An Age of Dragons
Disclaimer: We got a 360 copy for review, well after I'd bought the Xbox One copy of the game - so I've reviewed the Xbox One copy of the game and it's right up there on my: Buy This Game RIGHT NOW list.
Dragon Age:Inquisition marks the third game in the Dragon Age saga from Bioware, and after a mammoth amount of time spent in Thedas between Dragon Age:Origins, Dragon Age 2 and now Inquisition I can say that I found this instalment to be one of the best. Whilst I could take or leave the cooperative multiplayer for reasons that will become apparent later on, Inquisition has some of the best single player roleplaying action and adventure since my forays into the Witcher games.
What sets Inquisition apart from the other Dragon Age games is definitely the cast of characters, especially the Tevinter Mage: Dorian and the imposing, hilarious and extremely likable: Iron Bull, one of Thedas' warrior race: the Qunari.
It's the cast, the intricate way that they interact with the world at large and each other that really makes Inquisition a joy to play. I'm on my second playthrough with a human mage now and doing things a lot differently after spending just over 100 hours on the first play of the game, playing a human rogue and filling enemies with arrow after arrow. I went for the archer build.
I have a Qunari warrior and a dwarf stabby rogue in the wings too, so I don't just play humans.
Character generation is simple, effective and doesn't faff about with too many options - the time you'll spend here is in the cosmetic side of chargen. This has a decent slew of options, sliders and other things to play around with and unlike the previous games, you'll get the same character pretty much when you finally see them in the game world.
So, what is Inquisition's game world like then?
Massive, not as massive as Skyrim in terms of one single landmass but it's got lots of themed areas that are brought together by a world map and unlocked as you progress the story. The Hinterlands is where you can spend the bulk of your early hours with the game and between this area alone, Haven (the starting village/HQ) you'll easily clock 20-30 hours if not more as you explore everything these places have to offer.
You have mounts for the first time in a Dragon Age game, from horses to ... well, I'll let you discover those on your own. You'll need that mount too unless you want to run everywhere (I did mostly, because I didn't want to miss a single bit of the game's huge areas).
The game is packed with content, from the main story quest, where you take on the role of the Inquisitor and attempt to close a demon-filled breach that threatens to destroy Thedas once and for all. To the many side quests, ranging from convoluted affairs to short-sweet little nibbles of gameplay designed to give you some neat loot. In many areas you'll be establishing the Inquisition's presence, taking camps for your cause and closing Fade Rifts to stabilise the location... it all feels very good and heroic.
Exploring each area brings XP rewards, money, loot and more as you complete each challenge (and there are a lot of them).
You'll interact with your cast of NPCs and learn what makes them tick, perhaps embarking on a romance with one of them or making the best of friends out of a seemingly impossible to read character. Unless that character happens to be Sera, the one character that I couldn't gel with and made certain to leave out of everything pretty much.
If the writer's concept of Sera was 'be as annoying as hell' then kudos, they got it perfectly right.
Yet for every Sera there's a Cole, Varric, Dorian, Viviene, Cassandra and company who are all beautifully written characters - especially the Iron Bull, who has layer upon layer of complexity that you might not see until you begin to talk to him between missions and learn how he thinks, what he likes to do.
Bioware have succeeded in creating a world that lives, breathes and reacts to your in-game actions through its extras and NPCs. Not only that, they also created a world that reacts to your actions in terms of game mechanics through their neat World Master system, essentially a GM that sits back and adjusts encounters and other variables as you play.
Depopulate the bear population, bears encountered go down for a while until that population builds back up. Or it's replaced by another, nastier predator.
It does other things, but we won't go into that right now.
Doing quests and getting XP lets you level up. It also rewards you with Influence and Power. Power allows the Inquisition to perform various tasks on the War Table and Influence is the Inquisition's XP bar - get enough and you'll gain a new perk for your cause. Perks can range from bonus XP to additional resources for your crafters.
The War Table is where you pick the next story chunk you want to take on, find a new area to explore, discover a secret area that was previously hidden and send your agents out to accomplish time-related tasks that can net you sweet rewards (new loot, various items and so forth) - you can choose one of your 3 advisers for this task - picking from Cullen, Josephine or Leliana - each one of them has their own way of doing things and this often reflects in the time in takes to get it done.
The clock runs in real time and it's not game dependant, which means you can either embark on a new quest, explore a bit or turn off DA:I and play something else - returning later to check on your progress.
Levelling up is simple, you can pick a new ability from your skill trees and that's it. You can do the same for all your Inquisition cast or leave the game to auto-level them for you with the press of a button.
Taking cues from Dragon Age 2 and refining the various systems that were introduced in that instalment, Dragon Age:Inquisition presents itself in two ways in regards to combat. You can play the whole thing in real time, using your abilities and attacking with the various face buttons and triggers... switching between character with the D-Pad. Or you can drop into tactical pause-time, issue orders, advance time slightly and see the actions play out. This allows you to adjust the zoom level, the location and see information on your enemies/allies in a fairly clean manner.
Having the option to slowly move time ahead is great, since you can see that incoming fireball and issue a new order to your mage to cast barrier (defence shield spell type) or move a character out of the blast radius/impact zone.
It's not a perfect system by any means, but it's nice to have that option and kudos to Bioware for putting it in.
You can use various abilities in conjunction with others to create combos, combos that cause devastating amounts of damage to your foes.
It can feel a bit limiting to only have four face buttons for abilities, plus the right bumper, with attack on the right trigger. But you soon get used to it.
You'll need to get used to it too, because there are 10 High Dragons to smite and they are the game's epic BOSS battles which require tactics, thought and sometimes several attempts to get right. Thank the Maker for a 'Save Anywhere' function and intelligently designed auto-saves that make the game a joy to play.
Inquisition has a nice, robust and interesting crafting system that lets you make/modify your weapons/armour and keep many of their bonuses intact as you go from item to item. Later on you'll unlock runes and even more impressive masterwork options to allow you to make the set of your dreams and look badass to boot.
Hey, good looking!
Frostbite 3 is a great engine and it's used to solid effect here in Dragon Age:Inquisition, delivering the best-looking Dragon Age game to-date. Some of the vistas Bioware have created are truly impressive and some of my favourite areas are the Storm Coast, the Emprise Du Leon and Western Approach - but they're all equally amazing in their own right. Gone are the randomly thrown-together lack-lustre environs of Dragon Age 2 replaced by gorgeously hand-crafted adventure zones that are huge and packed with lots to see and do.
A sound strategy!
It's not only the writing that deserves praise, especially Iron Bull and Dorian, it's the voice work, sound work and music of the game that all combine with the graphics to create a gloriously epic world that you truly want to save. From every quip and line in the banter system, to the throw-away lines from extras out there in the wide world, reacting to the Inquisitor in all of their glory, the game shines through with world building at every step of the way brought to life with solid performances.
Then you have the NPCs, Cassandra, Cullen and so on. Their actors have gone above and beyond for this game and deliver their lines with great character.
So many little touches
There are so many little things in Dragon Age:Inquisition that make it worthwhile, your home base later on becomes increasingly impressive and has numerous secrets to be uncovered. The War Table adds a strategic layer to the game, you can judge people at your throne like in Fable 3 and there's even more I don't want to spoil if you haven't yet played the game.
Seriously, get this one, it's a great game and well worth the price of admission.
Cooperative Monster Slaying
There's a Diablo-esque 3rd person hack/slash cooperative game mode that's robust, fun, but fairly vanilla once you've gone through the areas a few times. Some more variety would have been nice, a lot more randomness to the routes - what you do get though is solid enough and being able to play various Inquisition classes like the Assassin and Necromancer is pretty cool.
You can craft new armour to unlock these classes, or buy some item chests using the in-game currency.
EA have put the typical monetisation in the game, which is only to be expected. Sad to see, though. You don't have to use it, but for anyone who wants to short-cut their character's loot collection, the option is definitely there and tempting.
The game doesn't seem to reward you as much as it could with awesome loot, compared to the fantastic single player. I feel this might be intentional due to the Dragon Age Platinum item/healing chests in the monetisation system - the temptation as I said, is there to buy one or two chests.
Still, it's another slice of gamecake on the table and it's good cake too.
Not much value for anyone who isn't into cooperative game play however.
The great thing is that you can totally ignore it and just play the single player without it impacting your play experience at all: BONUS!
There are a few, but Bioware are still working to fix them. The recent patches have made huge improvements to the gameplay and added feedback requested changes/features. The load times can be a bit of a wait, but they are loading in a huge chunk of area. To give you a good idea, DA:I is shorter loading than Assassin's Creed:Unity, but still takes a bit of time.
Soon there will be an option via the Black Emporium to change your Inquisitors features, and buy some pretty epic weapons... this will be free as an update to the game. As for other DLC there's a piece of free mp DLC and an upgrade to the Digital Deluxe edition if you really want that.
Is DA:I worth it?
I picked this as my GotY 2014, so yeah, it's definitely on my worth it/must have/buy this now list.