The Dragon Age series is one that I’ve always felt awkward about. Among the people I associated with, it was the preferred choice to the Mass Effect series as most of them had grown up on titles like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights.
Every time I tried to play either Dragon Age Origins or Dragon Age 2, I’d find myself playing for the first 10 or so hours before turning it off and playing a different game. They had all the charming personalities and intricate plots of previous BioWare classics, but they just didn’t do it for me. However, I couldn’t deny that the Dragon Age series was one that was heralded by many as BioWare’s magnum opus.These fans clearly saw something in the series that I didn’t.
So I gave it one more chance with Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Look at Those Sexy Scars - When it comes to art styles, I tend to put developers in one of two categories. Either they have the money to do high-end visuals and therefore should, or they’re a relatively small studio that has to rely more on gameplay than graphics. With BioWare being backed by the behemoth that is EA, they had no excuse when it came to producing high end visuals for the final game in a series known for its beautiful high end graphics.
Fortunately, they delivered. I dare say that until The Witcher 3 comes around, Dragon Age: Inquisition will sit as the most beautiful game on the out there (second only to anyone running Skyrim with a Schlong of Skryim mod). Every scale on Blackwall’s armor, every hair on Varric’s Dwarf chest stand out while being brightened or darkened by the masterful lighting. From the scenery to the characters, everything is full of life and gorgeous. Even the animations feel less jerky and more real than previous series.
I’m Only How Far In? - Somewhere along the way I should have remembered that the Dragon Age games are incredibly long. However, it wasn’t until the end of the first act when terrible, dreadful, spoiler related things happened that I realized how much longer I had to go. The best part was, I didn’t mind. Unlike some games where I wanted it to hurry up and end so I could run New Game+, Inquisition kept me enthralled. The side quests are actually worth playing, the main quest makes me feel like my decisions had some level of impact, and the game managed to keep pace between intense story, and calm moments of reflection. It's a masterful roller coaster that doesn’t give too much, or too little.
I Actually Like Killing Things - Part of my biggest reason for not playing the other Dragon Age games fell on the combat system. As a devote hater of dice-roll combat, I despised Origins’ approach of meticulously planning out every action and watch the fight play out like a choreographed cut-scene. Meanwhile, Dragon Age 2 had potential, but unfortunately did a terrible job of hiding its bland dice roll combat behind Michael Bay level fighting. However, Inquisition takes the both of best games, and removes the worst.
It would be rude for me to tell a game series to bend to fit my action driven desires for a combat system, but Inquisition has found a compromise. The combat IS dice-roll oriented, but it feels like I’m actually fighting. If my inquisitor hits an enemy’s shield, I will bounce back because the shield IS a shield, and not a defense modifier on a set of armor. Conversely, bows are bows and actually feel like ranged weapons. The fact that your equipment actually does what fantasy equipment should do is the key behind successful combat. It’s dice-rolled, with physical weight behind actions.
My Castle, My Rules - Admittedly, Skyhold was a bit overplayed by the developers. Rather than some castle that you can customize every inch of, it fits more into the Skyrim mindset. You pick the drapes and the castle changes slightly. I will say that Skyhold works perfectly as a main hub. Unlike the Normandy, it feels like a place for a grand assault to take place. It’s massive, but I don’t need a loading screen after taking two steps.
My Choices DON’T Matter - I’m glad BioWare has done away with the whole “your decisions matter” mindset. They’re not talented enough to tell a story across multiple games where decisions feel like they have meaning. Even if they were (and they would be the ones), they don’t have the massive manpower required to change a game so drastically over simple, butterfly effect like decisions. Simply put, if you jump into Dragon Age: Inquisition without playing the first two, you won’t be missing anything. Even if you feel you have, BioWare has provided you a handy web-based story book that lets you fill in the decisions yourself, so you feel like you know what’s going on. This game isn’t about a Gray Warden, or Hawke. It’s about you, and that’s OK. It’s not Dragon Age 3, it’s Dragon Age, another story later in time.
YOU BASTARDS, GIVE ME BACK MY HAND
How About a Mass Harvest Button - Minor nuance here, but still one of the biggest let downs from Inquisition. Most of the game revolves around crafting high-end equipment. However, to craft what you need requires resources. Resources were found in previous Dragon Age games by pick-ups without half a second of harvesting. As much as I enjoy the mining and flower picking animations, I don’t exactly enjoy having over an hour of my clocked game time harvesting blood flowers.
1-D Women, Fully Fleshed Men - The women in Dragon Age: Inquisition are poorly written. Whether it’s a love interest, or simply a woman you meet on the road, they all suck. If you wanted to have a heterosexual relationship as a male inquisitor, you get a choice between a politician who won’t stop repeating religious phrases, or a hard-arse who has two personality perks: She’s not really all that tough, and she’s a sucker for bad romance novels. If you’re a girl and want a female relationship, you have an elf that half the people I’ve spoken to want to shove into a barrel and push down stream, or the aforementioned politician. Meanwhile, I can be banging a lovable, fatherly mercenary leader, or a mage who, while he wants to be free, realizes he has duties to his family that he can’t completely turn his back on. I never thought I’d pick a day where I chose a homosexual romance option as a dude, although this one was less out of desire and more out of “screw you BioWare, I won’t bang your terribly written women.”
I Have to do What - Inquisition isn’t without faults when it comes to logic. An example of this is one mission where you have to track down people and kill them for Cassandra. The missions are straight forward, until you get to the desert where the second to last guy is hiding out. He’s in a location that can only be accessed by taking three trips back to Skyhold where you commission two separate jobs to be done, one after another. After they’re completed, you have to begin a quest completely unrelated to the murdering one involving dark spawns. Once you’ve completed that quest, if you’re not out of health potions, you can finally murder the guy and complete Cassandra’s quest.
This is Monkey Island Logic - You have to do the thing, to activate a completely unrelated thing, so that another thing becomes available but doesn’t make its presence known; and Bahamut forbid you forgot to grab that one thing from 5 hours ago that’s no longer there. This is poor game design. The loading screens are the last thing I want to see, and I certainly don’t want to have to see seven of the long ones in a row because I have to build a freaking bridge in a desert. Fortunately, events like this don’t happen too often, but there are enough of them to bring the enjoyment train to a dead halt.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is an amazing game, and probably one of my top three of 2014. It allows new comers and veterans alike to enjoy it, without offering anything that is too extreme in one way or another. The combat is something new and exciting, and BioWare has worked really hard to create a phenomenal finally to a legacy that many RPG fanatics will use as a comparison of a great game in the years to come. It’s not without its faults as the characters can be a bit dull, and the level design can be poorly constructed at times. However, it is without a doubt the best Dragon Age title in the series, and paves the way for some interesting ideas for BioWare if they want to start a new fantasy series.
*This review was based on the retail version of the game for the PC