Three and a half years may as well be a lifetime in the video game industry. That’s about how long it’s been since we last saw an installment in the Dragon Age franchise, and we’ve seen critically acclaimed RPGs take many different directions since then. We’ve hiked the open (and often hilariously glitchy) world of Skyrim, survived the savage expeditions of two Dark Souls games, and taken a trip back to old school PC RPG gameplay in Divinity: Original Sin.
When you play Dragon Age: Inquisition, you’ll see shades of all of these RPGs and more, tied together with developer Bioware’s time-tested storytelling skills. Can Inquisition carve out a unique identity among all of the RPGs it strives to imitate?
Thrust Into Greatness
Inquisition opens to your custom made hero crawling from the aftermath of a magical catastrophe. You’ll soon learn that you’re more than just a lucky lone survivor. Fade rifts are splitting open all across Thedas, pouring supernatural horrors into the world. You alone bear a magical brand on your palm that grants you the power to seal said rifts back up.
You’re quickly recruited by The Inquisition to aid their quest to cancel the apocalypse, but they’re not the only ones eager to put your power to use. Soon you have the attention of everyone from desperate commoners and crafty politicians to mad wizards and admiring adventurers. They all want a piece of you, some figuratively, others literally, and no amount of running from your strange power can keep you out of the limelight. Whether you accept your new lot in life with a selfish hunger for power, a benevolent vision for all mankind, or something in between, the choice is yours and it will impact the world in meaningful ways
The main story will take you several dozen hours to complete, and it’s home to incredible environments, memorable decisions, and riveting gameplay. You’ll assault keeps, attend a masquerade ball rife with intrigue, and stare down hulking dragons before it’s all over, and the rush of facing it all with your personal Inquisitor will leave you hungry for more.
For added personal investment, you can even build custom world states from all of the critical decision points in prior games at Dragon Age Keep. The feature isn’t descriptive enough to give new players enough context to make informed decisions, but hardcore Dragon Age fans will love the ability to tailor their world’s history without needing a save file.
A World Of Adventure
Inquisition turns you loose in a world of fantasy adventure very early, and you’re almost never tied down to a single destination to explore. Thedas is composed of discrete zones as opposed to Skyrim’s continuous open world, and the result is a game that feels satisfyingly vast. You’ll wander the verdant valleys of The Hinterlands one moment, and fast travel to the desolate deserts of The Western Approach the next. Load times are long during these transitions, but when they finish, you’ll have a huge, beautiful zone to seamlessly explore.
There’s a lot to do in each zone, but none of the open world adventuring holds a candle to the main story set pieces and adventures that flesh out your allies. This free roaming content is where Inquisition actually stumbles a bit. You’ll have to do a fair portion of it to gain Power, a political currency you spend to open new zones. Bioware has crafted amazing encounters, endearing characters, and engaging moral and ethical questions that come together to make the main storyline’s finest and most memorable moments. It’s a shame that you’ll almost certainly come to a point at which you’re hungry for the next chapter, but you won’t have enough Power in the bank to open the new zone.
At that point, you have no choice but to head back into the game’s more generic content, a subset of which is identical in each zone. Closing your 3rd open world fade rift is a thrilling feat. Closing your 23rd one is a chore. Likewise with collecting shards, and when Varric, your wisecracking Dwarf companion, quips, “Who makes a lock that requires this many keys,” it’s not particularly funny when the answer is, “Bioware.” You could focus on only the more interesting tasks in each zone, but as you stumble across the ordinary quests, concerns about having enough Power to keep things moving will likely nudge you toward the dull-but-efficient route of completing anything that crosses your path.
There’s a lot of combat in Inquisition, so you’ll be relieved to hear that it’s exciting and challenging. Part of the challenge comes from the fact that there’s no healing magic in the game. Instead you’ll have to rely on your camps in the open world, and supply caches in story missions, to refill a limited stash of potions as you adventure. Without unlimited healing, you’ll need to make smart use of defensive tools to avoid succumbing to attrition, and Inquisition definitely provides.
Both Guard and Barrier effects can provide you an extra pool of points that deplete before enemies can deal damage to your health. You can also taunt, guard, dodge, and slip into stealth to mitigate even more damage. It’s tough to keep track of it all across four party members at once, but those who master it can spend way more time in the field before returning home to patch their wounds.
Though Inquisition’s combat has you controlling one character in real time by default, it’s hard to get a grasp of everything on the battlefield from that perspective, particularly if you’re wading into the crowd as a warrior class character. Thankfully, you can view the battle from an overhead tactical perspective, issuing commands to your whole party and advancing time at the push of a button. It’s a welcome feature, as you’re only given a few limited tools to shape the behavior of your AI companions, and it’s all but required to win the game’s harder battles. The further I got into the game, the more I favored the tactical battle mode. You’ll just come out of battle in better condition if you use it.
You Are The Inquisitor
Back at your headquarters, Inquisition does a spectacular job of making you feel like a powerful ruler. From your war room, you’ll preside over a grand map of the continent, and your commander, ambassador, and spymaster can dispatch agents to the far corners of Thedas at your command. Need more resources for crafting? Send your troops to gather them. Did you find a shattered bridge on your latest expedition? Have your engineers rebuild it to open more of the zone.
You’ll also play puppetmaster from the war room, issuing commands to have rulers taken out of power, or dropping a hint that a cocky noble family had best stop implying they have an alliance with you if they value their health.
As you grow in power, so will your holdings grow in complexity. There’s a wide array of upgrades to unlock for your keep, from simple cosmetic changes, to crafting schematics critical to building exactly the weapons and armor you want. Your Influence, a counterpart to the Power resource described above, accumulates at your headquarters as well, and earns you perk points that can do everything from expanding your inventory size to opening themed conversation options on topics like history and magic. If you love scrounging for resources to gain every little upgrade for your empire, Inquisition will give you plenty to do.
Another exciting perk of being the Inquisitor is your ability to dispense summary justice from your throne. Personal enemies will be dragged before you, and you’ll need to decide how to deal with them. Whatever you do makes a statement about your rule, and your allies will applaud or resent your decisions according to their tastes. How will you sentence someone who did terrible things under the influence of dark magic, and begs to die for it? Are you willing to execute criminals, or is that off the table no matter how remorseless the guilty party? If your friends play Inquisition too, comparing answers could lead to fascinating conversations.
The Inner Circle
Without a doubt, the real stars of Inquisition are your companions, and every last one of them benefits from stellar writing and voice work. There’s enough variety among them that you’re sure to find a few with whom you identify, whether you’re a fan of The Iron Bull’s sincere brotherhood, Josephine’s dutiful attention to family obligations, or Vivienne’s haughty noble air. Among companions that can adventure with you, lighthearted incidental banter keeps things fresh, and sometimes even accounts for combinations of 3 party members at once.
As is Bioware’s custom, all of these companions have detailed story arcs that you can follow to gain their greater loyalty, or even love. I could go on and on about specifics but I don’t dare risk spoiling any of the funniest and most sincere moments I’ve seen in video games. Whether you’re determined to complete every companion’s tasks the first time through, or you just pick a few favorites is up to you. There’s certainly an argument for saving a few of those arcs for a second or third playthrough.
The few things that don’t work in Inquisition are far outweighed by the numerous things it does right. The story is simultaneously epic and personal, the cast is endearing and sympathetic, and character customization gives you strong control over your playstyle for the game’s detailed combat.
New players may miss some references to the two prior games, but never too dependent on its predecessors to be understood, and longtime fans will revel in the references to adventures past.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is out now. Don’t miss it!
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