It’s not that often you play a game that offers so much quality in the finer details, that it makes soaking yourself in the world an equally enjoyable experience as actually trying to beat it. Dragon Age: Inquisition is not only the series’ pinnacle – the same sort of peak that its sci-fi brethren, Mass Effect, hit with its second outing – but it’s standing up there triumphantly as one of the finest games of the year.
Game: Dragon Age: Inquisition
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Dragon Age: Inquisition continues somewhere down the line from Dragon Age 2’s narrative, and it turns out relations between mages and the Templars has hit an all time low in the way of a massive mage rebellion. During an attempt to form a peace treaty an explosion leaves everyone for dead apart from you, in-turn granting you an unusual ability to seal the demon-dwelling rifts it created as a result. The combustive opening provides the questions that you’ll be endeavoring to answer throughout the game such as: why did only you survive? Who caused that detrimental explosion? And can your new ability close the giant rift and save everyone beneath it?
The narrative is pretty elementary, but it allows an excellent cast to interweave and glue it all together with similarly high quality writing and repercussive (dare I say it) Bioware-esque dialogue choices. Varric makes a return from Dragon Age 2 with his dry wit and walks alongside a varied cast that range from the straight-up mage, Solas, to the frivolous rogue, Sera. The way each character reacts to each other and even you, by offering advice or warnings in given situations, really helps breathe believability and immersion into the world, and the developers have achieved it all with real competency – you’ll never feel alone in this single player epic, thanks to a script teeming with life.
It’s true, however, that a player with no prior knowledge of the series might lose a little in translation, but such is the scope of content (whether it be dialogue, notes left in dwellings or simply the design of the gaming world itself), that getting a grasp of proceedings shouldn’t be a problem providing you have enough patience with it. The gaming world won’t exactly be hard on the eyes in the meantime, because visually Inquisition is an absolute beaut. I could perhaps be a little cliche and wax lyrical about how I stood still for large periods of time gawping in wonder at the surroundings – the truth is I didn’t, and neither will you.
One real step up from the previous games is the added hankering for exploration the game invites. As wildlife dots past you, you might see a cave entrance, a castle ruin with a loot chest sparkling on top, or a previously discovered location of a shard (one of many collectables to find); there’s so much to do and see that your curiosity will nearly always win out over your admiration for the landscape. Some of the, almost elaborate, variety of hills and tree-life can cause the design of the land to feel unnatural sometimes, but even in the washed out swamps of the Fallow Mires where rain is perpetual, Inquisition still looks stunning.
The PlayStation 4 plays nice with the game’s visual ambition for the most part. I had worries initially when frame rates, especially in cut scenes, felt jarringly choppy at times. Whether they genuinely improved, got patched or I simply adjusted to it, I couldn’t say, but smoothness did get noticeably better later on for me. Saying that, everyone should expect busier times on screen to put the hardware through its paces regardless – especially when there’s arrows, spells and a small army of demon-spawn all vying for attention at once. Character creation could possibly use a little attention, too, thanks to some quite dubious looking hair and default faces.
Dragon Age: Inquisition’s gameplay facets can be a little daunting at first. Within the first few hours there’s so many tasks and tutorials thrown at you, that it’s easy to get bogged down and lose focus. If you can power through it all you’ll eventually hit a nice balance where progression and all the mechanics begin to work together. Without doubt, once you’ve hit 50 or so hours playtime, you’ll be glad you hadn’t learned everything about the game within the first ten minutes – huge games need to maintain interest somehow.
As mentioned previously, the world is vast, but it’s not a seamless open-world. A number of different areas are all accessible via a teleport system and just as Mass Effect’s ship Normandy acted as a central hub, Skyhold acts as Inquisition’s equivalent. Here you’ll be able to talk to the locals, craft new items or plan your next moves at the ‘War Council’ table. This council allows you to delegate tasks such as solving noble disputes, or building watchtowers that aid your overall mission, each with its own rewards. They play out in real time whilst you continue your adventuring and when complete they’ll give you a report to how it went.
Side questing in all of the different areas will reward you with ‘power’ points that act as currency to perform these council missions. Although, you may have to be a little selective as to what ones you choose to do if you want a quick progression. I checked my playtime just before I started the second main story mission and found I had clocked up 7 glorious hours in the first area just galloping my horse around, killing things, and closing demon rifts – good times for RPG fanatics, but the narrative does take a little time before it starts shining, so you might not want to halt progression for too long.
Bioware seem to have been trying to find a nice balance with combat since the very first Dragon Age, and although it’s not quite perfected yet, it’s definitely getting closer. There’s a solid action-orientated feel to skirmishes that are operated by simple button presses for abilities and holding one down for a basic auto-attack. Asides from drinking all your health potions like they’re on a lash-up in Newquay, your AI team will mostly do right by you. If they don’t there’s always plenty of menu options to automate abilities and control how they act in battle if they’re too unwieldy for your liking.
But, possibly my favourite aspect of combat is how you can micromanage proceedings when things get a little tougher. Hitting the touchpad zooms the camera out and pauses play so you can select everyones next move and advance time slowly to see how your actions play out. During one boss battle I was getting wiped every time until I began pushing by characters behind pillars to avoid ranged attacks, whilst flanking the arrow-flinging demon with the rest of my team – the tactical element really adds a sense of satisfaction and combat remains enjoyable even in the most inconsequential of battles.
Bioware’s obsession with self-evaluation and morality choices still play a massive part in Inquisition, just as they have in their other titles. What’s more, is that this time round the impact they have seems to echo further thanks to the scale of the game’s narrative as well as your part on the War Council, dishing out orders and passing sentences. The game does well to imbue you with a sense of power, and everything seems to branch off into something new; a new quest, a new piece of Dragon Age lore or even a new location.
As you might expect, a game packed with so much might suffer from the odd unchecked bug. On more than one occasion radial menus would stop letting me select anything, character changes would become unusable and there was even a time when a demon-rift closed itself and refused to let me interact with it, hence leaving the mission incompletable. All the bugs and glitches encountered were solved by saving and reloading and they might even be patched come release, however, my time in game wasn’t exactly what I’d call a clean bill of health.
You can expect to be in this for the long haul, even if you minimise your participation in side-questing. 60+ hours would be a fair assessment, but with collectables such as landmarks, hidden shards, and constellation puzzle mini-games being only a few examples of the game’s many time sinks, you could easily double that and still be enjoying yourself. If it’s your thing, there’s also a co-op multiplayer, but it’s not as nearly involving as the main game and the action is pretty thin on the ground in comparison.
Despite being a little daunting at first, Dragon Age: Inquisition does well to find a common ground that allows choices to be made that mould your experience to your choosing, whether it be from a narrative or gameplay perspective. With the vision of a fictional world that’s completely engrossing and some of the most interesting and well written supporting cast you’ll find in gaming, Inquisition takes the Dragon Age franchise forward on several levels. With Inquisition, I pondered, explored and drooled over an RPG in the same way I did when Final Fantasy VII stole a few months of my life away, and it’s certainly been a while since I’ve been able to say that.