By Matt Welwood / December 1st, 2014
As you would expect from a BioWare game, the story and dialogue are very well written. Inter-party banter when you’re out in the world is clever and often funny. Your party members (you can only take three with you in the field, but the full roster is nine people) are more than just one dimensional slabs. BioWare has done a great job of giving each character a personality, their own ambitions, their own goals and motivations. It’s not always perfect. The Iron Bull, for example, never really worked for me, coming across as fairly generic, which meant I rarely spoke to him or had him in my party.
There were two big changes to the franchise that this game introduced. The first, and by far the biggest, is the open world. BioWare hasn’t tried to hide the fact that Skyrim was a pretty big influence on them for this game. While it doesn’t have as open a world as Skyrim, Dragon Age: Inquisition is absolutely massive. The world is divided up into large open regions for you to explore, with various collectables and side quests scattered throughout. The way BioWare approached their open world works well for this game, and they managed to give each area its own distinct style. The Hinterlands are a sprawling region of mountains, hills, grassy fields, forests and waterfalls. The Fallow Mire is a decrepit swamp, constantly stormy, mostly flat, bleak and dark, swarming with the undead. The Western Approach is a barren desert, sand blowing in the wind, the land scarred with deep chasms and in some places rendered useless, corrupted by the Darkspawn.
The combat system is the other major change. In previous games you could zoom out to an isometric view of the field, which was great for figuring out where to put your team and keep an eye on the whole battle. Inquisition restricts the view to a zoomed out third-person view. While there is still (sort of) a top-down mode, the way you control it makes battles a lot harder to keep track of. You spend more time trying to move the camera out of a tree than you do actually planning your moves sometimes. Movement in the tactical mode has changed, so, instead of pushing the mouse to the edge of the screen to pan, you have to either move with Q, W, E and S (A and D rotate the camera for some reason), or hold both the right and left mouse buttons and move around. It was clearly designed for a controller, not a mouse and keyboard. The combat itself is more action-oriented than it was in Dragon Age 2, veering away from the pure tactical combat in Origins.
The upgrade to the Frostbite engine was something the game desperately needed. The Eclipse engine used in Origins (and the updated version of the same engine used in the second game) was not a bad one — it handled the game very well — but it always looked a bit underwhelming. Textures were never all that stunning on them, character models always had a sort of plastic look about them, animations were a bit lackluster (though they improved with the second game). The new engine, on the other hand, looks fantastic. Textures are, for the most part, very high res, animations are fluid and more natural looking, magic effects look fantastic — almost like fireworks exploding on the screen every time your mages attack someone. Character models still look a bit off, but are still much improved over the previous games. Skin tones are more natural, with minor variations in colour and tone. Hair can look quite good, but, like the previous games, it always feel a bit detached from the actual character. On the PC version, there’s one specific setting called Mesh Quality that handles prop and character detail, so, in crowded areas, it’s a bit of a system hog. If you turn it down you get a noticeable performance boost, but it also makes the hair look like some kind of abomination. It loses any detail it had, and looks like a shiny plastic hat your characters have to wear. Dorian specifically looks like he’s wearing a chrome hat and mustache.
I do have a few more complaints with the game, most of them directed at the controls and performance. I played the game on my laptop (an Asus G series gaming laptop, so not exactly a slouch), so I won’t comment on the state of the PC port optimization, since any problems I ran in to there could have been as much from the limitations of my computer as they could have been from the game itself. The game has incredibly long load times, not just for me but for my friends who have it on consoles. Long enough that I can start playing a game on my phone during the wait. It makes fast travelling a pain. There are a few glitches that haven’t been patched out, as well. Occasionally, the combat audio won’t kick in until the fight is nearly over. A fairly regular glitch that happens to me is that during dialogue I won’t be able to use my mouse to select any options. It won’t highlight at all, I have to use the number keys to select an answer. A similar problem happens during combat, sometimes I’ll find myself completely unable to select any members of my party at all. Usually, I had to quit and reload the game to fix that.
BioWare also set up a website called Dragon Age Keep to simplify the process of importing your save file, especially if you’re playing this on a different platform than the first two games. You link your EA Origin account to that website, and it allows you to import your save files from previous games to keep your personal Grey Warden and Hawke from the previous two games, and then go through and make sure every decision from the previous games is as you want it. It even tracks the continuity for you, making sure one of your decisions doesn’t contradict any others. You can even go back and change it all after you’ve imported it to Inquisition, which means if you can completely change the way the game plays out without having to go back and play through the first two games again. It’s a cool idea, and a great way to make sure everyone gets to import their decisions exactly as they want.
The soundtrack for this game is one of the best I’ve heard. The main theme is dramatic, the battle music is epic, the little filler pieces are fun to listen to. The main melody brings to mind a bit of the original Halo: Combat Evolved soundtrack, actually. New (Emmy Award-winning) composer, Trevor Morris, does a great job of crafting songs that are as memorable as any in the Dragon Age canon. The game also has one of the best uses of a spontaneous sing-along I’ve ever experienced (you’ll know what I mean when you get there).
This is also the first game in the series that isn’t a completely single-player experience. The main game is single player only, but there is now a separate cooperative multiplayer component to the game. It’s not the most detailed mode as of right now, with only three maps and only one game mode, but it’s still pretty enjoyable. You and three other people jump into a game as one of 12 different classes and fight through waves of bad guys, trying to beat the final wave and get the big prize. You start at Level 1, with only basic weapons and abilities. As you play the game you gain experience, as well as find gold and items in the maps. Gold can be used to buy more potions or packs of random items. As you level up, you unlock more passive and active abilities for your characters. The items you find are usually parts, which you can use to craft new weapons or upgrade your existing ones. The multiplayer is basically a stripped down version of the main game. Simple, but enjoyable.
I have two main complaints with multiplayer. The first (and smallest) is the dialogue the characters have. Each character has a few generic statements that loop far too often, and, occasionally, if you have two of the same character, will go off at the same time for a weirdly annoying stereo effect.
The major complaint is with the microtransaction system they’ve put in. The game gives you the option of spending real money to buy in-game currency, which you can then use to buy items and potions. It isn’t necessary — you get enough gold during a single match to be able to buy a small or medium chest. Luckily, you’re not gouged on the pricing, a large chest will only cost you about $3.00, but it’s not a system that should even be there. It’s not something you need to make use of, though, and it doesn’t stop the multiplayer from being a fun diversion from the main game.
Overall, though, Dragon Age: Inquisition is a great entry in to one of my favourite game series. It’s not perfect, but the story is well thought out and expertly written, the characters are enjoyable and the combat, though flawed at times, is still very fun. If you’re a newcomer to the series and are looking for a place to start, this is the game for you. It introduces you to the lore of the world in a way that doesn’t drown you in it, the combat is more approachable and the world is more engaging than it ever has been. BioWare is back, and if this game is anything to go by, they’re not going away any time soon. Dragon Age: Inquisition costs $59.99 through Origin, or $69.99 for the Digital Deluxe Edition. You can expect to get at least 40 hours of play time out of it. I skipped over a large amount of side content and clocked in over 50 hours by the time the final boss was dead. According to BioWare, they’re expecting the game will take anywhere from 150-200 hours for players who want to do anything and everything the game has to offer.
Reviewed on PC. Copy supplied by the author.
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