Dragon Age Inquisition won many awards in 2014, when it released towards the holiday season. Coming off the back of Dragon Age II, it didn’t exactly have much to live up to, but fans of the franchise were still expecting Bioware to pull out all the stops. I initially put off playing Inquisition because I had heard many comments about how long the game is, and it’s always a daunting task for me to jump into a large RPG, no matter how much of a fan of the series I might be.
The game is split into three acts, with a prologue and epilogue. Each act lasts approximately 4 to 5 hours in terms of actual main story gameplay. The prologue and first chapter throw you into the deep end of the story right away; soon you are well into the background story and making key choices. There is an absurd amount of lore for you to find in Inquisition. Each room you enter will more than likely have a book, note, scrap piece of paper or painting for you to inspect. Some people may find this extremely daunting, especially if reading isn’t your favorite pastime. It takes a lot of patience to go around finding all these little extra tidbits of lore, but there is a plethora of different avenues to get that story if you so desire.
Much like in the other games in the series, you are able to build up a relationship with other NPCs and playable characters throughout the game. These relationships can start in the strangest of ways, and by the end of the game, you may have a completely different opinion of the characters. Whilst the game doesn’t have as an intuitive system for building reputations and love interest like Mass Effect does, it’s still an enjoyable mechanic to explore.
The story of Inquisition was enjoyable as well. It certainly kept me interested right until the end, and some of the choices you make throughout the main story can indeed affect various outcomes. You can carry over choices from the previous games if you choose, but I was able to accomplish a fleshed-out backstory even without.
I realise this game is only three years old now, despite its age, Inquisition is still a pretty phenomenal looker. Couple that with an extremely well optimized performance, and at times I was achieving well over 200 FPS without any v-sync issues or screen tearing. The Frostbite engine is an incredible piece of kit, and it’s obvious why EA have chosen to build their games on this engine platform - it’s not only impressive visually, but it runs like a dream too.
Inquisition, strangely enough, didn’t suffer from many technical hitches on launch, either. As it’s a huge open world game it obviously had some lasting glitches and bugs that just couldn’t get ironed out in time, but from a technical standpoint the game ran well for most players.
The gameplay is very similar to the other Dragon Age games. You play as one character in a party of four. You do get the option to swap characters if you so choose, but if you are like me, you’ll find it enough just to focus on your own character. Min-maxers out there might want to make full use of the game’s pause mechanic to move all their characters into the perfect position and queue up spells and attacks in a perfectly timed rotation. As with other squad-based Bioware games, party members can be set to specific behaviors, such as targeting the same enemy as you, and even when they should take a health potion.
This was actually my third attempt at finishing Inquisition. During my first two tries I really wasn’t enjoying my class choice - first a warrior, then an archer. I finally found The One: a mage. The spells and abilities are well-designed; the mage, like every other class, has its own talent tree to specialize in.
Each talent tree point spent will either grant a new ability, or improve an existing one. I really liked how these talent trees made me think about where I wanted to spend my points. You can reset these points, but it’s a faff, so you may as well do it right the first time. Towards the end game, if you aren’t playing on one of the higher difficulties, no enemies will pose any sort threat to your team.
In good ol’ RPG fashion, you need to build your party so that all of your other members of the groups work well as a team. For me, this meant having a tank class, a mage (myself), an archer, and another mage but in a support role. It gives the feeling of an MMO in that sense, but the computer AI seems much smarter than your average Jjoe who would like standing in fire AOE in World of Warcraft.
Dragon Age Inquisition’s game world is absolutely ginormous too. Again, it feels like an MMO in terms of scale. Each zone has a recommended minimum character level - go there below that level and you’ll more than likely be on the receiving end of a hiding from much higher level enemies. However, due to the huge amount of side quest and activities found throughout the game, you can grossly outlevel your characters if you aren’t careful. By the time I cleared out my quest log in the second zone, my character was almost ten levels higher than the recommended level for the next zone. This made it extremely easy to progress, but took away some of the enjoyment. I can’t even say the majority of the side quests I completed felt remotely important. They were mostly filler content, merely there for the grind.
The combat system is easy and intuitive. The game’s UI is designed much like World of Warcraft. You have your spells and abilities across the bottom bar, with the number keys assigned to them.You’ll soon work out the best rotation to use your abilities, and maybe even come up with some funky combination of spells… with some interesting outcomes. Combine the easy-to-understand combat system with the game’s cleverly controlled AI, and the combat is easily one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game.
Depending on how many of the side quests you do, your play time with Inquisition will range anywhere from 40 to 80 hours. I started out doing every single side quest in an area before moving on to the next, which led to me being way too overleveled; I skipped a few of the later zones’ side activities to allow the game to catch up with itself so I could at least experience the end bosses as intended.
Whilst the game can easily be played with a controller, I got the most enjoyment out of using keyboard and mouse. I think it's down to the design of the UI, which looks all too familiar to any who’ve played MMOs for hours. That being said, it feels as if the game’s menu systems were designed with a controller in mind - navigation felt a little foreign with a keyboard and mouse, like, for example, the staple ESC key not working to exit out of screens.
Character animation looks realistic as can be. Character facial expressions feel correct, and NPCs don’t look like you are staring into an empty void. Inquisition does lack a few special effects; lighting and shadows aren’t anything special. Most open world RPGs allow you to take in huge draw distances for a few screenshots here and there, but I never got the urge to do that whilst exploring Inquisition. You never get to experience gorgeous sunsets like in The Witcher, neither do you get to gaze at the stars like in Mass Effect. The rest of the game looks great though. I especially liked that changing your character’s armour changes your model also. It does, however, make you feel extremely lucky to have a transmog mechanic as in WoW, as boy oh boy can you get some whacky outfits that just don’t fit your character.
Inquisition had a pretty lackluster soundtrack. None of the musical scores really stood out as spectacular. An epic soundtrack would have injected more emotion into the game, pumping up the player for their journey, but sadly this mark was missed. I’ve read about Inquisition’s poor voice acting, but I honestly couldn’t find any problems with it, and I am usually pretty good at picking up awkward voice dialogue. Everything sounded natural here, and there is a ton of voice acting. Even negligible NPCs that wouldn't normally have a designated voice actor have plenty of lines.
It’s clear why this game won so many awards in 2014 and 2015. A huge story that any fantasy fans will get a massive kick out of, combined with a sprawling game world with tons of quests and activities to keep you busy for hours - not to mention my favorite mechanic, the combat system, and feels like a dream to play. Even in 2017, when open world RPG games are in abundance, Dragon Age Inquisition cements its rightful place as a real classic genre-defining RPG.