Dragon Age: Inquisition is the third installment of Bioware’s fantasy RPG franchise. Epic in both tone and scope, this tale of shaky alliances and world-ending catastrophes is only slightly let down by its own ambition and lack of subtlety.
It is only after this initial, high-octane opener that the game eases off and gives you time to breath and consider what has happened – or rather sidetracks you with the rest of the game.
Once in the first main quest area, known as The Hinderlands, you are suddenly bombarded with tiny tasks. Remember you are considered, by many, to be the only hope for civilization’s survival, and they are asking you to find lost wedding rings and missing livestock. I know this is standard RPG fair but, given the lack of introduction to your character’s life and priorities before the apocalypse, it feels jarring.
Adjust your expectations accordingly, and you quickly find the RPG meat of Inquisition. Vast open-world areas make up the backbone of this, each one filled with inhabitants to either battle or talk to. These expansive areas are complimented by smaller, more detailed environments that focus on social interactions, adding further depth to the world’s intrigue and politics. This structure allows you to pick and choose your focus as you immerse yourself.
All this adds up to an almost dauntingly massive game. It isn’t all filler either, even if you deliberately focus on just the main story, there are 30 fun hours to be had – far more than many similarly structured games that rely on side quests to bolster a less expansive main quest.
It isn’t just the size of Dragon Age: Inquisition that can overwhelm, as both the combat and conversation systems could easily put off casual visitors.
You begin by building a character. Selecting its race, gender, and class, you have little explanation of how each element will impact your game, choices that will greatly inform both social standing and fighting style. My dwarf was regularly regarded negatively to due to her heritage, a fact that impacted many of her interactions. While this may seem initially unimportant, with so many morally gray decisions to be made, and people’s opinion of you effecting their outcomes, good social standing can be hugely beneficial.
One example of these smaller decisions was whether or not to give a speech before going on a political mission. I chose not to, a fact that upset one of my party due to my lack of pomp, but pleased another thanks to my directness. In the moment this had little impact, but it did change my standing with each character for future interactions. I adore this depth, and the way each decision forms part of the greater narrative. For completionists though, the way a single choice gives with one hand while taking away with another, may prove upsetting.
Given its complexity, Dragon Age: Inquisition is quite accessible. All of the menus you need can be accessed from a radial menu or with a few button clicks. With so many options on hand this ease is especially important because at any given moment you are controlling four different characters, each with their combat style and powers.
Rogues, warriors, and mages all fight differently, and within each class there are four skill trees to choose between. It is baffling and you can easily find yourself sticking with what you know rather than trying to master new skills. My character is a pure tank who throws around her two-handed weapon in a way that would make Conan proud – but there are dozens of options if you want to experiment.
I balance her with the rest of my squad, usually selecting a healing mage, a rogue archer, and stealthy rogue to accompany me. I can choose to let each of these do their own thing, micromanage them from the combat strategy menu, or instantly switch to direct control with a single button press. Fortunately, Dragon Age: Inquisition lets me play how I want to, and doesn’t punish me too much for silly decisions (at least on normal difficulty).
Graphically Dragon Age: Inquisition’s biggest stumbling block is its scale. With so much going on seeing limbs pass through armor and scenery, or finding characters stood atop tables, is commonplace. Add to this a host of other small inconsistencies, and you will often feel like the game is actively trying to break your immersion.
If the visuals are try to break your connection, then the fantastic vocal work is doing quite the reverse. Each character is fully voiced with unique dialog. While you may not be able to talk to absolutely everyone in the world, those you can interact with feel like more than just cookie cutter replicates.
The one issue I did encounter with sound was about twenty five hours into the game, when suddenly my character’s voice actor changed. Gone was my soft-spoken dwarf, replaced by a brasher individual as the game decided to associate my character with a different vocal track. This was almost comical, but it did unfortunately further break my connection.
Look past these problems, however, and you will discover a beautiful fantasy world, filled with incredible design and architecture, which combine to give a real sense of place. Each race and nationality is distinctly different, but cohesively constructed. You move throughout regal cities, frozen tundra, barren deserts, and even distorted dreamscapes in the battle against the forces of evil. All of them are stunning, and filled with suitably diverse characters too keep you exploring.
Overcoming its flaws
While it may have some pacing and technical issues, once you submerge yourself in Dragon Age: Inquisition all of that will fade into insignificance. The sheer scope of the fiction - with its various histories, factions, politics, and beliefs - is totally engrossing, and will happily consume hours of your life.