Dragon Age: Inquisition Review

Do you even rift?

As with its predecessors, Inquisition has an innate focus on team-based combat and decision-controlled narrative. You can once again choose their character’s gender, their race, and one of the three archetypal RPG classes: Warrior, Rogue or Mage. From there, they are thrown into a pre-existing world that is either the result of decisions in the previous games, or a default world-state.

Having played the two previous games, I made sure to use the Dragon Age: Keep online service to upload my saves. However, Origin was a little finnicky with my Steam based Dragon Age: Origins save file, and decided that I would have to manually enter all my decisions from that game.

After a painstaking hour of clicking through my delicately made choices and sneakily altering those I regretted, I had my perfect world. Despite this, the game occasionally fed me lines of dialogue that didn’t quite line up (such as the Hero of Ferelden being a female), but overall it stayed true to the universe I had nudged in the direction of my choosing.

With previous BioWare releases, there has been some animosity over the futility of choices, and the inescapable linearity of their plot. In Inquisition, each of your decisions makes an impact; every choice you make will slightly, and immediately, alter the world around you. What makes this all the more refreshing is the range of decisions you will have to make. Although some of these choices rely on starkly contrasting points on the moral compass, others are less clear, with a handful of genuinely difficult decisions at certain points in the plot.

As would be expected, these do not transform the game beyond recognition, but subtly adapt the world to your whim. New allies will gather in your stronghold, new enemies will appear in each area, and your missions will reflect the political situation you have created. Compiled with its steady pacing, Inquisition gives the feeling of accomplishment at each milestone, reaching the perfect balance between respecting the player’s decisions and following the tracks of a pre-existing plot.

Although the plots of BioWare games have hardly been groundbreaking, Inquisition continues their pattern of rectifying a lack of the unexpected with a believable universe, rich history and accessible lore. A major benefit of Inquisition and its plot is that each character is a representative of a group of people, a skillset, or an idea. This allows the game’s lore to coalesce with a rich cast of characters, resulting in the most interesting and unique set of followers yet.

It takes clichéd character roles (a socialite, a scholar, a mercenary) and adds enough humanity to make them feel unique. Rather than being caricatures of what they are initially presented as, these characters reveal great depth as their relationship with the protagonist grows. In their usual manner, BioWare have created a diverse selection of characters, from all walks of life. Unlike many attempts in video games to include minorities, their portrayal in Inquisition is dealt with tactfully – especially so with a trans NPC that the player will meet in the game’s second half.

DAI-Team

We’ve focused on the story and characters of DA:I, but where its true majesty lies is in its expansive maps. The first map of this kind that the player sets foot in, The Hinterlands, has a larger area than all the maps of DA:O and DA2 combined. Each of these maps plays like a game in itself, with its own characters and conflicts, territorial struggles and area-specific enemies.

Generally, progressing in these areas involves battling for territory. By clearing certain areas of enemies, or by performing side-missions, you can spread the power of the Inquisition and push back the forces that fight against them, be them humanoid, monster or demon. After a certain point, you’ll be able to capture entire areas filled with high level enemies, and create new strongholds. It’s a great mechanic that encourages you to revisit old areas in an attempt to discover these keeps and to take them for themselves.

Each map is unique, both in its visual and mechanical design. For example, one involves capturing multiple trenches and pushing enemies back, while another involve riding on horseback through vast expanses of wasteland and ruins. The variety is incredible, and fleshes out a world that we’ve only had glimpses into until now. Progressing in the main story is controlled via the war table, where the player can view a map of the overworld, with points of interest highlighted. From there, your three advisors are sent to complete tasks, which are completed in real time, and can yield results anywhere between influence, items and story progression.

After certain criteria are met, new areas and story-missions can be unlocked by spending your power that is gained by completing side missions and gaining territory in each map. This way, Inquisition manages to contain its plot to a handful of episodic story missions, each of which are a couple of hours long, and has you spending the meantime explore its enormous world, gaining influence and allies as they gather more power.

DAI-Keeps

The combat has had several new features added that give it a much stronger focus on strategy. Potions are now capped between 8 and 12, rather than the near limitless number that could be carried before, healing spells are virtually non-existent, and health bars have two new protective layers over them – guard for warriors and barrier for mages. These new additions mean that defence and support in combat play a much larger role than before, as reckless attacking will quickly result in death.

It actually has a feel akin to an MMO, with downed teammates now being revivable by adjacent allies. This works well when transitioning from single player to multiplayer, where four people can play together online and go dungeon crawling together, with characters built specifically for multiplayer mode. For the main part, it involves fighting through rooms of enemies, occasionally being healed, and trying not to die before completing the final zone.

The multiplayer mode was both better than, and exactly what I expected. It lacked the intrigue of the main game, due to the loss of exploration, characters and story, but used the same solid combat, with skill trees that are more finely tuned than the main game’s protagonist. Each class is limited to two trees, rather than the usual five and more, but these are a combination of abilities from other trees, combined into specialist branches for characters to perform specific roles.

The multiplayer is primarily based on combat and, of course, loot. Although this is only a fragment of the game as a whole, it remains a fun and addictive addition to the base game. Sadly, there are no local co-op or LAN options, but for players with friends who have a copy of their own game, it’s definitely worth playing through a couple of dungeons – to improve their combat strategies,if nothing else.

DAI-Multiplayer

Despite my praise for the gameplay in DA:I, there were some mechanical issues that I couldn’t find peace with. For one, your character no longer moves to where you click the mouse (on the PC version), and will only interact with objects they are facing and are immediately next to. In combat, this comes in handy – you won’t find yourself running next to an enemy if you click in the wrong place – but outside of fighting it makes interacting with NPCs and objects far more frustrating than it should have to be. Although it is forgiveable, there were also poor transitions in conversations, from one line of dialogue to the next. It made it clear where conversation branches would start and end, breaking the immersion, and the illusion of choice.

As a whole, Dragon Age: Inquisition is stunning. The current generation of games is capable of more, but Inquisition remains a beautiful, well crafted game nonetheless. Landscapes, weather and atmosphere effects all run smoothly, and the game’s engine (the Frostbite engine) can process a surprising amount of action without flinching. However, conversations do not always run as smoothly as combat, and some areas, although not obviously full of particle or lighting effects, can be more graphically intensive than others.

The game is not only visually beautiful; its musical score has a track to fit every situation and blends perfectly with the setting. Music is used to great effect to differentiate between the two countries (the ‘British’ Ferelden and ‘French’ Orlais). Even in taverns, there are a collection of bard songs that will keep you standing within the bar’s threshold to hear the lilting notes of whatever song the minstrel is coming out with. Sound effects are spot on too; whether for monster calls, attack impact, or tones when navigating menus, they all sound exactly as they should, and as satisfying as you could hope for.

What’s Good:

  • Enormous maps and volume of content.
  • Loveable cast of characters.
  • In-depth combat, improved on previous instalments.
  • Decisions have a visible impact on the game.

What’s Bad:

  • Story becomes somewhat predictable.
  • Minor mechanical issues and bugs.

Dragon Age: Inquisition is incredible. It’s formidably long – around 40-50 hours for the main story, and hundreds more for absolute completion; it has a great cast of characters and, despite its predictable plot after the end of the first act, it makes some nice touches on the overarching themes of the series, and pays more respect to your decisions than any BioWare game before it.

If you haven’t played a Dragon Age game before, now is the time. While Inquisition isn’t completely welcoming to newcomers, there are plenty of resources both in and out of the game to catch you up on what you’ve missed. If you’ve already played the first two games and haven’t picked this up yet, what are you waiting for?

Score: 9/10

Version tested: PC

15 Comments

  1. I am so so so so excited for this game. Hoping it will arrive today and then I can spend all weekend with bloodshot eyes from playing to long.

  2. If you haven’t played the first two games like me (excluding a few hours of Origins), then I recommend using Dragon Age keep first. It’ll act like the visual novel at the beginning of Mass Effect 2 on PS3, and get you mostly up to speed.

    It’s one of the prettiest games of the year, with an incredibly detailed world and definitely a GOTY contender in my book. That horse-riding animation tho…

    • While my copy of Inquisition hasn’t arrived yet, I’ve had a look at this Keep thing everyone’s been mentioning.

      It’s probably a useful thing to do while waiting for the postman. It gives you a good reminder of what happened in the previous games (and all the DLC), and I’m assuming it’s the only way to get the decisions from the PS3 games into the PS4. (Although it doesn’t seem to import them anyway, just let you make all the big decisions again, or make better choices).

      What’s wrong with the horses? Are they horribly animated, as usual?

      • Well, the horses themselves are not that bad (no Red Dead of course), but your inquisitor magically manages to keep his (or hers) torso completely still, even when the horse is running.

        It looks so jarring I prefer to walk anywhere. There’s always quick-travel between several sports for lengthy trips.

      • I meant spots, there’s not much time for sports during a time of war.

      • Except at christmas, when all the fighting stops for a game of football. Using golems as goal posts.

        Which is all fine until a dragon eats the ball.

  3. Sorry for double post, but I wanted to chime in on the mouse-pointer issue. Unlike Mass Effect, this does support controllers on PC. And it’s clearly been designed with dual sticks in mind.

    It hurts that we can’t navigate menus with the d-pad though.

  4. All sounds like a massive improvement over the disaster of DA2. Tales of people spending 20 hours before really getting started on the main story quests? 40+ hours for the main story and 2 or 3 times that to do everything? DA2 took me about 20 hours to finish, doing pretty much everything I could find. Although after a few hours I wasn’t trying that hard to find things to do. Start quest, go to location on map, press X to kill stuff, finish quest. Looks like we’ve got a lot more to do this time.

    Just need Amazon to deliver it in a timely fashion and then I’ll be busy for the rest of the year.

    • My SO (Hannypoppie) and I have been loving it. We stayed up late last night and started the Origin version on the PC (at midnight). Even when the dialogue being a bit “oh, that gap was a little too long” where it’s dealing with the branching dialogue, it’s still very enjoyable as you’re seeing the personalities and character traits shine through with each party member – whether you like them or not!

      It runs very, very well on the PCs (slightly older card in Hanny’s machine but still smooth on Medium to High settings).

      A couple of reviews I’d read mentioned playing the game for over 80 hours and still returning for so much more. One of them noted that he’d only killed three out of ten dragons (or something like that). I loved the sound of that as it means there are some major things to do even with the core missions/plot out of the way.

      Enjoy yours, fella. :-)

      Sam – thanks for the review. Very much appreciated and has already resonated with me even with the handful of hours I’ve put in.

      Oooo, MrYd. I’ve heard a few reviews mention how “everything was pleasant, nice to look around”, etc., then it really, REALLY opened out after the 10 hour mark or so. It went from “this is nice” to “this is brilliant” when something happens. I don’t actually know what happens but can’t wait to find out. :-)

  5. I was hoping that this would arrive early this morning, but alas no, so i won’t get chance play it until Monday now.

    This makes me sad :(

  6. Was just in the middle of writing about how the post had been today and my copy wasn’t among it, and as if by magic, some surly looking guy comes and pops it through my letterbox as I’m typing. Think I might finish tweaking that Keep thing before I start it. Like in the review, it refuses to acknowledge any progress in Origins but does track how many trophies I received…

  7. My copy arrived on Wednesdsy!!! So as you can imagine I was incredibly giddy. Feeling a bit tired from lack of sleep having managed almost 9 hours of play. DA:O is one of my all time favourite games and this so far is amazing.

    My wife stopped playing on the iPad when she saw the graphics at the coast. It is truly beautiful. As a bystander she had also enjoyed the story and regularly asks questions about the lore. Also been enjoying the puzzles (the constellations) and she kicks me off!

    Buy buy buy

  8. After about 6 hours playing it yesterday, I’m very, very impressed. If I wasn’t off to Birmingham today to see James (the band), I’d just sit down in front of it all day. As it is, I’ll have to wait until I come home before playing it all night. I suspect the chances of me doing that and getting away with it are quite low. Which is fine by me.

    There’s far too much to do in the game though. I can see where this talk of 100+ hours comes from. I’m trying to be a nice mage and be all helpful (sometimes I like to do that, for some reason), so I keep finding people to help. Can’t even remember what the main quest I’m supposed to be doing is already. And lesbian picnics. Why does it have lesbian picnics? And a waterfall that doesn’t have a secret hidden cave behind it? I thought all waterfalls had that?

    Not convinced by the war room stuff so far. It’s like the bits in Assassin’s Creed where you’d send an assassin off to do something and then just wait. But less interesting. Just gives you some options, you pick one of the three, and then something happens later?

    Tomorrow then. I shall play it all day. Maybe.

    And I’d agree with “Buy buy buy”. 6 hours in and it’s already about seven times as good as DA2.

    (And yes, I might just have put a few song titles in that post for anyone of at least a certain age with certain tastes in music. And by a few, I think I mean 9)

    • In a strange 90’s music revival coincidence the reason I’m unable to play this game is because I’m in London to see the last ever Carter USM gig.

      I have put no deliberate song titles in my comment though.

  9. It is superior to DA:2 in every way imaginable. The game is huge and I’m talking Bethesda huge. The game mechanics, while retaining a some of the mechanics of Origins, borrow (well stole) heavily from The Witcher and Witcher 2 which is no bad thing and as a result imo, it feels like a hybrid of Origins and The Witcher 2 which is a nice bonus. I’m about 40 hours in at the moment and I am still doing mainly side missions and resource gathering and fully expect I’ll still be playing 40 hours further in. It’s ace and deserves all the love it’s getting from reviews and highlights, quite rightly what an absolute mess DA:2 was.

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