Warning: Plot points and/or Spoilers are discussed.
After 1.5 years or so, I sat down and began my journey in Dragon Age: Inquistion. I originally bought the game on PS3, but during PSN’s recent sale I picked up the PS4 edition for $5,99. Not too bad. I’m going to cover a lot of ground but here but I know something will get left out. It’s a free-flowing take. Feel free to leave your impressions about the game and discuss things I might have missed or glossed over.
I’m a Dragon Age fan. Dragon Age: Origins is one of my all-time favorite games. I even enjoyed Dragon Age: II (a game with some well-documented problems. I felt it should have been re-titled Dragon Age: Kirkwall and dubbed an expansion pack, but I digress). I played DA:I for a few days and then put it aside. Due to a move, I didn’t have access to my PS3 for awhile. By the time I got it back it was put on the back-burner, largely the fault of Destiny. A few months after that, I got my PS4 as a Christmas gift to myself, coincidentally (not really) the Destiny edition. Between that, The Witcher III, Uncharted 4, and assorted tastes of various Vita and 3DS games, I was in a lull. The PSN sale got me to dive back into DA:I.
After (literally) exploding into the game when I pressed start, I was given the option of carrying over all of my saved data from the previous Dragon Age games, allowing the world states and choices to carry over. However, the server could not locate my saves. I discovered that I had to set up something online called Dragon Age Keep, a DA-focused site separate from the Bioware social site. It was a quick set up since I already have an EA account. I have not had a chance to explore the site much but I did watch a dramatic cinematic recap of my choices up leading into Inquisition. Then I could import my Dragon Age tale that had grown over the years. If you don’t like your choices or want to tweak them a bit, you can before you get started on your Inquisition.
Since I had no clue what my original character was doing, I decided to start fresh. Like then, I’ve chosen to go with a Qunari character. It’s the first time the series has allowed that choice. It’s refreshing, since it breaks from the usual trio of humans, elves, and dwarfs, although it’s really not a big difference from the orcs found in other RPGs. You do have the option of some mighty fine horns, though. I went with a Qunari female warrior before. Now I am going with a male mage (is it wrong that I like setting things on fire in video games? I think not). I spent a fair amount of time crafting my character. Through the process I ran into one of my pet peeves in character selection: Why can’t I get a zoom in on the eyes when selecting eye color? If I’m choosing eyelash and eye shadow types, of course. But I can’t see the eyes properly until then. It’s the little things, right?
I watched the opening cinematic that shows you glimpses of how your character ends up where they do. Hello, amnesia! You end up with a glowing green hand as a result of your connection to rifts, which are part of a larger breach, which demons like to drop out of and try to kill everyone. Just another day in the life in the Dragon Age universe. I find myself being confronted by Cassandra, the hard-edged Seeker we were introduced to in Dragon Age II, and Leliana, a well-known character from DA:O who is a spy. The dwarf from DA:II with the famous chest hair and crossbow, Varric, also reappears and is part of your team. You decide early on if you’re going to play nice with Cassandra or be antagonistic, considering they believe you to be responsible for the death and destruction being rained down on the population. I decided to play nice and be helpful, which isn’t surprising. When I play RPGs, during my first play-through my character lives by my own basic morality and decisions are made based on what I might do if I were really in that situation. I go evil or unethical then next time through.
After the first battles I proved that I was was of value to the group and Cassandra warily gave me some credit although the Templars were breathing down my neck, wanting me dead. They historically hate mages and kill rogue ones. Soon, decisions have to be made: travel up a mountain to try to close a rift and save some scouts along the way, or take a cautious route with soldiers through the valley. I wanted to climb the mountain. Success followed, although some of the soldiers died in the process. The battle system carries over mostly from DA: II, with fast and fluid animations. For a mage, the delightful effects of fire, ice, and lightning that feel satisfying when they hit their mark. Bigger battles can become hectic and busy from all of the destruction going on, which can make it difficult to locate your team when you need to heal them, place a barrier, or revive them. But overall I enjoy the mayhem. Strategy fans can pause the action and check out things from an overhead view if you’d like. I tend to just dive into battle and see what happens.
The game opens up after that, literally. Inquisition is an open world affair, taking its cues from Skyrim and releasing us from the confines of Kirkwall in DA: II. I was soon traveling around Thedas, closing rifts, looking for resources, looking for romance, forging alliances and fighting men and monsters. I was forced into the role of leading an Inquisition and expanding its reach across the lands and build an army to take down the source behind the opening of the breach and the re-emergence of demons and darkspawn. I appreciated the change in the game world, but it would be yet to be seen if I enjoyed the freedom or if I would be bombarded with relentless numbers of fetch quests and aimless wandering before getting exasperated and racing through the main quest to get it behind me.
From a technical standpoint, there were a few hiccups with audio and frame rate during some cutscenes, including a massive audio glitch at one point where I was fortunate to have had subtitles enabled, but things have been running very solidly. The presentation looks very good on PS4. The textures look great on armor and the weather effects are nice to see as well. The first few quests, tied to gathering support for the newly-opened Inquisition (unleashing an inquisition never sounds like a good idea), seemed interesting. However, my initial impressions fed into my fears that the game might be a relative fetch-o-rama. I worried that playing The Witcher III prior to playing DA:I might taint my outlook on this game. I was going to find out what was in store...
It took me a little bit of time to settle into DA:I. As with some RPGs, the first several hours can feel like a slog until you finally break through into something substantial. Some games don’t always give you a good reason to play that far. The sheer boredom or lack of engaging characters have you exiting quickly. I gave the game a chance to get me to buy into it.
Once I got out of the Hinterlands with my newly acquired horse, I settled into the game and started building my team. That is when I really felt a connection to the expanded Thedas. The scale is vast in comparison to the first two games. You get a sense that Thedas is a often beautiful, realized world and not just small, non-descript slices of an unseen world. They wisely made it a varied world so that you do not feel like you are walking into the same cave every time (ahem). There are forested regions, deserts, coastal regions, mountainous territory and others. Familiar places like Redcliffe and the Deep Roads return. Once again you will journey into the Fade (I hate, hate, hate that place.) where demons abound and reality is turned upside down.
Your advisory team meets in the War Room, where you decide what quests/missions to go on or tasks to complete to curry favor and add precious resources or assets. They are laid out on a big Risk-like board with pieces marking each location. One half of the map is Ferelden, and the the other is Orlais, the oft-mentioned location from the previous games but the first time you can really explore it. You can choose either diplomacy, covert, or military methods for handling them. Diplomacy involves charm and persuasion, backroom dealings or even bribery. Covert can be subterfuge or outright assassination. Going with the military is often pragmatic and clear-cut, without the machinations of the other options. Major missions require the use of Power points, gained by completing quests. These choices along with how you approach your choices during your quests will show the people what king of Inquisitor you are: benevolent and fair-minded, or brutal and unforgiving. Once you decide, you go gather your team and go to the site. You are briefed on the situation by the trusty dwarf, Scout Harding. She lets you kno what kind of trouble lies ahead.
You have a lot of power in your hands. You gain influence points as you finish objectives. This helps you curry favor with citizens and power brokers. You can be the fish out of water who lucked into becoming an influential symbol of hope, or you can be a god among men, with people bowing before you or fearing you. You sit on your throne and pass judgment on criminals. Spare them or sentence them to die. The choices are tantalizing and often difficult, because the person you executed could have been an asset to the Inquisition. Your choices also affect the approval ratings you get from your team members. Sometimes you have no choice but to piss someone off, but life is not always fair in Thedas and you have to do what you have to do. At other times, you have to decide who will make the ultimate sacrifice.
DA:I brings a lot of customization to the series. DA:II was criticized because armor choice and loot was very arbitrary and didn’t seem to affect gameplay much at all. Now you are able to put together impressive armor and weapon combinations through crafting and modifications. For style you can tint your armor. You can also play home designer when you acquire Skyhold, your own personal castle, choosing the windows, drapes, and decking out your personal quarters. As they game goes on and you fill requisition requests, you can upgrade Skyhold to make it more amenable to the pilgrims that have found their way there, upgrading the garden, expanding medical services, or adding training grounds are a few of the options. You can also gather a variety of mounts, from horses to draconids and more. I found these changes and updates to be a welcome addition to Dragon Age, although occasionally I would get lost in my castle when upgrades were done.
The characters and the writing are what push DA:I into fantastic game territory. It is something Bioware has been skilled at for years. Each character has a distinct personality and motives that make you root for them, feel pity on them or outright despise them. Having so much variety makes it difficult when you want to put your team together for a quest. Personally, my favorite team is Sera (a snarky elf rogue), Iron Bull (a Qunari warrior who is a mercenary), and Cassandra (warrior), followed by Sera, Dorian (a flamboyant Tevinter mage), and Iron Bull. Killing dragons and darkspawn brings about a particular bond. The game also has several nods to the prior games, either through reference, or via appearance. Hawke, the Champion of DA:II, reappears, as does the dark witch Morrigan (swoon), as well as her mother Flemeth in a “holy crap” moment. With some characters, just when you think you have them figured out, something emerges that makes them more nuanced that you might have thought, or that their motivations weren’t what you thought they may have been. You make contact with the Grey Wardens, the stalwart heroes of lore, who have virtually vanished since the Blight from DA:O. You discover that some have sided with Corypheus, and in light of their heinous crimes, you can bring them into the fold, or banish them. One Grey Warden, Blackwall, can join your team if you choose to bring him in.
They are diverse, as well, with well-developed characters from all backgrounds and sexual orientations, including a transgender character. That diversity is a big plus in my book, although it might be controversial for some. Choosing whether to have a romance and with whom involves some deep thought and consideration, and the scenes with your paramour can be very tender. I romanced Cassandra and was surprised at how the courtship played out and how much emotion and vulnerability was written into it. Surprisingly, Bioware eschewed the underwear from its sex scenes in DA:I, which they have been teased about since the first game as well as in the Mass Effect series. That could be another sign of The Witcher’s influence creeping in.
One hundred and thirty (!) hours in (hey, I like to explore), I started to feel some quest fatigue. The game throws quests at you left and right. My original fears about fetch quests and superfluous missions have been somewhat validated. The issue I have with them is that many of them can have an impact on your story but it is not always clear how. They are good for building XP, but gathering numerous shards (those damn shards) or animal bits and plants for inquisition requests can be maddening. It leads to loads of backtracking (the bane of my existence) when you find out you have to continuously gather more and more shards to open a series of doors for just one specific quest. Other quests give you a point on the map to find something, but once you get there you are given a large purple zone on your map. Your objecctive is somewhere in that zone. I came to dislike those purple zones by the end of things. I wanted to go into the the final battle with Corypheus, the game’s Big Bad, well-prepared and I didn’t want to struggle because I decided not to grab that 30th Elfroot or the 60th shard.
Another frustration stemmed from having to play the game as a platformer at times in a game not designed well for it. My character jumps like he is wearing lead boots, yet I am supposed to be able to hop up a mountain to grab a lonely shard. Without the forgiving leaping and ledge-grabbing skills of a Nathan Drake, this task can get old really quickly, and makes my Qunari look like he’s an odd pogo-stick woefully propelling himself up a cliff face.
One other strange thing is the Power system. It is necessary for early major quests, but becomes less important as the game goes on. The final quest requires zero Power. I had amassed over 200 Power by then with nothing to use it on.
At one-hundred and seventy hours, I was at my limit. No matter what I left behind, it was time to take on the bad guy. As far as I knew, I didn’t leave too many loose ends. I gathered my Inquisition team in the war room. Then the sky opened up. Corypheus had re-opened the breach. They gave me the state of the Inquisition and our resources, and if we had enough allies to carry out the final assault. There were still forces on the way, but I couldn’t wait on them. I was ready to go. I loaded up my team (Sera, my girlfriend Cassandra, and Iron Bull) with the best weapons and armor that I could find or craft. We were even color-coordinated for the task (hey, you give me armor tinting, I’m going to go for the aesthetics).
We rolled up on Corypheus as he was mowing down Inquqisition forces with demons at his side. With our arrival, he lifts the chunk of earth along with a castle up towards the breach, causing our allies to to fall away down to earth and my team is left alone for the fight (for a moment I thought Scout Harding was going to die. I would have ripped out Corypheus’ throat out). We were ready to throw down. The enemy summons a massive dragon. As the beast attacks, Morrigan, who has a few shape-shifting capabilities up her sleeve, has become a dragon as well and engages her opponent in the skies. On the ground, we battle Corypheus as he rained down blood magic. My team was ready. I was slinging lightning and blasting our adversary with the Stone Fist spell. Sera was bouncing from place to place, using stealth and firing a barrage of poison tipped arrows. Cassandra and Iron Bull charged in with sword and shield and a greatword like tanks, relentlessly hitting Corypheus with heavy blows as he blasted fire at us all. Morrigan slammed the dragon to the ground. We fouht the dragon until we slay the beast. Then our attention turns back to his handler. After a few minutes of our sustained barrage, we bring him to his knees. I drain his power and banish him to the Fade.
The Inquisition was a success and my girlfriend was happy. A party was thrown at Skyhold, and it gave me a chance to catch up one final time with my team before ending on a gentle moment on my balcony with Cassandra, one last quiet moment before the devils we knew were replaced by the devils by the ones we did not know, waiting in the wings to take control over Thedas. A hard fought victory was earned. However, we find out through a post credits scene that one member of the Inquistion team was not what he seemed to be, setting him as the potential villian in the next Dragon Age game.
So what are my final impressions?
The end battle, in a way, was underwhelming. There was tension, and the set piece was foreboding and apocalyptic, but there was not much of a fight. Taking on the massive dragons that are scattered about the lands were far more difficult, battles I lost more than I won. There is a parallel with open games like Skyrim. If you have the patience or desire to spend your time the numerous side quests and put aside the main storyline, you can become vastly more powerful during the final battle than others might if they stuck mainly to the story. Many game players might only give themselves fifty or sixty hours on an RPG, even in an open world game. That might be enough time to finish Inquisition with some challenge. But in a way, the game is very much about the journey. By spending time exploring the vast reaches of Ferelden and Orlais, and deveoping the relationships with your team. By the end of my 170-plus hour run, I had my core group that I wanted to live or die with. These were the people I had long nights of drinking with (a group night of cards and ridiculousness) or hanging out on rooftops with (Sera) or courting with flowers and poetry (Cassandra). The relative ease of the Corypheus battle did not effect my time with Inquisition. My journey by and large was rich, engaging and ultimately satisfying.
Some might feel that Inquisition was overcompensating for the mixed reception of DA:II. I had my own level of apprehension. I almost never let a Bioware title sit on my shelf without diving in right away. Bioware had to shoot for the moon. Inquisition was an ambitious undertaking that by and large hit the mark or exceeded it, in my opinion. Any doubts about what Bioware was capable of with the series were erased. Whatever comes next will have a high bar to clear.
Dragon Age: Inquisition was a fun one to clear from my backlog. If you happened to read this spoiler-ish recap and have not played it, clear out a couple of weeks and have a go at it. I don’t think you will be disappointed. I will have to take some time away from it and play some other titles old and new, but I would like to take another run through DA:I in the future.
Who am I kidding? My next Inquisitor has already been created.
Updated 07/25/2016: I was unaware that the Trespasser DLC wraps up what happens after the post credits scene and brings a full close to the Inquisitor’s story. Pick that up if you want to complete the story. Thanks Sqwunk for the info!
Dragon Age: Inquisition-branded images are from Bioware/EA’s website. All others were captured during my playthrough using the PS4's Capture/Share function.