Dragons! And Dungeons! And… Romance…
Looking back on my love for Dragon Age: Inquisition, I noticed how young the franchise is in terms of games released. It’s merely the third release of the IP, yet it has taken such an incredible foothold in my mind, with the remarkable Dragon Age: Origins stealing my heart, and the disappointing Dragon Age 2 leaving me somewhat confused.
Dragon Age: Inquisition however makes for a great comeback from such a middling sequel to the original game. Sure, it has some notable flaws, but it has left an indelible mark on my heart.
Dragon Age: Inquisition‘s gameplay is a melding of the Dragon Age: Origins with Dragon Age 2. Fighting seems much less point-and-click in nature, and ditches the style of the original game’s combat which mimicked titles like Knights of the Old Republic. Players are given more agency to move about and attack at will, with many abilities that help control crowds of enemies and dish out pain effectively.
I was also pleasantly surprised that tanking has become far more useful, as well as fun. My first playthrough as a warrior-style character ended up with me shifting from playing as a two-handed berserker style warrior, to a sword-and-board tank. This is one of the few games that I’ve played where it was legitimately fun to go toe-to-toe with enemies with a shield in hand, and other play styles are thankfully just as fun to screw around with. Bioware somehow made playing Dragon Age: Inquisition engaging without being boiled down into an action game.
Perhaps one of the biggest boons to the game’s design is the inclusion of the tactical mode, which freezes time and allows you to issue commands as well as the option to roll time forward manually, altering the gameplay to mimic strategy titles. Dragon Age: Inquisition also continues the tradition of allowing the player to set behaviors for the party’s AI, making it possible to adapt the way your party fights to fit the player’s style. Criteria can be set for when potions are consumed, when to use certain spells, and even setting up taunts for tanks to pull enemies off of friendlies. It’s an “if-then” system, similar to concepts of basic programming.
What’s so great about this, you may ask? It makes it possible for you to play the game without having to micromanage your group, but if you want to play that way, you certainly can. You’re able to cycle between each party member at will and take complete control (Jen: assuming control! Oh wait, different game) of them while your main character is controlled by the AI. This allows you to take the wheel if the proverbial fan makes contact with fecal matter (Jen: I laughed at this. Poop).
Like the Mass Effect series and Dragon Age 2, Dragon Age: Inquisition has the conversation wheel structure for conversations, and gives little snippets about the tone of the script you want to choose and the gist of what is going to be said. The combination of these two styles of displaying the conversation options helps mitigate the same sort of problems that Fallout 4 and (to a lesser extent) the Mass Effect series had: unintended conversation choices. Instead of saying something that is too rude, mean, sarcastic, or flippant for your character, you have a good idea of what you can say before you say it, without giving away the whole script.
The nice thing about this approach is that it still allows you to feel like you’re having a movie-like experience. You don’t know exactly what is going to be said ahead of time, just the general approach that you’re going to take with the conversation itself.
There are a few complaints that I have, however. First, one of the staples of magic-wielders in RPGs, healing, was completely taken out for the purpose of creating more tension in combat. The design decision to remove healing, outside of the use of potions, was to make it less possible to turn every fight into a battle of attrition. However, despite being unable to specialize magic users as healers, I have to say that it’s nice that mages can be utilized for more than just functioning as health batteries (Jen: Whack! Zap! Zhoom!). Spamming the search button by clicking in the left thumbstick on consoles (‘V’ key on PC) is heavily incentivized, because there are tons of lootable things everywhere. I can understand the inclusion of the search area function existing, but I can’t help but wonder why Bioware didn’t rethink looting once they started considering adding in that function.
Sadly, Dragon Age: Inquisition isn’t perfect. Much of the gameplay – perhaps due to the expansion of the title into a more open world game – is tied up with fetch quests and traversal of sprawling landscapes (Jen: I thought the entire game took place in the Hinterlands at first). Furthermore, it gets a little tiresome after spending multiple hours in the same location (Jen: Hinterlands).
Unfortunately, even though I’ve had hours of great fun with Dragon Age: Inquisition, I’d have to say that it also suffers from qualifying as a bloatbox (Jen: IDK what this is, but it sounds like a good description for my tummy after I eat too much). It’s almost as if there is too much to do. Too much to collect, too much to complete, too much ground to cover, and too much backtracking. The sheer volume of things that you can do provides a great springboard for spending time in Thedas, but it can get a little tiresome trying to complete quests that consist of “kill x amount of y”, or having to collect materials to craft a piece of armor (Jen: I hate collecting materials).
It’s difficult to shake the thought that Dragon Age: Inquisition could’ve looked better had it not been made for the PS3 and Xbox 360, though the same argument could be made when comparing the capabilities of the PS4 and Xbox One versus the PC. Even with the bottleneck of being required to run on the previous generation of game consoles, it still looks great. Characters and objects look significantly better than the previous entries in the series (which admittedly wasn’t much of a feat), and textures on current generation systems and the PC look sharp. On previous generation systems, it looks about as good as Mass Effect 3, though it still looks nice regardless.
As a side note, I’m listening to the soundtrack as I write this. It’s beautifully crafted, touching on the key aspects of what makes a score memorable. Trevor Morris, and the team that made the music, did an excellent job. The score for Dragon Age: Inquisition is powerful, and hits the notes that are expected from a game centered around organizing an army to fight evil. That isn’t to say that it’s all great (The Place Of All Fears is basically just the orchestra playing evil-sounding scales), but much of it is of the quality to make you feel like you need to crack some demon skulls and party it up in Orlais.
The act of building a force to be reckoned with is a theme in gaming that has been visited time after time, even in Bioware games alone. Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3 both followed this basic plot design, and even though Dragon Age: Inquisition delves into this same area, it does it with a level of intricacy that far exceeds many other attempts at the same idea.
Throughout the story, players are presented with different operations that need to be carried out by Inquisition forces. These tasks are broken up into three types of operations: Connections, Secrets, and Forces. Completing these tasks unlock new areas to explore, or quest lines to complete. Additionally, there are occasions that Josephine, Leliana, or Cullen may be needed to carry out a task, which can also unlock rewards or new quests. Each task takes a set amount of time to complete (in real time), and takes different amounts of time to complete depending on the person or strategy you choose to use for the task. It’s an easy process that will almost always turn out the same, and sometimes there’s only one or two options anyway.
Regardless, the inclusion of the war table in Dragon Age: Inquisition does a good job selling the idea that you are, the Inquisitor, and you have the power to make the big decisions. The forces that are at your disposal are capable of making great changes to the world.
STORY AND MULTIPLAYER
The storyline of Dragon Age: Inquisition follows the exploits of the Inquisitor (hint: your character), and the Inquisitor must gather forces to battle a demonic invasion threatening to end life as the world knows it. The unknown hero is thrown into the midst of a war between the mages and templars. All was appearing to come to a standstill until a giant explosion ripped open a rift into the Fade (a dream realm where spiritual beings reside) where the Temple of Sacred Ashes used to be. After sussing out that you aren’t to be blamed for the explosion, you’re entrusted to close the breach yourself, with your captor in tow.
The story itself then follows the path of gathering allies to combat the growing menace presented by the demonic invasion, and often requires one to make choices about which side to take. One of these choices centers around the unrest between the mages and templars.
For the unacquainted, the conflict is one of oppressor versus oppressed. The mages, desiring freedom from templar scrutiny over their lives, have been trying to break free of their oppressors. This often comes at the cost of doing some truly terrible things, like using forbidden magic and summoning demons. On the other hand, the templars have been attempting to tighten their grip around the throats of their charges and quash any rebellion that crops up.
This results in open warfare, and when the Inquisition is required to gain the assistance of one of the groups to help close the breach into the Fade, it quickly becomes apparent that only one side will help. What is interesting about this, is that neither faction is completely right or wrong. Both sides are attempting to accomplish something good, but both sides also use horrific tactics to find that solution. The mages, who did not choose to wield magic, just want their freedom to live out their lives. The templars see mages (sometimes correctly) as a threat to those around them. Not all mages are bad guys, but the same applies to the templars.
With all that properly digested, I began to realize something. Dragon Age: Inquisition‘s basic plot of collecting allies and resources seems amazingly similar to another game, Mass Effect 3. However, despite being similar in plot to other games, Dragon Age: Inquisition does a good job of standing on its own. There’s a much larger scale to take in, and more control at your fingertips. It feels as if you have more control over the way things play out, regardless of whether or not that actually is the case.
There are a number of memorable moments in the game as well, like a dinner party in Orlais, but then you also have to tolerate going into the Fade. Ugh…
Bioware struck gold (or platinum?) again with Dragon Age: Inquisition with their characters though. Each character is likable in their own way, like Iron Bull that somehow manages to be both funny and respectable; or Cassandra who is unwavering in her convictions, yet has some hilarious fangirl moments. Some favorites of the series make comebacks (as long as they didn’t die in previous games), like Leliana or Hawke, and they play fairly important roles as well.
Of course, romance makes a return to the series as well, and those that are interested in that aspect of them game will not be disappointed. Just about every major character in the game can be romanced in some way, though not Scout Harding for some reason. The romantic options are well fleshed out as well… I mean. That sounded bad. They’re very, detailed?
Let me put it this way. If you enjoy Bioware romances, you will not be disappointed. Unless you want to romance Scout Harding.
As for the villain; oh my. I won’t ruin the truth for those that haven’t played the game, but I love the villain in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Just not in a romantic way. For obvious reasons.
Speaking of previous games, the Dragon Age Keep website allows players to create savegames for the previous Dragon Age titles, as well as for Dragon Age: Inquisition, and the associated expansions. It’s basically a savegame editor, like the editors available for games like Mass Effect 3, which allows you to choose what sort of decisions were made so you can play the newest title without feeling compelled to play through the previous games to build up a backstory. What I would’ve done to have this for other games.
The multiplayer in Dragon Age: Inquisition, in comparison to both other games and to the main game, is pretty lackluster. It follows along in the same vein as Mass Effect 3‘s multiplayer offerings, down to the inclusion of microtransactions. It’s all very formulaic; structured. Every match is split up into five sections, with waves of enemies that need to be eliminated, and a small subset of optional objectives to complete. It all feels very tacked on.
WILDCARD: THE BLOAT!
The scale of Dragon Age: Inquisition is large, to say the least. The problem with this however is that there’s so much busywork to do in addition to the activities that are actually fun. It feels as if there were checkboxes that Bioware felt compelled to mark off, to include things to do for the sake of including more content. What’s damning is that if the bloat was stripped out of the game, not much would’ve been lost. Crafting, closing rifts, collecting resources, exploring the regions, and all that is extra stuff to do, but it grows so tiresome. It’s almost as if the game was filled with chores to complete, but does little to make doing those chores fun at all.
It’s reminiscent of series like FarCry and Just Cause, where players are bombarded with tons of crap to do, but little reason to do it. It’s padding, and it should’ve been left out.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is yet another wonderful Bioware game, though like most other games from the studio, it showcases how good a game can be while still being remarkably flawed. It’s padded to an incredible degree (like in the Hinterlands) and features some terribly boring and drawn out segments (*cough* Hinterlands). Still, while being filled with tons of mediocre elements and exhibiting the worst qualities of a bloatbox game, there are enough redeeming factors to make it one of my all-time favorites.
The quality of the characters, the molding of a tired trope into something a little more palatable, and the presence of a villain that has an incredible voice (you have to hear it) all play a part in delivering a fantastic story with decent presentation and a wonderful original soundtrack.
Playing Dragon Age: Inquisition is like eating a big steak, with a giant potato loaded to the brim, a huge salad from the salad bar, and a big ass roll. You know that the whole thing is going to be more than you want to take in at once, and you’re going to hate it sometimes because it’s not a perfect presentation, but you’re going to love it for what it is.
Unless you don’t like steak… I mean, open-world games. Or narrative focused games. Seriously though, Dragon Age: Inquisition is a fantastic game that’s worth being in any RPG fan’s collection.
Also, you can romance Iron Bull. Need I say more?
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