Our Nation’s Review of Dragon Age: Inquisition

Developer: BioWare
Producer: EA

Release Date: November 18th, 2014
Platforms: PC (Origin), Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3
Reviewed On: Xbox One

In 2009, BioWare introduced us to the land of Ferelden — a small kingdom in the corner of the world of Thedas — in Dragon Age: Origins. It spanned dozens of hours of content with customizable characters, conversations, and companions. Two years later, they released Dragon Age II, which narrowed the focus onto a much more specific part of Thedas: the city of Kirkwall. While the game received a lot of flak for its unconventional hero and linear gameplay, it still progressed an over-arching narrative of the world, and it was a superb example of a roleplaying game.

On November 18th, BioWare released Dragon Age: Inquisition, the third and most impressive entry into their series. Inquisition ups the ante on every single front, letting you explore every part of Thedas and effecting change on a worldwide scale. You play as the Inquisitor (or “Herald of Andraste”), a completely customizable character. You design everything on your person, from nose size and shape to ear length and width. The only drawback of the extensive creation tool is the lighting; when makeup and lip color is done, it looks markedly different in-game than in character creation. This can be somewhat irritating if you went through a prolonged creation, only to have clown makeup on when you begin with your character.

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Inquisition drops you right into the story. Your character is part of a mysterious and disastrous event, in which a massive explosion has killed most of Thedas’s ranking religious and military leaders, and spread “rifts” throughout the world that are letting demons cross over and wreak havoc. You’re initially a prime suspect in causing this event due to a magical anomaly on your hand (known as “The Mark” or “The Anchor”), but the events in the tutorial lead to your exoneration, and you’re asked to help in the investigation. What follows is an incredibly long and entertaining journey of exploration, combat, customization, ruling, and delegation.

While completing quests, you’ll gain Power points and Inquisition perks, two separate currencies that you’ll be required to use to access new missions and purchase Inquisition perks, which can grant you various perks to dialogue, experience, combat, and numerous other areas of gameplay. For instance, you can use one of your Inquisition perk points to unlock extra dialogue on the history of the world, which gives you an alternate way out of several difficult scenarios. There are also perks that unlock extra potion slots, lower merchant prices, and provide you with crafting materials. The major world map takes the form of a war table, where your advisors surround you and spout off banter while you look at what’s next. Each new area costs power points to unlock, and various optional objectives cost more power points as well. However, if you’re a completionist and map scourer like me, power points will never be a problem. I currently have an excess of 200 power points, and the most expensive mission I encountered was 30. Completionists for the win!

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The war table is also where you’ll be dispatching your agents and council members on quests. The quests take a specific amount of real time, so if you decide to send a follower on a mission that says 16 hours to complete, you’ll be waiting 16 real hours until you’re able to complete the quest and reassign the follower. Luckily for us, this time passes while the game is off, so there’s no need for leaving the console on for extended periods of time. When dispatching your council on quests, you’ll be able to choose from three different members: your diplomat, your spy, or your soldier. Each of their abilities will effect the outcome of the mission. If you’re trying to stop an assassination attempt, you can send the diplomat to warn them, the spy to find the assassin, or the soldiers to guard the target. Each council member will have a different completion time, depending on their specialty as it relates to the mission, and a different outcome. Sometimes I chose the much longer mission times because the outcome was something that was more agreeable to me. Once, I helped a young woman join the Inquisition when her father would rather her stay home and be wed away. If I sent my soldiers, she would be kept home and forced to do her father’s bidding. If I sent the spy, she would quietly “persuade” the father to let her stay in the Inquisition. However, I sent the diplomat, and she engineered a situation that proved the father’s foolishness publicly and kept the daughter in our organization. It’s all done through text, but the stories are just as compelling and unique. It’s a very nice touch!

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Combat is a large part of Inquisition, and it will drastically change depending on your class and play style. You’re able to choose between warrior, mage, and rogue — each has their strengths and weaknesses relative to the others. Whichever class you do end up choosing, you don’t have to worry about being locked out of unique abilities. The party members you acquire make up all three classes, so you’re still able to bring all three classes on missions. As a mage you’ll mostly be at a distance, casting spells from fire, frost, electrical, and spirit elements. As a warrior, you can tank with a sword and shield or go berserk with a two-handed weapon. As a rogue, you can choose between archery or daggers, using stealth to your advantage. I picked mage, as I did in the previous two incarnations, because who doesn’t love some good casting?!

While fighting, your companions will auto-attack and cast spells on their own, while you control your own character. If you like micro-managing, you’re able to pause the game and enter a tactical view, which lets you issue orders to each party member individually. The combat is in real-time, so I found this to be mostly time consuming, but your mileage may vary. I did find that unless properly set up in the character menu, my party would act like useless dolls, staring at me while they were under attack or standing still as I was fighting for my life. This led to some incredibly frustrating moments, and perhaps some instruction on how to properly set your party up would have prevented this. BioWare has removed healers from the game, and this decision has caused a fair bit of controversy. I personally enjoyed being a healer, but Inquisition turned on the potion game. Your party carries a set number of shared health potions. You can tell your companions when they can and can’t use them so they’re not guzzling away your lifeblood, but once your potions run out, you have to return to a camp to replenish them, which can be a frustrating task. Overall, healers would have been very nice to have in this game.

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The dialogue, as in all BioWare games, is top-notch. It’s very easy to be dragged into the setting and story, and to truly feel for the characters and companions you come across, thanks in large part to the voice acting. Different classes and races have different dialogue options, which can in turn cause different outcomes for varying situations. Playing as a mage, you’re often able to select a “Mage only” option in the dialogue tree and offer unique insight or ask specific questions. It’s a great little addition that lends a ton of replayability and fun encounters. You’re also able to romance several of your companions depending on your class and race. This takes place over a large portion of the game, so you truly feel like you’re getting to know your companion, and you actually begin to care what happens between you two. As the main story progresses, you also unlock missions for each specific companion, gaining their loyalty and trust. This can be anything from finding and stopping a previous rival, to seeking out their family to keep them safe, to scouring the world for old books for them.

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While I’m on the topic of the loyalty missions, I need to bring up the art. The drawn 2D art in this game is spectacular. For party selection, you’re presented with a hand of cards, and each card face is a stylistic representation of the party member. I personally think the styles are fantastic, and the cards change throughout the course of the game. Say, at a particular point in the story, a certain companion is going through a rough time — their card will change to reflect this, with the companion looking sad, downtrodden, and the colors taking on a dark and bleak tone. Once you fix this situation, the cards change yet again to your companion in a bright setting, smiling or inspired, doing what they love. It’s a small touch that made a world of difference for me. On the same token, the art inside the game’s codex and on the walls in various buildings is so fun to look at, I’ve found myself going out of my way to find it.

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The graphics in Inquisiton are phenomenal. Many times, I wished Microsoft would have implemented the screenshot feature for the Xbox One by now. Sprawling vistas, snowy mountains, idyllic pastures — nearly every type of terrain and landscape is represented, and it’s done extremely well. Buildings look properly ruined, the cobblestone is patchy, and rubble is more than just a texture. The combat animations are fluid and bright, and having magic flying in all directions always ends up looking epic. The weakest link in the graphical chain is the character models, as they’re not as photo-realistic as the world. Having said that, you begin not to notice when most of your attention is tuned to the world.

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I took note of the music in Inquisition the first time the game booted up. Its sweeping theme plays on the main menu, and I had to force myself to leave it behind. There are several musical moments in the game during cutscenes and fights that are especially memorable. Veteran series composer Inon Zur did not return for this installment — Trevor Morris took over. He did an incredible job, and I’ve been very happy that the deluxe edition of the game came with the soundtrack.

If you take a moment to peruse any forum, you’ll find plenty of people complaining about bugs in Inquisition. I must have been fortunate, because in my 180+ hours of gameplay I only noticed a handful of bugs, and none of them were game-breaking or even interfering. More often than not, just a weird quirk or glitch that would remove me from the moment. I was lucky!

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And yes, I said over 180 hours. I’m a total completionist. I scour every zone from top to bottom, look for any interactable objects or loot. I talk to every NPC I can, complete every secondary quest, and find every collectible scattered throughout the world. Not only did that take me over 180 hours, but I’m pretty sure I’ve missed stuff, because there are still holes in my codex! The game is absolutely massive, and you can’t fault it in terms of content. On top of being so huge, the replayability is off the scale, if only because of the endless changes in dialogue and decision. It will definitely be a while before I discover everything there is to know about Inquisition.

Aside from some of the insanely epic moments in the main story, my favorite part of this game has been the dragon fights. The dragon animation is so smooth and fluid, they seem graceful. For one of the first times in a game, I’ve actually felt bad about killing these awesome creatures (until I remember they’ve been terrorizing and torching their respective countrysides). The fights are challenging without being infuriating, and they’re just frantic enough that you have time to enjoy the whole spectacle of fighting a giant dragon in its lair, while it jumps around you and takes off at various points. It’s truly one of the greatest moments in gaming for me in a long, long time.

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If you haven’t been able to tell already, I don’t have enough good things to say about Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s a steal no matter when or where you get it, and it’s a shoo-in for Game of the Year. It’s one of the first games in a long time where I’m eagerly anticipating any DLC they may add, just so I can continue my story a little longer. If you’re even vaguely interested in RPGs or Dragon Age in general, there is absolutely no reason to not buy this game.

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