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Dragon Age: Inquisition (PC) artwork

Dragon Age: Inquisition (PC) review

"Far and away the best and richest Dragon Age to date."

Dragon Age: Inquisition (PC) image

It seems universally accepted at this point that Dragon Age: Inquisition, for whatever its virtues may be, gets off to a poor start. After the protagonist is promoted from prisoner to commanding officer at a rate that would impress Jack Bauer, the matter at hand is to assemble a military movement capable of challenging the forces of blah-blah-whatever. There's plenty of story intrigue there – amassing armies, snaking through politics and just generally finding unity in a world that's in disarray – but it's also an actual mechanic. The "power" of your Inquisition is determined by a blunt numerical figure. You need power to unlock the story missions, and you gain it by doing anything that would benefit the Inquisition – questing, in other words.

Unfortunately, BioWare's method of introducing you to this mechanic is to drop you into Inquisition's biggest and dullest area – a wooded region called the Hinterlands – to tend to a seemingly endless sea of radar exclamation points, with no indication that there's more to the game than fetching blankets for refugees or whatever. It gets better. It gets marvelous. It becomes far and away the best and richest Dragon Age to date, and I want to assure you of that. But I know series diehards who were bored to tears by it and I'm unsure of the differentiator. I can only tell you why soldiering through Inquisition's tedious first couple of hours was one of the best decisions I've made this year.

Inquisition is mind-bogglingly huge. BioWare promised that the first area itself, the aforementioned Hinterlands, was larger than the combined surface area of both previous titles. That wasn't a bluff, and many of the game's ten major regions come close to matching it. Inquisition, as such, lives and dies by the strength of its world. It has an advantage there, with two full games' worth of prep work: Origins did most of the heavy lifting in establishing the rules and workings of this particular universe, while the events of Dragon Age II set into motion the conflicts that have left Thedas unprepared for a demon-spewing hole to open in the sky. (Granted, you wouldn't have known it at the time; Dragon Age II was so limited in scope that there was rarely suggestion that what was unfolding in Kirkwall had any impact on the outside world.)

Inquisition shoots for a balance between the first game's narrative scope and the sequel's attempt to address some of the trickier moral quandaries unique to this fiction. The sudden demon invasion replaces the Blight as the world-threatening event inspiring the warring nations of Thedas to unite, but the questions that BioWare asks in your pursuit of peace are less black-and-white. Countless heavy issues are all brought up and handled with maturity. Consider, for example, that your character has the unexplained ability to close the rifts spawning demons and, naturally, lacks any memory prior to obtaining this power. Is he or she a device of some divine power? Is there more than one god, or none at all? Do the things that you witness throughout the campaign change your mind? And even if you remain unconvinced, is it better to allow your followers to go on believing, with the promise of guidance from higher beings giving them a much-needed boost in morale?

Dragon Age: Inquisition (PC) image

Dragon Age has never lacked moral ambiguity, but it has consistently lacked strong enough characters to give these very solid questions the emotional backbone that they need. Inquisition fixes this with what is easily the series' best cast to date. These are colorful people of various backgrounds, races and sexualities, and their conflicting viewpoints expose us to every angle of Dragon Age's most challenging ethical conundrums. To illustrate my point, the most likeable guy in your party is nobility from a nation in which slavery is still legal, and he's an outcast from his prestigious family because he's gay. Furthermore, the long-standing feud between the often-dangerous mages and the oppressive templars that govern them has accelerated to full-blown rebellion, and you can bet that every side is represented: one caster who resides in royal court, one mage who's a full-blown outlaw, a couple of former members of the Chantry and a whole bunch of magic-fearing everymen filling the ranks.

And aside from Solas, who sits between Carth and James on the bench of BioWare's dullest sidekicks, everyone here is either immediately charismatic or housing developments that elevate them beyond rote extra swords. (A particular standout: Freddie Prinze, Jr. miraculously validating himself as an actor with his turn as a huggable drinking-buddy mercenary called the Iron Bull.) The approval system is back, and I noticed it having a larger impact on conversations and potential romance options than in the previous titles. I actually had one guy abandon the Inquisition altogether after several of my actions made me out to be a "self-serving tyrant" in his eyes. I never saw him again, and no, that doesn't happen to everyone.

The strength of the cast, and the degree to which I strove to earn their trust and delve into their histories, rivals the Mass Effect series. That's not a compliment that I hand out lightly, but it's important in illustrating just how emotionally engaged I became in Inquisition, and how the game just would not have worked as well otherwise. My advice upon starting Inquisition is to fulfill the minimum number of quests needed to get out of the Hinterlands as soon as possible and then immediately begin hunting down all of the party members. That way, by the time you move to your main hub, your character is named the Inquisitor and BioWare finally sets you loose in the massive world that they've created, you'll be invested enough to want this level of freedom.

BioWare has been vocal about pulling influence from Skyrim, and while Inquisition is split into multiple levels, as a whole, it rivals its inspiration for sheer size. That's saying a lot, and it's a relief that there's far more variety and vibrancy in the scenery than initially indicated by the rather dry Hinterlands. The Exalted Plains, for example, are currently home to an ugly civil war and the landscape reflects it, but someone at BioWare decided that the ravaged buildings should nonetheless be painted in bright pastels, because that's just more appealing than the dreary greys that most developers would have gone with.

Dragon Age: Inquisition (PC) image

But for as pretty as Inquisition is, this is a quest-centric game, and that'll make or break the experience for anyone. Story missions themselves are relatively few; you'll devote most of your time to unlocking them rather than playing them. Power is gained by doing just about anything, and the number of options available to you, should you take the time to scout every major region and comb them thoroughly, is staggering. Plenty of the quests are dull, sure, but I never felt pressured to commit to any of them. Instead, I stuck to what interested me – like exploring intriguing bits of lore or solving the personal problems of the characters I was close to – and never ran out of ways to stay engaged. Dragon Age II felt rushed and insignificant, and its sequel almost overcompensates in comparison. There's a breathtaking amount of content here, and plenty of it is amazing. The highlights were the dragon encounters, teased early and then unleashed as the heaviest and most satisfying battles in any game this year not titled Divinity: Original Sin (or, what the hell, Dark Souls II).

The combat is quite solid, by the way, though I warn you that the reinstated overhead viewpoint is wonky to use and not ultimately worth it. Most people will play the game using the console-friendly action camera. It plays much like Dragon Age II did, and that's fine; Dragon Age II had many problems, but its emphasis on crunchier, more immediate combat mechanics was not one of them. Playing as a melee-centric rogue, hookshot-slinging myself across battlefields and stealthing my way to backstabs, is actually the most fun I've had with Dragon Age combat to date. I do slightly wish that the AI scripts were as customizable as they used to be, but my party members performed fine on their own, save for some occasional potion-chaperoning.

Beyond that, it's just nice to be playing a full-fledged, hardcore RPG again after Dragon Age II pointlessly stripped and watered down vital mechanics in an effort to please whatever audience buys a game with "dragon" in the title but wants a casual experience. From a robust crafting system to a war-room mechanic that has your agents completing missions in real-time, Inquisition is a seemingly endless well. It just keeps on giving.

It only stops giving during the finale, which is pretty much my only gripe with Inquisition beyond the slow opening segment and a general lack of polish that's probably unavoidable for a game this ambitious. I certainly wouldn't expect the major decisions made through the campaign to vastly impact where the story goes – not after Mass Effect 3, anyway – but the final battle that determines the fate of Thedas... sure doesn't feel like one. Maybe it's because the primary villain was pulled from a Dragon Age II DLC pack that I didn't play, but the effects-laden confrontation that concludes Inquisition feels like it could be tacked onto the ending of just about any big-budget release. It's an underwhelming closing note for such an absorbing epic.

But forgiving that, this is one of the best mainstream RPGs in years and a proper realization of the potential that the Dragon Age series has teased for a half a decade. It's big, deep and unfathomably rich, and in stark contrast to its predecessor, it was assembled with patience and care. If this doesn't restore whatever confidence BioWare fans have lost in the company in recent years, I don't know what will, because it's the Dragon Age game that I've always hoped they would make.

Suskie's avatar
Freelance review by Mike Suskie (December 09, 2014)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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Genj posted December 14, 2014:

Some mild spoilers:

I'm about 40 hours in with the string of end game story quests left, but I want to explore more of the optional areas & slay the remaining 3 High Dragons first. I mostly agree with you on Inquisition, but there are points we disagree on. I was surprised you spent so much of the review praising the story - I honestly think the plot is passable at best with the likable characters enhancing it mostly. I only like about half the party members (Dorian, Varric, & Iron Bull have been with me most of the game). I wish there were more returning characters who actually joined the party. I'd rather have Lillian & Morrigan fighting with me than Sera & Solas. I felt Origins had a better cast, but it's still a huge improvement over 2's cast & plot. One thing that did bug me was how little NPCs reacted to my player character vs Origins. I played as an Elven Mage and very few people made note of this. Likely due to the sheer volume of voice work in the game.

I love the combat, but I agree the tactical camera is inconsistent in its effectiveness. There are a ton of awesome spells & skills to play around with. The game world is stupidly huge and I'm a sucker for open world RPGs like that. The best part of the game is just exploring and finding interesting areas and bumping into quests. I do feel the RPG elements are a bit watered down much. Gone are the stat-checked persuasion or locking picking you'd see in older Bioware games replaced mostly with crafting and skill trees. You can't even distribute your stats on level up. That's not to say these are bad, but I can understand why some dislike the game. Inquisition is definitely more of a new school RPG. The quest quality is all over the place - a lot of MMO style fetch quests. Visually it's one of the more impressive next gen games and the soundtrack is great. It's a really massive, strong RPG, but it has a lot of flaws (& glitches). It's still probably my favorite PS4 game - at least until The Witcher 3 comes out.
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Suskie posted December 21, 2014:

Oof, sorry it took me so long to respond. Didn't even see until now that a thread had been made.

Yeah, I honestly never liked the cast of Origins much -- most of them felt utterly forgettable to me, save for Morrigan and Shale (who's DLC-only, and thus kinda doesn't count). I wasn't even that big on Leliana until Inquisition. I do remember praising DA2's cast for being a bit more likable, though I don't remember most of them, either. Whereas I think everyone in Inquisition had some major value (save for Solas, though at least there is that one interesting tidbit about him at the end there).

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