After the sterility of Dragon Age II’s environments and combat, I was hoping, praying even, that Bioware would be able to reconcile their first two Dragon Age titles into a beautiful, patchwork tapestry. This particular textile would need to be seamless in its craft and portray a grand story fit for the fascinating world of Thedas and its innumerable political struggles — most of which Bioware promised during its development cycle. Now that the metaphorical patchwork has come out, I can say with reassurance that Dragon Age: Inquisition is nothing short of a masterpiece. An intriguing story, a wonderful cast and a robust, entertaining gameplay provides more and more excitement the deeper you delve into it.
Aesthetics (Story, Graphics, Sound)
You play as the Herald of Andraste, figurehead of the Inquisition and the only person capable of closing the demon-infested rifts. Thrust into the middle of countless civil wars and political struggles, your choices affect the world and characters around you as you journey across Thedas in an attempt to restore order or conquer the land. The story is highly engaging and well-written, if a bit heavy-handed during some allusions . Dragon Age: Inquisition’s predecessor was criticized for being to binary in its decision options, but DA:I rides a balanced line when presenting the player with moral ambiguities. You might find yourself needing to choose an alliance at one point; one supports freedom but recklessness while the other is more authoritarian but will save more lives. This example is representative of many of the choices you’ll be asked to make and very few have a clear outcome or ethical transparency.
One of the most important aspects of any Dragon Age game is the strength of its characters and their interactions/dialogue. Dragon Age: Inquisition boasts a varied crew of Inquisition agents who will join you on your adventure, from a foul-mouthed Qunari to a stalwart Warden to an Orlesian enchanter. Some familiar faces rejoin your party, like Varric and Leliana (albeit not as a playable character), and while I’ve heard some unhappiness over their changes in personality, I rather enjoy the change. Varric, for example, has become more cynical since his adventure with the Champion and as a result is a bit more hardened; it’s a character arc that occurs between games, adding depth and expanding on an already established character instead of rehashing the same jokes and casualness. In terms of writing, the dialogue is strong between the characters minus a few cringe-worthy moments. I found myself drawn into each character’s plight, their hopes and aspirations, and in general discovering how they came to be where they are. They are an engaging and a superb cast that makes me want to travel on foot with them rather than going solo on a mount.
For the visual aspect of the game, it’s a gorgeous title in a sense. The Frostbite 3 engine powers the game’s graphical and physics-related components and it does an incredible job rendering the game’s brilliance on the PS4. However, what I meant when I said “in a sense” is that to some, the glossy, clay-like texture over every character, creature or environment model could be unpleasing. It’s not a look I think everyone would agree on aesthetically as rock faces and certain metals look too soft, but technically the clarity and sharpness of the diverse landscapes shines through the doughiness of each model.
Gameplay (Combat, Systems, Mechanics)
Taking a page from both Dragon Age: Origin’s and Dragon Age II’s playbook, Dragon Age: Inquisition features a third-person action oriented combat with a few elements of tactility thrown in for those harder encounters. Most of the game can be tackled by simply utilizing the action-style gameplay, running up to darkspawn and bandits alike spamming skills and dealing damage wildly and exuberantly without discretion; in fact, on normal mode, that’s pretty much all you’ll be doing. The standard difficulty is relatively low for its description and offers little to no challenge. But that’s what the Tactical View and Hard/Nightmare difficulties are for. In these modes, you’ll find yourself employing a lot more strategic movements and commands via the isometric Tactical View, which turns the action heavy spammer into more of a chess match with blades. It’s a comfortable, much-needed middle ground between the gameplay styles of the first two games, each of which divided a lot of its fan base.
But where Dragon Age: Inquisition truly stands out is in its content and the sheer amount of land to explore and quest in. Touted as an open world experience, the game does not technically feature an open world; the land of Thedas is separated into zones which can be entered from a map overview. However, each zone is so expansive that well into the game’s run time (around 120 hours if all the extras are attempted), there are still black, uncharted areas in the individual areas. It’s a lot of land to cover and there’s a lot to do in it. There’s the standard “open world” fare — mind-numbing collection quests — but mostly there are quests with multiple approaches. For example, early on you are given the chance to infiltrate a mercenary outfit; you can either charge the band head-on or you can collect and craft a certain item that will let you challenge their leader. Whether its quests or exploration, there’s a lot to discover in the game and the satisfaction of glimpsing into a new area or uncovering some new lore never tires even into the final stretches of the game.
Character customization is back in Dragon Age: Inquisitions and with it some changes to the RPG customization in general. Skill trees, in the fashion of Dragon Age II’s trees, are still present along with specializations unlocked after completing a certain quest. Unfortunately, stat allocation is automatic in this game, preventing certain builds to be assigned to characters or the player character which does diminish a bit of the companion customization. However, a welcome return is the ability to change your party members’ armor and aesthetics, which has now been converted into chest piece and helms only with the gloves and boots acting as customizable modifications. There’s a lot of gear to collect in the game and the crafting mechanic sees to it that there is more content to search and scavenge for; there’s a lot to do in Thedas and Dragon Age: Inquisition makes sure each and every step in collecting these customization options is satisfying.
Lastly, there’s the war room council and the ability to act as the Inquisition’s general. This system allows you to allocate certain Inquisition resources to resolve conflicts, acquire information/supplies or open up new areas. It’s a nice little system that ultimately serves as an interesting mechanic to further diversify the game’s choices and consequences. However, a more important role that the war room council takes on is that of the perks system. Instead of having individual character perks, now they are bought as an institutional upgrade that filters down to all characters. This does detract from the individuality and potential uniqueness of each character, but still retains a wonderful amount of range while upgrading your party as a whole.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is easily on track to being Game of the Year in this reviewer’s opinion. A stunning visual aesthetic coupled with a phenomenal story and an immense, immersive gameplay experience are executed in an enjoyable, near flawless manner. Though this game is brimming with excellence, there will always be bumps in the road, such as not being able to allocate stat points anymore, a somewhat unchallenging normal mode and a few technical bugs here and there. Despite a few minor hiccups, this game is well worth the 50-120 hours that can and should be spent exploring its realms, characters and mysteries. I’d recommend this game to everyone as a must-play title, even if you haven’t tackled the first two in the series, though I highly recommend you play those as well.
Final Score: 9.5 / 10
Written and Edited by Tim Atwood