Dragon Age: Inquisition is exactly the shot in the arm this epic fantasy RPG franchise needed to avoid fading into mediocrity. Taking feedback directly from its community, BioWare have created an experience bigger and better than ever, and is arguably the most ambitious title the studio has ever produced (save for a particular MMO). And in case you were wondering, yes, Inquisition successfully washes out whatever bitter aftertaste still lingering from 2011’s Dragon Age 2.
While that game is undisputedly the “black sheep” of the franchise, it served as the driving force behind what transpires in Inquisition. Thedas is engulfed in a terrible conflict between mages and templars. The former seek to break free from the confines of the circle of magi, whereas the latter, the mage’s overseers, take it upon themselves to forcibly bring their charges back into line. Such a conflict threatens to destroy all of creation if not for the wisdom of the divine, head of the chantry, calling for a conclave in a desperate bid to bring an end to the fighting. Of course, things don’t go as planned. A huge explosion wipes out the conclave leaving a giant hole to the fade, a world filled with demons and spirits, in the sky.
This is where Dragon Age: Inquisition begins, in the direct aftermath of the conclave’s destruction. You assume the role of the only surviver of the explosion, a character who appears to have a strange mark on their hand linking them to the big old hole in the sky. Despite being under heavy suspicion of being behind the cause of the breach, you set out to close it, a task that sees you attempt to unify the mages and templars under the banner of an Inquisition, and one that proves an insurmountable challenge.
As a fan of the series, I’ve always been invested in the tales Dragon Age games have spun, and the one here is without a doubt the most epic. Pulling together characters and the outcomes of numerous plot threads from the previous two games, Inquisition paints a wide canvas narrative stretching from the wind-swept deserts of western Orlais, to the forest-infested mountains of Ferelden. Between the mage/templar conflict, the chantry’s lack of support for the Inquisition, as well as the general unstable political nature of Thedas itself, there’s enough twists and turns in the plot to keep you drawn in for its considerable length.
The scope of Inquisition’s story is matched by the sheer size of its world, which is hands-down the largest we’ve seen yet in a Dragon Age game.
As we’ve come to expect from BioWare, Inquisition enjoys a solid script filled with a robust and diverse cast of characters. Long-time fans will delight in seeing returning characters like Leliana, Cassandra and Varric – the last two of whom are selectable party members – while new characters like Iron Bull and Sera are a delightful in their own, unique way. The approval/disapproval system from previous games returns, but is far less susceptible to abuse by the player’s hand. Party member’s opinion of you are influenced by the decisions you make, be it when choosing the fate of an Inquisition traitor, or a simple dialogue option that might clash with their own personal beliefs. Like with any BioWare game, taking the time to talk to your party members is encouraged as it opens up new quest options, not to mention romance possibilities (Varric can’t be romanced, dammit!), and I am indeed guilty of spending far too much time chatting to Iron Bull. The guy’s a Qunari, and a badass one at that. I challenge you not to waste hours talking to him.
The scope of Inquisition’s story is matched by the sheer size of its world, which is the largest we’ve seen yet in a Dragon Age game. There’s a good half-a-dozen explorable areas to be found here, each enjoying considerable size to them. The first of these areas, The Hinterlands, sticks in my mind as a great example of just how big this game is. There was a moment early on while exploring this area when I was using a magical object to locate hidden shards scattered around the environment, I moved the camera over a faraway spot by mistake, only to find out there was a shard waiting to be collected. “I can’t go there, it’s too far away,” I thought. But I was wrong. I could go there, I could go almost any place I saw.
Despite its size, Inquisition enjoys relatively beautiful visuals. Built using Frostbite 3, this is the best looking game in the series, with EA’s new go-to engine breathing life into the world of Thedas in a way we’ve never seen before. Complimenting the game’s massive environments is remarkable draw-distance – at least on new-gen systems – allowing you to see far-off places, and all sorts of cool, under-the-hood technology like realistic lighting, shading and what not. Though what’s most impressive is how “alive” the world around you feels; Trees, grass and all manner of cloths and flags sway gently in the wind. It seems like such a small touch, but a lot of work has gone into not just ensuring the world is constantly moving, but it all gels together to make the player feel like they’re actually apart of the experience, and not just a passive participator.
For how impressive the game looks and plays, there were moments of frustration when some glaring technical problems arose during my time with Inquisition. Some were forgivable, such as pop-in textures, both during cut-scenes and entering new areas, or dropped audio whenever loading up a previous save, or following a cut-scene, whereas some were downright maddening. During some conversations, usually with a certain character whose name I can’t write, scenes would lock up, and the game would freeze thus halting my process. There was one particular scene where I had to quit out of the game and boot it back up again (Inquisition thankfully has a very forgiving auto-save system) several times before restarting my Xbox One resolved the issue.Though even then I still had to spam the X button to skip through, missing some of the conversation.
The variety in the different environments you’ll explore gives reason for pause, as each new area you discover will demand your eyes be glued to the screen so to soak up the atmosphere. After hours upon hours of journeying through forests and rain-battered coastlines, venturing to the sun-soaked sands of the Western Approach felt like I was stepping into an entirely new game. Of course this feeling wasn’t just limited to this particular example. Each area feels new and fresh enough with its own unique wildlife and ecosystem, complete with their own set of resources for you to collect and use to expand the Inquisition’s, and your own, resources. Then there’s dragons. These awe-inspiring beasts are a sight to behold, and the way they interact with the game world is remarkable.
But a big game world is all for naught if there’s nothing for the player to do, so thankfully, Inquisition is chock-full of content. Aside from the main story line, itself often divided up between more than one quest, there’s multitudes of additional tasks for you to complete; From closing random breaches in the fade, to establishing Inquisition camps, to just helping out people in need. At the time of writing my journal is bursting at the seams from not just quests I’ve obtained by talking to my party members, or those part of the main questline, but those I’ve come across from exploring the game’s vast environments. An example of just how much there is to see; I currently have 16 uncompleted quests in my log for just The Hinterlands, and I haven’t even fully explored the area. Fortunately quests are organised by location, meaning you won’t need to sift through your entire list to search for that one quest you want to finish up in, say, The Stormy Coast.
While boasting a massive amount of contents to keep players busy for upwards of 150+ hours is all well and good, it means zero if said content feels like it has absolutely no merit to the player’s wider gameplay experience (looking at you, Watch Dogs). Inquisition, however, ties all quests, be it something as small as investigating a village under siege from the undead, to helping out a stranger on a road, together. Everything you do goes towards bolstering your resources, whether it be opening up additional quests that lead to gold rewards, or additional agents who will become powerful allies. It’s all bound and shaped by what I like to call the ‘Inquisition system’.
As the Inquisitor it’s your task to oversee the Inquisition, and all that it encompasses. At its core this requires you to increase its influence by performing tasks tied directly to expanding its reach – establishing camps, closing fade rifts, completing quests that either are part of the main story, or directly contribute to the Inquisition in some manner. Your Inquisition’s level will gradually increase over the course of play, and at no point did I feel like I needed to dedicate time to specifically level my rank up. The more your influence grows, the more Inquisition perks you can unlock. Perks are divided up among four categories – Forces, Secrets, Connections and Inquisition – and enhance the Inquisition in a number of ways from opening up new dialogue options, that in turn will present more opportunities, to bolstering your inventory, to discounts at merchants, and more. But think long and hard before spending perk points since you won’t be able to unlock them all, so choose those that you feel will benefit your play style most.
While I very much welcomed this perk system, I did find it to be a bit rudimentary. At best it was a great way to upgrade your character – i.e inventory, earn additional damage bonuses, etc – that really compliments your role as the Inquisitor. It also made unlocking certain bonuses or new dialogue options, something which in the past has been tied to character traits, more interesting. But I feel it being tied to an entirely separate experience pool from your character’s might rub the more RPG die-hards the wrong way. And I totally get why, since I did sometimes catch myself thinking, “Hey I haven’t spent my perks yet, better go back to the war room!”, which annoyed me a little. I would have rathered jump into a menu and make the upgrades there. Of course BioWare’s reasoning here was to uncomplicate the standard RPG levelling system, making it both complex and streamlined enough to give hardcore and casual fans alike an equally enjoyable experience.
Pulling together characters and the outcomes of numerous plot threads from the previous two games, Inquisition paints a wide canvas narrative
This brings us to the war room, arguably the best new addition Inquisition makes to the franchise. Functioning not unlike the command centre seen in Mass Effect 3, the war room sees you lording over a map of Ferelden and Orlais as you pick and choose special missions, called operations, for your advisory council to undertake (whom I won’t mention by name in fear of spoilers). Each member specialises in three of the four perk categories – Forces, Secrets and Connections – and your decision on who tackles a particular mission depends on their strengths, and the time it takes for them to complete the task. For example, sending the advisor specialising in secrets to destabilise an outspoken detractor of the Inquisition may see that operation completed much quicker than the others. This mini-game of sorts is terribly addictive, and with no shortage of operations to take on I easily sunk far too much time going through them all. It’s almost a shame some of them require upwards of three hours in real-time to complete, though I guess that’s to stop players from sitting in the war room doing just this.
You can also launch quests, as well as unlock new areas for exploration, from the war room. Main quests and new areas require power points before you can access them, the number of which scales. Power points are obtained by completing quests, establishing camps, etc, and again highlights that everything you do in Inquisition ties back to the overarching ‘Inquisition system’. At its core, requiring a certain amount of points before you can advance the main quest line is arguably there to see players progress through the game at an organic rate. Inquisition’s difficulty, and indeed its many monsters, is dynamic, meaning you will come across missions and areas that are beyond your skill level. Ensuring players take a more steady approach to working their way through the game means you shouldn’t be faced with a situation where everything is overbearingly hard for you to overcome.
Taking away the game world, the visuals, and everything else, the one question no doubt burning on fans’ minds concerns Inquisition’s gameplay. There’s some serious discussion over which Dragon Age game did it better; Origins or its ill-fated 2012 sequel. The former offered the player a more tactical, hands-on approach that’s more akin to traditional RPGs, whereas the latter went down the more action-RPG path with fast and furious combat. Like a roaring force, Inquisition tears the combat system of both apart, and from the wreckage constructs its own that finds the (almost) perfect balance between both these apparent polar opposites.
Before you get excited, Inquisition is a streamlined RPG experience in that you won’t be adjusting attribute points, or micro-managing almost every square inch of your party member’s combat behaviour. But it’s good streamlined. For one, the inventory has been scaled back to a point where players will enjoy an uncluttered, more intuitive experience that’s easy for hardcore and casual fans alike to use. Everything has its own specific place, from weapons, armour (which has been condensed down as to avoid the aforementioned clutter), crafting materials, and even objects you can simply go ahead and sell for profit. I like a big old inventory just as much as the next RPG nerd, but the one here is possibly the best I’ve seen in a while.
If you’re looking for something a little bit more intricate in detail, look no further than Inquisition’s crafting system. With inspirations drawn from Skyrim, there’s a multitude of things you can do through crafting, from building your own weapon and armour from schematics using collected materials, to upgrading existing items, to infusing them with runes, and more. What I like specifically is how weapons and armour can be built from separate materials categories rather than specific item A or B. Instead, different materials gathered will influence your creation in unique ways. An example of this is using cotton instead of animal skin may grant you a bonus in magical defence instead of resistance to fire.
If you’re so inclined to do so, you can literally spend hours combing the game’s huge environments looking for all manner of materials so to create better arms and armour, which can only do well to benefit you in combat. Aside from being used in crafting, materials such as herbs and cloth can also be used to fill requisition orders for the Inquisition. Orders differ from area to area, requiring you to collect items either unique, or more commonly found in that place, after which completing the order will award you power points. There’s no limit to the amount of times you can re-do these requisition orders – your scouts will prompt you with the same order again each time you complete one – making them an easy way to quickly earn points, which later in the game become required by the truckload.
Okay, so I mentioned Inquisition strikes a balance between Origins and Dragon Age 2 when it comes to combat. On first glance everything looks and plays exactly like it did in 2, but has more weight to it. There’s a juicy layer of substance just under the surface that allows you to slightly adjust the behaviour of your individual party members, from when they’ll use health potions, to whether they follow or defend the player character, to even which of their abilities they will use more in battle. It’s not as meaty as the options available in Origins mind you, but I respect that BioWare wanted to keep this particular aspect of the game fairly simple so to encourage more players to utilise it. I won’t say I’m not disappointed by this decision, however, though the invent of the tactical camera more than makes up for it.
Veteran Dragon Age fans probably don’t need an introduction to the tactical camera, or tac cam for short, but here’s a quick overview; pressing a button on your controller will pause the game and the camera will shift to a bird’s eye view, you’re then free to move the cursor around selecting enemies, changing party members and lining up attacks. Whereas the default way to play Inquisition is fast-paced, utilising the tac cam scales the action back to a more cautioned approach.
One of the standout features with the tac cam is the ability to fast-forward the action without ever switching back to default gameplay. By holding down a trigger button you can line up, pull off, and then re-set up another wave of attacks repeatedly, thus granting you a greater deal of control over the battlefield. Additionally, it allows you to execute cross-class skills, which is the process of lining up attacks one after another that play off the strengths of the game’s three classes to pull off massive damage. This was something I enjoyed about previous games, especially Origins, where I could control more the abilities my characters used, and something I felt was lacking in Inquisition from the get-go. But once I started using the tac cam more, especially during more intensive battles, the more I began to realise its power, and what it allowed me to do.
The Final Verdict
I am floored by how much work BioWare have put in to ensure Dragon Age: Inquisition is the best game it could possibly be. It is obvious the studio took fans’ feedback onboard, working in what they wanted in a Dragon Age game, while making strides to drive the franchise forward in the way those at the top envisioned. And the game’s all the better for it. The story is epic in scope, with a massive world to explore that’s literally bursting at the seams with content, all of which is wrapped nicely around the titular Inquisition. Despite some technical issues, this is perhaps the best game BioWare have ever produced, and a game Dragon Age fans rightly deserve.