Of all the releases that have happened this fall season, it would be hard to find one with more hype and advertising than Dragon Age: Inquisition. Ads played on every other YouTube video, twitch streams with the game developers were frequent and fun, and all of the cast and crew were abuzz on twitter and tumblr. When the game got pushed back, fans were concerned. Then the game came out, and concerns were squashed by what turned out to be a fantastic third installment to the Dragon Age franchise.
The series as a whole is set in various parts of Thedas, a fictional world that draws from many classic medieval and fantasy tropes. There are some familiar touchstones, such as the sight of elves and dwarves as well as magic being a large part of the setting, as well as some new and original ideas, such as a race of people who have darker grey skin and horns on their head (casually known as the Qunari although there is a fair bit of nuance there as well). The world of Dragon Age is complex, with many conflicts appearing. One of the main problems that comes up in Inquisition is the fight between the mages, who are locked away when their magic is discovered, and the Templar, a branch of the main religion that acts as the watch guards to the mages and hunts down those who won’t cooperate (apostates). The opening acts of Inquisition focus on this conflict and how you, the player, will resolve it. Things quickly go south, however, as the game would be over quickly if things went according to plan. In true Bioware fashion, the Inquisitor and their merry team of misfits have to make sure that things get put back in place and the world doesn’t end. Those who have played all of Dragon Age: 2 and its DLC will be in for a pleasant (or not so pleasant) surprise. My only major qualm with the game – without going into spoiler – is that those who haven’t played the DLC for Two (specifically the Legacy DLC) will be left somewhat confused when it comes to one of the story arcs of the game.
The scenery in Inquisition is absolutely stunning. It’s easy to tell that the artists poured a lot of love into making this game the most visually appealing yet; the areas you can visit are unique and have their own feel but are all vibrant and full of atmosphere. There’s so much to explore that the developers have had to casually remind fans that they can leave the Hinterlands (the starting area) and come back to it later, although many fans have chosen to stay there and finish as much as possible before moving on. According to those playing on the Xbox 360 or the PS3, however, the graphics aren’t quite up to snuff. It seems the wonderful graphics upgrade only applies to the newest generation of consoles and, of course, the PC version of the game. That may be reason enough for some people to invest in a new console.
Characters have always been a strength of Bioware games, and Inquisition certainly shows it off well. From the start, your Inquisitor’s personality is shaped by the choices you make in the dialogue and is wonderfully performed by the voice actors. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to all four of the Inquisitor voices: Alix Wilton Reagan (Mass Effect 3) as the British female voice, Sumalee Montano (Beware the Batman, Dead Island) as the American female voice, Harry Hadden-Paton (About Time, In the Loop) as the British male voice, and Jon Curry (Dragon Age: Origins, Skyrim) as the American male voice. All of them put out strong performances as the main character, but no Bioware main character is complete without their companions. There are the main companions that form your party as well as three advisors who help you with the War Table, a mechanic that is new to Inquisition. The party members all have strong personalities, with returning members as well as new comers making their own impressions. The game starts with only three of said party members at your disposal: Varric, who has returned from Dragon Age: 2; Cassandra, who gets developed in this game although she made an appearance in the previous game; and Solas, an elven apostate new to the series. Much like in other Bioware titles, more party members are acquired as the game progresses, and bringing certain people with you on missions allows for party banter between them as you travel. The party banter is as lively as ever. The characters who aren’t party members get just as much fun, though. There are a good number of cut scenes that deal with non-party character, and each of them is memorable and important to the story. Relating to characters is the way Bioware treats certain issues regarding sexuality. Romance, while optional, is a very fun part of the Dragon Age games. Inquisition mixes the methods of Origins and #2. Gone are the random gifts that are given to party members as well as the rivalry romance. Instead, you gain approval or disapproval through your words and deeds, flirting with your favorite romanceable character along the way. There are various discussions that happen, and while each romance is different, they all progress at a natural rate. Certain characters can only be romanced by certain Inquisitors; while Josephine or Iron Bull can be romanced by any Inquisitor, Sera and Dorian will only allow Inquisitors of the same gender to do more than just flirt. Additionally, some characters don’t do more than flirting even if you want to romance them, such as Scout Harding.
As stated above, Bioware tends to deal with many issues and concerns, and are very aware of their surroundings when it comes to the real world. It’s because of this that they are able to treat these issues with the respect they deserve. One of the characters that you meet during the course of the game is Krem, voiced by Jennifer Hale. Both the Bioware development team and Jennifer Hale did a wonderful job fleshing out Krem as a character, and were able to touch on a very important topic in a respectful manner. Krem is one of a handful of characters in all of video games who is trans and is done in a manner that is tasteful and not offensive to the community. He’s the main representative of the Chargers, a mercenary group led by one of your party members, and learning about his backstory is something that is easy to miss. Doing so allows for not only his story to be told but also opens up some of the party banter between Iron Bull and Cole, one of the other party members. Without going into it and spoiling what is said, it’s a wonderfully progressive moment in gaming that will hopefully pave the way for more positive portrayals of the trans community in games.
While there is much more to say about the story and characters of Dragon Age: Inquisition, there is also the actual gameplay to look at. For the most part, the game plays similarly to Two while also fixing some of the issues that had appeared. The X or A button (depending on which system you’re playing on) does something that has never before appeared in a Dragon Age game yet: jumping. That’s right, there’s jumping now. In addition to that, there are mounts in the game and yes, they can jump too. That being said, the targeting system is still less than stellar, and so sometimes this means jumping instead of looting a body or gathering resources. During combat this can be solved by simple switching targets, although it can take a bit of time to do that. In comes a new and improved tactical camera. Origins had the starts of this, and it was often used when setting up area of effect spells. In Inquisition, however, tactical not only pauses combat, but allows for you to set up the battle and control the flow of the fight more than in previous games. It’s a very useful system for players who prefer strategy over hack-and-slash. On lower difficulties, the camera may not be necessary, but one players venture into hard or nightmare mode it becomes a must use system. Just be cautious: as of writing this, attempting to enter a fight while in tactical camera before pausing to check skills or inventory can sometimes cause the game to crash (at least on the PS4). This has been an issue for me, although I am unsure if it’s a widespread issue. Never the less, it’s something to be aware of.
While I haven’t played the multiplayer section of Inquisition as much as others, I have had the chance to level up my characters quite a bit there. The basic concept is that your multiplayer character is a member of the Inquisition and you go out with other members to do various jobs for them. It’s a cooperative multiplayer that is very similar to Mass Effect: 3‘s multiplayer system. Instead of waves of enemies, though, you go and explore an area and take out monsters as you go through areas. Having a balanced party is quite important in this, so it pays off to level all three of your starting characters pretty equally. You start with three characters: a dwarven fighter, an elven mage, and a human archer. Over time you can unlock other character/class combinations by either crafting or finding their specific item, thus unlocking their card in the character select. Each one of them is flashed out, with their own skill trees and whole backgrounds at the ready. This is where EA’s influence starts to show, however; much like the Mass Effect multiplayer, Inquisition’s multiplayer does have the option for micro-transactions. As you go through matches, you gain gold that can be used to buy chests. Different size chests have different amounts of items, but each chest will have a mix of items and potions that can be use to give your character more power during matches. For those who don’t want to get gold through matches, there’s the option to buy an in game currency to acquire chests without using gold. Because gold is plentiful, it’s easy enough to get chests without having to spend money, which is good. The micro-transactions are not forced, but are an option that is there. A tip that someone who was on the leaderboard for PS4 multiplayer passed along to me: don’t bother with large chests; it’s more lucrative to buy two medium chests than it is to buy one large chest.
As video games grow more expansive, so do their soundtracks. Dragon Age has always had a wonderful score, and Inquisition is no exception. Unlike the previous games, this game was composed by Trevor Morris (The Tudors, Vikings). From the forests of Ferelden to the ballrooms of Orlais, the music only enhances the mood and setting. In addition, fans of tavern music will be fond of the tavern in your “home base” areas of Haven and Skyhold, where you can find original songs made for those areas. As you play the game, these songs get added to your codex to look up whenever you please, although you can only hear them in the physical tavern. They range from commentaries on the events of the game to playful tunes about your companions and their adventures. While they are currently only found in the game, the soundtrack is available to purchase. It’s a wonderful addition to the music library of any soundtrack fan.
Overall, Dragon Age: Inquisition is a fantastic game and a great addition to the series. As a fan of Bioware’s characters, I was thrilled by the diversity of the characters and their memorable personalities. The story is strong, and it certainly can take up to the full 200 hours that Bioware stated it would take. My own first run took about 80 hours to complete, but that was with minimal side quests finished before the end game. Those who like to do every tiny thing before moving on for fear that it will disappear should not be worried about that for the most part. There is only one area that is impossible to access after a certain point; the rest of the map can be completed after the credits roll. It’s a solid game that I highly recommend for any gamer who enjoys fantasy RPGs.