Platform reviewed: PS4
I will be the first to admit that western-developed role-playing games have never been my forte. Perhaps it’s because I got tired of the fantasy-medieval settings that western developers seem to prefer. That all changed when I played Dragon Age: Origins–it instantly hooked me on its world with a compelling story and tactical combat. Naturally when Dragon Age II came out, I was ecstatic. Although I enjoyed Dragon Age II, its repetitive dungeons and locations were quite a letdown. So I waited patiently and thought, ‘Will Dragon Age ever again reach the heights of Origins?” With the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition, I am happy to report that not only does BioWare reach those heights, it sets a new bar that every RPG developer should aspire to.
Story and Character Creator
Spoilers for Dragon Age II ahead: Skip the next two paragraphs if you have not finished the divisive sequel. When we last stepped into the world of Thedas, tensions between the Templar and Mages were reaching a boiling point. Knight-Commander Meredith’s corrupt and tyrannical rule had begun to spread throughout the city. She abused the Mages of Kirkwall with extensive use of torture, forcing the Rite of Tranquility upon the mages (which equates to a lobotomy for a mage) alongside her Chantry superiors unwilling and unable to control her. First Enchanter Orsino, the head of the Circle of Magi in Kirkwall, decided to topple Meredith’s leadership. When he failed, the Mages were forced to revert to blood magic, and a battle between the Templars and Mages ensued.
The Mage Anders had enough of the battle and orchestrated a massive explosion that leveled the Kirkwall Chantry and everyone in it, including its Grand Cleric. This act triggered a war between the Mages and the Templars across the city, forcing Hawke (the hero of Dragon Age II) to choose a side in the conflict. With Anders’ actions, the Circles of Mages from across Thedas began to rebel against the Chantry, leading to an all-out war across the land.
Dragon Age: Inquisition begins with peace talks scheduled to take place between the Templars and the Mages, led by Divine Justinia V. Before talks can begin, a massive rift opens in the sky and destroys the temple, killing hundreds of Templars, Mages, and Justinia herself. But one survivor emerges from the rubble, and that survivor is you. As you emerge from the rubble, you are quickly apprehended by Cassandra, who players will remember as the seeker interrogating Varric in Dragon Age II. Cassandra, along with the rest of the clerics, accuses you of the attack.
Convincing Cassandra that you can try to help close the breach in the sky, you’re allowed to accompany her to the breach, which has begun unleashing demons and spirits from the Fade. Fighting off the demons and spirits, you discover you have the power to close these smaller rifts that have begun appearing all over the land. You later encounter Varric and newcomer Soles, an elf mage, and together you set off in hopes of discovering what happened and what caused the breach in the first place.
Arriving at the breach, you discover from a vision that Devine Justinia cast you out of the temple before it was destroyed by an ominous force calling itself the "Elder One." After a massive boss battle, the party successfully closes the breach, but the hole in the sky remains and this hole continues to open rifts all over Thedas.
Bioware’s signature storytelling returns in Dragon Age: Inquisition along with the signature conversation wheel. Once again you will have the option to choose how to respond in conversations. Like past titles, your responses will carry weight throughout your adventure. Responses to almost any conversation can have ramifications later in the game. Depending on your answers, your Inquisition members will approve or disapprove of your actions. It’s important to pay attention to these as often as possible, since enough disapproval from members will see them permanently leave the Inquisition. On the other hand, those who gain enough approval will have the chance to romance members of your Inquisition.
Depending on your class and race, the world will react differently to you. At times, you will have the options of siding with a particular groups like the Templars or Mages, and siding with one will have significant ramifications throughout the story with respect to what kind of allies and enemies you make.
Before you can begin your quest to save Thedas, you must first create your character. Fans will be happy to know that you can now create one of four races: Human, Elf, Dwarf, and Qunari. Each race starts with an intrinsic racial boost. Humans will gain an extra ability point, while Elves, Dwarves, and Qunari will gain a 25-percent bonus to various defensive stats. After selecting their race, players will pick a class: Rogue, Warrior, or Mage. Each one of these classes will come with different skill trees, yielding a wide range of abilities that allow you to play your class as you prefer.
As you progress through the game, you will also unlock specializations for your class. For example, the Warrior will start off with "Weapon and Shield" and "Two-Handed" ability trees to work with. After accomplishing certain tasks, you will be able to unlock three more Warrior-specific skill trees, like "Templar." I found it a good idea to really think about the character you want to build as you will not acquire enough ability points to buy all available skills. But if, for some reason, you don’t like your build, you will be able to purchase a respec necklace and start over.
I was somewhat disappointed to find out that after leveling up I was only able to choose what abilities to purchase from the skill trees. Unlike previous Dragon Age titles, all stat points are automatically upgraded, removing the chance for me to spend my stat points in what categories I wished.
BioWare has really outdone itself with Dragon Age: Inquisition’s character creator. Outside of your basic hair and voice options, you are able to adjust every aspect of your character’s face. Using a unique square slider, you can adjust the size, length, width, and positions of your eyes, nose, and ears, the size of your forehead, as well as whether your character has a double chin, and the glossiness of your lips–the options are quite staggering. My first 90 minutes of the game were spent just creating my character.
Gameplay and Exploration
BioWare has said, "This is the Dragon Age game we have always wanted to make." If this is what they had in mind, they should be proud of their accomplishment. Some of the concerns people had with Dragon Age II were the changes to combat and ecploration. I can happily say both of these issues have been addressed. When it came to the combat of Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II, it was evident that BioWare went away from the more tactical combat of Origins in favor of a more action-oriented style in Dragon Age II. Happily, Inquisition can be played with both combat styles.
Let’s start with action mode. When entering combat, you simply tap the R2 button to spam your basic attack. Skills can be mapped to the face buttons of the controller. Eight total skills can be mapped to the Square, Triangle, Circle, and R1 buttons, as a secondary set of skills can be accessed by holding down the L2 button. Each character has a stamina bar, and mages have a mana bar. The good news is these bars regenerate quickly, so you never feel like you are underpowered but they won’t refill quick enough so as to feel overpowered. It just has the perfect balance. It’s also worth noting that your AI-controlled partners handle themselves quite well, as I never felt I had to take care of them. They will utilize weakness of enemies and heal themselves when close to death.
Those who preferred to take the more tactical approach will find the other system quite rewarding. Tapping the touchpad pauses the combat and takes you straight into the tactical menu of the combat system. You can move your cursor around the environment, scouting the battlefield and examining weaknesses and strengths of your enemies. In the tactical menu, you can move your characters to strategic points as well as issue commands for each party member and have them use any of their skills. After issuing your commands, you can exit the tactical menu and watch your actions play out–or simply tap R2 and watch the battle play out through the tactical menu.
Exploration has been completely reworked for Inquisition. Going with a more open-world experience, BioWare has once again outdone itself. The environments in this game are massive! When I stepped into the game’s first region, called the Hinterlands, I didn’t realize the grand scope that awaited. To put it in perspective, the Hinterlands covers more land area than the whole of Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II combined. This is just one area of the game, and believe me, there are a lot more. From scorching deserts and stormy coasts to ice-capped mountains, players will be exploring for hours and hours on end–and exploring is damn fun in this game. These locations are also highly detailed and gorgeous; I never thought a swamp could look as beautiful as it does in Inquisition.
Another new addition to accompany the large areas you will explore are mounts. These range from your standard horses to mystical creatures. It’s just a shame that these mounts don’t move as fast as they should to balance with other means of travel. I began to utilize mounts less and less as I found fast travel locations to be more efficient for worldly navigation. I also feel that not including mounted combat was a missed opportunity, as it could have made some encounters, especially ones with dragons, quite unique.
On your travels, you will uncover plenty of side quests and activities to partake in. Side quests include eliminating bandits, solving murder mysteries, and collecting herbs and materials. Exploration will also lead to great discoveries. Points of interests will give you more lore into the world, and hidden caves are scattered throughout each region, leading to great mysteries and hidden loot. Other activities include clearing occupied forts, establishing new bases for your Inquisition, and solving puzzles. One of these puzzles sees you connecting constellation stars to make images. When three of these are solved in each region, they reveal a cache of prized loot. Speaking of loot, outside of story-specific loot, all other loot in the game is random. If you had acquired a blazing dagger from defeating the bandit leader, that doesn’t mean your friends will acquire that same blazing dagger.
I will admit: I have never been a fan of crafting in games. However, in Inquisition, I found it not only necessary but mercifully fun. When it comes to crafting, you will need not only materials but schematics, and schematics can be found in the environment as random loot or purchased from stores. After acquiring a schematic, you’re required to use a specified number of materials to craft it, but what’s different in Inquisition is that you will only be able to craft helmets, body armor, and weapons. Once the body armor has been crafted, you will then have the chance to apply modifications to the armor, increasing defense and adding bonuses like magic defense and stat increases. Weapons can be upgraded in the same manner.
Home Base and War Room
Your Inquisition will acquire its own base of operations. In this base, you can have conversations with your party members, craft, buy, and sell items, and, most importantly, access the War Room. The War Room is where your delegates will meet up to discuss operations in Thedas. With an eye on a map of southern Thedas, you must spread the Inquisition’s power across the land by sending members of your council on missions. For each mission, you must send one of three members to do the job. Josephine uses her diplomatic connections and influence across the land to complete her tasks. Leliana relies on her network of spies to gather information without exposing the Inquisition’s involvement, and Cullen completes his tasks with displays of force and military might. It’s important to note that one member of the delegation will be better suited for certain missions than the others. Most of these missions will take real time to complete, and though some of them can take up to three hours, partaking in these missions while you are not playing the game is a convenient way to stay engaged.
Your Inquisition will grow and gain more support from completing side quests and story missions, which will net you influence you can use to buy perks. These perks will range from salvaging your equipment for crafting parts to exposing more points of interest on your map. Some of the more important missions that players can partake in will require Power. Power is acquired from completing side quests, and Power raises your influence throughout the land.
Later on, you will acquire the Skyhold, a giant castle you can renovate. Completing specific quests will allow you to expand your castle and add to it. One thing to be aware of is that, when upgrading the Skyhold, you will have to choose between different stations: Would you rather build an infirmary or a military training camp, a garden that produces rare herbs, or a chantry for people to visit and expand your influence? Choosing one will remove the other options forever, so you will have to pick what matters most to you. Another fun aspect of the Skyhold is being able to judge criminals that you have captured and arrested through side quests and even main story missions. Will you sentence them to death or exile them from your land? Making these decisions will not only have great influence over your party’s approval and disapproval rating but will also affect how the story unfolds through the Inquisition’s public image.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, PSU was not able to try out the game’s multiplayer, We have decided to wait on this portion of the review until I am able to test the mode on public servers when the game launches on November 18, at which time I will update this review with my impressions.
As much as I loved my time with Dragon Age: Inquisition, I did run into some problems, but these did not hinder my enjoyment of the title by much. The framerate during some of the game’s cinematics seemed to drop when too much was happening during the scene. Other issues saw birds landing on invisible rocks and NPCs walking into walls. But biggest issue that I experienced was during some dialogue conversations. During some story sequences, I would lose the voices of the characters. At these times, dialogue won’t even be displayed in subtitles, even though it seems as if the scene is still happening in the background. Of different concern was the lack of a storage place in the game. Crafting schematics and crafting materials all take space up in your inventory and it quickly becomes cluttered and full, forcing you to sell or destroy items that you would normally store someplace else until you needed them for crafting.