Dragon Age: Inquisition Review | Big and Beautiful

Human, elf, dwarf or qunari? Warrior, rogue or mage? Dragon Age: Inquisition is all about making choices. You start out by deciding who you want to be, then decide what you want the world to be.

A hero walks out of the fade, a mysterious woman behind them. Some believe this was the prophet Andraste sending her herald to save the world. You are that hero and it’s your job to bring peace, or whatever you choose to a world that has put its fate in your hands. You lead an Inquisition, represent a dying religion and are tasked with closing the rifts in the sky. Thedas is huge, beautiful and open. It makes for one of the best worlds to explore in all of gaming. Rivaling and in a lot of cases beating Elder Scrolls, in terms of design, scope, consistency and detail. Expect beautiful frozen lakes, dark caves and castles to be among the many sights you’ll see while exploring.

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Thedas has a long history and is well-realized, but has never been the most compelling fantasy setting. Not because it isn’t compelling, it’s just hard to compete with Middle Earth and Westeros. Even so, this time around the world feels more lively and real. Based entirely on a short description, it’d be easy to dismiss the plot as an overused chosen one story. And to some extent you’d be right, but it’s the little things that make this story special. For example, it subverts genre clichés at every turn. Elves aren’t the idyllic superior beings of Middle Earth, rather they are downtrodden and for the most part live in slums. Religious conflicts are believably complex and invoke the same emotions and debates they do in real life. It works hard to be believable and interesting.

What amazed me more than anything was how intricate Thedas is. Dwarven ruins, dense forests, fields and mountains. Not only large and varied, but brilliantly designed and well worth exploring. In a way only previously captured by Elder Scrolls games, Inquisition demands your attention by its immense beauty alone. I had to stop and stare at many of the amazing vistas the game offers. Dragon Age lore is deep and complex, so it’s difficult to keep everything straight in your head. Fortunately there’s an extensive codex that has everything from character descriptions to tutorials. Checking on this frequently will solidify your understanding of the world and ensure you don’t get your Qunari and your Darkspawn mixed up. It was a game in and of itself to challenge myself to keep up with the seemingly endless updates and entries, before going back to the action.

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A departure from the Bioware of old is the sheer number of quests to do. This is never more apparent than when looking at the quest log. More World of Warcraft, than Dragon Age: Origins. It can be overwhelming and unexpected for fans of the usually more focused Bioware experience. While the many changes to Bioware’s formula are almost all for the better, they took a while to get used to. The game’s overwhelming scope is, well… overwhelming. But only at first. After the first ten hours or so I adjusted to it all and was more able to focus on my favorite part of Bioware games. The characters.

My personal favorites are Cole and Josephine. Cole is a spirit in human form, who’s only goal is to help people and has a very straight forward, naïve view of the world. He regularly comments on events with amusing, thought provoking clarity. Josephine is the diplomat of the team, graceful and able to charm many into joining the Inquisition. Her charms certainly worked on me. Banter between party members has always been a part of Bioware games, but here it’s better than ever. Frequently while exploring the world, they will bicker, argue, mock and occasionally bond with each other. It’s almost always amusing. I tended to stand still and listen as soon as one of these started, especially if it’s Varric. It doesn’t matter who he’s with, sarcastic mocking of them will ensue at one time or another. He’s basically the Tyrion of Thedas.

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For the first time since the original Mass Effect, a Bioware game has a memorable villain that drives the story. Corypheus is a one-dimensional cliché. He claims to be ancient darkspawn, said to be the cause of The Blight, an apocalyptic event that threatens to end the world. The story deals with this claim and his attempts to turn into a god. It’s not particularly ground-breaking, but it never fails to be entertaining.

It’s a game full of conversations and while most are static, these lengthy discussions sometimes take you to interesting places. Into a dream for example, or walking atop your stronghold, admiring the view and discussing the past of one of your many party members. It’s all done very well, but I prefer it when character development comes from the story, rather than having each character tell you their life story at the hub area. This has become a staple of Bioware game design now though, so I don’t see it changing anytime soon. The clean, simple interface is a nice change from the clunkiness of the original. Streamlining seems to have been a focus. Everything has been made more user friendly, without dumbing it down.

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Combat is fast paced and real-time, an overhead tactical/planning mode is there, but it’s useless. Fights are less about tactics and more about using your abilities effectively. If you’re on normal difficulty, button mashing is a valid strategy. Even the higher difficulty settings aren’t as challenging or as tactical as Origins. Inquisition’s combat focuses on action and utilization of varied and badass abilities from your party. It’s a mix between both previous Dragon Age games and despite faults, is the best in the series. I do miss the tactical mastery required to get through Origins on the highest difficulty, but the new system is definitely more fun and faster paced. A valuable thing in a game of this size. It’s missing the satisfaction I got from the first game and plays far more like an MMO, than a Bioware RPG. But that’s not such a bad thing.

To keep combat interesting, there are three specializations for each class that dramatically change a character’s approach to combat. Warriors for example, can become champions, templars or reavers. As a champion I protected allies with extremely defensive abilities, but I could’ve been an aggressive reaver or an anti-magic templar. The choices for combat alone, with the three main class types and the three specializations each class has, make the game very repayable. If only there was time to replay a game with around two hundred hours of content.

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Arranging meetings in the War Room gives you access to your soldiers, spies and diplomats. These can be sent on missions to unlock new areas, gather resources, gain allies or even assassinate people. It uses the bizarrely popular system that forces you to wait in real-time for events to occur and forces you to check back frequently to continue the slog. It’s a bit of a waste of time and gets in the way of an otherwise great experience. It isn’t fun and adds nothing worthwhile through the gameplay, but instead locks useful perks and dialogue options behind the system. It was my least favourite part of the game and while systems like this are in other triple A releases like Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, I hope the trend ends soon.

Previous Bioware games had a consistent, focused narrative that branched occasionally, but always stayed on track and never wasted your time. Inquisition is overwhelmingly dense, with an overabundance of things to do, people to meet and monsters to kill. It’s brilliant, but obtuse and filled with unnecessary, repetitive content that comes from having such a large open world. Linearity in an RPG is a bad thing, but previous games were never linear, just smaller in scope and therefore able to focus more on the little things. This game loses that and plays more like an MMO than anything they’ve done previously. And while it’s a definite improvement in a lot of ways, I can’t help but miss the focus and relentless attention to detail found in other Bioware games.

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A large amount of content is solely devoted to collecting shards, bottles, songs and mosaics. I’m all for encouraging exploration and the landmarks do a great job of that, but having to repetitiously wander around a previously explored area to collect shards isn’t my idea of fun. Don’t get me wrong, when the game gets going it’s up there with Bioware’s best. I just preferred when their games were more focused and less full of padding. It’s a shame that interesting rewards are gated behind this huge number of collectibles. The world has enough going for it to encourage exploration, without all the padding.

An extensive crafting system tasks you with making your own armor, weapons and upgrades. You do this with materials found in the field and it’s definitely the best way to get powerful equipment as soon as possible. In fact most of the stuff I used came from my own forge, rather than merchants or corpses. Runes add flavor and personality to your creations, a typical example being an axe with additional fire damage and a fancy flame effect to go with it. You can also name your weapons and armor if you wish to add an even more personal touch. I hope you have more luck coming up with creative names than I did.

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For the first time in a Bioware game, as it’s the first time they’ve ever been needed, mounts are available and are a great way to get around. These unkillable, fall-from-any-height horses are functionally adequate, but lack personality or any reason to care about them past their use. In Origins my Mabari was a part of the team. In Inquisition the mounts are just horse shaped vehicles. Maybe that’s all they should be, but in a game full of things to care about and get invested in, it stood out as a shallow missed opportunity.

Dragon Age: Inquisiton has the largest scope of any game released this year. Thedas is beautiful, huge and full of interesting things to do and see. Combat is fun, but not as tactical as previous games and there’s a lot of padding, but don’t let that hold you back. It’s one of the best RPG’s around and is definitely worth your time.

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