Dragon Age: Inquisition for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC
Dragon Age: Origins was a game I really liked, but didn’t quite love. The world was epic and everything felt impactful, but the combat didn’t really work for me and it all felt a little cliché. I, more controversially, also really liked Dragon Age II. I loved the characters and felt that Kirkwall as a well-drawn setting, but loathed the re-using of locations and the sheer laziness which permeated the whole thing. Dragon Age has always been a series which sat below other RPG series in my estimation, something to tide me over whilst I waited for the next Elder Scrolls or Mass Effect. That is, until now. Dragon Age: Inquisition pressed my buttons hard, getting dangerously close to an obsession, something which an adult with a full time job can’t really afford to have.
Your decisions in previous games can be imported through the well-designed companion website, The Dragon Age Keep. It may not be the most elegant solution, but BioWare really made an effort to make the process as painless and possible and I was able to cobble together my world state quite nicely. Whatever your decisions, Inquisition deals with the Mage/Templar civil war triggered in Kirkwall at the end of Dragon Age II. The Chantry under Divine Justinia has managed to broker a peace summit between the rebel mages and Templar leaders for a meeting known as the Conclave. Whatever your backstory, your protagonist is a spy sent to watch the proceedings. The meeting is disrupted when a massive explosion opens a breach into the Fade, creating smaller rifts all around Thedas. The only survivor to emerge from the catastrophe is your character, who has gained the ability to close the rifts into the Fade. With the Chantry in chaos, the ancient order known as the Inquisition is revived to try to fix the plague of problems facing the world. Considered by many to be the Herald of Andraste, your character eventually becomes known as the Inquisitor, a figure who may be respected, feared or loved based on your actions.
The actual narrative of Inquisition really isn’t that interesting on paper. The story is pretty much your standard oncoming apocalypse doom scenario. The biggest problem is the villain, who shows up a little too late into the game and doesn’t have enough of a presence throughout to feel properly threatening. That said, it all ends up just working. Inquisition was the most I’ve cared about a BioWare party since Mass Effect 2 with a range of complex and engaging characters. Among the doom and gloom there are moments of levity to be found which ended up being my most memorable moments with the game; I may not remember every fight, but I will remember the Qunari mercenary leader Iron Bull giving me a dressing down for potential rudeness towards his transgender second in command (and then a much more literal dressing down at the conclusion of his romance if you know what I mean). I’ll remember cookies on the roof with Sera, Cullen’s gambling mishaps and a chat on the balcony with Josephine. In the end though my favourite character was, well, me. I decided to play a female Elven mage, as I’d generally only played male characters in games before and I fancied a change. I don’t know if they’re all this good, but the English accented female voice actor for the Inquisitor is fantastic. By not simply trying to create an avatar for myself, I instead got to treat the Inquisitor as a character in her own right and I found the whole thing elevated for it. Inquisition is a game where I couldn’t stop thinking about with characters I almost miss like real friends. It is proof to the lie that the Gamergaters out there might spread that progressive narratives detract from quality of the gameplay. BioWare, rather than pandering to a specific and narrow white straight male audience (of which I’m a member myself), instead tried to make a game for everyone and succeeded with absolute aplomb.
So, I’ve already gushed for ages about the story, but what about the actual game itself? To paraphrase Douglas Adams; Thedas is big. Really big. Like, you just can’t believe how mindbogglingly big it is. Rather than being truly open world in the style of Elder Scrolls, Inquisition contains over a dozen open areas filled with quests and things to do. Some of these are bigger than others, but all are well defined and interesting, allowing a variety which isn’t quite possible in a game like Skyrim. You can be adventuring in the verdant Hinterlands one moment before hopping over to the desert Forbidden Oasis next. There is a dazzling array of side quests, some of which are brilliant, containing mini-stories of their own, but with some others which are a bit more standard such as collecting 10 pieces of ram meat. Many have criticised these, but I wasn’t quite so bothered. The main reason is the War Table which allows you to have an overview of the Inquisition as it grows, amassing Influence which gives you access to Fallout-esque perks.
On the wartable you can set your advisors to complete tasks which may give you new rewards which are completed in real time, with the choice of advisor affecting how long it takes for the task to be completed and the reward you get. The Assassin’s Creed games have had a similar system before, but I found it a lot more compelling here. You amass Power through quests and side-quests which is used to unlock new areas and quests both within the main story and the side quests. This means that even collecting ten ram meat felt like it was building towards building the Inquisition and helped to recontextualise actions which may have been dull otherwise. It’s a trick, but a trick that works. Of course, you can get away without doing a huge amount of the side stuff, and if this sort of stuff bothers you just don’t do it; you’ll still likely get at least fifty hours of playtime out of the game. My one irritation was that towards the end I had amassed way more power than I had anything to do with, so a use for the large amounts of excess power would have been nice; perhaps the ability to purchase influence which I had not maxed out at the end?
So, we’ve established that you have a lot to do, but how do you do it? Many decried the more action packed combat in Dragon Age II, but being the filthy casual I am I actually preferred it. Here, we have an excellent compromise. All combat can be played in real time, but you can also pause at the touch of a button and set up all party actions manually to gain a greater tactical control over the battles. I mostly played in real time, but in some tricky battles I paused to give myself the edge. On the harder difficulties I imagine that it’s a necessity. BioWare have been pulled in two directions for a while now; their old school fan base veterans of Baldur’s Gate have decried the loss of complexity in Dragon Age II and Mass Effect 3 while their EA masters have tried to push them towards greater accessibility and ease for the casual gamer. BioWare haven’t quite got the balance right in their last few games, but here they really pull it off. Inquisition hasn’t just reinvigorated my interest in Dragon Age, but in BioWare as a company. I’m now much more excited for the next Mass Effect than I was before.
Inquisition is a frequently beautiful, if rather janky game. The environments are easily the highlight with a really impressive sense of place and a palpable feeling of awe and grandeur. The character models are quite expressive in the face, but don’t move particularly convincingly. Visual glitches are very regular and I had a couple of hard crashes. That said, I don’t particularly mind. If this is what came of expanding the scope of Dragon Age, I really get it. There isn’t a feeling of having been actively deceived as many have felt with Ubisoft. The general design is brilliant though, feeling lived in and practical whilst also being awe inspiring and just plain cool. The music is the best in the series so far with a rousing main theme which nonetheless isn’t about to dethrone Skyrim as the best open world RPG title theme any time soon. To praise the voice acting in a BioWare game is redundant; it’s brilliant, of course it is. We’re not far from a point where good voice acting is no longer a point of praise but an expectation with BioWare being a company leading the way in this regard. It’s a little rough around the edges, but Inquisition is a clear labour of love which shines through any irritants.
So…yeah, it’s by no means perfect, but Inquisition made me feel a way no other game has done this year. Dragon Age has long been the secondary BioWare series to me after Mass Effect, but Inquisition has changed all that; this is a brilliant game which any fan of the genre simply must try.