An incredibly popular franchise, Dragon Age is easily equal to Elder Scrolls in terms of epic Fantasy RPG, and after hitting the scene in with Dragon Age Origins, it was a critical and commercial success, selling millions. Now, making it’s mark in the new generation of hardware, Dragon Age: Inquisition is a certifiable monster, setting the high water mark for the genre.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is developed by Bioware and Published by EA
Release Date: Nov 18, 2014
Genre: Action RPG
There and Back Again
Woo boy, Dragon Age. Where to start? I guess with the OG, Dragon Age: Origins that is, kinda seems appropriate to start at the beginning. Origins was an awesome experience, (in the proper sense of the word) your standard nerd fantasy come true. The the journey of a reluctant hero, in my case, a casteless cast-out, a Dwarf that rose from the slums of Orzammar to a mighty Paragon of the age. A character out of legend, raising a force strong enough to beat back the tide of a Blight. It was an epic, in the literary sense, with huge quantities of map to explore, well developed characters you couldn’t help but love and / or maybe hate, and a player driven narrative with enough option to make it personal. Alistair and Morrigan are with me even to this day. It was an experience comfortably nestled amongst the best I’ve had with games. Then there was that other one, the sequel. It was…. something different. Like an entirely different game with the same franchise name, it was… a weird decision. But now! Well, now all is forgiven, because the Inquisition is here folks, and it’s here to steal your life away (in exchange for an insanely dense and -mostly – brilliantly crafted romp in a land filled with things that could use a good axe (or arrow, or magic blast, whatever your preference) upside the head.
This is a big game, and I mean that in a lot of ways. For a start, its well over 40 gigs in size, and when you get in there, you’ll see why. It’s not just the map either, which is certainly big enough, and constantly unfolding as the story progresses, but this is a game of many moving pieces. Even compared to Origins, not a diminutive game by any stretch, the sheer amount of things to do, even when you’re already doing things, just keeps piling up. And that’s before the game changes in a way you won’t be expecting. I don’t want to spoil things here, but, just when you think you know what’s going on, you don’t, and that’s after a significant investment of time. Once this happens, well, it doesn’t get any smaller, lets just put it that way.
Haven is your starting point, and your base of operations, as previously, you will meet companions along the way, who will congregate here should you want to talk with them. And you should, part of the franchise is getting to know the allies you’ve won along the way, each is unique, and have storylines of their own occurring in and out of the overarching story. These often emerge as personal quests which will have implications in the long run for that companion, and might not even kick off unless you’ve interacted with those characters in specific ways. Haven is also the spot to access the war room, which is access to a sort of meta game. As the key figure in the Inquisition, you have access to three power structures through three key NPCs, representing politics and your ears to the nobles, a spymaster, and the commander of your forces. Together, in the war room, over a map of the realm, various intrigues and mission opportunities will crop up, each represent an overarching bonus system. Where you can spend points to research certain knowledge bases, gain advantages over certain types of enemies, open up potentially new dialogue branches and the like. It’s a cool piece that, technically doesn’t need to be there, but creates a wonderful interface for storythreads that react to player decisions, which will lead to tangible change in the world. It’s just another example of the finely crafted experience Bioware has created.
Gimme the loot, Gimme the loot.
The points I mentioned are all a part of a system, or, a series of systems that deserve a lot of credit. One long standing issue I have with many games are broken economies. Lets start with straight gold, or currency, and how sometimes you can accumulate so much of the ‘loot’ the game rewards you with for succeeding, that, without something useful to spend it on, it can be come somewhat meaningless. Gold is only the most literal example of an ‘in game’ economy. Another example is when a game includes a mechanic where items are accumulated, ie, herbs for potions for example, or metal for crafting, points used for upgrades etc and somewhere along the way, it becomes pointless, or at least superficial and unnecessary. These are natural bottlenecks created by unbalanced gameplay. There is none of that here.
Inquisition might be too good at ensuring your investment, everything seems to have a place and a reason, and it encourages participation with tangible rewards. Want to improve your health potion effectiveness? Do some research. Only, its going to require a lot of ingredients you probably thought you had enough of. Want to make an axe that has a significant bleed damage bonus, rather than just some generic stat? better get out there and find some Darklurkers. As for shards, well, you’ll come to understand, but I decided that there was no way I needed to be running around looking for these things (they’re everywhere) until I learned of a certain place with doors that magically unlock based on the amounts of shards you discovered. These are just a few examples, but I have yet to come across a useless feature, or even one I could comfortably ignore. If anything this game is too good at making you care about the minutia.
Dragon Age: Inquisition managed to be the first game in a world where Skyrim exists amongst similar, lesser RPGs, to have it’s development cycle end in this new generation of hardware. I don’t want to take away from the team here, its truly an impressive title in terms of scope and skill in tying things together and making all of its part feel relevant, but the folks at Bioware definitely benefit from the successes and failings of their peers. I should say Origins probably influenced the Skyrim Team, though likely inspired by previous Elder Scrolls titles, and so the cycle continues. Another benefit is simply the raw geography the hardware allows. The maps are multilayered, with spaces within spaces, and plenty of lore and hidden things to explore and find. Its an ongoing problem actually, heading somewhere on a mission only to stumble across another, more interesting mission, and on like some entertaining hall of mirrors that will steal your afternoon away quicker than you could imagine. If you wanted to simply quest, and wander there is certainly no shortage of places to make that happen, and you’ll stumble across some cool stuff. For example(spoiler alert) I resurrected somebody’s dead granddaddy the other day, and then had to put him back in the ground.
For all it does well, Dragon Age: Inquisition is not without its flaws. They can mostly be summed up in a word, bugs. It can be annoying, I had an entire camp of some sort (it had looked like the kind of place I might find some goodies in) just up and disappear just as I ran into the middle of it. Another time, I had a ram (like a male sheep) walk right through a wall and into a dungeon during a rather tense fight with some giant spiders. To say it ruined the atmosphere would be an understatement. I take it with a grain of salt though, big games have bugs, and this is a very big game. If you find that a bunch of crows seem to be perched on something invisible mid air, well, try and remember that Skyrim had some comical moments too. Though, I must admit, when the sound cuts out in the middle of an important scene, or, the ability to consume health potions fails mid battle because that menu screen is frozen (though not the game itself), it can tend to interfere with ones enjoyment. On the other hand, I stumbled into an open glade filled with a dragon and her brood. She handed me my armoured posterior, as she might any other small hard-shelled pest, but she was easily the most stunning looking dragon I have ever clashed with (and I have faced my share) so I don’t mind so much.
Inquisition is a game I’ve been consumed by in a way I haven’t in awhile. The sheer scope, and skill in crafting this world, the amount of places, and things to see and do, the many, many layers of varied gameplay, It’s just really impressive. I played this for next gen consoles, so I can’t speak to the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of Inquisition, but its stunning to behold. For all its occasional technical issues, if an escape is what you are looking for, there is a big one right here. Not a game so much for the casual as the person who either really likes huge landscapes to play in, likes to get super involved with their games, or preferably, both. Dragon Age: Inquisition is (in my opinion) the current ‘best’ example of a classic western style fantasy RPG in the business, knocking Skyrim from it’s dragonbone perch. It’s probably my game of the year for 2014.
Play this game.