The Dragon Age series has seen some troubled waters over the past couple of years. Their first game, Origins, was a critical hit and was well-loved by almost all who played it. Following the success of Origins, Dragon Age 2 was released and to say it was a disappointment is an understatement. While I enjoyed the game overall, it completely lost the magic of the first game that made it so special and set it apart. Gone was the strategic gameplay of the first, instead replaced with action-based gameplay more akin to third-person hack and slash-type games. BioWare knew they had to change the formula for their next game to be successful, and change they did. Is there enough change present in their newest game, Dragon Age: Inquisition, to make this series worth your time and money, or should you replay Origins to relive the glory days of dragon-slaying? Keep reading to find out.
Dragon Age Inquisition starts out with a bang…literally. From the start screen, the moment you press a button the location you are seeing literally blows up. This story setup, a magical terrorist attack on a conclave of mages and templar, will set the stage for the rest of the game. As the sole survivor of the attack, you will craft your character in whatever image you like, choose between the mage, rogue, and warrior-type classes, and then be on your way. The character creation is extremely robust and I was able to craft a character to match exactly what I wanted. I decided to play as a mage because in the world of Dragon Age mages aren’t the most trusted bunch, so I knew I would get an interesting story. The facial features, hair design, voice, etc. are all customizable and you can spend a ton of time tinkering with nobs to get things right. When you finally escape the rabbit hole of character customization, you should have a character that will suit your needs.
If you’re familiar with Dragon Age games, or really BioWare games in general, you know you’re going to get a top-notch story in a well-crafted world with political intrigue, character development, and awesome companions. This is all present in Inquisition and the story will keep you playing to find out exactly what the heck is going on. The story is set around your character as the sole survivor of a magical terrorist attack who takes on the role of leader of the Inquisition, a group that is fighting the evil that caused the attack. You’ll become a sort of king of your castle (literally, you get a castle) and will make decisions that will affect life for the people in the world. It can be cliche at times, but the story works well to cater to the video game power fantasy. You will continue to get more and more powerful throughout the game and the story will reflect that. You can be a jerk and rule the Inquisition with an iron fist or be a more merciful ruler and treat your followers with respect. Whatever you choose, your companions will respond to your choices and their approval of you will increase or decrease accordingly. Based on your sex you can romance certain companions which open up new story options. The feelings of your party members will also be intertwined into open-world gameplay as they make quips and conversations about current events as you’re fighting in the world. For instance, I chose to romance Cassandra, the stalwart defender of the faith, and while out fighting comments were made by other party members about our budding romance, much to her chagrin. These small additions to the story just accentuate an already grandiose and compelling adventure story that is well told, and well-executed, even if the ending leaves a bit to be desired.
In a BioWare game, the story is usually the main drawing point with combat and gameplay sometimes taking a secondary role. That’s a mixed bag with Inquisition. The RPG mechanics are spot on and over the course of the game, you’ll be unlocking some awesome skills to increase your power and taking down more powerful enemies with each level you hit. Unfortunately, the combat isn’t very interesting. On a controller, you hold down the RT or R2 for an auto-attack. Your skills are all on timers so while auto-attacking, you are keeping an eye on the timers to hit them when they are ready. It’s not bad enough to push you away from the experience, it’s just not that interesting. What is interesting though is maneuvering your teammates around the battlefield for the bigger and more complex fights in the game. You don’t need to do this for the usual mobs you find on quests, but take on your first dragon and things change. It looks like BioWare took the strategic gameplay of the first game and meshed it with the more action-oriented gameplay of the second and the result was something that is serviceable, but not overly unique. Probably my least favorite portion of the combat system was the removal of healing skills, opting instead, for limited potions that are shared with the entire party. Finding yourself out of potions halfway through an encounter without any supply boxes (which refill your potions) around is grounds for failure. In the future, I hope they scrap this potion choice and re-implement healing spells for mages.
The graphics are top-notch and the overall aesthetic of the game is grandiose and fits well into the lore. There is a huge battle taking place that could spell disaster for everyone in the Dragon Age universe. The castles are sprawling, the landscapes beautiful, and the sound design is amazing. Sound isn’t something you notice in a game much, but when you do it’s either because it’s hilariously bad or amazingly well done. The latter is true with Dragon Age: Inquisition. The battles and overall sound of the game are great, but not unlike much of what you’ve seen in other games. What is astounding though is the music, walk into an inn and listen to the bard singing about Sera or a sad tune about love and loss. It’s an amazing feat for a game to make me just sit in an inn doing nothing else but listening to the music.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is an excellent game and it’s probably my favorite game of 2014. I’m a huge story-driven gamer and this game has it in spades. It’s also an OK game to play around a toddler (most of the time) as there is a lot of dialogue and running around. Fighting scenes aren’t that graphic, but they are still violent. This is a long sprawling game and there are things to do (like the war table that lets you play a sort of Facebook-style waiting game with troops) when your kid is in the room. Everything else can be left for the evening after bedtime.
BioWare took what worked in the first two games and combined them into a very good Western RPG with elements of both strategy and action. The epic story and character development is the main course in this game that will easily take you over 80 hours to complete. It’s an investment for sure, and with kids vying for your time, it’s a hard sell to set aside time (at the expense of other games) to see this one through. But, if you’re willing to take the time and play through this game’s story, you absolutely won’t be disappointed. The team at BioWare has crafted an amazing game with serviceable combat and an awesome story that shouldn’t be missed, especially if you have enjoyed other games by BioWare in the past.