This review will not contain any major spoilers or plot details.
Platforms: PC (reviewed), PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
If you were to make a list of the biggest RPGs to come out in the past ten years, Dragon Age: Origins and Skyrim would certainly be near the top. Both were critically and commercially successful, and so it's very likely that Dragon Age: Inquisition, a title which combines the Dragon Age formula with a number of gameplay elements gamers will recognize as heavily inspired by Skyrim, will also be a hit.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is a game that is epic in every possible way, offering fans an almost intimidating amount of content to explore, an engaging core story, and exciting battles that can be handled in either an action-oriented or more strategic, RPG-style way. It's not without its faults -- I'll do my best not to spend the rest of this review complaining about the combat camera, for example -- but it is very much the follow-up that Origins deserved, and will easily keep players entertained for 40 hours or more.
Here comes trouble
The story of Inquisition centers upon, not surprisingly, a demonic threat to the world. That's standard for Dragon Age and fantasy RPGs in general, but Inquisition deserves credit for offering a number of interesting wrinkles and twists on the formula. As the hero of the story and eventually the leader of the Inquisition, you'll be tasked with making decisions about what constitutes an acceptable sacrifice in war, the proper punishment for traitors, and the status of the potentially dangerous mages of the world.
Much of the world that was established in Origins and Dragon Age II has been torn apart at the very beginning of Inquisition, which was a bold creative choice by Bioware. Rather than taking us back into their popular and established world just as fans remembered it, Bioware gives us a world that feels so alive and changeable that it can be overwhelming. There are so many factions in the world fighting for their own objectives that it can be hard to keep it all straight at times (though you can always spend time diving into the rich codex of lore if you need a refresher). And that's before you as the protagonist start getting involved on a grand scale, throwing your weight around and making choices that will stir the pot even more.
The main knock against Inquisition's story is that it just takes a while to get going. The threat is vague at first, and often takes a back seat to the war between the Templars and the mages early on in the story. This was likely an intentional choice, as it does make for an exciting ramp-up in tension when the big bad finally makes an appearance, but the fact that it will take players around 15 hours to get to that point (and that's if they choose to ignore a lot of the plentiful side-quests the game is constantly dangling in front of them) makes the game feel a bit jumbled and unfocused up front.
About halfway through the main story you'll gain access to a fortress known as "Skyhold," the name of which is unrelated to the sky-hole that sets the game's events in motion.
Your deadly foe the camera
Okay, let's talk about the combat camera now.
The combat camera in Inquisition is frustrating to a baffling degree. While it works well enough if you choose to play the game in the over-the-shoulder action perspective that has gotten a lot of the focus in the game's marketing, you're still likely to find it far too tricky to properly survey the battlefield, especially once the battles get harder (again it takes about 10 to 15 hours of gameplay on the normal difficulty to reach this point) and you need to become more strategic about your combat.
Tactical view is the alternative to the over-the-shoulder view, and it's similar to what fans of Origins will remember. Activating tactical view stops time and allows you to plan out your attacks properly. Tactical view is what you will use to direct your archers to focus on mages, and to command your mage to target a vulnerable enemy with a freezing spell.
Unfortunately, while in tactical view you'll find yourself struggling to get a good look at the action. Physical obstacles interfere with the camera, the keyboard controls don't function at all like you would expect, and getting a nice bird's-eye view of the battlefield is far more challenging than it should be.
Maybe even worse, important combat controls are different between the default combat camera and the tactical view. To attack an enemy in the default view you need to left click (and hold) on it. In tactical view attacking happens with a right click. That means that if you're accidentally in the wrong camera mode during a fight (which will happen, trust me) you'll waste precious seconds clicking the wrong way while your character stands there doing nothing.
Zooming out also works differently between camera modes. Rolling down the mouse wheel zooms out with the normal camera, but with the tactical camera you need to hold down a mouse button and move your view in and out. This was still causing me trouble over 20 hours into the game.
It's probably really hard to combine the action camera and tactical camera, as Bioware has attempted to do in Inquisition. I did eventually get used to it, and I would have been extremely disappointed if they did away with the tactical view entirely...but man oh man, was it a rough ride.
Fast and furious fights
Aside from the camera issue (which I promise I won't mention too many more times) the combat in Inquisition is great. While it feels a bit shallow at first, once you begin gaining levels, unlocking more interesting abilities, and running into fights that require thought and planning, the game really starts to shine. As with most things in Inquisition, it's a shame the really entertaining fights don't show up a bit earlier, but they're a fun and wild ride when you finally get to them. Early on in the game you can win most fights on autopilot, just auto-attacking and letting your characters manage their own abilities, but strategic thinking will win the day later on.
For my playthrough, my main character was a dwarf warrior. I focused on two-handed weapons, and ended up with a variety of abilities that meshed well together without me really intending it. My favorite tactic was to pull an enemy archer in close with a grappling chain, apply a boot to his face to knock him down and stun him, and then unleashing a massively damaging power attack that was often enough to take him out of the fight entirely. By then his allies would have closed in, which meant it was time for a war cry (building up defense and taunting enemies) followed by a whirlwind attack that damaged all surrounding foes.
There are a lot of fights in Inquisition, so you'll have plenty of time to figure out your own favorite abilities and combos during the game. The fights aren't hugely varied, aside from the boss battles that are usually well done, but there is enough variety in enemy abilities and resistances to keep you on your toes, and it's always fun to try out your newest ally or the latest ability you've unlocked.
By the end of your time with Inquisition you'll feel like a seasoned general, perfectly ready to deploy your forces in order to take on any obstacle in your path. If your experience is like mine you won't experience too many full-party wipes along the way (as long as you heed the clear warning signs that you've wandered into an area that's too challenging for you), but you'll need to carefully manage your healing potions and defensive spells along the way to avoid death.
Inquisition does a great job using colors, with the green of the Rift and the red of the mysterious Red Lyrium as two prominent examples.
When you're not fighting, your time in Inquisition will be spent managing the overall war effort, making allies, attending fancy costume parties, deploying Inquisition assets, upgrading your gear, and a variety of other interesting diversions. As was the case with Skyrim, the clear inspiration for many of these gameplay elements, the actual entertainment content of the different things you can do varies, but if anything ever becomes a chore it is simple enough to set it aside and do something else. You're encouraged to complete these various missions and side-missions because the main quest requires certain thresholds of "Power" to progress, but fortunately Power can be earned by doing just about anything. If you can't move the main quest ahead, spending an hour or two wandering around one the game's pleasingly diverse open-map natural environments and chasing down quests will get the job done.
There's always something to do in Inquisition, and I fully believe Bioware's pre-launch claims of 200 hours of potential gameplay, for those that seek it out. And, more importantly, the stuff you will be doing during those 200 hours will actually be a lot of fun. While I experienced moments of frustration trying to accomplish some of the quests (the maps don't always do a good job directing you to your goals, especially when there are changes of elevation involved) and I found anything involving resource gathering and crafting equipment to be less than captivating (again, something that reminded me of Skyrim) Inquisition is so full of things to do that it was never an issue to get myself somewhere more interesting within a minute or two, if that's what I wanted.
The highlight of the game was, not surprisingly for a Bioware title, the charming allies you meet along the way. Party members are varied and memorable, and the roster is large enough that I really feel as though I need another playthrough or two just to be able to appreciate all that the team has to offer. I barely scratched the surface of the Iron Bull in my game, for example, simply because his abilities matched those of my main character, so he wasn't really a priority. But that means that I missed out on hundreds of lines of dialogue read by Freddie Prinze Jr., and you'd better believe I'm not going to let that stand for long.
Banter between party members was rich and entertaining, rewarding you for mixing and matching different personalities on field missions. The elf rogue Sera was a standout with her frequent faux-Cockney jokes, and Dorian the mage's concern for everyone's grooming habits was responsible for several laugh-out-loud moments. You'll likely pick your favorites during your playthrough and focus on developing their stories between missions while at your home base, in a manner that's fairly standard for a Bioware game.
Because it's from Bioware, you know what you're getting from Inquisition in regard to your allies: well-acted performances by talented voice actors bringing interesting characters to life, and rich back-stories and character development that makes the allies of Inquisition stand head and shoulders above those you'll see in most other games in terms of depth and realism.
You've got the look (and the sound)
Playing Inquisition on GameCrate's Jackhammer gaming PC and displayed on our BenQ XL2430T gaming monitor, I was able to appreciate everything the game's graphics engine had to offer. I ran the game on Ultra settings, and it looked great. Particle effects and lighting are huge standouts, with combat providing a rainbow of wild visuals as spells and status effects explode across the screen. Dialogue with major characters is much more compelling because of their well-done and nuanced facial expressions, though as always with these Bioware RPGs side characters appear to have received much less attention, and can often appear as wax-faced potato people compared to the stars of the game.
The environments of Inquisition aren't quite as impressive as the fireworks and faces, but they generally look nice as well -- and the variety on display is a huge plus. As you traverse Inquisition you'll travel through frosty forests, deserts, swamps, and ancient ruins, and they all look and feel completely different. The music and sound design of Inquisition are both strong, with an inspiring soundtrack that uses percussion to great effect and atmospheric environment sounds that really help to establish a sense of place.
With Jackhammer's hardware, Inquisition's loading times were minimal -- never more than 20 seconds or so even when loading huge new areas that you could explore for hours without a break. When I ran the game on a different PC though, one dedicated to gaming but with far more modest components, loading times increased to a minute or more.
Also, in what may have been an isolated issue thanks to my particular hardware set-up on the lower-powered PC, everyone's hair was shiny, wet-looking, and gross. I never saw a hint of this problem on Jackhammer, but I have a feeling some folks out there might find it distracting if they run into the same issue.
Seriously, there are some fantastic particle effects in this game. Pausing combat allows you to view 3D explosions like this from every possible angle.
Here are the criteria I consider most important for evaluating Dragon Age: Inquisition:
Aside from the frustrating camera (see how long I went without mentioning that? Impressive, right?) and the control issues associated with it, the combat is solid, and only gets more interesting as the game goes on. More variety in fights would have been appreciated, but what's present is enough to keep players engaged and entertained.
Just as epic in scope as Origins and combining traditional fantasy tropes with dark and realistic twists, Inquisition has a world full of rich lore and compelling characters to explore. Party members are every bit as memorable as in other Bioware titles, and in fact this might be the best roster of allies since Mass Effect 2.
Great particle effects and lighting make combat a visual joy, and diverse environments are fun to explore. The game sounds great, too. Area maps could have used a bit more detail in order to make them more useful.
Replay Value: 10/10
"Replay Value" might not be the right term in this case, since you're free to spend 100+ hours enjoying content on a single playthrough if you like. There is a rich world of quests to explore in Inquisition, and it's a game that you'll want to come back to again and again and again.
Multiplayer: Not yet rated
Opportunities to try out Inquisition's multiplayer pre-launch have been limited, and I spent my time focused on the single-player experience. As was the case with Mass Effect 3, the inclusion of multiplayer is a nice touch, but not something I particularly care about in a game like Dragon Age. I'll write about what I think once I've tried it out sufficiently, but this review is focused on what Inquisition offers as a single-player game.
After the misstep that was Dragon Age II, Inquisition is a triumphant return to what made Dragon Age so popular in the first place boosted by a huge injection of Skyrim-flavored additional gameplay. If you enjoy what Bioware has done in the past or if you're a fan of RPGs with exciting combat and rich stories and characters, here's the game you'll be playing over and over again until a sequel is released.
Now if they can just fix that camera...
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