It’s strange to consider the Dragon Age series initially debuted only five years ago in 2009 since it feels like it has been much longer. During that five year stretch, developer BioWare has done its best to keep the Dragon Age series fresh in the minds of gamers despite having only released two major entries in the series. With Dragon Age: Inquisition, BioWare has an opportunity not only to bring the series back to the forefront of player interest but also to make up for the disappointing presentation of the most recent series outing, Dragon Age II. It’s obvious that BioWare wants to redeem the Dragon Age name, but how well do its efforts with Inquisition pay off?
In many ways, Inquisition feels like the best of both worlds. The immersive story elements and tactical combat options of Dragon Age: Origins are melded together with the more active combat systems and streamlined gameplay of Dragon Age II. Thanks to the power of new-gen consoles, Inquisition sports some of the most breathtaking visuals of any open-world game to date and BioWare uses the added power to full effect, allowing players to explore several different locales in their quest to lead the Inquisition to victory.
These new visuals are put front-and-center as soon as the player selects the “Start New Game” option on the main menu. When a massive demon-spawning portal is suddenly ripped into the sky, the player’s character becomes an unwitting hero when it is discovered they are the only one who can close the numerous smaller rifts that also begin popping up thanks to a close encounter with a mysterious magical being. Inquisition’s prologue does a good job of showing off just how much these rifts have already ravaged the world of Thedas while also introducing them to the game’s various combat and navigation systems. After the prologue, the player’s ultimate goal becomes clear: they must lead an inquisition of brave souls against the demonic armies and bring stability to a land that has been wracked with turmoil both within and without.
Luckily, the player doesn’t have to do so alone. As the player builds up the inquisition and progresses further through the story, they are joined by companions both new and familiar who can help them battle the various demons of the Fade. Of course, as in past Dragon Age games, party members are more than just combat assets. Each party member has their own opinions about the decisions the player makes and the events they encounter. These opinions are also not just limited to when the player is directly interacting with them. Some of my favorite moments in Inquisition revolved around the colorful banter that occurs between party members when out exploring.
Getting party members to support and eventually trust you, which in turn unlocks their character-specific side-missions, is just one of the many different ways in which Inquisition keeps players engaged. In addition to the staggeringly large number of side-quests players can undertake (all of which offer rewards that feed back into the overarching goal of building up the inquisition), there’s also a fully-fledged stronghold-building mechanic that allows players to more minutely decide how they want to lead their merry band of inquisitors. If you’re the sort of RPG player who likes to min-max their way through hours upon hours of side content, Inquisition has it in spades. After my first two sessions with the game (each of which lasted roughly six hours), I was still only in the first open area following the prologue with plenty of tasks still left in my journal. *That’s* how big Inquisition is.
The freeform character creation elements from Dragon Age: Origins make a return in Inquisition, allowing players to create either a Human, Dwarf, Elf, or, for the first time in the series, Qunari protagonist. The three base classes from past games, Warrior, Rogue, and Mage, also make a return and each come equipped with their own specialties as well as multiple skill trees per class. Since you can control your entire party both in and out of combat, you can also get a feel for how other classes play in addition to your main character’s class. Doing so is encouraged since it allows you to become familiar with the combat options of not only the main character but all the characters in your party.
The combat itself strikes just the right balance between action-oriented offense and tactical preparation. Since there are no direct healing spells available to mages (limited-use healing potions can be gulped down mid-fight however), a greater emphasis is placed on utilizing various active and passive attack skills to gang up on foes and lay them low as quickly as possible. In addition to the standard combat view, an overhead tactical camera that pauses the action can be activated at will, though I only ever found it useful in tracking down fleeing opponents and targeting them with my ranged party members.
Teamwork and tactical use of skills becomes even more important in Inquisition’s four-player co-op multiplayer mode. Unlike the multiplayer portion of Mass Effect 3, Inquisition’s multiplayer is completely separate from the single-player campaign and has players progressing through a linear dungeon instead of simply hunkering down against waves of foes. I was slightly disappointed by the fact that you can’t create original characters in the multiplayer (though you can customize each pre-made character’s skills and equipment) but that was my only real qualm with the mode. The multiplayer still offers yet another fun distraction you can undertake either with friends or strangers and it will only get better in the coming months thanks to free DLC updates from BioWare.
The only issues I had with Inquisition were minor nitpicks such as the occasional environmental glitch or audio bug. Scouring the world for ingredients and collectibles did start to feel old after a while and the overarching story missions don’t often have the big, epic-feeling payoff that the game’s marketing materials alluded to. None of these issues however ruin the otherwise phenomenal action-RPG experience that lies at Inquisition’s core. For every glitch or disappointing narrative beat I encountered, there were literally hours upon hours upon hours of genuinely engaging and immersive content to make up for them.
While it will inevitably be compared to previous Dragon Age games, I think focusing too much on how Inquisition honors the past is a mistake. With Inquisition, BioWare has proven it’s willing to honor the Dragon Age series’ humble beginnings while also changing up the formula to the point that Inquisition feels very much like its own beast. Gorgeous visuals, thrilling combat, side content that will keep you busy for hundreds of hours, and a fun standalone multiplayer mode are just some of the reasons why any serious Dragon Age fan won’t want to miss out on Inquisition. In an age where fans often criticize developers for releasing “unfinished” or “incomplete” games, Dragon Age: Inquisition stands as a beacon of hope, offering a fun, immersive experience that will keep players hooked far into the foreseeable future.