Voted most likely to stop all evil from destroying the land.
Given the choice between fantasy and science fiction, I’m more likely to sway towards science fiction and the foreign galaxies that allow for alien races, intergalactic laser fighting, and BioWare’s admittedly fantastic ability to weave the familiar with unknown races and forces in the Mass Effect series. It was Mass Effect 2 that got me to hungrily play through the original game before diving into the sequel and the finale. While the developer’s fantasy outings have received a lot of attention, I haven’t actually played Dragon Age: Origins or its embattled sequel, but it's about time I remedied that.
It was the number of new IPs that lost Dragon Age in the shuffle, at least for me and my own grasp of the franchise. Starting new for Dragon Age: Inquisition meant suspending any preconceived notions I had of the series. Thus, whether Morgan and Hawke carried their own plot lines into Dragon Age: Inquisition didn’t matter as much to me, but this will certainly carry weight for longtime Dragon Age fans. In that, Inquisition superseded my expectations both as an expansive Western role-playing game and as a compelling story that quickly wraps the player in layers of world-building culture shock and immediately likable characters.
BioWare starts players with the opportunity to import either their game saves or a world state from DragonAgeKeep.com in order to give them the most control over how Inquisition’s universe reflects the past. I skipped this, but it's evident that the company has learned from previous efforts in continuity. For one, offering such direct control over choices and path splits in previous games means there’s really no excuse not to jump into Dragon Age with this third release. [It allows for easy creation of wildly different world builds. ~Ed. Nick] Anyone questioning whether or not they’ll enjoy the game can ignore their worries of leading a party unawares to a mage rebellion or some other bureaucratic body. Where I couldn’t command the Normandy crew in Mass Effect without knowing who the Council was, Dragon Age: Inquisition essentially puts us at the center of a dedicated taskforce all itself.
The Inquisition, as a group and as a mechanic while stationed in camp, stands apart from the likes of the Chantry who at least in the early running stand opposed to the lead character’s amnesiac excuse. When the player is thrust upon the responsibility of saving the world, spymasters and politics and warriors come to his or her aid, though they really have no choice if they want to prevent the demons from pouring in. Discovered at the site of a murder, the player character possesses a mark on his or her left hand and remains solely capable of closing dark-energy rifts scattered throughout every area.
These moment-to-moment encounters drove me further and further into the game. Waves of enemies pour out of rifts and challenge players in combat relatively early on. In the Hinterlands, one rift poised high near a waterfall and adjacent to a farm killed me more than a few times. The powerful dark wizard that guarded it managed to disable my party and without exploring the health-minded skill tree deeply enough, my mage couldn’t support the warriors and thieves dealing most of the damage.
Managing your combat team proves to be Dragon Age: Inquisition’s greatest asset, at least where Dragon Age 2 detractors may be concerned. I think most criticisms regarding combat in the previous game had to do with just how many different layers needed to be managed, though Inquisition inevitably boils down into three primary styles of fighting. Combat can be tackled solo, such that you’re persistently casting and using special abilities with a single party member. Players can also push the DualShock 4’s touchpad to activate a tactical view of combat, target specific enemies with precise abilities, combine magic for devastating effects, and largely watch the AI do the dirty work.
While these two options supplies an engaging and wholly entertaining experience unto themselves, I was far more entertained switching between characters and casting magic or abilities at opportune times. This provides a healthier, more varied rhythm to combat. As options for party members grew with my playtime, so did the opportunities for maximizing effectiveness in fighting. Taking two mages into combat with an archer and a single warrior meant rotating between ranged abilities and stonewalling incoming damage with a strong shield. Balancing my party more evenly led to more thrilling victories.
In one encounter, somewhere past the hoity-toity politics of Val Royeaux, I blasted an enemy with my mage’s fire ability, staggering it and leaving room for Cassandra, a powerful Seeker you start the campaign with, to shield bash and disable incoming damage. After finishing this baddie, I used Cassandra’s grappling hook to pull another ghoul my way. Then I positioned Cole, a stealth-minded party member capable of disappearing on the battlefield behind this target to deal heavy damage with dual daggers.
In rotating between party members, Dragon Age: Inquisition hits hard on a satisfying combat loop that encourages use of every highly varied power and skill in the game. Moreover, you’ll find lots of combined effects that increase damage exponentially and turn combat into a satisfying endeavor that surprisingly never feels like a grind. That also has a lot to do with the way quests are doled out by both characters you meet and unique locations you stumble upon in the world.
Rifts themselves appear as soon as you enter a new area, though each is joined by nearby Astrariums and camps to set up. Astrariums present light puzzling in the form of connect-the-dot constellations that eventually lead to high-level loot while camps dot the landscape, offer fast travel, and allow you to replenish potions and fulfill requisition requests. So long as you return to camp, you'll have enough potions to explore as deep as your skill allows.
Still, Dragon Age: Inquisition does feature a few awkwardly mundane objectives. One early request sends players out to kill a set number of rams. This is typical for fantasy games, yet it’s easily the most boring piece of Inquisition’s first ten hours and changing the target to bandits, scattered at random throughout the hills, doesn’t make this better. Luckily, those quests fall by the wayside to rocket players into the next area with BioWare’s now beloved dialogue trees. Inquisition does this particularly well, though fans will probably find that it doesn’t set lines as starkly defined between “good natured” and “with attitude." Paragon and renegade styles of discourse get blurred through investigation and deep conversation trees.
Speaking with Vivienne, a mage you can discover and add to your party in Val Royeaux, I found that flirty or disagreeable dialogue options lead to predictable responses, but it didn’t seem to have the same audible oomph as in Mass Effect. My heroine’s voice actress bent to my whim when it came to politely engaging with new people, yet I still loved throwing the gauntlet down while discussing next steps with advisors at the war table.
My experience with multiplayer before launch proved exceedingly fleeting, though it'll inevitably wind up a fun distraction for players adventuring, chatting in a party, and eager to dig in for combat with a party of living human beings. Combining attacks, taking down larger bosses, and arguing over loot will give long-haul crusaders a healthy distraction from obsessively clearing areas of objectives and quests.
For a fantasy game presenting dozens of hours of gameplay, Dragon Age: Inquisition largely delivers on its promises, both mechanically and in gameplay that fans will want from the third title in the series. There’s loads of freedom, opportunities for adventure, and more gameplay than I could digest in a single week. I ran into a few system-locking bugs, but BioWare’s product is polished and presented with the player in mind. What Inquisition fails to do largely disappears in the vast and varied adventure that awaits both new archers and old magic-wielders, and I’m particularly taken with the way Dragon Age: Inquisition invites completely fresh faces to the franchise.
For more on Dragon Age: Inquisition, be sure to watch our discussion on GameRevolution Radio and click on the links above to read our Review Logs focusing on specific elements of BioWare’s massive world. You can also check out livestreams of the game before launch hosted by Nick Tan.
Copies provided by publisher. Review based on PlayStation 4 version. Also available on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, and PC.