As the Herald of Andraste and later as the Inquisitor, you're going to need a little help from your friends fighting The Elder One, demons, dragons, giants and closing rifts. In Dragon Age: Inquisition you come across your roster of nine companions rather early on. The characters are really one of the strengths of any Bioware RPG and Inquisition is no exception in this regard. You may not love all of them, but it is difficult to stay indifferent.
We thought we'd give you a little guide to what we feel about our new friends and how we opted to spec them out. We imported a world state (pretty straight forward "good" playthroughs from Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II) and opted to go with the mages when the choice was offered early in the game, playing with a male human mage. All of these choices naturally influence our relations with the various characters, and we certainly look forward to a second play-through with a different world state, siding with the templars and playing with a female Qunari. The one thing that's a little bit frustrating with a game like Dragon Age: Inquisition is that at any one time you can only bring a third of your companions along on the road.
Anyway, some potential spoilers ahead so proceed with that in mind (though we're not really spoiling anything past the opening act or prologue).
He's a returning companion after having been a partner of Hawke's in Dragon Age II. His character is rather nicely written so that longterm players will know more about him than newcomers as he is rather secretive about his past (at least up until a certain point). As broad shouldered as he is tall, Varric isn't your typical dwarf, and he is definitely one of our favourite characters to talk to. We turned him into more of ranged rogue (given his beloved Bianca), but we wound up using Sera more in this role and seldom took Varric along on our adventures. We did appreciate the chats in Haven and Skyhold though, and he plays a vital role in the story.
Cassandra is hard and uncompromising. At first she's really skeptical of you, but she'll warm up as time goes by (especially if you consistently try and romance her like we did). She certainly doesn't approve of Varric, and partway into the game we had to use some of our diplomatic skills to separate the two. Sadly, this may have put a dent in our romancing efforts with Cassandra. For fans of the series, Cassandra will be a familiar face as the Seeker has appeared in the animation feature Dawn of the Seeker and Dragon Age II. She was the right hand of the Divine, that is up until the Divine perished admidst the events that saw the Inquisitor get his mark at the start of the game. She plays a big part in the early goings of the story.
A mage with intimate knowledge of the Fade, Solas will serve as a great resource in the early part of the game, letting you know what's going on. He greatly approved when we chose to side with the mages over the templars (a decision you make very early on in the game), but generally it feels like we haven't gotten to know him all that well. It may be because we play as a mage ourselves and typically pick Dorian to go along with us, so really there's no need for another mage in the group.
This mage made headlines prior to launch as the first "fully gay" Bioware character. Sporting an elegant moustache Dorian is one of our absolute favourite characters out of the cast. He's got a bit of a mean streak and one of the first companion missions we carried out saw him hunt down some former friends in the Venatori (cult that worships The Elder One) and lay them to rest. Sarcastic and cavallier, Dorian has the potential of being one of our all-time favourite Bioware characters (and that's saying a lot). He also reminds us a little bit of a mage Han Solo for some odd reason.
The lone Quanari of the group (that is, unless you play as a Qunari yourself), Iron Bull isn't very talkative. One conversation he had with Cassandra revealed the Quanari view on women in the battlefield (basically if a Qunari female becomes a warrior she is treated like a man). Cassandra then asked if he looked upon her as a man to which Iron Bull replied it depended on whether she was in or out of her uniform. We met Iron Bull on the Stormy Coast and his mercenary nature made him an easy recruit (in fact, most of your recruitment is kind of straightforward in Inquisition - after all you're something of living legend right from the start of the game).
A rather striking Orlesian enchanter, Vivienne is one of the characters we attempted to romance with our human mage. We haven't used Vivienne much in combat as we're always going to have one mage with the player character. Next playthrough we're not going with that class and will make more use of her. She certainly sports the most extravagant outfits - the peacock of the battlefield. As an Orlesian mage and a personal adviser to Empress Celene, she is vital to your efforts trying to secure your alliance to stand against the forces of the Elder One.
This warrior is the first Grey Warden you come across in Thedas and as the order has dispersed the quest line that opens up with his character has a lot to do with searching for clues left by the Grey Wardens and finding out what they're up to. His status as a Warden also comes in handy as the Wardens have treaties that force parties to join the cause. We opted to go with a tank build for Blackwall (good fit given his name) and used him a lot in our party (alternating between him, Cassandra and Iron Bull - the later more of a damage dealer than a pure tank and Cassandra being a bit of a mix). When you have Sera and Blackwall in your party you will notice how they gel over their world-views, cracking jokes about the upper class on frequent occasions. Likewise, he doesn't mix well with some of the more "noble" elements of your group. It may be that he's a Warden, but Blackwall is easy to like and one of our favourites.
We've been using Sera a lot on the battlefield, but to be honest this Elven working class hero is probably our least favourite companion out of the bunch. She appears to have a chip on her shoulder the size of Dwarven rock crusher (though she is in fact a rogue), and we're not entirely fond of her verbal shortcomings. She comes across as a bit of a stereotype, at least in the first half of the game. To be honest conversations with her kind of leaves us with an aching head.
The last companion to join the cause, Cole is perhaps the strangest of the lot. We're simply not quite sure what to make of him, but he is interesting - perhaps simply for that reason. His weird communication with the dead and the soon to be dead is rather odd, and we're not sure if he can be trusted. What are his motivations? A spirit, Cole is a rogue on the battlefield, but so far we haven't used him much, but that's mainly due to the fact that we evolved him into a lethal knife weilding/cloaking type character, and we simply prefer a more straightforward approach with ranged characters in the rear and a couple of warriors absorbing damage and creating a line up front.
In addition to the Companions you have three characters that you'll also get to know closely - your advisors that will also go on missions on your behalf throughout Thedas. There's Cullen, a templar who you'll know from previous games, who takes a direct approach to problems your Inquisition will face. Then there's Josephine - a cunning diplomat with connections to the nobility (she's also one of the characters we've been romancing). And finally the third advisor is Leliana, left hand of the Divine and someone you'll likely know from Dragon Age: Origins (where she was a companion). Given our previous ties she was an early target for romancing, but ultimately when we caught a glimpse of her future self during a mission, and we developed cold feet. Her ravished face in that possible future simply steered us in a different direction in the present.
If you're curious about our opinion on Dragon Age: Inquisition - read our review and we'll be publishing our impressions of the multiplayer mode in the next week or so.