depending on your skill level your spells have a set chance of failure, and there is a certain amount of time before you can cast another one. Unfortunately it often seems the enemy don't have these concerns and can spam their spells to the extent that they kill you the second they appear on-screen. I never saw a single monster miscast a spell.

There are several schools of magic, including infernal and heretical types. Some other skills were pointless such as mana restoration (the game encourages you to tool up on mana, health and stamina potions) and spiritual insight - that never seemed to do anything.

It's a long game, with an estimated 200 hours. Some of the dungeons are ridiculously long, others are maddening in the "find pixel a to open door b". There's an alignment meter, though despite the fact I played a relatively nice guy (though I did sit through the same FMV about 20 times as I burned everyone who was guilty at the stake, from the cult leaders to the witless guy digging up bodies for the cult to turn into zombies) I was slightly dodgy by the end. You also indulge in a bit of old school torture of suspects - racks, strappidos, you name it are used to get fanatic cultists to divulge the next bit of information. You can even arrest blatantly innocent suspects (usually the person your superior first tells you to arrest is innocent).

There really isn't a lot of decision making or moral dilemmas in Inquisitor. There is a 'good' and an 'evil' ending, and supposedly you could join the cult, though this never happened to me. Shockingly the end cinematic is the same (although the dialogue isn't, and the 'evil' ending is so contrived to give you a final boss to fight).

One thing I like (but have reservations with) is that the symbolism of the church in Inquisitor is clearly that of the Catholic church and Rome, right down to crucifixes and paintings. Except the witches and magic is real, and the priests have their own magic. The game also makes no apology or disclaimer for that - games like Assassin's Creed all start with a disclaimer about how the game was "made by a multi-faith group and don't want to offend anybody, so please don't start a jihad." Somehow I couldn't see them doing that with... another religion let's say.

Err... yeah, that's a Catholic church you got there in your 'fantasy' world.
This could offend my Catholic sensibilities (I should add I'm not the most devout Catholic, mostly going to church when made to by the family over the holidays) as the plot is that it suffers from overuse of the Corrupt Church trope. My first reaction on entering the first church was, "Gee, I bet it'll turn out the senior inquisitors are actually the cultists I'm chasing." I was not disappointed (though there are other cultists). In fact later on in the capital when you meet the four inquisitor generals three of them are evil, one being a cultist, the second being an evil pagan worshipper, the third being a rapist.

I know in today's fictional media every Christian is required to be either a murderous fanatic willing to sacrifice innocent people for their beliefs, a self-serving hypocrit, or (if they are they good guy in the movie) seriously questioning their beliefs (I made the mistake of watching Season of the Witch and Ironclad in a movie marathon a while back). However I'll avoid storming the Czech Embassy in protest - I'd be easily mollified by a few of their nice beers.

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