I recently had the joy of taking a hatchet to a massive Dragon Age: Inquisition review to get it down to a publishable size. Instead of just throwing all those words away I decided to clean them up and mount them here on Vic B’Stard’s State of Play. Enjoy.
EA Games has swapped Sims and sports for sword and sandals with the new fantasy role-playing game from Bioware, Dragon Age: Inquisition.
The game is the follow-up to the acclaimed Dragon Age: Origins and the not so well received Dragon Age 2. I’d previously dabbled with both, and wasn’t really overawed with either of them. They were OK, but just didn’t engage me the way I’d hoped.
In the past, though, I’ve had a lot of fun with Bioware’s other franchises: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect and even their Dungeons and Dragons inspired precursor to Dragon Age, Balder’s Gate.
With this in mind was more than happy to give Dragon Age another chance.
The game started with what would become my main character emerging from this green-infused realm that I’d later find out was this devastating phenomenon called a Fade Rift.
It’s during the course of this extended introduction sequence that I got to customise my character. I was presented with a choice of gender, race and profession, as well as an almost infinite combination of facial features.
I ended up with a female red-headed, elfish rogue with too much rouge on her cheeks and dodgy-looking scarlet collagen-infused lips. And I wasn’t playing it for laughs, either. Character creation has never been my strong suit.
I could have chosen a human, a dwarf or a horned Qunari, as well as the elf and in addition to the rogue, the role of a mage or that of a warrior.
The world, being the continent of Thedas – an expanded version of the world from the previous games, has taken a turn for the worst. The religious order of The Chantry is in turmoil, the Templars and the Mages have turned on each other and this huge Fade Rift has opened up killing thousands.
To top it off, all across the land, weaknesses in the veil- the magical barrier which separates the world from the afterlife realm of the fade – have caused smaller fade rifts to open, spewing forth demons and other nasties.
It’s a dark time indeed.
My character seemed to be linked to all this mess, making the locals very suspicious, resulting in my arrest. When it’s found that the glowing mark on my character hand can close the rifts, she is drafted into the newly formed Inquisition, charged with bringing peace and closing those fade rifts.
But my character wasn’t alone in her quest. From the outset I controlled a team of other characters made up from traditional fantasy archetypes. My initial comrades-at-arms were the stoic warrior Cassandra Pentaghast, the Dwarven rogue Varric and the Elven mage Solas.
As I progressed through the game I picked up more members for my company. But I could only ever take out four members at a time. Whilst it can be hard leaving your favourite characters at home, I was able to mix things up with different combinations of character classes.
I found the combat in the game to be fantastic, mainly because I didn’t find myself having to babysit my AI controlled comrades. For the most part they just got on with it allowing me to harness the abilities of the character that I was using.
Being a party-based role playing game, I could cycle through and directly control each character. This was great as it meant that I could try out other races or classes at any time, keeping things interesting.
And, of course, as you play your party is awarded XP, unlocking more abilities.
Players familiar with standard RPG combat will right at home. Inquisition uses the genres standard ability-based fighting mechanic, whereby each character has a standard attack and a number of unlockable abilities.
You basically spam the attack button, which is either a range or melee attack depending on your weapon. whilst occationally hitting the characters abilities between there cool-down period. I’ve over-simplified my explanation a bit, as you can (and sometimes must) utilise a modicum of strategy to defeat tough enemies.
This is where the tactical view comes in, allowing players to pause the action and stack characters targets, actions and movements.
I found that the tactical view, the procurer of which I remember being a staple part of my Knights of the Old Republic/Dragon Age: Origins experience really didn’t seem quite as necessary this time out. In fact, for your “normal” setting the combat did seem a bit too easy. But maybe I’m still smarting from Dark Souls 2.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is all about exploration, and it looks so wonderful, you can’t help but get lost in it all. I found myself caught up in all these side quests, like rounding up livestock and searching for lost packages.
The game world is split up into a series of enormous open-world areas. The first area, The Hinterlands, is a mix of lush farmland, hills, mountains and streams.
A few hours into the game you get access to a horse, which makes traversing this vast land a lot easier.
The hub of the game world is Haven. I was here that I found the blacksmith who introduced me to the games crafting system. Using some of the metal I’d hacked from hillsides and skins that I’d hacked from various critters I was able to fashion my own armour. I could also use the smith to upgrade weapons with new hilts and runes. Haven is also the location of the war room.
The war room is where the Inquisition’s war council meets. Using the war map, agents can be sent out on missions to gather intel- gaining items, gold and sometimes unlock a new area. Often these missions will require power points which are gained through successful questing.
And quest you will. As well as the main story missions and the sidequests, the land is dotted with interesting place and things to do.
Each area are has a network of potential camp locations. Unlocking each camp opens up a fast travel node and place to rest up, heal wounds and replenish supplies.
Collecting flowers enables you to restock potions made from them. Similarly, if crafting weapons and armour is your thing, you’ll want to mine each piece of metal that you find.
Scattered around the world, usually postioned in high vantage points, are telescopic devices called Ocularum. Using them allows players to locate mysterious shards across the landscape for collection. There are also some other devices, Astrarium, which are basically join the dot puzzles based in the game’s constellations. You need to join up each star without going over the same line twice. Starts easy, gets hard!
The world as absolutely packed with loot and lore. There are notes everywhere, some are just poems or stories other are clues to the location of loot or quests. The game also has a huge codex brimming with information. It’s every fantasy gamer’s dream.
Whilst I had a lot of fun, I did come across a couple of issue during my review. During some session, I experienced a pretty regular stutter every minute or so. I found switching off the “Origin in game” setting in the Origin client sorted this out.
There were also times when the audio played up. I first noticed it when I was about seventeen hours in. One location in particular had NPCs clipping the end of their lines. Teething trouble, perhaps, but again a bit annoying. With both of these issues, I have no idea if it was my machine or the installation. Oh, the joys of PC gaming.
Some of the search quests were a bit perplexing, with the item that I was looking for clearly visible, but unable to be interacted with until I pressed the scan button. This caused a fair amount of cursing and had me going back to an earlier save, thinking it was a glitch.
I also found some of the “open-world” environments to be a bit labyrinthian, with point of interest difficult to reach without taking long detours or doing some oddly successful and very unrealistic jumping to scale mountainsides. The desert map was particularly annoying with its multi-level design, especially if you took a tumble all the way down to the canyon floor.
But these are such small complaints about a game that is otherwise approaching perfection.
Whilst I was reviewing the PC version of the game, for most of the time I used an Xbox controller to play the game. This replaces the ability ribbon with a radial display. Instead of using a mouse to click the icon, pressing the corresponding coloured button activates abilities with the left should to access some more.
The visuals on the PC are nothing short of stunning. The beautiful vistas stretch on forever and the detail is astounding. It’s actually a credit to the games engine that I managed to crank the visuals up to Ultra and still get a great framerate.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is a marvellous game. It’s accessible but deep gameplay is finely crafted- drawing you into a world that is difficult to let go of.
From bracing coastlines, to lush grassy meadows, and from foreboding swamps to opulent spires, the world of Thedas is a sight to behold. The fact that we’ve come this far with in game graphics is one glorious thing, but it was the fact that such awesome visual fidelity was achievable on my somewhat humble PC made me feel warm inside.
Dragon Age: Inquisition raises the bar when it comes to epic fantasy RPGs. With a gripping story, beautiful environments, a wealth of interesting quests and satisfying combat I really can’t recommend this game enough. It’s quite possibly my game of the year.