by Ashe Collins |
I’m one of the few that actually enjoyed Dragon Age II. I didn’t think it was anywhere near Dragon Age: Origins level of complexity or story-telling, but I did enjoy it. Origins introduced us to the world and its rules and how things work. Dragon Age II went in and showed us that some times what you know isn’t always what’s right. Dragon Age: Inquisition will then take things even further and show you just how deep that belief in a certain rabbit and its hole can go. I’m glad EA game BioWare some more time to develop this one. They’ve completely changed directions with this one making it almost open world as well as changing how you progress through the story. While many of the usual BioWare staples are here, they’ve done something interesting with this and gave players the option to revel in this game with a single character for almost two hundred hours if you want. After so many titles from them since Knights of the Old Republic that could be finished in around forty hours, this expansion gives a player a lot more time with their larger crew. I have to admit I was worried that they’d be a bit more limited like the crew in Mass Effect 2 in what we could experience with them before saving the world, but they managed to out do themselves. This isn’t to say it’s a perfect experience, but it’s a great new direction. Let’s take a look.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: 11/18/2014
The game starts off with your character, of which you can make a human, elf, dwarf or for the first time, qunari, of either gender and either a rogue, mage, or fighter, imprisoned for a meeting of the Chantry/Templars and Mages getting together to stop a war between the two going sour. It seems someone has blown up the meeting place where this truce was hopefully going to take place wiping out most of the heads of either side and has torn a hole in the sky that leads into the Fade, from which demons are pouring out of. There are more rifts opening up across Thedas and every time the bigger one grows, it affects your character, who was the only living being found in the vicinity of the rather large explosion. The working theory is that you caused it and a few of the people in charge have managed to hold off in executing you which is what everyone else wants. It’s a good thing they didn’t too as the mark on your hand that’s tied to the big rift happens to be the only way to close them and drive the invading demons back into the Fade. Your character, Cassandra the Seeker from Dragon Age II, Varric, the rogue story-teller from Dragon Age II, and a new elf mage character, Solas, meet up and march onto where the explosion happened in the hopes that you can close the big rift or at the very least stop its growth to buy some time.
While you’re able to buy them some time and stop the rift from getting bigger, that hole is still in the sky and you wake up days later just as Cassandra invokes the Inquisition, an old Chantry option to figure out a way to permanently seal the hole in the sky and ultimately find out who’s responsible for the catastrophe that’s crippled the mage rebellion and wiped out the leaders of the Templars and the Chantry. You get involved in the recruiting and trying to get to the bottom of things, recruiting more people to your side as you go. Leliana has returned here but is working as your spymaster having left her days as a Bard behind her. Cullen returns here as the leader of the military you’re assembling, having left the Templars to lead in the Inquisition. The other big player at your war table is Josephine Montilyet, an Antivan noble who functions as your diplomat and ambassador. Those three won’t join you in your battles, but serve just as important a function organizing, providing intel and demonstrating the Inquisition’s power as needed. Much like Mass Effect 2, the cast of characters you pick up to run with your Inquisitor is rather large and varied. Varric, Solas and Cassandra start you off, but then there’s the Iron Bull, a Qunari mercenary leader and his band, Dorian, a Tevinter mage, Cole, who’s a skilled rogue but very odd, Sera, an elf rogue who’s even more strange than Cole but has motives that are a bit easier to understand, Blackwall, a loner and member of the Grey Wardens, and finally Vivienne, an Orlesian mage who’s very skilled at the Game played in the Orlesian courts.
Over-whelmed yet? Don’t worry, they’ve given you plenty of time to get to know the characters. Some take a little more effort to get them talking than others but once they do you start getting to know them. The party banter when you take them out into the wilderness areas is always fantastic and great to see again. They almost always have something to say. And if they’re not too talkative there are sub-ordinates and other people you can recruit that hang out in your main hold to get to know. They of course give you side quests that flesh out the world and areas you’re exploring, but the interesting thing about the Inquisition is that it spends just as much time getting you to look at the world of Origins in a very different light. Sure you’re trying to plug the hole, build up the Inquisition and stop the whims of several mad individuals, but this game really claws into the world of Thedas after they set it up so carefully in Origins to get you thinking about what’s really going on. On many levels you end up getting a lot out of the story to the game this time around but it’s structured in a way they’re not entirely hitting you over the head with it.
The game has been given a visual overhaul. I imagine much of that has to do with going over to a completely different game engine than the previous titles. Characters from previous games look similar to but not exactly like their previous versions. That’s ok because they look fantastic on the PS4. The character creator is probably the most robust that BioWare has included in any of their games and other than lacking some wildly different hair options, you can go to town and really make wildly different looking characters with it. This doesn’t extend past the head and face, so be prepared for that. The landscapes though and wilderness areas look fantastic. The weather effects look great. Water looks really good for the most part. The Storm Coast is a bit suspect on the waves there but the rivers, pools and flowing water elsewhere looks great. There is a bit of a plastic look to some of the materials, mainly on characters and what they’re wearing and how the light hits them. If you were looking for more variety in your areas after the second game, you’ll have your fill and then some here. They’ve opened up the world quite a bit and the landscapes vary wildly not only in look but design. There’s still room for improvement but this is the best looking of the three main Dragon Age games out there for sure.
One of the things they’ve started doing over the last few Mass Effect games is bringing in voice talent from outside the regular voice actors we get in gaming. They’ve continued this with Inquisition as well bringing in several actors and actresses form film as well as bringing them in from their regular voice cast. To add a bit of variety, each gender of Inquisitor can pick from two different voice actors to voice their character in the game. One has an American accent, the other English. Each of them has a very different tone and emphasis when speaking further adding to that customization they’ve got built into the game. With a voice cast as extensive as it is I won’t list them all, but Freddie Prinze Jr. is fantastic as Iron Bull. The voice actor I picked for my first Inquisitor, I will have many more, Sumalee Montano, who also voiced Arcee in Transformers Prime, is also fantastic. Torchwood fans might recognize Solas who’s voiced by Gareth David-Lloyd. Brian Bloom as Varric always steals the show and my heart. No he’s still not a love interest. I also have to say Allegra Clark as Josephine had me almost from the start with that character as well.
For the most part the controls are pretty responsive. The only time I’ve had them delay or act weird is at the War Table after I’ve gotten a report in of my activities. Usually I’ll have to hit the X to confirm it at least twice once it’s popped up but other than that it’s smooth sailing. The game uses just about every button on the controller so bear with me. To star with your analog sticks, the left moves you around the screen, the right moves the camera. You swap between your active party members using the up and down d-pad buttons. Jumping has been introduced into the series with the x button which also double as the interact command. Be prepared to look stupid jumping instead of interacting with loot or a door because you’re too far away. I’m still doing it. To sprint you hold down the L3 button, but L3 also triggers your area sweep to see if there’s anything out there you should be hunting down to interact with or collect. The R3 button locks on to map targets and moving the stick while you have it pressed lets you cycle through them. R2 is your attack button. Your primary abilities are mapped to the square, triangle , circle and R1 button. To get into your secondary abilities you hit the L2 button and then one of the afore-mentioned face buttons to trigger them. There’s a radial menu that your mount, potions and a few other options to order your other party members about. Bringing up the radial menu pauses the combat much like going into tactical mode. To get into the main menu where you can look at your codex, save, check out the maps, your quests and everything you need outside of the radial menu, is the Options button. You’ll be hitting that one a lot. Lastly is the Tactical Combat mode which is triggered by hitting the touch pad.
Most of the game takes place open world style where you run around and interact with different objects or talk to people. The conversation wheel is back again and feels very much like the one from the second game. Many of the conversations you have when in the open world setting will simply pan the camera so you can see who you’re talking to and the Inquisitor and just bring up the conversation wheel as needed. You can pan the camera in this mode and yes the sound does move around as you pan the camera. The game’s HUD interface always has a few options up on it outside of a conversation or cutscene. You current quest objective is in the upper right corner along with what you’ve completed on it and what’s left to do. It will truncate so it doesn’t take up the whole screen. On the bottom right is the Battle Menu that has all your primary and secondary abilities tagged to it. It also shows stamina if you’re a fighter or mana if you’re a mage as well as one of your Inquisitor abilities. The compass is in the bottom left corner of the screen. It shows your quest marker and anything out there to talk to. Bringing up the main map in the menu will give a bigger overview but the compass does a decent enough job. It’ll also show you where nearby interactive objects are when you fire off a search ping. Out of combat your party member health bars will vanish so as not to clutter the screen. If you need to double check you can always just swap between characters or put the game into Tactical Combat mode to see who’s at what outside of combat.
Before I get into combat I want to talk about stats and abilities. You won’t be affecting your stats on your own in this game. They’re auto-assigned. The only way to really affect your stats is through additions to armor or armor with the stat boosts already on it. Yes, if you’re an RPG min maxer this will annoy the crap out of you. It’s just the way it works here. If I can get over it, so can you. What you do have control over is dropping points into your abilities to get access to new ones or to add a nice little effect to one you already have. One of the things you’ll notice for mages is that healing is gone. This is not a bug. Healing is done through potions and minorly through one or two abilities but they felt mages were a bit over-powered with that so they tempered it a bit. I actually like the new system a bit better as I can just work on agro management, buffing and nuking now and it adds a bit of strategy to it as you have to make those 8 potions last for a good long while some times. There are occasionally resupply points but most of the time the only way to resupply is at camps or back at your main hold.
Managing inventory is kind of a pain in this. If you’re in your hold you can go in an equip any of your available party members. Out in the wilderness it’s just the ones with you. You’re limited to a certain number of slots that garbage pick-ups and quest items will eat up. Some of the quest items end up listed under ‘valuables’ which they aren’t except for quests or codex entries. I still find the inventory system kind of tedious and I do usually spend way more time than I mean to sorting which is probably why I end up dump-selling everything more often than I do equipping just because I’m tired of fighting it. So be prepared to be frustrated with that end of it. Why you can’t tag items for specific quests like gathering x amount of creature part a so you don’t accidentally sell it all before turning it in is beyond me. Yes you can buy back, but when you’re back out in the wilderness and nowhere near a merchant and at your camp trying to turn in a requisition with a requirement for spider sacs you just sold off it can get really irritating.
Quests are broken down first by the main plot line, then by your inner circle which amounts to your party members and the leaders of the Inquisition. From there they break it down by specific areas and by collections. There are quite a few fetch quests in this, but the good news is you can have a ton of these active in the background and just run around picking up plants and rocks and materials and animal parts and weapon fragments as you play and simply turn those suckers in later at the requisition table so they feel much less like a chore and more like a reward for simply being thorough in your explorations. You can select one quest to be your primary and it’ll show up on your mini-map and on the main map as the Inquisition emblem instead of a triangle. You can also set map markers as well beyond those.
Crafting isn’t completely necessary as you can just equip weapon and armor drops as you get them. I do recommend only picking up the blue and purple drops and ignoring the others unless they’re a crafting option as it will clog your bag space very quickly. Crafting is the only way to upgrade Varric’s weapon however. You can find drops to slot in but you’ll still have to modify it at a crafter. Crafting also lets you get some of that nice stat bonus worked into your gear. Or if you want a new color but the same armor you do that through crafting as well. It’s fairly simple to sue even though it pulls from the inventory. You select from your available collected materials and it tells you what bonuses or stats the different materials will grant you. Recipes can be found or purchased. Again other than Varric’s beloved crossbow you can pretty much skip crafting and just use your materials to fill requisitions to build up your keep and expand on the Inquisitions power.
Aside from experience to level up your character with, you have a few other things to worry about. Some quests require a certain power level. Power is granted from filling requisitions, from completing quests, and sometimes from taking care of business from afar with the War Table. The War Table helps you guide what the Inquisition is working on in Orlais and Ferelden. You assign tasks that don’t require power to Cullen, Leliana and Josephine. These open up new areas, get you more power, more gold, or open up areas for you to explore. This helps guide your efforts along the main quests, your companions quests, and just overall helping out the Inquisition’s cause. Power is pretty easy to get but some missions require a big chunk of it to start with. Relax, this isn’t a grind. You’re not going to need to spend too long racking up enough power if you’re just trying to blow through as fast as you can. Just explore, pick up a few quests and run them to completion and you’re set. Your Influence is also measured by a bar and gives you access to Perks every time it levels up. You only get a mzx of twenty of these and there are more Perks than points so you have to plan how you want to use them. Inquisition Perks provide benefits to leveling up, access to better gear, influence in conversations you wouldn’t have normally, and a bunch of other options to help you maneuver through Thedas. Perks are put in place whenever you hit up the War Table and hey let you know right away when they’re available to spend there.
Conversations can and will both annoy and please companions. There aren’t any gifts to give here so if you make your companions too mad they will up and leave. Some of them you can ask to leave before that gets too rough as well. There’s no way to keep track of this in game, so you’ll have to kind of track how you’re doing with each of them. If they’re really pissed at you every time you open your mouth that’s a pretty good indicator right there. Some companions will require different events to unlock their personal quests and you can flirt with just about any of them but only a select few are actual romances if you’re interested in that route. I’d actually ended up in a relationship with Blackwall before I knew it and was being denied by a few people back at the hold when I’d flirt. Luckily I hadn’t locked it in yet, but the others were labelled a bit better in the conversation wheels what the consequences were. I may have just missed the pop-up with Blackwall.
So with all this going on, what about combat? Well the good news is you can make it as action oriented or tactical as you want it. I recommend tactical mode if you’re going into a fight you know is going to be rough, or if you’re playing on the Vita through Remote Play. More on that later. Tacitcal Combat mode pauses the combat and lets you assign actions to each of your party members and choose targets while time is frozen. You then hold the R2 button to move time forward in the combat until you feel you need to issue more orders and go from there. Tactical Combat has its uses if you’re planning on playing in action mode as well. Tactical Combat lets you assess the situation while you’re still at a distance from the enemy and get their level and type so you know how tough the fight is going to be. My level 5 in the Hinterlands found the level 8 plus demons to be a bit of a challenge so I had to start checking monsters fairly often when I was exploring. Action combat is exactly how it sounds. You pick a a target and the party member you want and move through combat as fast as you can handle. At the start it’s fairly simple to use the Battle Menu, but as you fill it out you have to keep track of what’s where a bit more. Not all of your unlocked abilities are going to fit there so eventually you’ll have to pick what works more for you to fill it out.
I do have to mention again that along with the excellent combat in this outing on both fronts, the inventory system and looting could have been better. When you loot or collect materials in an area that’s chock full of corpses or materials you have to hit up each drop individually to interact with it. When you’ve got a rather large loot pile to pull through, I’ve had up to ten to collect at one point, a loot all option for the area would have been nice. You can loot all on that one object you’re interacting with if you want, but pulling all the loot from an area to that list would have been fantastic to have as an option instead of digging through each pile every time. Just something to think about.
Despite its length, this was definitely designed to go back in and play it all over again. If you have multiple playthroughs on the previous games they do take into account your world state through imports onto the PS4 through an out of game website known as Dragon Age Keep. I had to use that anyway as I jumped from PC to PS4 with this version of Dragon Age. My import worked well as events are nothing like the default world state I looked up if you run without an import. It changes much of the background flavor and several events would have ended quite a bit differently even with me making the same in game choices as different people would have survived and be in charge in some of my other world states I created. Even then beyond the Keep, you end up making several in game choices that make for a very different feel even as you play through. People you’ve recruited can and will leave you if you treat them like crap or you do enough that they disagree with that they won’t put up with your crap anymore. On top of that they’ve put in multiplayer that works much the same way that Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer worked, only better in that it functions much better on the PS4 than Mass Effect 3’s did on the PS3.
The game does do a decent enough job of providing challenge in different areas. There are going to be parts you have to come back to in the explorable areas as well as they are designed with a range in mind and there are some critters that are going to be at the high end while you’re at the low end and while you can take one or two higher level baddies at a time, a swarm of them will burn you through your potions and put you quickly on the road to deadsville. I did run into one low point where I had to change the difficulty. There’s a party you can attend and I was in the very bottom level range and several hours into this event I realized that I was out of potions and very close to death on all my characters. I ended up lowering the difficulty to get through it. Usually there’s some kind of resupply but in this particularly long quest, there isn’t and if you’re not prepared for it it’s beyond simply dropping into tactical mode to take everything on. Other than that I’ve managed to keep up on gear and crafting as well as leveling up so that I can head into the tougher fights and mostly live. So other than a few questionable spots the game offers up enough of a challenge and multiple difficulties to play through. It also offers up a ton of side quests to go through along with the main quest. While a normal BioWare RPG will usually net me between forty and fifty hours with all the DLC in it, yes I’m referring to Mass Effect and its sequels, Inquisition runs fifty plus hours just for the main quest line. I’ve seen people take up to eighty hours. To blow through every little quest and collectible in the game will run you up to two hundred hours. If that’s not getting you your money’s worth, I don’t know what is. That’s all without running the multiplayer at all by the way.
One of the neat things about Dragon Age is that it’s a familiar fantasy setting but turned on its head a bit. Dwarves are into politics, Elves are the outcasts, humans are in power, mages kept under a leash, and so on. It’s all familiar but at the same time it’s not what you expect with a fantasy world. There is a lot to compare this game to, but at the same time there is a lot of new concepts and ideas being introduced. The new characters end up feeling familiar but at the same time they’re very much not. Hell at one point I was comparing Iron Bull to Wrex simply because I couldn’t get him to talk to me, but the two characters couldn’t be more different. I mentioned earlier that origins set up the world and the sequel began tearing at those established ideas bit by bit. Well Inquisition goes in with a heavy accelerent and a lit match to really open things up. This is new territory despite feeling a bit like Skyrim in the open areas. This is BioWare opening things up a bit to stretch and see what they can do with the open world concept while not getting too terribly carried away with it and it works well.
I’ve been playing this on and pretty much on without an off since I got it. My work schedule kind of sucks right now, but if I’m not spending some time with my wife, my butt is on my couch and this is what’s beaming into my eyes and ears from the big screen. There’s lots to do and the characters and story have me engaged enough that even an hour running around just talking to everyone in Skyhold has my complete and rapt attention. If I’m out questing in one of the explorable areas I can lose hours for sure. It’s damned convenient I have an alarm on my phone or I’d have been late a couple of times. Then there was the Orlesian Ball quest that I won’t spoil but I spent a few hours playing through trying to get everything without a guide because it was damned fun. Yes, this entry into the Dragon Age series is damned addictive and I’m loving every minute of it. I will not be surprised if I end up spending at least eighty hours a character in this and manage to complete everything. That’s not even including the multiplayer component to the game which I hadn’t even touched before starting the review.
Now, after Dragon Age II I know a lot of people were claiming they were done with the series. They felt cheated and rightly so. Just because I enjoyed the second game doesn’t mean others did. It took a lot out of what made the first game so amazing to play through, but it was also heavily setting up events in the third game. The second game to me really felt like an expansion and probably was never meant to be released as a full game, but you know corporate types. Inquisition is very much back into the realm of the first game as far as story-telling, lore keeping, and overall fun. It feels very much like you’re back in control of what’s going on instead of recounting events that already happened through Varric to Cassandra. Many of the events in both previous games have led to what’s happening in Inquisition but you can always just use one of the quick guides to Thedas that popped up online before Inquisition hit and then make up your Dragon Age Keep settings to set up the previous game states the way you want and learn a bit about the world before jumping in cold here. You can go in cold, but a little background will help keep you up with events faster. If you were disappointed with Dragon Age II after the first game, then Inquisition is definitely up your alley.
I did run into a few issues playing this. The long dialogue pauses and at one point early on in a second character play through the whole cutscene locked up and I had to restart but the game had auto-saved before it started so nothing lost. I’ve had a few occasional sound hiccups where it was delayed but nothing earth-shatteringly bad. The biggest issue I had was either missing the tag or not getting the tag that I was triggering a full blown romance with one of the characters. This showed up with everyone else I could romance except for Blackwall which ended up with me having to break to poor Warden’s heart because I either want to ride the Bull or play with an Antivan right now. So there is that. The other issue I have with this is that they basically put the bare minimum of support for Remote Play for the Vita in this. It’s practically unplayable in combat unless you go into tactical mode when you’re playing on Vita just because of the way they have the button functions laid out on the controller and how they map to the touchscreens on front and back. It is playable with tactical mode for combat and only had one instance where the sound was trailing behind what was on screen by about 3 seconds. Bailing out on the Remote Play app and then back into it fixed it, but after the great set-ups for Assassin’s Creed IV and Destiny with Remote Play I was hoping for some actual options with Dragon Age: Inquisition and Bioware and EA completely dropped the ball with it. The bare minimum set-up with Remote Play doesn’t work if your game uses every button on the PS4 controller on a regular basis.
Short Attention Span Summary
Dragon Age: Inquisition is probably one of the best efforts I’ve seen from BioWare since the first Dragon Age. The characters all have depth, a purpose; the world is huge and expansive but not so wide open that you feel over-whelmed. The plot feels like it’s winding down in the first twenty hours but then simply explodes from there and then really kicks into gear. This is probably one of the longest RPGs I’ve played from them since EA bought up BioWare and the care that went into it shows. There are a few bugs on the PS4 version but none that ended up with me losing any game time. It looks fantastic and plays really well whether you like your combat more dynamic or if you want to fly out into tactical view and micro-manage from there. If they were looking to make up for the second entry in the series while appeasing fans of both the first and second game, they’ve managed to do that and then some. I will be playing this for a long time to come.