BioWare's boundless ambition spawns Dragon Age: Inquisition, the third part of their epic saga
As a hardcore fan of the fantasy genre, I readily admit that it has become something of a rough market. Hack and slash adventures are some of the most popular titles being released in gaming and the genre really lends itself to sword and sorcery settings complete with elves, fae, and dragons. Although a comparatively new literary genre, new content is being released at a nearly constant rate. This makes developing a product difficult since you really need to come up with some new and unique ideas to differentiate yourself from the rest of the market. Keeping that in mind, the success of Dragon Age is a franchise says a lot about the quality of the world BioWare has created. Dragon Age has many of the tropes of generic fantasy but the characters, politics, and story really separate it from the competition. Not only that, but the influence your decisions have over the story are what distinguishes BioWare from other developers. Dragon Age: Inquisition continues this tradition by building a massive, open world built on the consequences of your own decisions.
Obligatory mountain strongholds: Check
Being something of a sister franchise and fantasy mirror of BioWare’s Mass Effect series, it should be no surprise that Inquisition has a metric ton of plot. For the uninitiated, BioWare opted for an interesting, and perhaps more realistic, dynamic between people and magic. Given that access to terribly destructive power is something that many people probably shouldn’t be trusted with or simply unqualified to wield, mages have made something of a terrible reputation for themselves. A populous in fear of random cataclysms or accidental demon summonings eventually got fed up and formed the Templar order to hunt down these mages and prevent them from destroying any more lives, whether it be intentionally or by accident. Many common tropes are present such as elves and dwarves, but the series has a noticeably darker bent. For fans of a good story like myself, the world has very complete feel with plenty of opportunity to explore its history through codex, dialogue, and landmarks. Expect a long game and a lot of plot development (I mentioned this was a BioWare game, right?) because you are in for the long haul.
For those who are not fans of story… perhaps I should have started with a TLDR
Combat is a mixed bag. The game has two combat modes, a third-person mode in which you can freely switch between the four members of the party and fight real time, and a strategic mode in which you can issue commands to each party member and advance the flow of time in a controlled manner to have those commands executed. While normally I would prefer to play in the real time mode, I found the game all but forces you to switch between the modes since your AI is criminally stupid. In fact, much of the AI act in bizarre and unpredictable ways. More than a few times I had my entire party open up on the enemy while I remained in the back, my tank ran in and taunted the mobs, only for the entire group of enemies to ignore everyone and single-mindedly rush my character. I’m not sure whether this is player character syndrome or if artificial intelligence have philosophical grievances with pacifism, but it certainly kept me on my toes. Even in the third-person mode fighting can be a little bland since the majority of what you do is hold down the right trigger and spam abilities on cooldown.
Not pictured: Cassandra spamming taunt on this
Fortunately fighting, while a large part of the game, is far from the only attraction in Inquisition. As the leader of the Inquisition, you must devote a lot of time toward strengthening your organization and strategizing. We aren’t talking about synergistic management solutions here either, you have real enemies among the Templars and Mages as well as a skeptical populous whose hearts and minds you will have to win over. I’m not sure if I’ve ever played a game that really made me feel like I was heading a real organization before and the ways you can amass strength are both numerous and varied. As you explore you can establish new camps, find supplies to fill requisition orders, gather intel on enemies for your researchers, complete quests to gain the support of locals, and recruit agents. There are always people to save and problems to solve and you can choose among your lieutenants to lead missions as well as send agents ahead of you into new areas. This lets you establish a real identity as a leader as you can choose between soldiers, spies, and ambassadors to forge a path for your later conquest.
Speaking of conquests...
If sophisticated organizational management isn’t enough, Inquisition also has an extremely elaborate item crafting system. It has been nice to see item crafting evolving over the past few generations of games. It has been a particularly successful gameplay feature in terms of development since developers seem to have an easy time identifying what has really worked and what hasn’t. Inquisition has a very simple system which allows for a large number of combinations by introducing schematics which have set component types that must be used such as cloth or mineral and, depending upon what type of material you use, such a iron or onyx, you get different item stats. After that you can also manufacture extra upgrades such as custom hilts, staff ends, and blades which provide more stat bonuses. It feels very clean and simple and makes the time spent gathering materials feel very meaningful.
Seriously though, you can hit on everyone in this game
With the comprehensive and extremely satisfying crafting system, you think it would follow that the inventory system would be equally impressive, or at least satisfactory. Unfortunately dealing with any and all items in the game is an exercise in frustration. To begin with, you start off with an extremely limited inventory which, given the amount of equipment and valuables you pick up, seems to fill up faster than the time it takes you to painstakingly sort through all your equipment to find what you can dispose of. There is also no way to organize your items and the default structure is less than ideal. Additionally, items used by the Inquisition to research enemy types are grouped in with your valuable items which are good for nothing but selling for gold, preventing you from conveniently going into valuables and just hit sell all, and both of those item types frustratingly contribute toward your inventory total. Really the entire inventory menu and most of the menus in the game are poorly organized and require frequent menu changing which also, for some reason, can lag between screens and delay your navigation. In most games this would be extremely annoying, but in a game of this depth and complexity, it is both a huge time sink and an absolute annoyance. I don’t think even Diablo or World of Warcraft caused me to watch my inventory with that level of anxiety and audibly groan when I had to empty up some space.
Looting may require several trips
Specifics aside, the game is a visual treat and the character creation is as satisfyingly intricate as it is cleverly executed. The voice acting is top notch and the environments and particles are all sufficiently pretty. As a game, Inquisition is extremely immersive, which may be a good or bad thing since it is also massive. Between side quests, the huge main story, crafting, and growing the Inquisition, this game can gobble up a good portion of your life. For newcomers, BioWare even created a website to run through the abridged story of the first two releases to create a save file with a custom set of the decisions which influence the world in Inquisition. Returning fans can expect to see the fruits of their previous labors evident in the story. This kind of attention to detail, more than anything, is what has driven BioWare’s massive success with the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series. Despite issues with individual titles, they tell a compelling story in which you are an integral piece. Inquisition keeps true to that tradition by making your decisions relevant and giving you an active hand in forming the future of a real world. In a market of linear storytelling, that sort of agency is absolutely unique and makes for an unforgettable experience.
+ Graphically beautiful
+ Huge world with an even bigger story
+ Feels like you are developing a growing national force with the Inquisition
+ Simple but expansive item crafting and customization system
+/- Real time and strategic combat systems are fun, but janky
- Really bad combat AI on both allies and enemies
- Inventory system is rage-inducing