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Dragon Age: Inquisition

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: BioWare
Release Date: Nov. 18, 2014 (US), Nov. 21, 2014 (EU)


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PS4 Review - 'Dragon Age: Inquisition'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Nov. 12, 2014 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

Dragon Age: Inquisition combines the storytelling BioWare is known for, with deep RPG gameplay, all on a brand new RPG game engine underpinned by EA’s Frostbite 2 technology.

Buy Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age: Inquisition begins a decade after the original Dragon Age and a few years after Dragon Age II. The Mages and the Templars are at war, and it threatens to devastate the land of Thedas. Any attempts at peace are shattered when there's an attack on a peace summit. The only survivor is the Herald, who wakes up with a glowing hand and the ability to close rips into the world of The Fade. Thedas is without leaders, so the Inquisition — individuals who want to restore peace — is revived. The Inquisition and the Herald must prevent Thedas from being overrun by evil.

Inquisition is perhaps the most self-contained story Bioware has told in quite some time. Unlike Mass Effect, Inquisition isn't the end of a trilogy or anything like that. It builds upon the previous games, but it's not an ending. The plot wraps up, and while there are hooks for future plots, including a Marvel-style "after the credits" sequence, it's reasonable to view Inquisition as its own story. This has the benefit of keeping the story fast-paced through 40+ hours of gameplay. The ending is a touch bland, but it manages to give players a taste of the consequences of their actions, and it wraps up things on a relatively satisfying note (for my playthrough, at least).  

Inquisition is a pretty solid example of Bioware's strengths and weaknesses. There are plenty of likeable characters and some rather amusing dialogue, but not all of the characters work. Sera, the bizarre Elvish rogue, is likely to be a divisive character, and others were bland and unmemorable. The antagonists are not overly threatening and lack a sense of danger. The Elder One, the core villain of the story, doesn't live up to its reputation and spends most of the game being a vague, shadowy threat rather than a concrete menace. I was able to find a party of characters I enjoyed and see their stories through to the end. While the core plot may be weak, the world-building is interesting and there's more than enough history and detail in the game world to satisfy the most rabid Dragon Age fans.

It will take quite some time to find all of the lore because Inquisition is easily the largest setting that Bioware has ever done. It's a lot more Skyrim than Knights of the Old Republic, and there are tremendous areas that you're free to explore. Each area is self-contained and needs to be traveled with a world map, but most of these areas are staggeringly huge. The very first area, The Hinterlands, is larger and denser than the entirety of Dragon Age II. You're able to explore either by walking and jumping around or by riding a mount, which is capable of faster travel but leaves you at risk of being unseated by an enemy attack.

Exploring is pretty fun. The game has linear paths, but with some planning, you're able to get around or bypass them, so you can access areas early or find off-the-beaten-path quests or items. It runs into the problem of having some frustrating invisible walls, though. There were several occasions when I could see a quest marker but could not reach it. It wasn't blocked off by a barrier, but the game didn't want me to get there without triggering a specific mission first. It wasn't always clear when this was the case. Some areas are only accessible if you trigger a specific mission, and others are not, so it's possible to spend a few minutes hopping around before discovering its futility.

Exploring is also rewarding because there's a lot to find. There are enemies aplenty, and there are lots of small side-quests. Some are simple "find the item and return it to the owner" quests, but others are more complex. My favorite is the star chart puzzles, where you create a constellation between points without using the same line twice. Most quests reward you with items, but several can have big story impacts. A seemingly minor side-quest allowed me to avoid a major boss fight later in the game. Some of these quests aren't enjoyable, though. Multiple quests involving "heading" an animal, which involves praying that the AI decides to follow you instead of getting stuck on a wall, and several quests feel like time sinks. It can also be disappointing when you're rewarded with loot that's five levels outdated. On the other hand, it can also be a boon. In the beginning, I unlocked a bow that was so powerful it carried me to the midgame.

One frustrating element about the new and bigger environments is that they're almost all wilderness areas. Inquisition has very few urban environments. It's neat to have huge, wide-open areas to explore, but after a while, I longed to see architecture and marketplaces. Perhaps most importantly, after countless battles, I longed for social situations instead of combat. There's a particularly excellent mission where you play political games during a fancy party, and despite there being a minimum amount of combat, it was one of the more memorable and exciting scenarios.

Speaking of combat, Inquisition has plenty of it. There's fighting around every other corner, and the core combat is fun. It plays like a blend of Dragon Age and its sequel. The default combat system is an over-the-shoulder system where you move and act in real time. The combat is semi-automated, so attacking and positioning is handled by the players, but there's no need to manually target anything except big AoE spells. Most of the action is played out by the RPG mechanics. There are some action elements, so positioning and movement plays a big part in defense. Rogues have action-based dodges that require the player to time it properly for maximum effect. You can also duck in and out of cover to force enemy attacks to whiff. You can swap between all four members of your party at will; the three you're not controlling are governed by simple AI commands.

If you don't want to play the game that way, there's another option. Tactical View forces the game into an overhead view. The game pauses, and you can issue combat orders to your entire team. In theory, this mode allows for more tactical controls, but I found it to be too unwieldy and awkward. The isometric view isn't pulled out far enough for the battlefield size, and it's difficult to quickly pick out enemy positions. It slowed down the pace of the combat but didn't add much complexity. It was useful in a couple of fights where I specifically needed to have my characters target a specific enemy ASAP, but most of the time, Tactical View was relatively pointless.

Some design changes limit how you approach combat. For one thing, there's no reliable form of infinite healing. You can carry eight healing potions (upgradable to 12) at a time. Potions are replenished when you return to camp, but they can't be replenished in the field unless you find a supply cache, which are usually found in plot missions. It's trivial to fast-travel to get more potions, but it involves leaving the exploration area. Instead of reliable healing, each of the three classes has special defenses. Mages have magical barriers that protect them from damage but can be dispelled by certain attacks. Warriors have "Guard," a second health bar that is replenished by certain attacks and resist permanent HP damage. Rogues have no special defenses but can become invisible or evade attacks. Respeccing is very easy, since you can buy a respec for a paltry amount of gold.

As such, combat is a game of playing defense. You focus enemies toward warriors, who can take damage while you go after their rogues and mages. Winning involves properly managing damage. Unfortunately, this means combat can sometimes get repetitive. The plot missions tend to be more interesting, but random fights on the field can feel tiresome. Fortunately, riding a horse or other mount allows you to avoid random fights, if you choose.

The core of Inquisition is the power system. The main quests and most of the unlockable side areas are gated off by power requirements. Power is a representation of the Inquisition's influence, so every time you complete a side-quest, you gain power. This leaves the flow of the game up to the player. You access the next main story mission however you like, whether it's doing missions for your followers, closing Fade gates, killing enemies or solving puzzles. It's a cool concept, but it risks being a barrier. Later missions have power requirements of 30-40, which can involve a few hours of forced side-quests if you just want to advance the plot. Performing side-quests also gains you Influence, which you can use to buy perks that give you powerful benefits, such as special dialogue options or additional potions.

There are also smaller side-quests that you access from the war table. These don't play out on-screen, but you're given a report on a situation, and you pick one of three advisors to deal with it. The advisors roughly boil down to fighting, sneaking or political maneuvering. Picking one means they start on the mission, which has a real-world timer. Depending on the assigned advisor, the mission may succeed (or fail) in different ways, earning you different rewards. The war table side-quests are a neat idea but feel flat since they're told entirely through text.

Inquisition is the first Dragon Age game to feature multiplayer. The multiplayer is based very heavily on the multiplayer in Mass Effect 3. A team of up to four players picks characters and classes and goes on missions in a variety of the game's environments. Success can unlock new character classes, upgrades or weapons. The character classes are more focused and specialized compared to their counterparts in the main game, and you have to pick your strengths and weaknesses carefully. Having a strong party variety is also a necessity, as there is content that requires at least one of a certain character class. Still, it's really quite fun and does a good job of replicating the feel of dungeon-crawling with friends.

Graphically, Inquisition is mixed. Some of the environments and designs are quite good, but otherwise, the game doesn't look like that much of a step up from Mass Effect and its ilk, despite running on the new Frostbite engine. It also runs poorly during cut scenes with a lot of awkward and jerky animations. Several of the character models look particularly strange, especially when emoting. Combat is quite smooth. It isn't a bad-looking game, but it is a cross-generation game, and it feels like it. The voice acting is all over the place. Some of the voice work is excellent, and some of it is shockingly bad. Over-the-top accents are commonplace, and while some work, others are complete duds. There are several dull characters saved by excellent voice acting, and a few would've been much more tolerable with better voice acting.

Dragon Age: Inquisition is the biggest and best Dragon Age to date. Packed to the brim with content and carefully refined mechanics, it's sure to please any Dragon Age fan. It has a fair share of problems, but none detract too much from the strong core experience. Strong dialogue and fun combat make up for a weak main story and repetitive world design, and the multiplayer adds extra value to the package. It's been a long time since there has been an RPG this big and fully featured, and anyone interested in some classic swords-and-sorcery adventuring will have a hard time finding a better example than Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Score: 8.5/10

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