I love Bioware. They don’t always get it right (who does) but I love what they try to achieve. From Baldur’s Gate, to Knights of the Old Republic, to Mass Effect, they’ve been one of the top names when it comes to story and character driven games.
I’ve been playing Dragon Age: Inquisition on and off for about six months now and feel it’s time to write a part-review, part-enthuse about it. I will do my best to avoid spoilers.
For those of you who don’t know, Dragon Age is a roleplaying game series that involves pauseable real time combat, detailed character creation, multiple story and dialogue choices and some of the most nuanced party members you’re likely to find on a computer or console.
This is the third in the series. Dragon Age: Origins came first. It did epic really well, had some fantastic characters (yes, Alistair and Morrigan, I’m looking at you), and did an excellent line in genuinely tough moral dilemmas. The only problem was that the protagonist (you) wasn’t voiced, and sometimes seemed a bit flat compared to the vibrant company you keep over the game.
Then came Dragon Age 2. They tried to fix the problem of the first game by simplifying game mechanics and providing a character for you to play called Hawke, I imagine hoping to replicate the success of Mass Effect’s Commander Shepard. Unfortunately, where Shepard seems to be near universally loved*, Hawke was quite divisive, turning away some players immediately. Also, where the first game felt epic, the second game seemed much more narrow in its focus (and the Deep Roads are sooooooo boring visually). However my biggest complaint with it was that the choices that you had were only poor illusions. I often like to play these games more than once to see how things would have been if I’d taken the other path and was sad to discover that even the biggest game choices had very little impact on the story.
That’s not to say that Dragon Age 2 wasn’t fun, it just didn’t work as well as the first game in my opinion. But, while it may not have worked, it was clear that Hawke was an attempt to fix a problem and that the Bioware team were aware of past criticisms.
Dragon Age: Inquisition strikes a much better balance. There’s a really in-depth character creation engine which gives you a great deal of control over how your character looks and you have two voice options per gender. This means that the character feels like yours but also has a presence in the game.
Quick Tip: When creating your character, there’s an option to control how shiny their lips are. I’d suggest turning that down to zero.
In terms of the actual game, it feels a lot like Skyrim but with better story and proper characters. Each of the game’s areas is beautifully designed and feels fully realised, with lots of interesting things to find. You’ll spend a lot of your time running about and fighting things but there’s much more to the game than that, including:
This is largely optional but by collecting the various plants and materials across Thedas, you open up all sorts of crafting options. In addition to getting swanky new kit, you can also craft things to help in certain missions or to help the people you’re trying to protect.
And naming kit too! If you’ve always wanted your very own helmet of badassitude, your time has come! As in most games, taking the time to make your own stuff tends to mean you’re much stronger than you’d be relying on in-game loot. Also, when you make additions to your kit it’s visually represented (which I love).
The War table
This feature enables you to make bigger decisions for the Inquisition. It allows you to open up new areas of the map, make alterations to existing areas (like building watchtowers or bridges to get to previous unaccessible regions) and deal with other factions. You have three advisors to aid you in this and they will each suggest different solutions to the many problems you face. It’s all too easy to simply look at the time each solution takes and go with the quickest but it’s well worth looking carefully at the text as sometimes your decisions can come back on you and some advisors are more bloodthirsty than others.
Sometimes you get to decide the fate of fallen enemies. More often than not, the options all have a little bit of grey mixed in.
Talking to people
This is a Bioware game after all. In terms of tone, you usually have three options: to be earnest and good, to be sarcastic and good, to be blunt or aggressive. It’s rare that the third options feels right, limiting responses somewhat. I still feel like Mass Effect had the right of it when they used the Paragon / Renegade model. Where Renegade options were ruthless rather than evil and felt like a valid approach.
That said, the voice acting is top notch and Bioware have done an excellent job of animating faces to the extent that I grew genuinely fond of the people of Thedas.
You can fall in love with your companions and try to win them over. Some characters are much harder to please than others. As far as I can tell, Iron Bull is easy and will take pretty much any inquisitor. Cassandra on the other hand is much trickier to impress. Each party member has their own sexual preferences and opinions on things, so if you have your heart set on a particular romance, it might be worth checking before you generate your character.
There are lots of things to find! Magical shards, mosaic pieces, bits of old lore, bottle of wine. They’re all optional but most reward you in some way if you pursue them.
Every so often you are presented with a puzzle. Some are trickier than others but if (like me) your ability to think at the end of the day is limited, don’t worry. Most of them are optional.
One of the things I like most about about the game is that it supports different play styles. You can play in normal mode, auto level your party and just run about fighting things in real time, or you can play on a harder difficulty and carefully build your party, micromanaging them through tough fights via tactical menus.
If I was being super picky, I still don’t think that the dilemmas in the side quests are as complex as those in Dragon Age: Origins and the tone is generally lighter (not a criticism). I’d also say that I’d liked to have had more made out of the issue of whether your character is religious icon or not, but that might just be me.
However, what Bioware has pulled off here is excellent. Dragon Age: Inquisition has a vibrant world that changes constantly as you start to take action. They’ve created party members that have relationships that develop both with you and with each other. It looks great too. I’m already on a second play through and really appreciating how much foreshadowing is in the dialogue.
One last thing. They’ve made a genuine attempt to present a broad range of characters. I’m talking here about sexuality, gender, and how they identify themselves. It’s really good to see. So bravo Bioware! I’m looking forward to the DLC hitting the UK soon.
*In my corner of the internet at least.