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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Version tested: PC