By Ian Boone. Epic fantasy must deliver immersion and conflict, and Dragon Age: Inquisition throws both at you with overwhelming force. A holy war has erupted from the oldest, most powerful religion in the realm. Monstrosities invade from strange rifts that seemingly open from anywhere. The Inquisition of old has been called, and there is one question being asked: how are you going to lead it?
Dragon Age: Inquisition is the third installment in Bioware’s role-playing series set in the troubled lands of Thedas. While the original was well received, Dragon Age 2 was a step backwards for player freedom, customization, and the general scope of the game. I’m ecstatic to say that Dragon Age: Inquisition is a great return to form, even if it seems like it overexerts itself in some areas.
Character creation is pleasurable, but it takes some serious consideration. In Dragon Age: Inquisition, non-human races are an option once again: choose the life of a dwarf, an elf, or the new Qunari if homo sapiens aren’t exciting enough. (Each race comes with a different set of statistics and a passive bonus.) But it’s a man’s world we live in, and mankind isn’t kind; picking a nonhuman character will incite a lot of in-game bigotry towards you. There are times when a racial connection will play to your advantage – it’s a well-captured piece of realism that’s not entirely pleasant to swallow – but this is the exception to the norm.
A choice of character class will influence how the world will react to you as well. (For example, choosing to become a mage will elicit a lot of cold receptions.) Magic users in the setting of Dragon Age are widely feared if they are not on a tight leash, and with good reason: to be misunderstood for having unearthly powers is terrible enough, but magi have historically gotten mixed up with the wrong crowd (namely, demons) and as a result have raised all kinds of hell. So what is normally just a choice of playing a more fragile-yet-powerful type of character in other games profoundly affects the experience of Dragon Age: Inquisition.
In the wake of a catastrophic attack, monsters have been gushing from inter-dimensional rifts, and as the player character you have the ability to close them. There is plenty of reason to suspect a connection between the character, the power, and the origins of the catastrophe, but things start desperately and escalate further before any questions can be answered. The gift to banish these rifts draws others to your cause, and the Inquisition comes together at your disposal.
Players will lead most of the Inquisition’s efforts personally with up to three other companions (out of nine total in the game.) At the outset, support and resources are limited for the cause, but many of the quests in the game serve to remedy that: new allies, crafting options, missions and more come with every task dinged and area explored.
And these areas… oh, they are pining to be explored. Dragon Age: Inquisition’s map is divided into many open-world areas, and each is packed with danger and diversion. The Frostbite 3 game engine gives a lush realism to the scenery, while offering some limited physical interaction with set pieces too: if an enemy is shield-bashed next to a crate or errant barrels, they will be smashed clear through them in a satisfying manner.
The local map will become spotted with points of interest as each region is uncovered. The level of enemies you encounter can be diverse in any given region, so tread carefully: level five bandits can be level ten on the same map only sixty meters apart from each other. Boss-level monsters patrol about as well, but they appear to be tethered to defined locations.
With the enemies of the Inquisition amassing, combat is constant and thrilling. Battles can be played out in real time, with the player being able to jump between different utilized party members. Attacks and special moves are mashed out from the face buttons, and your companions will behave according to basic parameters you can change. Managing affairs this way makes things feel like a basic and engaging action game, and it gets the petty violence done.
For tougher fights or higher difficulty settings, there is a tactical mode which halts all action unless the player holds the right trigger. This gives unlimited time to consider what actions to take or what targets to prioritize. While tactical mode at first seems like it is the more controlled option for more experienced users, everyone should start cutting their teeth with it early. Stratagems are thought through much more clearly when they are not rushed, and with this mode the little interactions between spells, abilities, and status effects can be better appreciated and coordinated. Tactical mode is also the perfect way to take a sweet action screenshot. Remember that blood bukkake forever!
The choices made on the battlefield will decide one’s outcome in the short term, but inside the Inquisition’s stronghold is where the most crucial decisions are made. The Inquisition will receive all kinds of propositions from would-be friends and foes, and all of it has to be delegated through the Inquisition council. Once a councilor is picked to handle the delicate matter at hand, it’s only a matter of waiting for it to come to completion. The methods and efficiency of each council member varies, but all seem to meet with success. Some of these War Room missions resolve immediately and open a new area to set off unto a new adventure. This gives the pace of advancement a natural flow: go to the War Room and bark until a new area is unlocked, then go to that new area and quest around until you have new options that compel you to return to the War Room.
There are times that matters just can’t be shoved onto a petty bureaucrat, so plan for some inevitable face to face. As usual with Bioware games, the voice acting is top shelf and delivered with a hammy sincerity. While many lines of dialogue are just simple question/answer inquiries (hmm, I think I know where that title comes from now), some options can open up these characters to new missions or unlocked abilities. Suave players can also chose romantic options to unlock the boudoirs of their choice. And I do mean their choice: it seems any gender is fair game for Cupid’s arrow. No matter who is getting wooed or getting the piss, the world of Dragon Age: Inquisition is going to remember it and work it into the overall experience.
My greatest romance in Dragon Age: Inquistion was the love I felt for the rich crafting system. Weapons, armor, and baubles can be made at the blacksmith from abundant materials harvested throughout the world. Once the fashionables have been fashioned, trick them out with physical enhancements like pommel guards or a blade for the end of a mage staff. Or put some runes on it, and save someone’s eyeball.
When announcements were made that multiplayer was going to be included in Dragon Age: Inquisition, I panicked. What potential would be stripped from what should be an epic solo experience, in order to give bros something to do when the game hits the bargain bin? I am relieved to say that I was hasty to come down on this addition to the Dragon Age formula. The single player is vast, and while the multi isn’t something I’d buy this game specifically for, it has a terrible allure to it: players choose a pre-made character and join others to fight through dungeons and perform missions for the Inquisition. These mission sessions take teamwork and some small amount of strategy to complete, which can be jarring after hours in the single-player, where you are left with the sense that you control everything. If your rag-tag group of agents triumphs, loot and experience will be rewarded. Play options are limited when first starting out, but that changes after a few levels are earned. For those interested in a faster start, there are microtransactions for unlocking characters or purchasing gear.
Considering performance, Dragon Age: Inquisition runs smoothest on the Playstation 4. There are small stutters and hiccups in high-density urban areas, but frame-rate will stabilize around 30 FPS. Load times also tend to be long and can be a drag when hopping to several places on the world map in order. I don’t mention these as a major deterrent, as both of these issues are tolerable. But a last generation console may irritate the player with the Dragon Age experience it renders them.
Once again this year has seen a company who had once lost my adoration with past failures bring me back with an unexpectedly strong new effort. If a little power and fantasy sound like just the thing to go to your head, Dragon Age: Inquisition is worth many playthroughs.