I recently spent some time writing about how Ubisoft’s Far Cry 4 offered up a truly massive world with something new to do around every corner. Well it’s got nothing on Dragon Age: Inquisition.
RPG masters BioWare kicked off the Dragon Age series in 2009 with the first game, Origins. Just a couple of years after they debuted Mass Effect, it was seen as a return to the more old school RPG days of the company, which previously worked on the likes of Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights.
And that’s true to an extent – Dragon Age is high fantasy with involves stories, a large cast of characters and strains of social and political commentary which lend weight to every interaction. But, with Inquisition, BioWare has also managed to find a near perfect balance between depth and accessibility.
For one thing, you’re thrown into this world in a state of confusion. As the only survivor of an horrific Rift which killed a number of important people, you’re not only the only one with the power to close these tears and save the world but you also have little memory of who you were before the disaster.
This amnesiac set-up may be clichéd and familiar but it gives you a reason to be introduced to every element of this world. And while there’s a startling amount to get to grips with if you’re so inclined, there’s also a way through which should appeal to hack and slash fans or even those more interested in action-packed affairs.
It’s hard to really explain how amazing that dichotomy is. For example, you can spend much time seeking out ingredients for the local apothecary and combining them into new and exciting potions. Or you can just take the health drinks you’re automatically assigned and go forth, with these provisions enough to get by, even on Normal difficulty.
That’s just a tiny example of what’s on offer here in terms of complexity. You can mill through the main story or explore every minor side quest, soaking up the incredibly well-written lore and backstory and slowly starting to feel like you’re one with the people of Thedas.
After you spend as long as you like character creation, and pick from the available classes (Rogue, Mage, Warrior) and four races (human, elf, dwarf, Qunari) most of the game will be spent chatting or wandering around.
The Dragon Age games have become known for the quality of their dialogue and the same holds true here, though it’s possibly not as snarky as what was possible in DA II. Voice work is generally excellent (listen out for contributions from Freddie Prinze Jr. and Kate Mulgrew) and even when it gets bogged down with political issues things mostly remain comprehensible.
Wandering is another major activity here, with the world maps opened up like never before. You’ll now be able to spend long minutes walking from one end of the location to the other, with plenty of things to find along the way. The game now comes with the ability to jump (yes this is a new addition) which makes mountains much easier to traverse
And you’ve also gained a horse which you can call up at the touch of a button. Hilariously, your other party members disappears (somewhere) when you mount up and he gallops at barely a brisk trot but is welcome nonetheless. Oh and take note that your horse is basically indestructible, useful if you want to get to the bottom of a mountain in short order.
Combat is certainly a large part of the game but its inarguably the least interesting. Fights quickly devolve into holding down the attack button and hoping the other things die before you do. Tactical view makes a return to the game (giving you a paused overview of the melee so you can direct the attacks of your squad) but its slow to use and neither fun nor satisfying.
Initially playing as a rogue I was quickly dispirited by how anemic the constant arrow-shooting felt from afar. Warrior combat isn’t much better – just slice and barge and buff and win – so I’d recommend playing as a mage whenever possible. The fighting remains the same but the spell effects are at least prettier and make you feel like you’re having an impact on the battlefield.
And those spell effects do look amazing, along with pretty much everything else in the game. The realm of Thedas looks amazing on screen, with very respectable draw distances and a commendable amount of detail on everything from minor enemies to odd creatures and boss characters. Lip sync is generally decent and although I miss the ridiculous blood spray of DAII, the Frostbite 3 engine does a great job with the hero models. Except for their hair, which looks like it came out of a Christmas cracker.
Your role as the (eventual) leader of the grand Inquisition also gives you more to do than just poke enemies until they die. As the game progresses, you’ll be able to summon a war council tasked with trying to get the land to rights in the wake of a cataclysmic event and as the mages and Templars go for eachothers throats.
You’ll assemble around a board representing Thedas and make decisions which will shape not only your game but the lives of every citizen. You have a number of agents at your disposal who can be sent on special missions with each having a different approach – politician might manipulate things to their end, a spy can infiltrate and a soldier bring a show of force.
These missions are completed on a timer which goes down even when you’re not playing te game – so you can return to awards. This strategic element is a new side to the series and helps to make your actions feel global, using your power and influence to move pieces around the board and shape things to your design.
You really are a person of influence, and your actions can help a city survive, or allow it to starve. While Inquisition doesn’t go out of its way to show the massive ramifications of your every action it works hard enough to give you the illusion of freedom, choice and consequence that it all quickly becomes quite compelling indeed.
But its really the size and comprehensiveness of the experience which impressed me time and again – like the work BioWare has done to consider the responses of each of your 9 possible companions for each and every major cutscene or even the incredible amount of spoken dialogue in the game in general. There’s a wealth of material here, easily offering more than 100 hours of gameplay, and that’s managing to hit more than half the optional sidequests.
Combat may be a bit tiresome but for anyone with even a minor interest in RPG games, Inquisition is pretty much a must-play. And the work BioWare has done on making the core game as accessible as you like also means that those less dedicated to the genre should definitely give it a go. You might find it swallows your waking hours whole.
For the sake of completeness I should also mention that there’s a multiplayer component to Inquisition – where four players co-operate to take on various nondescript dungeons. Without the story and character of the main game all you get is a hollow facsimile, something that’s hardly worth checking out.
PS – don’t even bother squaring up to a dragon until you’ve sunk at least 30 hours into this thing. Seriously…