2014 was a year of highs and lows for video games. On one hand, we suffered through Magus and the disappointing Watch Dogs. Yet, on the other side of the barrel we have GTA V, The Last of Us, and Bioshock: Infinite, three of the greatest game of the generation without question. Somehow, despite the incredible success of those last few games that all won some game of the year or another, and thought to be contender-less till this year, a game swept in like a storm in November. Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Where to start? Well, my readers would know that towards the end of last year, I disappeared off the face of the Earth for about a week. I spent the entirety of that time playing this game, which I could not for the love of me, complete within my expected 48 hours game time. In fact, I’ve spent over 150 hours in that game, clearing every single side quest and main story mission possible, followed by a further few hours in its multiplayer. It truly lived up to the modern triple A title boast of over 100 hours of gaming. What’s so great about this game? Well, that’s what I’m here to cover.
I’m not talking about GTA V huge. At the very least, in GTA V, you could possibly explore the whole map in less than a real world day by driving. There are no cars in Dragon Age: Inquisition. So the closest thing I can compare the playing maps to is Skyrim. Even then, it’s not a fair comparison either. In the Dragon Age series, as with a lot of typical RPGs, we are used to being constrained within the foreground. What you see is what you can touch, until you get to the next area at least. But at least each area is extensively detailed, and could even be said to have a life of its own. On the other hand, an open world game could have a huge map, but would not have the same personal touches as a traditional area map. Dragon Age: Inquisition managed to combine the best of both world. Take a look at the image below.
That’s right, you can play the background. While each map in the game could not possibly scale with Skyrim’s (at least, my mind is telling me not), it makes up for that by shear number. Imagine, ten of these gigantic maps, each filled with quests and events that could take up to a full day to explore completely. Each detailed exquisitely, with small stories of their own. “How so?” you might ask. Well, there could be a random corpse on some small, barely noticeable corner of these giant maps. A corpse that lays dead in the snow, with a pickaxe lodge in the rock above it, as if it has fallen to its death.
They gave a random lootable corpse a story. And this wasn’t in some easily noticeable part of the map either. I had to climb up a jagged series of rocks to reach this place, and you can’t see it from the bottom. Yet, the entire game is filled with amazing little details like this one. Others have readable lores attached to them, but most would just be a series of sets, placed together to let your imaginations run wild.
One of the main complaints of Dragon Age II was how they had stripped the complex battle system of Dragon Age: Origin down to its bare necessities. I’m probably one of the few people who loved the faster paced fights in the sequel, precisely because it felt more action pack, as I felt Origin to be a little too slow. But yes, it did leave a large gap on the tactical side of things. But Inquisition fixed both of those issues, taking the best of both those games and squashed them together into awesomeness.
In Dragon Age, you can pause mid game to position and command your troops. A mage behind a wall or an archer on high ground could deal massive damage to the enemy, and a carefully place rogue or warriors holding choke points could turn the tide of battle. Yet, once you resume the game, the entire fight could end in as little as ten seconds real time.
Then there are the combos. A well planned attack or properly chained set of skills can take down even the largest of foes. A carefully laid out battle can be just as satisfying as a quickly done in enemy. Also, doing so will invoke the mystical masturbation juice of all RPG playing nerds out there. Numbers.
Then there are the large monsters like High Dragons. There are a total of 12 of them dragon that you can fight in Dragon Age: Inquisition, and they are the strongest creatures in the game. Overcoming even one of them is an achievement in itself. And the game makes them challenging to face, no matter what difficulty level you are playing on. Along with other large creatures such as giants and demons, each with their own unique skills, textures and sometimes, models, they can overwhelm you with their shear size, difficulty, and detail.
Listen, I’m not saying Inquisition has the best music in gaming history. I’m just saying they’ve come pretty close. Their in world songs are culturally different, unique, and standalone. As great as the sea shanties in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag were. They are amazingly fun to sing along to, and fits beautifully into the fantasy genre.
And their main theme is just wow. There’s a lot of talk about a Lord of the Rings rip off here, but honestly, when its so good that you can hum along with it throughout the rest of the game, who gives a shit?
In the image above are two creatures that inhabits the world of Thedas. You may notice that both of them are about the same size as a turf of grass. The rabbit like thing on the left is a nug. You would usually see it scampering across the map as nothing smaller than a few pixels of the screen. You can target it and kill it for materials, after which it will mutate into lootable bones. On the right is a crow. You cannot interact with it in anyway whatsoever. You see it up close scripted maybe only once into the whole game. When you approach it, it flies away into parts unknown.
Overall, you will not give these two creatures more than two shits when playing the game. Yet, do you notice how they have their own models and detailed textures? How they both have shadows? Unlike what most games do with these background creatures (a 2D image slapped to turn with the camera), they have their own models, textures, shaders, and lighting. That should be all you need to know about the graphics of the game. In the mean time, enjoy these scenic shots of actual in-game, playable areas.
In Dragon Age staple, the choices you make could possibly decide the outcome of your story. That’s the same in Inquisition. A character you save in the beginning could open up a new quest later, while the entire opposite choice could the same. Some of the main story decisions are heartbreaking to make, while others just makes you consider your morality.
Overall though, the main story can be a little cliché, but makes up for it by the sheer power behind the telling of the tale. And the game involves you in it, instead of making you watch from the side. A lot of the main decisions in the game comes from you, and you have to live with the choices. And some of them really hits you hard.
The characters, diverse as they are, are the heart and soul of Dragon Age. In Inquisition, we see a range of interesting companions and advisors. From the returning stiff but surprisingly cute Cassandra Pentaghast and walking jackboot Cullen, to fan favourites Varric Tethras and Leliana.
Newcomers Cole, the Luna Lovegood of Inquisition; Sera, an elf girl hoped up on sugar; Solas, the de-facto cool guy; Josephine, the girl you hate to love; and the mysteriously good Blackwall. We even have an extremely boring, plain and mundane Vivienne – who is about as interesting as watching grass grow – to balance everything out. Seriously though, Vivienne is incredibly dull.
Aside from that, there are the cameos. The choices you make in previous games could decide who lives and dies in this one. Some characters make minor appearances, while others are full blown integrated into the main story. Most however, are mentioned in passing or furthered through the text based war table missions. It may not seem like much, but reading about characters you once delved into really brought a smile to my face.
I could talk about this game all day, but this post is really dragging. A few more key things to mention though. There are faults. Some of the side quests can get a little repetitive, but they never feel tedious. Like I said, the world is rich, and if you are a fan of exploring fictional fantasy world, than the side quest are just that, things you do on the side, as and when you pass them by. You won’t even feel bored doing them. Most of them have lores and backstories, and reading into them can be just as rewarding as the main game. True to Bioware fashion, there are plenty of fun easter eggs as well.
The multiplayer on the other hand, can be quite boring. Though it has a stable gameplay, the maps are significantly smaller, making the quest much more repetitive than the main campaign. And while it does offer some in-game stores, you don’t need to pay to win. In fact, the effects of paying for multiplayer items are minimal, and the game is balanced either way. I can’t honestly suggest spending too much time on multiplayer however.
Of course, as with all large world games, there are a few bugs. But so far, none of them were of much hindrance to the gameplay, save for one which prevents me from doing a powerful combo chain, since the effects and physics was too much for the software to handle.
Overall, while the multiplayer could use work, the singleplayer campaign is next to flawless. The world is large and beautiful. The gameplay, challenging yet fun. The controls responsive, and the story is rock solid. The amount of variety you have in customization is also a wondrous thing that could take up another article of its own. From appearances to armour, to weapon and fortress, stories and lore, even one NPC can be customized.
And the freedom in a game that allows you to do almost anything you want is also to be praised. And I do mean anything. Like, for example, taking on a High Dragon with just a single rogue in the party on the hardest difficulty setting and winning.
You know, in retrospect, this entire review might have just been a way for me to show off that picture.