Let’s face it, a lot of games this year have failed to live up to expectations. Most of the AAA games have let people down one way or another. With this in mind, one could be forgiven if they believed that Bioware’s latest would also be a disappointment. However, this isn’t the case at all. Among a sea of less than stellar blockbusters, rises Dragon Age: Inquisition. A title that more often than not, exceeds expectations and delivers one of the most robust and fulfilling games in recent memory.
This game takes place some time after Dragon Age II which ended with the beginning of a war between Mages and Templars. The Chantry, Thedas’ most powerful religious order, calls for a truce and urges both parties to gather to end the bloodshed. All parties involved are killed in a massive explosion which creates a rift in the sky that allows demons from The Fade to enter the corporeal world. You play as the only survivor who is somehow able to close rifts. This puts you at odds with the one responsible for the explosion who (naturally) wants to rule over the world.
You can tell that Bioware took fan input seriously when creating this game. Most fans of the series were very disappointed with Dragon Age II (even though it was actually a good game) and you can see how many of the complaints about that title were addressed here. The main thing that was addressed was the size of the game. This game is HUGE. There is so much content packed into it that it’s both awe inspiring and intimidating. The previous games teased us with stories about faraway lands which we could only dream of seeing ourselves. While the game is set in southern Thedas, the Kingdoms of Orlais and Ferelden are massive enough on their own and finally deliver the scope that was only hinted at before. Thank goodness that Bioware added mounts to allow us to explore the vast expanses more quickly. Although you may still want to hoof it on foot so you don’t miss anything.
Combat has returned to being strategic like it used to be in Dragon Age: Origins. Each encounter is a game unto itself and can be approached in a variety of ways. The addition of a tactical camera adds a whole new dimension to the battles. You can play the game in real time and switch between characters on the fly or you can pause the action and have your party members do specific attacks on selected enemies or on specific body parts of foes. The mix of real time and strategic combat makes each encounter rewarding and keeps things engaging throughout the length of the game.
And a lengthy game it is. It took me 120 hours to completely do every sidequest and main mission available in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Every corner of the world has something to offer. You could be focused on one specific task and be distracted by many other things for hours. With each new discovery you learn more about the world and of its people. The addition of a jump button makes exploration more interesting as you have to try to figure out how to get to loot that is just within reach. This is a double edged sword however. While having such a wealth of content is great, it can distract you from the main quest and pretty much eat up all of your free time if you’re a completionist like myself. This is more good than bad however and we have to applaud Bioware for making sure that exploration is rewarded.
The other thing that’s made a big comeback is customization. Nearly every piece of armor and every weapon can be modified with new parts or magical runes. This isn’t only for the main character. You can equip every party member with armor specific to their class. What’s cool is that no matter what items you have on the characters, they all retain their core design. Putting on and altering equipment is almost as essential as leveling up in terms of fighting enemies effectively. The right pieces of armor which have been optimized can sometimes mean the difference between victory and defeat. Customization also extends to your fortress which you can decorate with all manner of furniture or drapery.
Characterization is Bioware’s specialty but they’ve somehow outdone themselves this time. Nearly every person you meet feels like a multifaceted being. As you converse with those around you, you feel a sense of connection to them. So much so that you will feel bad if you ever get into an argument with anyone. Even the bad guys don’t come off as one-dimensional and most have understandable reasons for doing the horrible things they do. On the flip-side, you can engage in a romantic relationship with someone in your group, something which is finally treated correctly thanks to Bioware having males and females be bare chested for the first time in the series.
Dragon Age games have never really been that impressive looking but that’s now changed. Right from the outset I was impressed by the game’s graphics. Dragon Age: Inquisition is a current-gen title so this was to be expected. However, it wasn’t until I got into the Hinterlands where my eyes nearly exploded out of my head. This happened with almost all of the locales I ventured to afterwards. This game is freakin’ beautiful and has nearly every type of environment you can imagine. Lush forests and jungles, snow and ice covered mountains, scorching deserts, moonlit swamps, ancient ruins, otherworldly dimensions, every locale is wonderfully rendered. The weather effects only add to the ambiance in the levels as well. The game is a visual feast.
More so than other Bioware games, you get a true sense of your actions impacting the world around you. The Thedas that I started out in is not the one I left by the game’s end. Since you are the Inquisitor, the fate of nations lies in your green glowy hand and even the smallest decision could have monumental consequences. There were many times where I believed I had made the correct choice only to find out that it was in fact just the lesser of two evils. It may not be instantly satisfying since the outcome of many decisions can only be known after the next game or story DLC is released, but knowing that there will be important consequences to my actions is exciting enough.
Though this game is mostly without flaws, it has a few. The most annoying one is when the game locks up during conversations. For a game which is half about engaging with others, this was a significant issue. Granted that it didn’t happen often but when it did it killed the experience. While the game is graphically impressive, I did notice some pop up during my travels. I also noticed that certain parts of the game were dark until I got close and they became visible. This last thing is a bit nit-picky I know but it stood out nonetheless.
The most significant flaw with the game is with its multiplayer. This is a classic example of the dreaded “tacked on multiplayer” that many (myself included) are against. You get to choose from a variety of different Warriors, Mages, and Rogues who each have their own skill trees and abilities. You team up with up three others (four man team total) and go through different floors looking for enemies to kill. All of the dialogue and tactical gameplay that the series is known for goes out the window and it becomes an endless kill-fest. While this works great for some other games, it felt completely wrong for this series. I give Bioware credit for trying but it might be best if they leave multiplayer for Mass Effect instead. It doesn’t work well for Dragon Age.
There is more that can be said about this game but it really is one of those titles that has to be experienced to be appreciated. Granted that RPGs aren’t for everyone but fans of the genre will find little to complain about here. Bioware have truly gone out of their way to deliver one of the most deeply satisfying titles out there. A game of this scope is rare and having it released in a year where nearly every major title disappointed makes it stand out even more. Dragon Age: Inquisition is the title that the game industry needed.
This review is based off a digital copy of Dragon Age: Inquisition for the PlayStation 4 which was purchased out-of-pocket from the PlayStation Network Store.