Dragon Age Inquisition Review: Roaring Back To Life

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by Brandon Mietzner on December 1, 2014 in Gaming

Dragon Age Origins took many RPG fans by immense surprise, with its lengthy story, fascinating characters, brilliant control scheme and et cetera. Unfortunately, its second installment was the exact opposite. But now, we have Dragon Age Inquisition: Did BioWare learn from its mistakes or did it just roll another critical number one?

Before we begin with this review of Dragon Age Inquisition, I want to take a brief moment to remember where we’ve been with the Dragon Age franchise. The first game had its share of problems. There were times when it felt like it dragged on, overwhelming the player with its sheer length. On the plus side, it was by all accounts the best first outing of a new RPG franchise in a long time. The second game in the series, on the other hand, got far fewer raves. Let’s just say the prevailing opinion on it was that it was fast-tracked to make EA money after the EA and Bioware merger. Consequently there was a lot of ass covering and promise-making for the next installment.

Which brings the story behind the game franchise up to date. Now we are seeing those promises brought to life in Dragon Age Inquisition. Quick disclosure: I’ve been playing Bioware games since the original Baldur’s Gate came out and I’ve been a fan of the studio ever since. I also felt scorned with Dragon Age 2, but I can say my faith has been renewed in this title.

Now before I get too far into why my faith’s been restored, let’s start with the heart of any RPG: the story. The player will take on the role of the Inquisitor. The way the player molds their character’s sex, race and class is pivotal to how the world will interact with them and what romance options will be available to them. While this isn’t new to the series, Bioware has said that these elements will hold greater sway in the world.

Dragon Age Inquisition

In Dragon Age 2 I was left wanting to create my own vision of Hawk. This time around the character creator provides a rich experience with many options to sculpt the Inquisitor into the player’s own personal masterpiece. I painstakingly took the time to get everything right for my own personal vision.

I found only one downside to this part of the game. I would have preferred to have more variety with the voice-overs so I could have tailored them to a particular play style and class. This could have been a lot more nuanced, like having more sarcasm while playing a rogue. On the other hand, we should also consider that Bioware put in around 500,000 words of dialogue, not including the codex texts. This makes the limitations in this part of the gameplay experience understandable and reasonable.

Before we go any further, I must mention that if you wish to have your previous choices from Dragon Age Origins and Dragon Age 2 impact Dragon Age Inquisition, then you have to go to Dragon Age’s Dragon Keep online and manually set up those choices. The game will not import your saves and configure them for you automatically.

Dragon Age Inquisition

With the dressing room behind me, I then imported my previous adventures from Dragon Keep. I then headed into Ferelden with a song in my heart and a bounce in my step.

I was quickly thrust into a dark world with no idea of where I was. I could only see a bright figure who beckoned me to take them by the hand. I managed to crawl my way to this person, with demons right behind me. As I grasped this person’s hand, I was suddenly thrust me into the darkness of sleep and transported to an unknown location in Ferelden.

When I finally regained consciousness, I was then interrogated by a Seeker named Cassandra. She demanded to know what happened to the Divine leader of the Chantry. With no memory of anything before the moments her forces found me, I told her I could not provide her with the answers she was seeking.

I was told that I had been at the focal point of the emergence of the breach and I was somehow linked to it by the mark on my left hand; the mark grew and resonated more with each expansion of the breach. I was told I could either help close the breach or die. I took to the road, with staff in hand, to combat the onslaught of demons and retrace my steps to find out how the breach happened and, if possible, close it.

Dragon Age Inquisition

This is a greatly simplified retelling of events in the prologue but I found it so compelling that I had to share some of it in this format. This sequence of events, and the hypnotizing effect it had on me, did not leave me during any point of my review process. I found myself reading every bit of literature I could in the game’s Codex. This Codex, by the way, is a vast treasure trove of history for this world that has taken three games to create.

The story can be as deep, thought-provoking, and intricate as you want to make it. Fortunately, Dragon Age Inquisition allows for anyone take it to the level they feel most comfortable with. In my opinion, this is no easy feat, even for Bioware.

The supporting characters are another part of the equation that make this game so fascinating. None of them are perfect; they all have histories that are dark, colorful and warm. A few of you may have already met in the other games so their stories will be even more personal for you.

Gameplay, Features & Combat

If the heart of an RPG is the story, then its brain must be the rules that bind it all together. Dragon Age Inquisition offers many avenues for you to improve your characters and companions gear. This can be done by crafting, upgrading and inserting runes into your equipment. This process begins with the collecting of resources from the land or fallen enemies.

There are even special side quests you can undertake for special resources and upgrades. This process does not feel out-of-place but because it is a simple game mechanic, like you don’t need a pick axe to get iron, the biggest challenge is finding where these resources are.

Many of these resources are littered in hidden secret areas, so if you aren’t one to take advantage of exploring, this might be a good time to start. Especially since the world is open for you to roam free, much like in Skyrim. Gone are the days on linear progression in a Dragon Age game and good riddance.

Dragon Age Inquisition

Another resource collection you can take advantage of is the War Room. From there you can send either a diplomat, spy or armed forces to undertake special missions with their own unique style. These can provide advantages by increasing the gold in your coffers or boosting your inquisitions’ political power.

The missions offered are based on your character’s level and the boosts you can provide these agents with is based on your inquisition’s level of influence. There are even times when you need to make direct decisions as ruler of the Skyhold territory. These decisions not only affect the story but will influence your companions as well.

Depending on what decisions you make, those choices can influence your companions where they could leave your party forever, which is nothing new for RPGs in general. However, some of these interactions are intertwined between one other and are the most complicated in the series to date. I can’t wait to see where it will take me.

Dragon Age Inquisition

Combat is another simple mechanic at first glance but it can be in-depth if you take full advantage of the tactical camera. This does require that you pause the combat and if you don’t like that, that isn’t a problem. Any player has the choice in single player to pause or not pause the combat so you can either quick button mash or use strategy planning every move.

The tactical camera was an element that was dropped in the previous game but praised in the first Dragon Age. When Bioware promised that it would make its return, the PC community was ecstatic. Unfortunately it was very poorly incorporated into the PC version, particularly in supporting forward thinkers’ needs. The biggest hindrance is the fact you can only tell the game to make one action per character; this is not useful because you have to pause in between each action taken.

The controls are designed around a gamepad and with no ability to customize your mouse buttons, it feels clunky and unnatural. This feeling is brought on by the fact you have to use the left mouse click for a basic attack and having to use the middle mouse click to interact with the game UI. This control scheme doesn’t affect the main menus or character inventory and the like. If I could change my mouse buttons it might feel less awkward, but to not be able to customize a control set is an intolerable situation for any PC gamer.

Dragon Age Inquisition

These problems aside, I did find the combat fluid, balanced and dare I say entertaining. There are opportunities to take advantage of like cover, and shields do not protect from the back or sides, elevated positions and etc.

No matter how you choose to fight, your companions’ programmed behavior is important. This was something else that was promised to be reincorporated from the first game but its implementation this time around is far too simple to provide any tactical benefit to, again, forward thinking players’ unique play style. This isn’t to say your companions are stupid; in fact they’re pretty smart, but if you want a customized and complex group of companions, it just won’t be found in this game (yet).

Graphics, Music/Sound, Multiplayer & Final Thoughts

Bioware’s broken or shallow-kept promises are troubling but they can be easily fixed with a patch; also, keep in mind that Bioware did make other promises which they have made good on.

Dragon Age Inquisition uses EA’s exclusive game engine Frostbite 3, which is a major improvement over the last game’s engine. Frostbite 3 has enabled Bioware to provide a highly detailed game from the get-go; not once did I run into a situation where they reused a previous area.

Once I was past the prologue the locations were open and very exploreable. Bioware certainly kept this world open and rich looking. Keep in mind, though, that there is a cost if you wish to bask in the PC’s Ultra setting: you will need a hardy rig to handle it. I have a AMD 8350, 16GB of RAM and a NVIDIA GTX 980. When pushing the Ultra preset in a forested area at 1080p, I was barely managing 45+ FPS.

Dragon Age Inquisition

The forest area also hit my FPS hard when I was using the Ultra preset with my multi-monitor resolution, which is fully supported in this game. Fortunately this game is very scalable so even if you don’t have a top end system or want to push the limits in other ways, you can find a happy medium between FPS and visual fidelity.

Speaking of fidelity, in my opinion, the PC offers the best looking experience you can have hands down. There were some things that I wish I could have tweaked like depth of field, but this and other options are not available to change individually. Hopefully they will be included in a future patch, along with other features.

The music is provocative, entrancing, sensual and makes the world feel alive in ways that complement the other assets in the game, no matter where you are. This is one of those few times that I can recommend you just listen to the soundtrack because it just seamlessly complements an environment like few game music soundtracks do.

Dragon Age Inquisition

The sound effects are immersive and alluring. I say this because when I was walking through the forest, I actually took a moment to listen to the birds chirping. I was also impressed with how so much like the in-game thunder sounded compared to that from thunderstorms I’ve heard. If you have 5.1 surround sound setup, your ears are in for a treat.

The primary supporting characters have the biggest role to play here and the writing is something I’ve all ready praised but I haven’t taken a moment to point out how well the voiceovers have been done. These actors’ and actresses’ talents have taken these characters far beyond the written word and invoke life into them with their performances. I have found it hard to connect with many games because the acting was poor, but as of the time of writing this, I have not yet found a single supporting primary character that has phoned it in.

Bioware’s biggest addition to the Dragon Age franchise in this title has to be the multiplayer. They obviously took a page from its Mass Effect multiplayer hand-book and created another wave-centered PVE. I did try it out and I liked how it played but I had several issues with it.

Dragon Age Inquisition

The multiplayer has no direct impact on the single player experience. The voice program in game is hot mic’ed for all players; there is no option for push to talk on your end, and you can only mute players with no ability to disable it completely or modify the sound levels. The biggest negative point here is the inclusion of micro-transactions to buy premium currency for random chest benefits. The price can range from $10 to $60. In my book this makes the game’s multiplayer a pay to win game and I hate pay to win. I doubt I will ever touch it again.

The last thing I can say is that there is still a lot of content that I have not touched on or experienced yet. I have spent 50+ hours playing and I know I’ve barely scratched the surface on what is available in the base game. I would not be surprised if gamers hit triple digits in hours played just to complete a good portion of the game. I hope my family, and yours, survive this one.

In the end, Bioware took its licking from the last game and came out with a very competent contender to be the best installment in the series so far. There are additions and tweaks that should still be made before it can take that prize belt away from Dragon Age: Origins, but I believe it can if gets a little more training, er, patches.

Pros

  • Strong Story and Characters
  • Choices Have Greater Consequences
  • Simple or Complicated Features
  • Combat is Well Balanced
  • Looks beautiful on the PC
  • Open World
  • Vast Amounts of Content

Cons

  • Tactical Camera
  • Can’t Customize All Control Inputs
  • Micro-transactions for MP
  • Needs More TLC for PC Players


Dragon Age Inquisition