Saturday, January 03, 2015

Bemoaning the demise of Dragon Age's tactics system

It is with much sadness I note that Dragon Age Inquisition has opted to move away from the user programmed AI "Tactics" of its predecessors. 

The original Dragon age introduced an extremely innovative system called "Tactics" which allowed players to programme the AI of their party members. I do actually mean programme. This wildly ambitious system had full blown decision and flow control structures.   You could programme in a wide array of behaviours such as "Attack Alastairs target and if that target has heavy armour  use Shatter Armour" or "If any character has less than 10% health then cast a healing spell" or "Freeze a target with spell 1 and then cast a rock to shatter them with spell 2".  It was a deep and sophisticated system that encouraged players to experiment. 

Dragon Age II refined the system further but the latest episode "Inquisition" has abandoned it  and instead offers a few very limited options for tweaking your party members' behaviour. You can prioritise or exclude the use of certain skills. You can set sliders to determine how often your characters take potions and you can tell your characters whether to defend  the controlled character or assist them in attacking a given target. That is it. 

I guess I know why Bioware chose this approach. It is much simpler to understand and to use and I wouldn't be surprised if this simplified approach gives pretty similar results to the old tactics approach. Much as I loved the old tactics system I have to admit that it didn't really work all that well. AI is hard to programme and even with all that flexibility it wasn't really feasible to programme complex characters such as a spell casting Mage or a backstabbing rogue. If I am honest I have to admit that on anything above easy difficulty you still had to do a lot of micromanaging to over ride your pre-programmed tactics. 

Despite its flaws though I really really miss the old tactics system. It was an engrossing mini game all in itself and when it did come together it gave moments of immense satisfaction. That mage saved my tank from dying because I told it to. Moreover it was an immensely ambitious undertaking by Bioware which gave players an insight into AI programming.Abandoning it feels like a retrograde step. 

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