Review: Dragon Age: Inquisition – High End Fantasy

Review: Dragon Age: Inquisition – High End Fantasy

Bioware brings back high fantasy in an epic way with Dragon Age: Inquisition. Inquisition is definitely one of Bioware’s more ambition projects, with this being the biggest RPG they have ever made. We aren’t just talking the areas to travel, we are talking more companions, more lines of spoken dialogue, as well as features such as mounts and multiple playable races. Dragon Age fans, the game you’ve always wanted is finally here.

At a summit to attempt to resolve the growing Templar/Mage conflict at the Temple of Sacred Ashes, a huge explosion wipes out all that attend with the exception of yourself. Instead of being incinerated, you wake up with a mysterious green mark on your hand. This explosion ripped a hole in the sky called the Breach that spits out demons from the Fade but each side is too busy accusing each other to realize the Breach could bring the end of the world.

In order to close the Breach you need the help of the Inquisition, a newly formed organization who took it upon themselves to seal the Breach and fix all the world problems. The big issue for the Inquisition is no one in Thedas or Orlais is taking them seriously because it’s mostly a small group of refuges and a handful of soldiers.

That’s where you come in, to help increase the Inquisition’s power and influence through making making alliances, each race you could choose has their own backstory and reason to be at the site of the explosion. I personally liked the concept of my character playing reluctant hero, as it makes the premise a bit more unique.

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If you’re new to Dragon Age all this may sound like fantasy nonsense. It’s a lot to take in but Inquisition does a pretty decent job of slowly introducing you to the entire state of the world; if it’s one thing the series does well in supplying a ton of non-intrusive lore. The Codex is perfect for those who love to fall down a fantasy rabbit hole about Red Lyrium, Elves and Grey Wardens.

The story really comes together after the first act when the Inquisition settles into a new castle, The Skyhold Keep. It’s here where you actually get to see the fruits of your labor pay out. The keep is constantly evolving and new things get added every time you come back from a new quest. After I recruited a group of mercenaries I came back to the keep to find the throne room renovated, where I sat in judgement for a number of troublemakers.

Skyhold is where you’ll interact with your companions and learn more about them when they aren’t shoving swords inside demons faces. As far hub towns are concerned, this place constantly feels like it has a growing population as the Inquisition becomes more powerful.

The companions are still my favorite part of my time with Inquistion. Fan favorite Varric brings his roguish charms to the battlefield. I will admit that the newer characters like Blackwall or Solas come off a little one note until they get to like you and open up. This is actually the case for a lot of the characters now that I think about it.

Dealing with the hard-ass Cassandra was a pain in the neck until she opened up to me about being Seeker, which helped explain why she’s so mean all the time. The big stand outs are Iron Bull, the giant Qunari merc who actually has really cool motive for joining, and the wacky elf Sera, who’s just crazy.

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It’s tough to talk about my favorite moments without getting in spoiler territory but it mostly has to do with familiar faces making incredibly badass returns. Overall, you really do feel like this is a world you helped forge over the course of three games. It ties up a lot of loose ends in clever ways — not just for this game but for Origins and Dragon Age 2 as well.

Decisions have an even bigger impact this time around. Making friends with one group means that you’ve foes of another. Your companions also are heavily impacted by the decisions you make. For instance your anti-mage agenda may end up costing you a follower if their disapproval rating is too high. There are some instances where you can’t avoid these scenarios but that’s makes Dragon Age so great. You can’t please everyone. You can tell that Bioware brought their “A” game when it came to the writing Inquisition.

In order to increase the power of your Inquisition you’ll need to venture out into the world and perform heroic deeds or anything else that expands the organization’s power. Finding and establishing camps not only provides a safe haven for your party but also a fast travel location and place to replenish potions. Each camp found gives you +1 Power. The reason you’d want to accumulate power is that this is how you progress through the main campaign.

Every story mission costs “X” number of Power that is deducted from your overall total. For example, early on you can try to gain favor with the Templar but to get an audience you need 15 Power. So after a bit of adventuring in the Hinterlands, a dense forest outside of Redcliffe, I net some Power by establishing camps, killing rogue Templar and helping out farm folk. It’s a smart approach to keep you from just powering through story missions. The game wants you to be part of their massive open world.

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Speaking of open world, Inquisition is packed to the gills with content. The world of Thedas is broken up into enormous worlds inside of the Kingdom of Ferelden and Orlais. The earliest zone, The Hinterlands, is easily bigger than any area in Origins or 2 combined. Don’t be surprised at any given moment you have over 30 active quests. All the quest are meaningful and all work towards improving your Inquisition.

Early on must complete a quest to unlock a mount. Once you get your horse, a couple of optional quests pop up to assist you in securing farmland. Once those are completed the stable master is so pleased with you that he joins your cause, sets up shop in your castle and sells different (and cool looking) mounts.

These kind of surprise rewards occurs so many times in the game. You do something that seems trivial only to have it pay dividends. Doing the bare minimum will give you a 30-40 hour game but taking the time to aid others, as well as complete a multitude of other quests, gives you a much more fleshed out 60 plus hours experience.

The war table also adds a neat little meta game to your awesome to-do list of heroism. Here is where you’ll select you story missions, along with sending agents on operations. These operations are done in real-time, so I tried timing them out in a way so I always have people out while I sleep to cash in the rewards in the morning. My only gripe with this system is that some missions could take 15 minutes realtime while others could be 10 hours.

Inquisition knows how to keep you busy. More so if you want to complete every mission, perform every operation, or give the online a try. The war table missions connect you to world in a new way and also give a better sense of how the  Inquisition is working the political scene. You also can get some pretty sick loot, so always have your agents in the field.

Another factor to watch for is Influence, which increases your Inquisition level and allows you access to Inquisitors Perks. Perks fall under four categories: Forces, Secrets, Connections, and Inquisition. Some perks will do things like increase inventory space while others can increase XP gains. My favorite and most useful was “Deft Hands, Fine Tools” which lets any rogue character open up masterwork locks that usually contain some insanely good loot.

Joystickin' With Jorge - The Crew (Beta) Screen Shot 2014-11-10 10-00-57

This title is absolutely gorgeous courtesy of the Frostbite 3 engine. The environments are huge and give a amazing sense of scale, such as the grey shores of the Storm Coast. Its a good thing there are beasts you can mount that let you trek across this large landscapes at a brisk pace. Character models benefit the most from the Frostbite 3 engine, with Bioware being able to sell the dramatic moments with nice closeups and a wider range of facial animations.

The more visually impressive moments in the game come with the stellar weather effects; it has some of the best snow and rain I’ve seen in a while. The fancy engine isn’t without problems though. Inquisition has its fair share of texture pop-in and I also found load times to run a bit on long side on the Xbox One version. I also came across some weird bugs that forced me to do a hard reset.

Here’s a video of some of the silly bugs/glitches I came across while playing. There’s a clip of a mean Chantry lady getting punched in the head I accidentally left in there, though. I don’t condone hitting women, but I do condone hitting anyone who speaks ill of my Inquisition.

The semi real-time combat is really all about positioning. Attacks can be dodged and parried while Mages and Archers on the high ground could decimate you before you reach them. However, the fighting can be paused for a more tactical approach, which is perfect when dealing with enemies who carry shields or when you want the group to focus on certain enemies first.

The Mage, Warrior and Rogue class all have four different paths they can follow, providing some variety in gameplay styles. Good party diversity is key for taking on some of Inquisition’s more difficult later challenges, like FREAKING DRAGONS.

Difficultly can be changed on the fly so if you want to put on Casual and get through the game by holding the attack button, you can and still have a fantastic time. Personally, I recommend playing it on a higher difficulty once you get a handle on all the skills. It was pretty rewarding pausing the game and planning out an attack strategy and seeing some poor Darkspawn explode when Dorian blew them up with a fireball after I’d poisoned them. Good times!

I decided to go with a Rogue using a dual dagger path with some points thrown into stealth and poison skills. I was able to enter every fight by going invisible, coating my knives with poison and going in for the back stab for major damage, since flanking bonuses are your best friend when you’re a sneaky rogue.

The status effects can be stacked are meant for big damage. Poisoning someone then freezing them in place will increase the damage of the poison damage. The experimentation to find out which move combos work well together is fun, but just be aware whatever you can do your opponents can also do.

The combat itself is where I had a lot of issues. Turns out most encounters can be handled by exploiting the poor A.I. and geography. An early boss fight against a Qunari bandit leader occurred where I simply ran away from his stronghold towards a steep stair case that just made him circle back and forth between my party members without attacking. Once that happened my mage and archer made short work of him.

Inquisition does feature jumping for the first, which is awesome when traversing since hopping up a hill was one of my preferred methods of climbing mountains in Skyrim. The problem with jumping around all over the place is that you may have one or two party members get stuck behind a tree while you fight someone. Didn’t ruin my fun, just an odd issue that happened sometimes.

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The multiplayer has you and three buddies fight through randomized dungeons on three maps. You start off with three classes but can unlock up to 12 the more you play. You can level up, gain gold and customize your online characters the same way you did in Mass Effect 3 co-op. There’s no tactical camera here meaning you can’t pause the combat, making this a more action heavy affair.

The narrative tie-in for the co-op is that you’re playing as Inquisition agents checking out places your main party doesn’t have time for. This would have been a great opportunity to have group dialogue or for a new way to flesh out what you’ve been doing in the single player.

There’s none of that here. You basically kill monsters, get loot and repeat until you hit level 20. Once you hit 20 you can re-roll that character and level up with bonuses like +1 Strength added to every level up on top of the usual level stats. I think the problem here is that there’s no real big incentive to play the co-op. If you told me that playing the online would unlock exclusive gear or a fancy new throne for my Keep then I’d have a reason to slog through it. To be honest I think most people will be so busy with the single-player to even bother with the multiplayer. This feels more like a missed opportunity than a let down.

Dragon Age Keep is a website where you can actually create the current world state for Inquisition by reliving your Origins and 2 choices, since is no way to import your saves from previous games. This is important since you’re choices are way more interesting than the default vanilla world state. Big decisions like Alistair’s fate at the Landsmeet in Origins or who Hawked sided with during the Mage’s uprising in Dragon Age 2 all factor in the current title in really interesting ways. This adds a load of replay value especially if you want to play other characters.

The main story is chop full of direct references to these major and minor decisions. I strongly recommend you go here prior to starting to game to set up your world especially if you want to see your time playing the first two titles pay off in Inquisition, but if you never played a Dragon Age game, you’ll still be fine with the default world state. You just may have to dive into the Codex to know what the hell everyone is talking about.

The sheer wealth of content inside Dragon Age: Inquisition alone is worth the price of admission. Your decisions carry more weight and change the world in unexpected ways. Despite some mild annoyances involving the combat and random technical hiccups and forgettable multiplayer,  I couldn’t put down the game for even a minute.

The best part about Dragon Age is how you take complete ownership of this world you’ve invested so much time in. For better or worse, you made this happen with your decisions and it shows. This might be the epic fantasy RPG you’ve been waiting a good long while for. Hell, it may just be the Dragon Age game you’ve finally been waiting for.