Originally, Inquisition’s online multiplayer started out as its own standalone game. During the development of Dragon Age II, BioWare used the Frostbite 3 engine to create codename “Blackfoot”. Although never released, the co-op dungeon-crawling experiment lives on through the series’ latest instalment.
Running parallel to the events of the singleplayer campaign, Inquisition’s online component allows players to take on a series of covert missions. As one of twelve unique characters, you will rally together in groups of four, tackling numerous objectives while raking in experience points, gold, and loot. In many ways it feels exactly the same as Inquisition’s solo portion and even works in more complex elements such as crafting.
There is one obvious difference, however. Instead of controlling an entire ragtag squad, you will slip into the mantle of a single agent, customising them to your own liking. To start off, there are only three options available, including the Legionnaire, Archer, and Keeper (read: Warriors, Rogue, and Mage) with the rest being greyed out. You’ll no doubt feel a pang of disappointment to begin with though working towards unlocking the remaining agents is one of the multiplayer’s biggest incentives.
In terms of actual gameplay, Inquisition remains identical whether playing online or off. The only major change is that everything is done in real time with no pausing, doing away with many of the campaign’s tactical overlays. It’s a change of pace, sure, though one that is absolutely necessary in multiplayer.
After being matched with three other agents, you’ll be deployed to one of Inquisition’s three multi-tier co-op dungeons, taking players to locales such as Tevinter and Orlais. Each dungeon is divided into five zones that harbour their own objectives, from escorting messengers and gathering supplies to taking down assigned targets. In truth, we would like to have seen a bit more variety. After a few hours of continuous play, things soon start to become repetitive due to the limited number of objectives, tilesets and enemy types.
Then there is also the grind to consider. Levelling up isn’t an excruciating process, though gathering loot can be a real slog. Unless you’re constantly switching between agents, you’ll always have your eyes on very specific pieces of gear suited to your character. For instance magic-users naturally have no use for greatswords or plate mail, meaning these items are immediately recycled. Although these unwanted goods can be salvaged for materials, it’s a drawn-out process.
In true EA fashion, there are shortcuts available – for a price, of course. Whether desperate for loot or looking to top up your supply of potions, a few quid will net you a healthy stash of goodies instantly. It’s not unlike the free-to-play business model we see being used for games on mobile and tablet, albeit without the added perks such as daily log-in rewards and the such. What is also a shame is that cold hard cash can’t be used to straight up buy locked characters – you still need to gather all the required materials.
Parallels can certainly be drawn between Inquisition’s online co-op and that found in BioWare’s last AAA hit, Mass Effect 3. Both successfully manage to rework their core mechanics to suit a multiplayer environment, even if the execution is slightly ham-fisted. Aside from that there is the presence of micro-transactions and, more importantly, room for expansion.
Log into Mass Effect 3 today and you’ll see plenty of new free content to play around with. From bonus characters and equipment to maps and enemies, BioWare continued to build on what many thought a superfluous add-on. Let’s just hope Dragon Age: Inquisition gets the same treatment.