Inquisition begins with your character waking up disoriented in a strange, dark place. There's no time to get your bearings as huge spiders begin chasing you almost immediately. You make your way up some stairs with the spiders in hot pursuit. You're not going to make it. At the top of the stairs is… something… it has a human-ish outline, but it's glowing. You reach out to it just as the spiders are about to pounce… There's a sound, like the sizzle of electricity, and you find yourself somewhere new, away from the spiders. You collapse in a heap, hoping you're safe, but as you lose consciousness you're surrounded by soldiers with swords drawn. Welcome back to Thedas, the world of Dragon Age.
If you're new to Dragon Age, or if it's been a while since you last played a game in the series, it's worth stopping by www.dragonagekeep.com before you load Inquisition for the first time. There you'll find an in-depth list of decisions made in both Origins and Dragon Age 2. If you played those games you can import the decisions you made in those games, and if you're new to the series you'll gain an understanding of the events of the first two games. Suffice to say a refresher course can only add to your enjoyment considering many characters from the first two games return, and many events are referenced.
When you first touch down in the Hinterlands, the first area Inquisition lets you explore, you might feel a touch underwhelmed. At first glance it doesn't look especially large, but as you explore, more and more icons depicting missions and areas of interest appear on your map. If you're compelled to complete all of them it's quite possible to spend upwards of fifteen hours there, and even then you definitely won't complete everything that's available.
Side-quests come in many forms, though the old fetch-quest, e.g. find an item for an NPC, or locate materials to fill requisition orders to better equip your forces, is common. You have other objectives too, like stabilizing areas by sealing rifts that are spewing darkspawn upon the world, or expanding the Inquisition's reach by finding new camps and claiming landmarks. There are dragons to slay as well, though you won't be doing this until much later in the game considering they one-shot you early on.
Combat is handled much like it was back in Dragon Age: Origins, which is to say you control a group of four against whatever enemy forces you come up against. At any time you can bring up the tactical camera (which pauses battle) by hitting the touchpad. From here you cycle through enemies with R3 to see a list of their strengths and weaknesses, enabling you to better plan your attacks. Each character can be given a command here, and the savvy player will string combination attacks together for devastating damage.
As you progress through the story you gain more playable characters, and it won't take long to have many more than you can take on any given mission. These characters are well-spread across all races (human, elf, dwarf and qunari) and combat styles (dual-daggers, archery, sword and shield, two-handed and mage), and given you can switch between party members any time during exploration and combat, this gives you a simple way to experience every type of character.
Another great way characters interact is through conversations they have while you explore Thedas. Not only does this liven up the occasional lull in action, but it gives even more depth to each character. The back and forth between Cassandra and Varric is especially entertaining, but almost everyone has something interesting to say occasionally. Over time it's possible to cultivate romantic relationships with a character, and not just those in your party, but also with those who play a prominent role in events. This isn't an area I delved into much, as it didn't feel right pairing my Qunari mage up with anyone, but romantic dialog choices pop up frequently for those inclined to go down that path.
For the first time in a Dragon Age game, Inquisition features a multiplayer co-op mode. Unfortunately, at least from my perspective, this is not the main campaign, and you can't have friends step into your game and control a party member. Instead, this mode is a dungeon crawler, and a lite version at that. To start you simply pick a character from a list, choose from one of three difficulties, and select one of three areas.
As far as issues go, Inquisition comes through relatively unscathed, particularly for a game of this size. Sure, there are occasional audio hiccups, such as conversations freezing until a line is manually skipped, or the sound cutting out, but these are rare (and a recent patch has made them even more rare) and easily forgiven.
The one issue that's harder to overlook is pacing, particularly around the middle of the game. It's around this point you do a mission involving Orlesian nobility, which takes place at a grand ball. The majority of this mission involves wandering around looking for objects and having conversations with various nobles. It's lengthy, perhaps too much so, and my attention was wandering well before it was done.
In the visuals department Inquisition fares well, especially with regards to its diverse environments. The Hinterland is a rugged place, with many well-worn paths cut through grass and weeds. Trees, not all of which are evergreen, are prominent, as are the imposing cliff-faces as you head further north. Contrast that with the opulence of Val Royeax, the capital of Orlais, which teems with colour, or the dank, oppressive swampland of the Fallow Mire, or the rough, choppy seas that mark the Storm Coast.
The diversity of each area is noticeable and appreciated as you play, and thanks to great lighting and excellent use of colour it all looks fantastic. Characters look impressive too, with plenty of detail but not so much they look photo-realistic. You'll even learn to appreciate the various architectural styles in Thedas as you upgrade your base of operations. Running in impressive 1080p resolution, Inquisition is definitely one of the best-looking RPGs to date.
The music and sound effects are effective too, if perhaps a little clichéd. For example there's one section where the mood around the campfire is depressed, but into the silence one character is brave enough to break into song. This scene reminded me so much of the trailer to The Hobbit it was eerie. Still, despite the odd clichéd moment the music and effects are strong throughout.
It's safe to say all of BioWare's hard work has paid off with Dragon Age: Inquisition and it's a clear return to form for those put off by Dragon Age 2. It packs in a huge amount of content, effortlessly filling a running time of fifty hours (and that's an absolute bare minimum), and only occasionally dragging in that time. There's so much to do – this review barely scratches the surface – that you could easily play this for months. If you're an RPG fan or enjoyed either of the previous two Dragon Age titles, Inquisition is a must have.
Review By: Mike Allison