Sequels usually have high expectations to live up to, whether they are in fiction with George RR Martin’s epic tale A Song of Ice and Fire, in films like Star Wars, or even videogames like Halo or Dragon Age. Capturing the essence of what made each special while trying to continue the storyline is no easy feat, and gamers really noticed this when Dragon Age 2 followed up game of the year Dragon Age Origins. Everything they loved about the 1st game didn’t transition well to the 2nd adventure which basically came down to choosing sides with the Templars or Mages. Now the 3rd edition to the Dragon Age saga has the gaming community buzz, can Dragon Age: Inquisition return Bioware to the top of fantasy RPGs ?
Character customization allows you to choose one of three classes (Mage, Warrior or Rogue) as well as their gender and race before you delve into the story. No matter what you choose it all starts out the same as your character lingers in between consciousness and death after a massive explosion consumes the lives of the leaders of all the major players in Feraldan. Your character is then left with the only key to closing the demon spawning rifts. You are thrust into a world where choices matter as everyone seeks to gain control of the world due to the recent voids left by fallen leaders. In the middle of this Civil War an Inquisition is formed to take control and restore order making you the front man (or woman) for the cause as you use all available resources at your disposal to win over key factions and persuade everyone that the Inquisition is the only way to close the rifts. At first it seems dialogue decisions are merely a way of progressing through the game, but as you pour in the hours you’ll find that what you may think is a minor selection has consequences to someone in your inner circle. This really gives the player a sense of consequence throughout the game and allows them to play whichever role they want, be it the strong silent type, the sarcastic leader, or the take-no-crap bad-ass. The story is beautifully woven within all the conversation of the characters as well as through completing an abundance of tasks through your travels across a variety of unique locations. Players will find the storytelling both rich and deeply laced with lore from the previous Dragon Age games. If you are new to the series or having a hard time recalling past events Bioware has set up a website, which gives a graphic novel type of overview to refresh your memory. This is something that should have been linked in the game.
Obsessive compulsive players will find themselves wanting to complete each and every side quest, but be warned that clearing a map of everything actually requires you to advance the main story if you want to stand a chance against some of the more difficult enemies. I found this out the hard way as I tried to clear the Hinterlands of all quests only to find myself levels below a few demons pouring from a rift, having a team of bears gnaw me and the other 3 characters in my party as useful as chicken wings from the local pub. In addition to running away from massive dragons like I was trying to qualify for an Olympic bid in long distance running. With so much to do it is easy to get side tracked from the main quests, but to be honest the game doesn’t really start to get ‘good’ until you’ve dumped about 8-10 hours into the story and all hell breaks loose as you confront a major player in the war to overtake the Maker.
Inquisition gives the player so much to do it is very possible someone could put in over 100 hours of game play and only make it halfway through the game, but what makes it unique is that all the side quests actually matter. In order to explore new locations you must gain power to unlock them and the only way to get it is through finishing a variety of missions. While roaming the lands in search of loot, battles and quests are where players will find the most enjoyment, there is something called the War Room that is an intricate part of Inquisition. This is where alliances are forged with other nations or factions, a show of force is sent off to another land to quell an uprising, or spies are sent to infiltrate various noblemen’s courts to persuade them to back the Inquisition. The war room is just a piece of the puzzle that makes all the politics of the game come to life and give you control over everything essentially allowing you to micromanage the entire world without ever needing to show up and deal with every little thing.
Combat within Inquisition is exceptional allowing the player to use an overview to position team members strategically throughout a battle sequence or giving you personal control of a character and seamlessly transitioning to another character to use with a flick of the d-pad. The more challenging the situation, the more you’ll be required to use your parties’ attributes to ensure victory. Failure to do so will have you repeating the action over and over until you slide past. Players can hack and slash all they want, but that won’t get them very far taking on some of the more grueling boss battles. Camera angles are a bit of a challenge at times and unless you enter the strategic top down mode there may be enemies off-screen firing arrows or fireballs at you. If battling through the single player isn’t enough for you, Bioware has tacked on an online co-op mode where you can group together with 3 other players to blaze through dungeons levelling up a character that is separate from your single player campaign. While this boosts the replay value of a game with an already massive single player, it feels like a grind as you level up and constantly run into enemies right from the start that can easily wipe your squad out.
Visuals are stunning as you travel around each of the unique environments ranging from wooded mountain peaks filled with bandits and bears, to dark bogs dense with fog and crawling with the undead, to sprawling desert sands teeming with danger just over the next outcropping. The worlds are so vast it is effortless to get lost and end up far away from your point of interest. Sometimes you may see a castle off in the distance that looks like it may be for background only, but after traversing across the terrain for 20 minutes you arrive on its doorstep. Boundaries seem limitless in Inquisition and you know just where they end, but the view beyond is amazing as you watch massive rolling waves crash in the distance or the unattainable peaks of a monstrous rock mountain too steep for anyone without wings.
Character models are loaded with rich texture in their armor, facial details, hair and mannerisms that truly bring them to life and give them a personality of their own. Occasionally you’ll run across a hiccup where someone’s arm seems out of place or half of their body is within a wall or the floor or cut scene animations bog down, but these are far and few between. Voice acting is top notch and gives added gravity to the situations and conversations, while the sound effects deliver a textbook performance throughout the game. Background music casts the mood throughout Inquisition with a dynamic orchestra.
Dragon Age Inquisition fits the cliché that the third time is a charm. Everything a RPG fan would want in a game is here from massively dense worlds, to a variety of combat options, to dictating how you want your character to interact with others. The story may be the standard formula for a fantasy game, but there are enough twists and turns in the plot to keep you intrigued to the end. Characters within Inquisition really bring the game to life and the dialogue wheel boasts over 75,000 different ways to interact throughout the game, that in itself makes this an RPG soap opera. When packaged with the outstanding visuals and voice acting, Inquisition should be a must buy for any fan of the genre. While this is no flawless gem, it is the best RPG in recent years and worthy of anyone brave enough to sink the time it demands into the game.
Score – 9 out of 10
Review code supplied by Team Xbox UK.