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Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age: Inquisition review

Robert Zak
9 Dec 2014
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Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
37
inc VAT

The third entry in the Dragon Age saga is a glorious return to form; Inquisition is the best next-gen RPG yet

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Specifications

Available formats: PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PS4

RPGs have been somewhat underrepresented in the Xbox One and PS4's first year of life, but BioWare has now endowed both next-gen consoles (and the PC) with a worthy flagship in the form of Dragon Age: Inquisition. Inquisition’s world is vast and beautiful, its story gripping, and it introduces gameplay mechanics that try something a little different. As is inevitable with a game of such scope, there are a few flaws to contend with, but they make a refreshing change from the linear Dragon Age II and largely get drowned out in a gorgeous world dripping with character.

Inquisition is a story-led game that demands your emotional engagement, and willingness to spend as much time talking and crafting as you do fighting. Much of the dialogue and lore in the game is optional, but without it you may quickly find yourself lost in its complex storyline, which assumes some familiarity on your part with previous games in the series. Thankfully, the quality of the game’s writing means that getting up to speed doesn’t feel like a chore.

Your character's life up leading up to the game is summarised in a single paragraph once you've chosen your name and appearance from one of four races; humans, elves, dwarves, or Qunari - giant horned monsters for those seeking a more ‘black sheep’ experience. You’re then thrown straight into the centre of the action - literally, the middle of a crater caused by an explosion that has just wiped out a treasured temple and thousands of people.

Wake up in these precarious circumstances, you're naturally made scapegoat for the disaster. However, the subsequent green vortex in the sky known as the Breach, which is causing demon-spewing 'rifts' to appear around the world, and your mysterious ability to seal them shut, mean that you're soon the poster-child of the 'Inquisition', which is seeking to unite the divided peoples of Thedas against the otherworldly threat.

Party companions arrive thick and fast. Truth-Seeker Cassandra and rakish dwarf Varric, both of Dragon Age II fame, and pompous elven mage Solas are just the first of several obtainable party members, all of whom, true to BioWare tradition, are intriguing, well-rounded, and brimming with dialogue options. The possibility of romance is back too, this time extending beyond your party companions to your inquisition's advisors.

For all its focus on narrative, Inquisition's world looks stunning and feels massive. It is split into zones spanning the continent of Thedas but, unlike previous Dragon Age games, these zones are vast sandboxes unto themselves, filled with quests, caves, forts and hamlets. The fact that these zones are hundreds of miles apart in the game world (as neatly illustrated on the map on the War Council table) means that you'll be traversing deserts, woodlands, tundras, and many other earth-like biomes, making you truly feel like you’re exploring a whole continent rather than a single region.

Aside from the obligatory fetch-quests, whose inherent triviality is concealed by calling them requisitions,  most of the quests in Inquisition are layered and engaging. One early side-quest sees you tasked with clearing bandits from a local road. A letter on one of their bodies reveals they have a fortress tucked away in a far corner of the Hinterlands, and that they're working with a crime organisation to extract lucrative resources from the local mountains. Clearing the fort unveils more information, which leads you to an abandoned underground Dwarven city, where you'll have to contend with not only bandits, but your old adversaries, the Darkspawn (a shadow of their Origins-era glory). This is model quest design, featuring twists, unique areas, and giving insights into the world's lore. All other RPGs should take note.

You’re never too far from a skirmish in the wilds of Theldas, but the pace is broken up by the narrative and lengthy periods of kicking back in Haven, the Inquisition’s basecamp. This is where you do most of your chatting and flirting with other characters, or upgrade your party’s wardrobe after excursions. It’s also the place where you convene War Councils. These let you send advisers off on automated missions to gain Power for the Inquisition, which in turn unlocks new areas to explore. This adds a welcome sprinkling of Game of Thrones-style scheming to the gameplay, and makes you feel that you’re having some impact on the world aside from just mowing down enemies. With so much to do, you can spend hours chatting, scheming and copulating at Haven, which is a homely contrast to the strife-torn outside world.

The party-based combat system will be familiar to those who played previous BioWare games. You can pause combat at any point, then give your party members a series of commands to carry out. This is aided by a 'tactical view', which lets you zoom out to a near top-down perspective to get a better view of the battlefield. While skirmishes are intense and spectacular, the combat is also the most problematic part of the game.

At its best, the combat system makes you feel like a Fereldan Sun Tzu. Because you’re often fighting five to ten enemies at once, it’s an exercise in crowd control. Casting a wall of fire to prevent one group of enemies attacking you while you deal with another, or launching an explosive arrow to incapacitate a couple of hard-to-reach archers while your warrior emits a War Cry to draw enemies to her, are extremely satisfying.

On the other hand, leaving your AI party members to their own devices in battle is like controlling a class of hyperactive children; running off in all directions and angering local wildlife and bandits while you try to maintain military discipline. Even with the AI behaviour tweaked to your liking, there are too many incidents where your mage will foolishly try to fight a bear off with the bottom of his staff, while your warrior stands in a defensive Shield Wall pose some 50 feet away. Archers, meanwhile, will blithely attack enemies from point-blank range rather than move to a safe distance. As such, you'll spend as much time in the combat-pause screen protecting your characters from their own suicidal AI as you will carrying out ingenious combat manoeuvres.

But dealing with just a few flaws in a game of such scale is a reasonable trade-off. Inquisition is by almost all accounts a triumph. BioWare has successfully built on its penchant for strong, character-led storytelling by setting Inquisition in a spectacular and open fantasy world. With so few western-style RPGs on the horizon, it’s just as well that Inquisition is one of the most immersive around.

SPECIFICATIONS
AVAILABLE FORMATSPC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PS4
OS SUPPORTWindows 7, Windows 8.1 64-bit
MINIMUM CPU2.0GHz quad-core Intel, 2.5GHz quad-core AMD
MINIMUM GPUAMD Radeon HD 4870, Nvidia GeForce GTX 8800GT
MINIMUM RAM4GB
HARD DISK SPACE26GB
DETAILSwww.dragonage.com
PRODUCT CODE74369