This was undoubtedly one of the Big Ones for the year. As Triple-A as any game ever gets, with marketing and buzz circling it for months before release.
When I went to pick up my copy on launch day, there was a huge line of people at 7am already standing there, and whenever they reached the front of the line, they were simply asked “which platform did you want Dragon Age on?” A grandmother shakily read off a carefully written note, saying “my grandson told me to get this game for him – what was it again? Oh yes, Dragon Age or something like that.” So, was it worth it?
In many ways, probably yes. It’s definitely not perfect, but its still very good. Perfection is something we can strive for, as long as we don’t expect it to come any time soon, but very good is something I can live with quite happily.
Carrying on from the somewhat-criticized Dragon Age 2, you play as your own custom generated character, known primarily as the Inquisitor. Choosing to either be a Dwarf, Human, Elf or Qunari (the series’ version of honourable warrior humanoids), you also choose your class, which is roughly divided between Warrior, Rogue and Mage. At this point, Dragon Age is hardly breaking the mold, but all these options are serviceable, and make for nicely different playthroughs in many ways. From there, you can actually customize your character’s appearance, which is extremely detailed and should provide many wondrously unique characters.
DA:I is best played by longtime fans of the series, but newcomers should be able to join in with a little effort. A web-based app called Dragon Age Keep allows the player to customize their backstory that would have been created from decisions in Dragon Age 1 and 2, making their world more unique in DA:I as they import it. Your character is caught in the middle of the conflict between Mages and Templars that started at the end of Dragon Age 2, but as the game begins, it becomes clear that an even more dangerous threat is emerging. The sky breaks open, and the Fade, the mystical world of demons and spirits, starts breaking into the real world. Your Inquisitor must reform the ancient order of the Inquisition, recruit a bevy of interesting and dynamic characters as allies, and stop the demonic threat before the world is destroyed. Standard stuff, but handled in a pretty awe-inspiring way.
The cast is always a big point in Bioware games. While some do return from previous games, most of those are big reveals that I shouldn’t spoil. As for the main game, you can recruit up to 9 associates, of which three always accompany you in battle as you venture out. I found them a nice mix of personalities, mostly not annoying (although your mileage might vary on some) and for the most part, memorable, which is important with such people. Of course, par for the experience, some of them are romanceable throughout the game, with there also being a good and considered mix of orientations between them. Even if not romanced, there’s quite a nice mechanic where you can see your character becoming closer as a friend with each character as you complete their missions.
However, gameplay is where a game sinks or swims, and much of DA: I will be spent in combat, making enemies explode satisfactorily. Combat takes the form of laying normal attacks, which depend on which weapon you use, together with special moves or magic that then depletes your stamina or magic bar. Each of your four characters on the field can be switched between, although the AI handles them well enough mostly to get the job done. There is a tactical camera and a pause function that can be engaged if specific orders need to be given. Positioning seems to be very important in this title, certain enemies block attacks, and barriers and glyphs can be erected at key choke points. In short, battles are half way between Dragon Age 1’s tactical system, and Dragon Age 2’s more action-y system.
The environments are probably where the game shines most. The game is divided into several large open environments, with some being absolutely enormous. There’s a range of different biomes to explore, and exploration is indeed the name of the game here. With what feels like a million different areas and quests to complete in each zone, the biggest danger might in fact be getting worn down by one area by forgetting to head to the next. However, whatever zone you are in will probably look lush and gorgeous, as all are visually very striking.
There are also other gameplay modes, the most blatant of which is your War Table. From here, you can assign missions across the world of Thedas to be completed in various ways. These take the form of text based, time-dependant missions that might have a material reward, but which mostly just expands the world and the story and involves your Inquisition affecting the word. Sometimes this system is great, sometimes it can be a little dull. There is also a detailed crafting system, one that is strangely addictive. Weapons and armor can be adjusted from plans that are found, and by the material that is used to make them. Playing dress up with your characters, and then allowing them to go out and kick more ass is always a good thing.
DA: I is a game that would be very easy to lose not only 30 hours in, but maybe 50 or even a 100. This is a good thing, and nearly all of those hours will be spent having fun. However, there are still a few obvious flaws. Firstly, a few bugs are found, only very rare ones are damaging, but there are still problems with textures and sound quality to be seen. My characters all had weirdly metallic looking hair, like they were Barbie dolls. Secondly, the tactical system isn’t as detailed for combat as it could be, making Hard and Nightmare difficulty artificially challenging. Also, the villain and story by the finale was only moderately interesting for me, and I felt a lot of potential was wasted in answering some questions. This was heightened by the fact that a sequel seemed teased after the credits, and I was left a little cheated. There is also less involvement of your decisions from the previous games than I would have liked.
There are a few more minor niggles, but they don’t keep DA: I from being a huge game with a lot of effort put into it. If you’re looking for a fantasy RPG to keep you going, even if you’re just waiting for The Witcher 3, there’s nothing wrong with getting a little Dragon Age in in the meantime. It may be an installment rather than the conclusive end to the saga that some of us expected, but Dragon Age Inquisition is a very fine game with fun times to be had, interesting characters and settings, and hours and hours of content.