Dragon Age Inquisition is surprising; it’s not entirely what I’ve come to expect from Bioware. In some regards it blows Bioware’s previous games out of the water. The world of Thedas is expansive, its diverse range of open sandbox areas are sprawling landscapes crammed with more side quests and objectives than you could ever hope to complete. Dragon Age Inquisition is effortlessly Bioware’s largest world to date. Clocking in almost 90 hours I’d happily wager I could find another 20 hours worth of stuff to do that I missed, easily. Such a rich world and extensive amount of content has come at a cost however; that price is story. Bioware is renowned for it’s story telling and Inquisition simply doesn’t live up. A relative few largely forgettable story missions are lost in the larger tapestry of gameplay, drowning in the insurmountable number of hours you spend away from the core tale at any given time.
Inquisition is Bioware’s third go at the Dragon Age Universe, following up the incredibly divisive Dragon Age 2. Bioware has taken feedback from the last installment very seriously, going to great lengths to rectify the long list of problems fans levied against DA:II. The incredible scale and scope of Inquisition is a clear response to one such complaint. Players called DA:II’s city of Kirkwall small, unexciting to explore, lacking in diversity and most of all complained about the constant re-use of the same few maps. Dragon Age Inquisition is careful to repeat none of these sins. The world is varied and expansive. Players are invited to explore two countries in the world of Thedas: the aristocratic empire of Orlais and the returning backwater-state of Ferelden where Dragon Age: Origins called home.
Players can’t just romp across the entire world like in Skyrim. Orlais and Ferelden are instead home to a generous number of open sandbox areas, each zone ranges from large to astronomically huge. The rolling plains and jagged mountains of the Ferelden Hinterlands are the locale players are first introduced to, and it is massive. Exploring this one sandbox alone, and completing every task I could find took me at least 10 hours. Rushing through Inquisition is pretty impossible as story missions are gated with “power points” gained through side mission completion. Inquisition actively encourages players to do everything as it’s bustling quest log constantly reminds them exactly what they’ve done, and more to the point all of that stuff they haven’t. It’s simply impossible to fault Dragon Age: Inquisition from the perspective of content amount, quality and variety.
Not only is the world more expansive than ever, but so too has it never been more beautiful. Dragon Age Inquisition shrugs off the typically muddy look that has plagued Bioware games on consoles. Without a doubt Inquisition is not only the most visually impressive game Bioware has ever made, but it’s one of the best looking games on Xbox One and Playstation 4 to date. Sporting an impressive variety of different locale from deserts to spooky forests and ravaged quarries Bioware has plenty of different regions to show off their impressive artistic talents.
Fantastic design isn’t limited to environmental art either, character and creature design in Thedas is amazing too. Creatures of the wilderness look great and their models don’t play second fiddle to more important characters, the same goes for random NPC’s. Obviously a huge amount of care has been put into the building of Thedas and it’s denizens. If there’s one visual element that really takes top place though it’s the dragons. With only ten of the winged reptilians inhabiting the world run-ins with the ferocious beasts are a rarity; serving as kind of world bosses. These engagements are easily the highlight of Inquisition. Dragons are imposing, look fabulous and are rock hard to kill, I felt my hairs stand on end whenever they flew over head letting out their blood curdling roars.
Your place in this world is as the Inquisitor, the would be savior of Thedas whose purpose is rumored to be divine – that’s quite a reputation to live up to. But before you can go gallivanting around doing messiah stuff you’ll need to create your character. Players can pick their hero’s race from a selection of four: Human, Elves and Dwarves make their return from Origins, and for the first time ever the horned “ox-men” Qunari are playable. Racial choice is just the beginning of customization. Dragon Age Inquisition has easily the most impressive, expansive and somehow user friendly character creation tool I’ve ever seen. I’m never really into the deep “slider for everything” type of customization, usually I’m all to happy to pick a preset and go. In DA:I however I created my own playing with all the sliders and came out pretty happy. Bioware has turned slider hell into slider heaven. Customization addicts will love this.
Once your hero has taken form they’re thrown straight into the world. Bioware sets the scene aptly from the moment you press new game which sets the cataclysmic events of Inquisition in motion. The relationship between Mages and Templar knights lies in tatters after the climax of DA:II, the two groups fight a bitter civil war throughout the worlds southern regions. After months of trying a religious leader finally gets the two groups to negotiate peace. All gathered in one place a huge explosion kills hundreds from both sides, the sky is torn asunder; the veil which shields the mortal world from the fade, a dimension inhabited by demons, is ripped and the demonic entities pour through. Only one person was found alive: you.
Throughout the early stages of the adventure you’ll strive to prove your innocence in events you can’t remember and deal with the rumors that you were sent by the Maker himself to save the world. As ever how you deal with these situations is up to you. Biowares choose your own adventure dialogue and choices are present as ever using the dialogue wheel invented by Mass Effect. A range of companions will accompany you on this journey, most are well written and there’s only really one dud among them: moody mage Vivianne. The rest range from okay to great. Flamboyant mage Dorian, strong headed badass Cassandra and the laid back Iron Bull are in my opinion the breakout characters. The rest feel okay but don’t reach the heights of other companions Bioware has created over the years. I also question the decision to bring Varric back from DAII. He doesn’t really bring much new to the table; I don’t feel we needed to travel with him again.
Leading these companions into battle as the fearless leader is thoroughly enjoyable. Inquisition employs a combat system that cherry picks the best parts of it’s predecessors. The tactic heavy approach of Dragon Age Origins is here for fans of old school RPG, and the more active Dragon Age II systems are there for fans of quicker game-play. Both work excellently and the implementation of the tactical camera into the console versions makes tackling the more challenging fights easier than ever before. Warrior, Rogue and Mages all have an excellent range of abilities that make specialization fun, and party balance is super important. You’ll also want to use the rich and engaging crafting system to make sure your team’s gear is always up to scratch.
Despite having all the pieces you’d expect to create a great Bioware tale: good companions, rich world and moral choices, Dragon Age Inquisition misses the story-telling mark. The story is passable but blows it’s load far too early, it reaches it’s heights at the end of Act 1 and then nothing seems to happen for tens of hours. To create the largest most busy world they’ve ever made Bioware has sacrificed pacing. They are too few story missions, and only one third feel memorable. The issue is that when you spread a few story missions over 90 hours you only do 1 story mission every 10 hours. As a result I actually forgot my motivation for certain missions multiple times. All this means Inquisition is ultimately forgettable, and by the end I didn’t real feel I’d achieved much, it just sort of fizzles out.
Dragon Age Inquisition is an irregularity for Bioware. It’s a great game, but not for the reasons you’d expect. I was never playing because I wanted to know what happened next, on the contrary I rarely cared. Seeing the world, completing side quests, hunting dragons and upgrading my gear was all the motivation I needed. It’s disappointing that Bioware doesn’t bring their story telling A-game, it’s sad that the characters don’t feel as good as they could have been but it’s no deal breaker. Come into Dragon Age Inquisition expecting excellent combat, beautiful visuals, rich customization, deep crafting and a huge map filled with a megaton of stuff to do and you’ll leave happy. Dragon Age Inquisition has the best gameplay and world Bioware have ever built, it’s just a shame it’s their poorest narrative in recent memory too.