After what seems like an age (I’m hilarious) of being glued to the PS4, I think I’m finally ready to talk about Dragon Age: Inquisition, the biggest game and first ever RPG to be made using the Frostbite engine. By claiming a powerful narrative, complex characters and an introductory area said to be bigger than the lands of the first two Dragon Age games combined, BioWare have set high standards for the game and it has been surrounded by a level of hype that can often be dangerous. We’ve already seen some AAA titles fall flat this year, so how does Dragon Age fare?
Before you get any other ideas, I’m going to give the answer to you simply. Those expectations I just mentioned? It surpasses them. I’m a big fan of the previous games in this series, as well as the Mass Effect trilogy for which BioWare are so well known, meaning that I too came into this game hoping for something wonderful. I look to BioWare to provide me with a fleshed out world and storyline, along with the type of character that quite frankly, I wish I could see in every game that is released, and they don’t disappoint. Inquisition is no exception. This review is just going to be filled with me waxing lyrically about all the reasons that this game deserves all the accolades that are being showered upon it, so you might want to prepare yourself.
In saying that, there are several reasons why that won’t involve me talking about much of the plot. The first is that there isn’t much that can be said without spoiling it, and most of the enjoyment of the game obviously lies in experiencing the twists and turns for yourself. The second, however, is that any description of the plot that came to mind honestly felt like it was cheapening just how deep and expansive this game is. The basic gist of it all is that you play as the Inquisitor – an individual who is marked by a dramatic turn of events at the game’s commencement, and who becomes able to close rifts that have opened up around the world of Thedas. The exact nature of this mark, its actual origins, and the meaning behind it are unknown, everyone around you just seems to know that it is powerful, and because it is powerful, you must be too. So naturally, everyone suddenly expects you to have answers to all of these burning questions, and you become involved in the investigation into this strange happening, while facing criticism and skepticism from the people that put you in the position of power.
While all this is going on, however, the problems that faced Thedas before this new complication are still posing a problem. These are the issues that fans of the first two games will be familiar with (tensions between the mages and the templars, racial disputes, the discord between the wealthy and the lower class, etc.) and it was these issues that felt the most pressing to me, even as the world faced impending doom from an unknown power. There were a few times when I got so caught up worrying about politics and individual struggles that I honestly forgot about the broader plot, because there were too many other intricate details of the world to consider, and personally I consider that to be an achievement on behalf of the writers. I almost didn’t need the broader reason to continue playing, because the world provided me with enough on its own. That’s not to say that the overarching plot isn’t brilliant, of course – it was touching, surprising, everything I expected it to be and more. But, like I said, no description really feels like it will do it justice.
As usual, the protagonist would be useless without their merry band of loyal (or not so loyal) companions, and this time around there are more to be recruited. There are nine in total, all of varying races, genders, classes and sexualities, and no two of them feel overwhelmingly similar. They all come with their own tragic, touching or just downright infuriating backstories, and there wasn’t a single companion quest that I didn’t enjoy doing, or a single cast member that I didn’t rush to talk to as soon as there was a new dialogue option available. Not all are romanceable, but some more romance options do exist in the form of your advisors, who cannot join your party but still play a large role in your experience as Inquisitor. Again, they’re not all romanceable either, but there are some good reasons for that. It’s worth noting that some of these characters will be familiar faces and their histories differ slightly based on how they fared across the other games in your individual playthroughs, so they really do feel like the same characters you’ve been on previous journeys with.
This is made possible by a new feature known as ‘The Keep’, an interactive decision tree of sorts that can be completed online which then imports all the choices you made in previous games into DA:I to form Thedas into the world it would have become based on your previous strategies. It’s sort of like a much larger version of Mass Effect’s Genesis and Genesis 2 comics that allowed you to make the choices of the previous games and have them affect your future gameplay without directly importing a save file. For me personally, this new feature provided a great aid to making me feel even more immersed in the world, beautifully linking Inquisition to Origins and DA:II. Having said that, I did hear a few reports of friends playing the PS3 version of the game that were unable to successfully import their Keeps, but I can’t confirm whether that’s a few isolated incidents or whether this was a broader issue.
Alongside the Keep, the other new addition to the series is the new ‘tactical’ mode of gameplay, allowing the player to freeze the game during battles and manually control every move of their party without worrying about constantly pausing and unpausing to issue directions, or just constantly letting everyone run around in a frenzied mess setting each other on fire, which were pretty much the options of the previous games. This new mode allows fights to function almost as they would in a turn-based strategy game, and it proved exceedingly useful during the tougher boss fights. Of course, the option to throw yourself straight into the battle like in previous games still remains and it’s certainly the quicker way to get through enemies, but it’s also far messier. If you want a more sophisticated battle (or the ability to freeze your party in hilarious poses and then move the camera so you can laugh at them from different angles) then the new mode is for you.
I played this on PS4 and quite frankly the game is visually stunning. As in, the prettiest game I’ve ever played type stunning. The colours are vibrant, the details so lovingly crafted and oh my god, some of those panoramas… I could drool just thinking about them. This game is gorgeous. If this is what the Frostbite engine can do, then the future of gaming is very, very bright. Every location feels unique, even the ones that are set on quite similar terrain, because every single place just feels so alive. I’ve started to wax lyrical again, but it’s just so beautiful, as is the soundtrack. There’s nothing more to say about it, the whole atmosphere is incredible. Plus, you can experience it on a mount now, which always makes things better. Unfortunately, doing so does mean that you miss out on a bit of party banter, which is disappointing, but I think having your party riding alongside you on their own mounts while continuing to talk amongst themselves might be a little too much to ask for.
I didn’t play much of the multiplayer, because to me it isn’t really a reason for playing this game. It was there, it was fine, it worked much like the multiplayer in Mass Effect 3 – team up with strangers, fight your way through waves of enemies, emerge victorious. Or don’t, and crawl dramatically across the ground bleeding out while the bastards who have supposedly got your back ignore you entirely. Either way, the combat is much the same as it is in the story mode, and you can unlock different classes to play as you earn experience in multiplayer.
Ultimately, the people that are going to get the most enjoyment out of this game are those that have played the previous games in the series, but I think that’s true for most franchises. It’s one of this game’s biggest strength, but to be honest I also found it to be one of its weaknesses. If you don’t have the patience to read through the things you pick up, or to retain large amounts of information about the world of Thedas, then you might feel a little lost. I had two games to get used to this world, and even I struggled to keep track of everyone and everything. The game is just so big. Too big? Maybe not, if you’re really keen, but I personally felt just a little overwhelmed. I guess it’s value for money, though.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of why everyone is talking about Dragon Age, but when you can put more than 100 hours into something over the course of a few weeks, I think that speaks volumes. I attacked this game with a veracity and persistence that I rarely feel with games, and was compelled by a genuine desire to come back to it in every free moment that I had. Yes, there were a few glitches, like my character inexplicably gliding around like they were falling for a good five minutes and some of those pesky invisible walls that seem like a cheap way of prohibiting areas from being explored, but to be honest I never felt like those problems even came close to outweighing the amazing elements of this game. It’s not perfect, but it’s the closest thing to perfect that I’ve played in a long, long time. Plus, it provided me with a love story that will last the ages, because nobody will ever convince me that Josephine and I aren’t the cutest darn thing to ever be. And yes, when discussing such a huge and incredible game that is exactly the note I want to end on.
Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Dragon Age: Inquisition for PS4 by EA Games Australia