Saturday 17 January 2015

Dragon Age: Inquisition - Review

It didn't take long to fall in love with Dragon Age: Inquisition.  It is a beautifully realised experience, a true labour of love for its creators that shines brightly through the hundred or so hours of content.

Bioware make great role playing games, the Mass Effect trilogy will always have a special place in my heart, but I struggled with Dragon Age 2 and never finished it.  The first one just passed me by, but Bioware's decision to start each new game with a new protagonist means that doesn't really matter.

The story in Inquisition is pretty straight forward.  The mages are at war with the templars and during a peace conference a rift opens up in the sky and kills everyone there apart from you.  The character you create (you can choose sex and race) is the only survivor but has no memory of what has happened.  However she (in my play through I played a female human mage) has the ability to close the rifts that have opened up around Thedas.  You set off closing them with three companions, some of whom believe you to be a gift from God, while others believe you probably killed everyone.

Slowly but surely the huge areas available start to reveal themselves and the scope and ambition of Inquisition becomes truly apparent.  They are all a joy to explore, stunning vistas, barren deserts and frozen wastes each have their own sets of side quests and mysteries.  There's ten vast maps and a smattering of smaller ones.  Is it bigger than Skyrim?  I think it probably is, but to be honest it just feels more varied.  Rather than just one huge open world environment Inquisition gives you huge areas you can fast travel between.  I preferred that approach.

Combat is satisfying, there's a top down old school RPG option I didn't use, or you can be in the thick of it, switching between characters on the fly in real time.  Your companions AI is decent, but I did miss the more subtle instructions I could preset in DA2.  Once I'd upgraded my mage to a Knight Enchanter I felt like I was cheating a bit, she could basically stay healthy, looked like she was hitting things with a lightsaber and take on a Dragon on her own.

Bioware games are all about characters and Inquisition does a brilliant job of bringing its cast to life.  Each of the nine companions you can take into the field have their own quests as do the three advisors you interact with back at base.  The majority of them an be romanced, but that can be race and gender specific.  They're incredibly well written, my personal favourites were the mad as a badger Elf, Sera, the Freddie Prinze Junior voiced Qunari, Iron Bull and the mage, Dorian.  The banter between them is brilliant out in the field and the conversations feel natural and dynamic back at base camp.

I don't mind a wealth of content, I have the time to put the hours in, but I can see why some have found it a little overwhelming.  There is so much to do in each area, so much to see that many people found themselves spending hours in the first and growing frustrated.  The game has a tipping point though.  Getting to it can take while, I hit it at around 25 hours of gameplay because I was off exploring, but the pay off and subsequent change in emphasis it well worth the wait.

Some of the menu screens can be frustrating, crafting in particular isn't well explained and while there's some fun to be had in building new armour for your team, it can, at least on normal difficulty, be ignored.

To be honest Inquisition just oozes class throughout.  I encountered the odd glitch, but nothing that was a deal breaker.  I loved the story, the hidden depth in the entangled history of Thedas left me deeply impressed.  My only disappointment was the slightly rushed final quest and cliff hanger ending.  But those are minor quibbles and I'm hungry for more content, whether that be DLC or a direct sequel.

Game of last year then?  No question.

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