Take a moment to consider the scope of the largest game you’ve played. I don’t mean just the numerical values of landmass or the amount of bad guys you kill, but rather that intangible sensation of “Wow, this game is huge” you only get when everything that needs to come together, does. When the world is huge, when the story is captivating, when you find yourself saying “I’ll just check out what’s over that hill” for the umpteenth time even though it’s 2am – that is the scope BioWare was aiming for with the latest installment in the Dragon Age saga. Needless to say, they have succeeded.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is the third game in the franchise, taking place a decade after the end of the previous title. The blight was stopped, the Archdemon killed, the Hero of Ferelden saved the day and everything is peaceful – or as peaceful as Thedas ever really is, considering how the last game ended. Still, things were going rather well until a giant green tear appears in the sky and demons start falling from it like fiery raindrops all across the world. And it gets a lot worse.
Dragon Age: Inquisition begins by throwing you into the middle of the action. No pencil-pusher asking you what’s your sign as you get off the boat, no doctor stitching you up after you’ve been shot and left in a shallow grave. When the sky explodes, you are right there in the middle of it all – although you haven’t the slightest idea how or why. You aren’t even sure why you begin your journey tied up in a small dank cellar while a very angry-looking woman is making some very nasty threats at you from the other end of a very sharp-looking blade.
Inquisition also throws an exceptional amount of lore at you practically from your first breath. Titles, places and names you’ve never heard before are marched before you as though they’re old friends. It’s up to you to make sense of it all and at this point you’ll probably spend more time going through the game’s extensive codex than actually playing. If I had one complaint about Dragon Age: Inquisition, it is this: for someone new to the series to fully enjoy it, the sheer volume of required reading is immense. As the game follows the previous two closely, you will probably not be able to make heads or tails of it otherwise.
Once you do get your bearings and some initial idea of what’s going on, Dragon Age: Inquisition doesn’t veer very far from the BioWare success formula. The overwhelming majority of your game will be spent exploring Ferelden and Orlais as never before – from a 3rd-person perspective – while completing all sorts of side quests of varying importance. Some of them might indeed seem a little silly and beneath you, while others are a clear step towards improving the Inquisition’s standing in the world, but all of them are rewarding in their own way. Sometimes the reward is a tangible one, like items or coin. Other times it’s a more subtle benefit, like a reduction in the frequency of bandit encounters in a region. Other times you get something even better – a boost to your Influence or Power, making your faction even better and expanding the Inquisition farther and wider.
It’s not often you get to answer the question “You and what army?” by pointing to the legion of soldiers, mages, diplomats and spies at your back and call with a smirk. Indeed, Inquisition does something few role-playing games let you do: You will run an organization in all of its aspects, from supplying the troops to choosing which factions and nobles to ally with. As a reward for your diligence, you will be able to command operations from the war table to really bring home the feeling of being at the helm of a major faction. Those operations intertwine with the game world as well as with behind the scenes activity. For example, on more than one occasion you will encounter a bridge destroyed by war or an impassible rockslide. It might be a challenge to some but not to the Inquisition – a quick trip to the war room, a small investment of power and voila! Inquisition engineers will repair the bridge, soldiers will clear rubble and forward scouts will establish camps in new regions. It feels good to be a leader.
Speaking of leaders, some of your companions are oftentimes as capable as you would be. In fact, this time around, you’re no longer running around with a band of misfits trying desperately to save the world – your party members more often than not represent their own smaller factions. Whether it’s Iron Bull’s band of mercenaries, Sera’s group of Red Jennies or Vivienne and her noble connections, your companions are more than initially meets the eye. You also have a broader choice to compose a group as you see fit – even disbanding those who don’t fit your ideal. There is a wider selection in companions than in previous Dragon Age titles as well as a wider array of fighting styles to make sure that even if Blackwall just rubs you the wrong way, you still have two other warriors to choose from. Better yet, you can also reset the skills of anyone (yourself included) to completely alter their fighting style. Don’t like how Solas has been cast as the iconic support mage? a quick run to a shop and *POOF*, he can chuck fireballs with the best of them.
In terms of combat, although the perspective has changed, a lot of the underlying mechanics remain the same. Abilities still combo with one another to devastating effect and you will still need to plan your attacks for optimal efficiency. Sure, while not every fight requires you to micromanage the finer points of who casts what and when, the harder encounters will most certainly tax your planning skills as well as your button-mashing abilities. Luckily, all the information is available on the skill descriptions – with the important bits highlighted for ease of reading. To accommodate both the simpler and harder fights, combat now has two varieties. First, there’s the more standard third-person approach where you control one character at a time and trust your party members to perform their jobs. While you can fine-tune abilities to be used, disabled or preferred, there’s relatively little control in this mode. Think about it as the quick encounter mode to smash a few highway robbers.
The other mode is the tactical mode, which is much more in-line with what we had in previous Dragon Age titles. The camera moves to an over-the-top perspective, showing you the entire immediate area. Time stops too while you plan your moves and order your party members individually – this is the real heart of combat and the best way to achieve victory against harder enemies (or at harder difficulties). When you assign an order for every ally, you can move time forward as moves are executed just as you have ordered them. At any point you can simply stop time again, giving you a chance to adjust or assign new orders. The final result is a fight that has you in complete control while retaining the fluidity of action. It is also the best way to setup those sought-after combos – when everyone acts in concert, your enemies will fall before you.
Dragon Age: Inquisition also vastly improves on the crafting system of its predecessor. If in Dragon Age 2 your crafting ability was limited to the consumables you had with you, Inquisition takes one step forward by letting you craft literally anything. By finding schematics in the world and taking them to your smithy (and later, arcane crafter) you can produce specialized items to outfit yourself and your party with gear that compliments them perfectly. Better yet, even items found in the world can be fine-tuned and adjusted with the addition of customization slots. Weapon grips, staff shafts, armor greaves and gauntlets can all be modified and switched for versions you consider better. With the source materials you use resulting in different attributes as well as appearance, nothing is impossible – and I didn’t even mention magic runes for weapons or the “masterwork” items you will find as you progress further.
Of course, none of that would matter without a solid story to tie everything together and drive you to explore those beautiful zones armed with your custom equipment. As is traditional for Dragon Age, the story is quite somber – after all, the tale begins with a considerable death-toll and a shower of demons. Still, a lot of the stories are sad – both the main story line and various side quests and encounters you will experience are rich with elements of loss and grief. However, a lot of them are also stories of valor and heroism, and some are even genuinely heart-warming or absolutely hilarious. As far as story is concerned, prepare yourself for an emotional roller-coaster which never ceases to impress – there are certain high points as well as low but it never gets repetitive or dull. What it boils down to, in the end, is a story that responds to your actions and changes accordingly at both major breakpoints as well as in more subtle ways.
To top off what is already a very lengthy and varied game, Dragon Age: Inquisition adds yet another new feature to the mix in the form of multiplayer. Completely separate from the single-player experience, Inquisition’s multiplayer mode is best compared to Mass Effect 3’s. A 4-player squad of Inquisition soldiers fight through an objective-based campaign in one of three themes: An Orlesian chateu, an Elven ruin or a Tevinter ruin. Unlike Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer, the maps are randomly-generated each time as well as the particular enemy faction you’ll face off against. Teamwork is absolutely crucial to success as you can no longer pause the game using the tactical camera and you should expect quite a few defeats until you finally manage to win a match but the overall experience is a blast to play.
If I had to summarize Dragon Age: Inquisition, I would use the word “Epic”. It is not a word I throw around lightly but Dragon Age: Inquisition certainly deserves it. Everything about this multi-facet adventure is bigger and better – both compared to previous titles in the series as well as other titles in the genre. There are still so many smaller things I could write about, but I believe that I have given you enough to go forth and explore Thedas. Find yourself a nice dank cave to explore, Deep Mushrooms to gather and maybe a landmark or two to claim. The world is on the brink and it is up to you, Lord Inquisitor, to pull it kicking and screaming back into a semblance of sanity.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.