If there’s one thing Bioware are known for, it’s depth. Whether it be the usual intense amount of character customisation, the myriad of gameplay content or the relationships between characters in your party, it’s rare to be disappointed. After taking the series in a new direction with the divisive Dragon Age 2, can they please everybody this time around with Inquisition?
Upon starting a new game, you’ll be prompted to either import decisions you may have made on the ‘Dragon Age Keep’ website, or start up a new land with all major decisions from the previous games arbitrarily made for you. After this, its decision time already as you’ll be made to make a fairly important choice regarding your class. With two rogues, two warriors and a mage to choose from, making a decision is difficult, as certain weapon types, armours and skills are restricted by class. Warriors can only wield either a short-handed weapon and shield or a two handed implement of death. Rouges, no matter which variant you opt for, can only equip either daggers (with the possibility of dual wielding them) or a bow; whilst the mages opt for staffs and staves.
If you’re ever a little disheartened by your characters aesthetic customisation in RPG’s of late, be belated no more as Inquisition features more sliders than you could ever wish for! You can create any kind of monstrosity you desire, fairly easily as it turns out, but it’s worth making them look at least vaguely acceptable due to the fact you’ll be staring at them for the best part of 80 hours.
Once you’ve spent an inordinately large amount of time making your (anti)hero look just right, it’s about time to feel overwhelmed and bewildered in the vast sweeping spaces of Inquisition’s open world areas. Starting off ruddy mysteriously, you’re quickly accosted, accused and deemed untrustworthy several times over by various different people, all within five minutes. Fortunately, the people of the realm respect gratuitous violence more than a few sweeping statements; letting you gain a little reputation and respect via helping slaughter a few enemies.
After completing a few main missions, the game opens up in such an immediate way, it’s genuinely daunting. Once you travel to the Hinterlands, you’re given free range of the area, letting you explore as far as you dare push the limits of your slowly accruing levels. It’s around this point you may wish for a little guidance or a few explanations regarding some base mechanics. A couple of useful pointers from me, being that you can fast travel to both the compass and tent-like icons on the map, once you’ve discovered them of course. Another, more fundamental mechanic being that there is no health regeneration outside of combat without using potions, save for a select few skills that rely upon killing enemies. Whilst the party’s health (and your potions) can be restocked at the aforementioned camps, it’s worth keeping an eye on your health at all times. You can revive your teammates if you’re out of medicinal supplies, but they’ll only come back with critical health; with often the best option being to run away like a ‘true hero’ and quickly get to a camp before getting overwhelmed.
Combat itself can be fairly straightforward or rather strategic depending on your use of the tactical view. In normal combat, you can hold R2 to continuously attack with your basic strike, whilst mixing it up with special, stamina/mana attacks you’ve acquired through levelling up. Whilst you can, to an extent, utilise positioning aspects to flank, gain height advantages and generally ‘outwit’ the enemy simply by manoeuvring your character during battle, in some cases (especially on higher difficulties) you’ll want a little more control. A stab at the touch pad zooms out the camera to an overhead view and pauses combat, letting you get your bearings of the situation. Not only can it be easier to see exactly what’s going on, but specific instructions can be given to each and every party member including moving them to specific points, targeting preferred enemies and supporting other members should you see fit. Also adding another layer of control to your squad is a behavioural system nestled in the menus where you can decide whether they should conserve potions etc.
When you’re not either sneaking up on a bandit or getting walloped by a bear, you’ll likely be talking to some NPC or another, especially with there being so much potential dialogue on offer. Aside from the countless quests available, party members and key figures to chat with, lore and background codex entries are dotted about with reckless abandon in every area, rewarding you with slight amounts of XP upon picking them up. The blessed dialogue wheel thankfully returns, along with potentially helpful icons which represent what sort of tone you’ll be taking the conversation towards.
The sheer amount of content cannot be overstated enough; we’re talking Skyrim-esque levels here. The initially confusing ‘War Room’ will eventually allow you to unlock several enormous areas, each packed with quests, collectibles and secrets that’s guaranteed to put a smile on any true RPG fan’s face. In fact I was well over twenty five hours in before receiving the most lavishly satisfying homestead I’ve ever had the privilege to get lost in. Nine potential companions await your decision this time around, including some you may recognise from previous games. The majority of which can also be lost to reasons like betrayal and arguments, so play nice if you want to keep your happy family! An entire crafting system awaits your attention, requiring you to collect schematics and harvest until you’re sick of picking Elfroot. Another nice feature being that for the first time in the series, you can now ride mounts too, varying from the classic ‘horse’ design to horned stallions befitting of such a world. The list of content honestly goes on and on; you’ll constantly be finding new things to see and do, well after you’re tens of hours into the game.
As much as it pains me to say it, there are however some downsides to address. Firstly, equipping both yourself and your party is just plain fiddly. Not only can’t you compare currently equipped gear to the loot you find out in the wild, but when you do, you have to suffer through far too many unnecessary button presses. Combined with the fact you can’t use the D-Pad on any menu, save for cycling teammates, makes one of the most satisfying aspects to an RPG, simply a chore. For example, if you examine a piece of armour, compare it to your equipped character and then decide it might be better off on someone else, whilst switching characters, the cursor will often change to an entirely different piece of armour, further adding confusion.
Another sore point can be the potentially frustrating traversal on some of the maps. Routes between points aren’t often clear, instead giving you the incentive to go for it ‘as the crow flies’. Often leading you towards a non-too steep mountain, there are often areas that look like goat paths that should be climbable, but aren’t. Whereas other times, you’ll be able to put that mountaineering course to good effect as you scale almost sheer cliff faces.
Gameplay aside, the presentation can vary wildly between truly impressive and a little meagre. The use of the Frostbite 3 engine brings environments to life with vivid colours and visually arresting expanses. Whereas at the other end of the spectrum, the character models and facial details seem lacking and look distinctly as though they belong on the PS3. The sound quality is consistently impressive however, with abundant touches such as caves altering the shaping of sounds and again, that’s not to mention the frankly ridiculous levels of spoken dialogue in the game.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is by far and away, one of the most comprehensive RPG’s of late, stacked with content, customisation and enough lore to fill a library; making it one for fans of the series to savour. For those not so well versed in either the genre or the backstory, prepare to encounter a steep learning curve. Sticking with it is highly recommended however, as aside from a few annoyances, there’s no better place to spend more than a few weekends, than in the company of Thedas and all its inhabitants.