It's been three and a half years since Dragon Age 2 was released and a lot has come to pass in the gaming world in the meantime. Has Inquisition been worth the wait? I brought along enough food and drink to last me a couple of days, and travelled to Thedas in search of an answer.
There is no need to hide the fact that I'm a huge fan of Dragon Age and have been eager to play this game. I've travelled to numerous events including a visit for a behind the scenes look at the development at Bioware in Edmonton. My expectations are enormous. Therefore, I was somewhat nervous as I booted up the game for the first time. I had already made up my mind about what race to play as (Qunari), but I still spent a lot of time customising my character, having to reset my settings a couple of times until I was pleased with the result.
As I've toured Thedas (and it is all of Thedas as we're not just in Ferelden this time) for a few days, on my journey I've picked a million herbs, collected a ton of rocks, slaughtered bandits and beaten demons, and claimed new territories by simply setting up camp. I've acquired a horse, climbed mountains, stumbled in dark caves, visited high society in Orlais, walked through marshes, forests, rain and sunshine, watch a dragon fight a giant on a beach. I've slayed a giant and been killed by dragons more times than I can count. I've been crushed, sliced and diced, and set aflame. I've contracted a fear of dragons and run at first sight of their wings against the skies. I've closed rifts that connected this world with The Fade. Unwillingly I was taken on a journey through time. I've gained friends and found a great place to call my own. I've met the villain, The Elder One, and I've crafted gear and weapons.
As in the previous games, a conflict rages between mages and templars. You will have to pick sides - and siding with one completely locks out the other options. The only problem is that things haven't really progressed well since the events of Kirkwall, and Thedas is on the verge of large-scale war. Add to that a giant, gaping, green wound in the skies that spits out demons and worse. It's your job to clean up the mess. Why? Because you stuck your nose where it didn't belong, and somehow survived a massive explosion that put a giant green mark on your hand making you capable of all kinds of magic. Let the fun begin!
The game largely revolves around acquiring power and influence for your Inquisition, finding out what led up to the giant explosion, who's responsible and how to sort out the mess. Or rather that's what the first 20 hours cover - something of a prologue. After this prologue Inquisition turns into a new game with new quests, new abilities, enemies and areas. I won't reveal any more of the story than this and that you'll benefit from having played Origins and Dragon Age 2 with expansions prior to playing Inquisition, but it's not needed to enjoy it. You will run into some old acquaintances along the way.
It seems as if Bioware have taken a lot of the criticism directed at Dragon Age 2 to heart and done all in their power to right the wrongs. The areas you venture through are enormous, incredibly varied - everything from jungles to deserts - and enemies no longer fall from the skies and spawn endlessly. It takes the best parts of Origins and Dragon Age 2, and brings in a lot of inspiration from Skyrim to spice things up.
It's easy to see that the Elder Scrolls series has been an inspiration. I find myself thinking "this reminds me of Skyrim" many times as I play, especially as I sit on my horse and climb steep hills and mountains and encounter enemies that are fighting each other without even noticing me. It's not a negative, it's merely the best way in which to describe Inquisition and its sense of freedom.
Have I mentioned it looks beautiful? Visually it's stunning. I've spent a lot of time simply enjoying the view. I was especially impressed by how realistic the ocean looks and the depth of the textures on the rocky shores, and how light filters through the foliage as you walk through the forest. Best of all is that the world feels alive; there's always something happening. Combine this with varied weather conditions and atmospheric music and you end up with an extremely captivating and interesting game world. It's just not the environments that appear true to life, but the way the characters behave depending on their surroundings also impresses. You will struggle through deep snow, get stuck in mud, slide down slopes and splash the water as you skip through creeks and puddles.
At times I wish fewer things in Thedas were trying to kill me, as I would have liked to explore this world under more peaceful circumstances. But demons, bandits, dragons and crazed mages don't take time off, so neither can we.
The battle system is dynamic, and it works nicely switching from tactical camera and the normal real-time view. You can opt to play strategically or more action-oriented, as is your preference. I found myself adapting to the encounters and their difficulty. With more difficult encounters I took more control over the entire group. It maximised the usefulness of the AI partners. Some of the orders I gave my characters were not executed with perfection, and other times things didn't work out as planned. It appeared as if the game didn't realise that I had picked out an enemy and initiated an attack where my character needed to be closer in order to execute it, instead the attack was carried out on the spot without any enemy nearby. But that could have been a mistake on my part.
At first I planned on focusing on the main story and keep the side quests to a minimum, in order to cover as much ground as possible for this review. It would prove more difficult than expected. It turns out that the story missions requires a certain amount of power to be triggered. How do you gain power? By completing side quests and being helpful to the citizens of Thedas - whether it involves closing rifts, fighting demons, or finding escaped pets. At one point I had to collect 50 power points in order to progress the main story. That's a lot of side activities. No complaints from me, but it seems a little at odds with Bioware's motto: Play it your way.
Another thing that goes against this is the fact that you no longer control the distribution of attribute points for your character and your companions. When you level up you only get to pick new abilities or modify existing ones. Additionally the individual tactics settings have been minimised. I enjoyed messing about with the tactics of my companions in the previous games - giving them specific tasks in certain situation. I'm not saying the AI is poor in Inquisition, as it clearly isn't, I just wished I had more control.
Being eager to fix the flaws of its predecessors, it appears as if Bioware has ironed out some of the things that were great about them as well. In both Origins and Dragon Age 2 you got to experience the backstory of the main characters. We were with them as they lost family members, when they were faced with tough choices, when they were thrown out of their homes. We got to know them well. Thus far we haven't really gotten to know the main character in Inquisition. She's something of a blank canvas. Her life before she stumbled out of the ruins following the explosion is almost non-existant. I sort of get what Bioware are gunning for as they present us with a blank canvas; the player is meant to fill in the canvas themselves, but it is difficult to do so without much in the way of background. I simply don't relate to how the main character reacts to events and I don't really have a sense of her relation to her companions. And I'm controlling her. There should have been a little more foundation here for players to build on. The fact that I don't identify as much with my character as I did with Hawke and Grey Warden makes the events of this game matter less. Which is a shame.
Getting people to help you on your Inquisition typically goes a little something like this:
Hey, I just met you,
And this is crazy,
You've got skills,
So join my Inquisition, maybe?
And all of a sudden you're surrounded by happy helpers who want to help save the world without any ulterior motives. I haven't noticed much of the conversations among my companions. Perhaps my rather intimidating Qunari has scared them silent.
That takes us to the big question. Does the game deliver on the expectations? Has it been worth the wait? The answers are almost and absolutely. Whether my expectations were simply too lofty, or whether the developers failed to realise some of them, is something I'm not sure of. Regardless, I've enjoyed my time in Thedas and I'm looking forward to spending a lot more time there. I'm actually going to start over from the beginning and import a World State from Dragon's Keep that I've tailored myself. It's just getting started...
Impressions from the multiplayer will be published at a later date once we've had ample time with that section of the game.