Dragon Age: Inquisition

A Gritty Fantasy RPG Goes Back To Basics

overall score 91 / Buy It
Jun 13, 16  | reviewed by Joel Castro (1242)

gameplay 94 / story 97 / graphics 85 / sound 90

far as fantasy epics go, Dragon Age has never been wholly original, taking from previous tales and making its own world and lore out of familiar elements. Ever since its inception, Dragon Age has become beloved by many in the fantasy RPG world, both for its gameplay and its rich, engaging narrative. After the success of Origins and the misfire of the second game, BioWare increased the scope of this world with Dragon Age: Inquisition. And let me tell you: I did not expect how much the increase would be. Not only did the size of the world increase tenfold, but so did the lore, stakes, and depth. While most would consider making an RPG more interactive and action-oriented a bit of an issue, it works to the advantage of this particular IP, and it’s all the better for it.

The story begins one year after the events of Dragon Age II. The head of the Chantry has called a conclave to settle the ever-increasing war between the mages and templars, hoping that peace could be achieved. However, just as everything was about to begin, an explosion destroys the conclave and almost everyone in it. That explosion tears open a rift into the Fade, the realm of demons and spirits, whom start pouring out at an alarming rate. You play as someone who escapes the explosion, but with a magical mark on your hand that can close smaller rifts. Soon after you are interrogated for allegedly opening the rift, you are then tasked with closing it before things get out of hand and demons destroy all of Thedas. But you cannot do this alone. In order to achieve this goal, an old order known as the Inquisition reforms with you as its leader, to both stop the threat at hand and attempt to achieve peace in the growing war.

As is the tradition among BioWare games in general, you can import a previous world state into this one, though due to the advent of the most current console generation, this is done through a website rather than from a previous save state. Events from the previous games will get mentioned and can impact how some events get handled by your Inquisitor. Even events from Dragon Age II get reintroduced as key plot elements, though to say anything further would be treading on spoiler territory. All you need to know is this: the story is just as gripping here as it was in Dragon Age: Origins, albeit with a larger emphasis on character motivations than a tight main plotline. Hell, one mission involves little combat and places emphasis on playing dirty politics, a big departure from previous entries. That’s not to say the main plot isn’t engaging, as twists and developments keep things exciting without ever overstaying their welcome or feeling like they weigh the story down as you discover new areas, characters, and more interesting pieces of lore.

And what you discover in this game will leave you breathless. Across the two countries the game takes place in – Orlais and Ferelden – you are treated to some of the most breathtaking sights Dragon Age has ever created. There are twelve main areas to explore and roam around in, and not one of them is ever boring. From the lush green hillsides of the Hinterlands, the beautiful snowy peaks of Emprise Du Lion, and the even the vibrant canyons of the Western Approach, the game is a visual feast, and you’ll often find yourself wandering these lands just to take in the beauty as well as the sheer size and scope of each map. These places are huge, and you’ll likely feel overwhelmed considering what the previous titles have given you.

Thankfully, you’ll never have to travel alone, as being the leader of the Inquisition allows you some allies to assist you in your adventures. Let me say right off the bat that this is my personal favorite cast of characters next to the friends you make in Origins. Just about everyone you meet in this game is both likable and useful in battle. You’ll see some familiar faces from previous games, such as Varric and Cassandra from II, as well as Morrigan and Leliana from Origins (the latter two being unplayable, unfortunately) and Cullen the templar from both of the previous games, each keeping with their personalities and showing off more depth to their characters depending on how things went in their previous games.

The new characters are awesome in their own right as well. You have Solas, an Elven mage with a deep knowledge of the Fade; Sera, a loudmouthed Elven archer with a penchant for mischief; Dorian, a mage from the infamous Tevinter Imperium; The Iron Bull, a Qunari warrior and mercenary leader; Vivienne, the First Enchanter of the Orlesian circle of magi; Blackwall, a Gray Warden with a dark past; and Cole, a spirit who you always want to hug for being so sad. All of them except for Cole are also romance options for your character, and in true BioWare fashion, nobody gets left behind. You have straight, bisexual, and gay options across the board, and each relationship is handled with genuine care and tact. You really feel like you’re in an honest relationship with whomever you choose. Each character is a great person to get to know either way (apart from Vivienne, in my opinion), and will all bring their own unique skill sets into battle, with none of them being useless. I stuck with Sera, Dorian, and Iron Bull for the majority of my playthrough, but I did switch characters around to get a feel for how they work in battle.

And now that I’ve mentioned battles, let’s move on to the actual gameplay already. This game attempts to blend both Origins and Dragon Age II into its style while also being unique in several ways. For starters, the game has a dedicated jump button now. Until you actually use it, you have no understanding of how amazing this one feature is. Not only will longtime fans be utterly amused at this novel concept for the series, but this also allows for a heightened sense of exploration within the world, as now you can travel to areas were nigh impossible in previous games. Hillsides and mountains are no longer obstacles like they once were, though you can’t climb everything for obvious reasons. I often found myself just jumping for the sake of jumping, and I guarantee that you’ll do the same.

Everything else is about what you would expect from the series, only with better animations, art styles, and a better overall combat feel. You still wind up running from place to place, exploring the lands, collecting resources, getting into battles, and encountering people to have a conversation with. A larger war map separates the various world maps. You don’t need the war map to enter each section, but it’s where you unlock a majority of it (I’ll explain later). In each of these lands, you’re basically doing the following: engaging in combat, collecting large amounts of resources, numerous side quests of varying type, and having conversation after conversation with important people.

The combat of the game attempts to combine the strategic elements of Origins with the action-oriented hack-n-slash style of II. You hold down the left trigger to launch a continuous stream of attacks from your set class. Warriors focus on tanking damage and delivering steady but powerful blows, with abilities focused on increasing defense and debilitating foes based on armor. Rogues are fragile, but quick. They deliver the strongest physical attacks, and do more damage through flanking and/or attacking from the shadows, with their abilities focused on the range of their flanks and how quickly their attacks come. Mages use devastating magic attacks at the cost of using better defenses. Their abilities focus on elemental attacks, as well as support spells that either help your party or cripple your enemies.

You can set action commands to the face buttons on the console or keys on your keyboard, and are customizable depending on how you want to play each class, though they each still have their strengths and weaknesses. The animations of each attack are marvelous, really delivering on how powerful some attacks can seem, even though they can bug out due to disproportionate hit-boxes and/or general animation quirks, like a stretching character model or them suddenly falling from the sky and landing feet-first back on land with no recollection of ever falling in the first place.

Besides that, the fighting is visceral and challenging, though not as gory as Origins (decapitations aren’t present anymore), with the enemy variety focused around using multiple classes. Have a knight who’s tanking damage with a shield? Have a rogue sneak up behind them and stab them to the ground. Is a mage teleporting away from your barrage of stabs? Have your warrior use a grappling chain to bring them back in. Is a larger foe tearing your health apart for getting too close? Use your archers and mages to try and stun them from a distance. The enemies are smart to try and get around these strategies as well, such as applying armor buffs or trying to use stun attacks on your party, which make them a fair fight even on the lower difficulties. There’s a lock-on feature that allows you to keep your attack focus on one enemy at a time, but it becomes problematic against larger foes, as the camera keeps the focus on their head rather than their general form, causing the camera to look more at the sky than the battlefield itself. I advise only using it against normal sized foes if you want to keep battles consistent.

Some battles against larger foes have a deeper element to them: attacking limbs. When facing creatures such as giants or dragons, you have to keep a focus on certain body parts, which take differing amounts of damage to each. The best part is that after taking a certain amount of pain, the creature will stumble on that limb, allowing you to make critical strikes against the head or body, depending on which becomes available. This makes battles even more strategic than before, especially when it comes to dragons, which are easily the most challenging and satisfying battles this game has to offer, though I wish there could be a way to climb onto dragons and kill them that way, such as in Dragon’s Dogma. That being said, the system here is nothing short of excellent in both execution and challenge factor.

Alongside the action-oriented elements, Inquisition also brings the return of the tactical elements option from the PC version of Origins. Using the in-game tactical view pauses the game so that you can either reposition or assign attack commands to your party while ensuring that enemies won’t automatically interrupt. After inputting each command, you can use a trigger to fast forward the action and see your plan take effect. The problem with using that view is that…well, that’s all there is to it. You can move the camera to see how the battle would look in normal view, but it doesn’t help much, especially since your party AI is intelligent enough to understand what their class is and work accordingly. You can also set their AI to use abilities in the tactics settings, but it only boils down to how often they’ll use certain abilities, instead of the deeper condition-based setup that Origins had, making the game more of an action-RPG than a strategy-RPG. That’s not to say that the game suffers for it, but it just makes your strategy focus more on thinking on your feet rather than calculating the benefits of position and ability usage for the long-term of the battle.

In another twist, you no longer micromanage player stats. Rather, you unlock equipment, such as armor sets and weapons, that allows your party an enhancement to their attack strengths. This also gives them a set stat boost for their abilities, a number you can see, but can’t manage as part of the leveling system. Specific classes and party members each have a unique set of equipment. You can even craft equipment from the various resources in the game, such as animal leather and metal, which each give that piece of armor or weapon a varying ability. These range from elemental resistance to much stronger health or stat boosts. There are four tiers of equipment crafting, and the higher the tier, the more difficult it is to find crafting equipment for that specific piece. There are even special pieces of crafting materials called runes you use to enchant your items and give them a unique property or ability, such as added fire damage or using certain abilities when you use them, regardless of which class uses them exclusively. Finding the right armor and weapon combination for your party is another great way to customize the game to fit your play style and give you an increased edge against your foes.

Defeating enemies is one of the ways to earn experience points, which increase your level to help unlock new abilities for your character. Another way to earn experience is to complete side missions, which are overwhelming in terms of scope and number. The side missions have a decent amount of variety in them, ranging from non-standard fetch quests (where the outcome becomes unexpected numerous times), locating and claiming camps, strongholds, and forgotten locations for use by the Inquisition – which in turn become places to do some shopping, crafting, and make modifications to your equipment – and helping people do various things such as locating lost objects or convincing others to join the Inquisition as an agent after aiding them with their own troubles. You also gain influence while helping people out, which thus increases the strength of the Inquisition as a whole. With each level of influence you gain, you get an Inquisition perk, which allows you to purchase a permanent buff to your character, whether it be inventory space, experience gains from certain tasks, and various other perks.

Side quests grant not only experience, but power points, a new element to the gameplay which allows you to unlock more areas in the game, activate important story missions, and customize your Inquisition stronghold. You use the power you gain at the war table, which is where you send your Inquisition agents in search of allies, information, resources, and equipment that would otherwise be boring or tedious to collect on your own. However, using certain agents for certain missions will yield different results and rewards, so deciding whether or not to send your diplomat, spymaster, or your military captain to aid someone in escaping a war-torn region will get you a different result for each. Some missions require only one of these agents as well, which means decisions aren’t as difficult as you’d imagine. These off-screen missions run around a timer system, which isn’t as bad as you would think. The timer runs even when you’re not playing, meaning you can come back to a game after turning it off for a few hours and find that you finished the mission, allowing you to immediately collect the reward. This further eliminates the tedium that timed missions usually contain.

You even get a hub area for the Inquisition’s stronghold, which you can customize with some of the side quests you complete. These options are mostly cosmetic, such as what your throne or bedroom looks like and what banners you fly for the Inquisition out in the field. Others can allow for resource collection like upgrading the gardens. This feature matters little to the overall progression of the game, but hey, a castle needs to look good too, you know.

The magnitude of activities you encounter here are only amplified by the fantastic voice acting all across the board – including a show-stealing performance by Freddie Prinze, Jr (yes, that Freddie Prinze, Jr) as Iron Bull – along with the great sound design, barring a few hiccups here and there. The animation quality has also increased, though with BioWare’s usual bugginess that causes character models to deform in and out of certain scenes, get stuck walking into a wall, and other such minor yet hilarious instances of misguided pathing. You also get to hear one of the most incredible soundtracks ever put into a game, which further enhances the fantastic nature of the world, as well as beautifully capturing the drama surrounding the events you find yourself in the middle of. It’s these smaller aspects that further engage the player into this wonderful role-playing experience.

But that wasn’t enough for BioWare it seems. Similar to Mass Effect 3, BioWare decided to introduce a multiplayer element into the game. This comes in the form of a co-op based run through gauntlets of enemies and checkpoints in the name of the Inquisition. You can choose between the major classes and a specialization for each class, and level up with the experience gained from killing enemies, obtaining chests, and other such deals. It provides a different kind of distraction from the main campaign, and further brings about the emphasis on cooperation in multiplayer that we’ve seen more and more lately.

The issue with this mode, however, comes twofold. First, the levels you fight through are lazy. The design follows a straight path with you facing waves of increasingly tough enemies at predetermined checkpoints, and that’s about it. You can obtain chests through special “events”, but that’s not enough to keep you engaged enough to continue, especially after coming out of the sprawling landscapes of the single-player campaign. The second issue is the reward system. You gain gold and silver for completing this mode, and this allows you to buy armor, weapons, etc. for your character. But then again, it’s difficult to obtain large amounts of either, so they instead opted to monetize these items for quicker access. These prices run fairly high, and may very well turn people away due to the mishandling of monetized items in games lately. Not a good thing when introducing this system into a well-received and highly popular IP.

With all that said, this is an absolute must-buy if you’re a fan of Dragon Age and fantasy RPGs in general. The stakes are higher, the world is larger, better looking, the characters are more engaging, and the overall feeling of role-playing is heightened further than it ever has been. BioWare sought to solve the mistakes made with the previous title, and they more than delivered on that promise. Is it perfect? Not at all. It can get tedious collecting resources, side missions repeat a few times, there are numerous animation glitches, the ending is lazy, and the multiplayer is sloppy. But aside from those minor issues that fail to detract from the larger glory, this is an adventure you simply cannot miss.

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