In 2009, I first began my adventure across Ferelden. I had been a big fan of Mass Effect when it came out, so I had faith in Bioware to deliver another great RPG. I was not disappointed. I began my adventure as a female Dalish Elf who wasa partial to using two daggers to solve the problems that diplomacy couldn't. As my adventure continued, I united enemies, banished demons, crunched numbers, and made my character's lover into a king. In the end, I ended the Blight and preserved my own life by dark means to keep my influence around.
Now we'll fast forward to 2011. I eagerly ripped open my copy of Dragon Age 2; my excited hands fumbling to peel the security tag off the side of the case. I equipped my male Hawke with a set of double daggers to continue the tradition and set off to Kirkwall. I was refreshed by a more streamlined battle system with more robust characters, but I was also a little thrown off by a lackluster and rather short story. Regardless, I enjoyed my adventure. I used my wits and sarcasm to defuse (or instigate) hostile situations, fell in love with a pirate queen, and accidentally instigated a war between the oppressed mages and their Templar guardsmen.
These two games have as many similarities as they have differences. The question is: where does Dragon Age: Inquisition fall? The answer is a difficult one. It's quite a different beast from the first two games, keeping the charms of both close at hand while quadrupling the size. It plays off the events of the first two Dragon Age games, but it crafts its place in the universe without invalidating or over-relying on them. Of course I had to begin somewhere to come to these conclusions; that beginning came when a massive explosion leveled a temple and tore a hole in the sky, leaving only the person whom I would be controlling for the next 60 hours crumpled in the aftermath.
There's no denying it; the game is a looker. if I take each individual aspect into consideration, I don't actually think I've seen a better looking game in my gaming career. The ground has tessellation, the little rocks in the grass popping up above the ground as opposed to being painted on. The grasses that stick out of the ground blanket the areas, reacting to your character's steps as they adventure through expansive deserts, snow-covered forests, and misty hills. The textures are beautifully rendered and give a realistic covering to all the environments, objects, and characters. Soft shadows emanate from different light sources, casting smooth shadows across the environments. Characters, while occasionally suffering from that trademark Bioware stare, feature believable faces and expressions, making them look less like animated dolls and more like actual people. Of course, graphics like these come at a cost of performance. I ran the game on a GTX 770 but was slightly bottlenecked by my Phenom ii X6 1045t processor, leaving me with a wildly varying framerate of about 25-40 fps on completely maxed settings.
Any person who has ever played any Bioware game will know that their characters are usually the centerpiece of their stories. Inquisition lets you recruit nine companions along with 3 advisors to help you manage your forces. Out of the nine, there was only one that I would consider less than awesome. Dragon Age veterans will be happy to see the return of Leliana from her absence since Origins, acting as the leader of the Inquisition's spy ring, and Varric, the storytelling, crossbow wielding Dwarf from Dragon Age 2. In addition to these two and a few other returning surprises, you are also accompanied by the devout Cassandra, the happy-go-lucky Sera, the rampaging Iron Bull, the dashing Dorian, all alongside a few other mages, warriors, and rogues to compliment whatever your party needs. All these characters have their own backstory, likes and dislikes, and their own agendas that they will expose to you as you grow closer. Some will surprise you, some will disagree with you, and some may even fall in love with you. All of them give something positive to the game, and all are worth your time so long as you're willing to give them a chance.
This game is massive, no other way to describe it. There are several areas for you to explore both during story missions and for your own adventuring. Just the first area, The Hinterlands, has become infamous for trapping players for dozens of hours with all of its sidequests. Of course, you aren't restricted to these areas one at a time. You can fast travel between them as you wish, and you can open new areas by using the power points you obtain by completing sidequests and taking territory for the Inquisition.
The Dragon Fights
In my opinion, this is the pinnacle of the game. The game features a total of 10 high dragons for you to hunt, each carrying a devastating arsenal of attacks to crush an unprepared party. Each dragon looks different, has different strengths and weaknesses, and they can have varying levels and abilities. There are different strategies that you can utilize to take them down, such as temporarily crippling their legs or throwing jars of bees at them.
Actually, you should just always carry jars of bees, because they're amazingly awesome.
The Character Creation
Of course, many consider the character creation to be an integral part of any RPG. Inquisition doesn't disappoint, but it also leaves a little to be desired. I chose a male human rogue as my Inquisitor, shuffling through little bits of backstory as I eagerly anticipated crafting this man into a rugged demon-slaying masterpiece of a character. While the options were extensive, some of the most basic aspects were lacking. There weren't too many hairstyles for me to pick from, and many of the ones there were fairly similar. There were plenty of beards, but a few of them were unfortunately located quite a few inches away from my face. The slider boxes offer a larger degree of control over shaping a face, but some of them are a little touchy. Overall, the character creation does its job well, as my character ended up looking less like a conglomeration of custom parts and more like an actual person.
Of course this is all up to personal interpretation, but the overall main story is just okay. The main detriment to the story is the villain, who is just a little too cookie-cutter for my tastes. If you just rush through it, it's not very long in comparison to the rest of the game, clocking in at roughly fourty hours. The story does have its moments, such as one particular event that happens around the ten hour mark that really gets the ball rolling. A little disappointing, but it shouldn't deter most people from fully enjoying the game.
I've always had a love-hate relationship with Dragon Age combat. If you've played it, you know that Dragon Age: Origins had a much more classic tactical combat feel based primarily on pausing during combat and number crunching. Dragon Age 2 streamlined that combat, making it more action oriented and straight-forward. This game falls somewhere in between, letting the player either play in an action-focused real time setting or a zoomed-out paused tactical view that can be advanced by pressing a button. The limitation to 8 hotkeyed abilities is really arbitrary, and makes some battles feel needlessly irritating. Good gear is difficult to come by unless you go boss or dragon-hunting. The upside to that is that they've created quite the entertaining crafting system that results in gear that is usually better than what you'll find in the field. The system relies on hunting animals, looting enemies, and gathering herbs and minerals to create weapons, armors, and potions of differing abilities.
I've played about 3 matches with the multiplayer, so keep that in mind. It's pretty straightforward: You pick a class, gear, and get thrown into one of three levels full of mobs, loot, and a final boss. You use the gold obtained from the mission to open chests, much in the same fashion that one would use credits to buy packs in Mass Effect 3. There is no pausing, of course, leading to some pretty hectic situations. My main complaint is that there is no push to talk option, making it incredibly awkward for people like myself who prefer to talk on Skype.
The Keyboard and Mouse Controls
While Bioware has claimed that they created a custom interface just for PC players in order to create the most comfortable experience possible, that statement quickly devolves to an empty promise upon your first few moments in control of the game. Left clicking cannot be used to attack or move, only to select. The hotbar, which is also arbitrarily limited to 8 abilities, doesn't contain any tooltips, leaving players to dig through menus to look for term descriptions. While the keys may be rebindable, the overall interface just ruins the experience. I gave up after 2 hours and switched to my wired 360 controller, which thankfully has absolutely wonderful controls. I highly recommend it.
The Final Verdict
The game is fantastic overall. Bioware has crafted a wonderful game that, despite its faults, is an engaging experience that is bound to last players for hundreds of hours across several different playthroughs. Multiplayer adds a little to that replay value, as I am sure there will be many additions made to it over the coming months. If you're looking for a game that is well worth your money and a true "next gen" experience, then this is certainly one that you should consider.
Also, be on the lookout for a future write-up in the coming days by our illustrious Barkspawn, who will be giving her take on the PS4 version of DA:I!