Bioware Reclaims the RPG Crown
There is no better way to begin a review of BioWare’s Dragon Age Inquisition than to say that anyone who has been hungering for a magnificently crafted role-playing game will find a place to love and in which to play for years to come. Bioware has once again shown why it is the king of the story-driven RPG with a tale that stretches a player’s abilities and emotions all the way from the game’s first moments through the final epilogue following the credits and all of it is wrapped up in some of the most visually stunning environments ever created.
For players who have experienced the first two games in the series, Dragon Age Origins and Dragon Age 2, the first stop before firing up the game is the Dragon Age Keep. Players with saved game files will be able to upload those to the DA Keep and have major plot decisions saved to create a custom world on first entering Dragon Age: Inquisition. Those who have lost saved files for one reason or another can go through the tapestry to re-create their version of Thedas, the world of the Dragon Age series that will be carried into the game. In addition, there is a new mini-game on the Keep site called The Last Court that all players will want to try as it is the ‘bridge’ between the events of Dragon Age 2 and the commencement of DAI. Once complete, and upon entering DAI, the saved data from the Keep will be imported and automatically inserted into the story at places where it is relevant.
Character creation is deep and satisfying. Players can choose one of four races: Human, Dwarf, Elf or Qunari. Each race is represented by both sexes. After choosing race and gender, players choose a class based on Warrior, Rogue or Mage, each with multiple specialties, some available immediately, others unlocked over time. Each race/gender is given five basic head types but each of those allow for very robust customization in head shape, hair, voice, ears, eyes, nose, mouth, jaw, scars, tattoos, and makeup. It is no stretch to say that hours could be spent creating the perfect character.
Once a character is in place, players enter the game for about an hour’s long tutorial that is more or less on rails to allow for familiarity with controls and mechanics in DAI. It is here also that the story begins, an epic storyline that slowly unwinds itself as the game progresses.
For the purpose of this review, story will not be discussed in any detail so as not to spoil it for players looking forward to DAI's release. What can be said, however, is that Dragon Age Inquisition is a magnificent and brilliantly written story with over 80,000 lines of dialogue. The main story arc sees the player go from a suspect in catastrophic events unfolding all across Thedas to the Inquisitor, the only person in the world who has the ability to close demonic rifts that have erupted worldwide. The Inquisitor is a focal point for NPCs, both those who support the Inquisition and those who seek its end. Because of that focus, the task is set: The Inquisitor is charged with building influence throughout the game world which will affect alliances and the reach of the Inquisition.
One of the most entrancing things players will experience moving through the game world are the small, but meaningful, discussions with NPCs that reflect the ‘state of the world’ created via the Dragon Age Keep (see above). Talking, for instance, to the armorer will reveal reasons why she is here with the Inquisition that are based on decisions made via the Tapestry. It’s a very, very cool touch and seamlessly ties all the games together. Also, familiar characters from past games make their appearances throughout Thedas, also a nod to the previous titles.
To gain influence and power, players are sent out on quests to destroy enemies of the Inquisition and to assist those who support it, as well as to close rifts, a task that only the Inquisitor can accomplish. All of these yield power and influence. As the game unfolds, players will encounter nine individuals who will join the Inquisition and be available to adventure throughout Thedas with the player. Party size is limited to the Inquisitor and three companions and it is worth ensuring a balanced party as there are times that a certain character class is required to, for instance, bash down a wall (Warrior) or to open a magically sealed cave (Mage).
As with previous games, though more comprehensively in DAI, companions natter with one another. Those who may be at odds with one another will bicker as the party moves through the countryside or, alternatively, pleasantly discuss the weather or fashion or any one of a hundred other topics. In battle, they will cry out for the Inquisitor to assist a badly wounded party member. Party AI can also be controlled by the player through the use of the Behaviors menu that allows customization in ability order, potion use and more. Lastly, prior to and during combat, players can access the Tactical camera that pauses game play and allows the issuance of orders to each of the members of the party. This allows players flexibility to either play DAI as more of a strategy RPG or, if choosing not to utilize the Tactical camera, as a straight up action-RPG. It's a very flexible system that is only hampered by the fact that early on it can be confusing.
Combat is a true star in Dragon Age Inquisition. It is fluid and robust both in terms of visuals and in the breadth of abilities from which to choose. Attack animations are well done and the effects are breathtaking. Rogues disappear into puffs of black smoke. Mages throw cold spells that freeze enemies in place allowing Warriors to whirlwind through them, shattering the ice along the way. Controls for PC players are native for the platform and are not simply ports of console controls. It’s a fantastic touch by Bioware to have done so as it give PC players familiarity with W-A-S-D control, mouse look and movement, etc. without having to feel the need to attach a controller to their rigs. It's definitely a PC gamer's game.
Because of the enormity of Thedas, players will be able to acquire mounts through questing that are second to none. The Ferelden warhorse is amazing. It moves and behaves as a horse should. Players sit in the saddle naturally and BioWare has even added such realistic touches as patting the horse’s neck when slowing to a stop and the jingling of the bridle while moving at a canter. Mounts are unusually responsive too and they will ‘turn on a dime’. The only complaint that could be launched is the inability to speak to NPCs when, for instance, turning in a quest in the outdoors. On the wish-front, it would have been nice when, on calling forth the mount, all party members would have saddled up and ridden off together. Instead, all but your own character disappear magically, and reappear when you dismount. Perhaps in a patch one day.