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Dragon Age: Inquisition review for PC, PS4, Xbox One


Platform: PC
Also on: PS4, Xbox One
Publisher: EA
Developer: BioWare
Medium: Digital/Disc
Players: 1-4
Online: Yes
ESRB: M

Being that I’m a BioWare fan, I’m glad Aaron passed off Dragon Age: Inquisition to me for review. I’ve played through Origins and DA2 and certainly had high hopes for Inquisition (just a heads-up, I thought DA2 was step in the right direction…yeah, I”m one of those people). From the get-go, however, Dragon Age: Inquisition has an awkwardly steep narrative. Its main storyline is fairly cliché ridden, yet still difficult to follow much less care for. Normally I’d just roll with the punches, but with Dragon Age, because a lot of the choices have an affect on the game and because those choices depend on how you interact with the various factions involved, it really helps your progress to know as much as you can about the world (and people) to prevent poor choices.

As Aaron alluded to in his “hands-on” a couple weeks ago, in the early stages of the game it’s incredibly difficult to tell if you’re making game-changing decisions or just choosing to go on a menial side-quest that ultimately doesn’t matter.  Actually, in some cases its so ambiguous/nonchalant you may not even realize you’re making a game-affecting decision until after it has been decided. One second you’re just talking to what you thought was an inconsequential NPC; the next you’ve forged an alliance that is frowned on by everyone else in your party (which also has an affect on your playthrough).

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After the first 30 minutes of play I realized that I don’t remember too much about Tightass, Federland, and Oralanus or whatever the regions are called (edit: Thedas, Ferelden, and Orlais… I was exaggerating for effect.) And while DA2 ultimately boiled down to Templars or Mages, DAI is on a whole new level of dynamics, and not necessarily for the better.  It”s hard to recall how I left the relationships between the Conclave, the Chantry, the Circle of Magi, and the Templar Order.  Nor the difference between Templars and Seekers, or remember whether or not a specific character is a free mage or a rebel mage (aka Apostate?) or still a member of the Circle of Mages? Does the Templar Order still protect Mages or now enslave them? Dark Magic is fine, but Blood Magic is bad… unless you’re a Reaver? Grey Wardens are mostly warriors (with a couple of Mages sprinkled in) that are politically neutral, right? Am I supposed to know the difference between the Andraste and the Maker (is there one)?  …Needless to say, there”s a lot of non-gamey canon fodder to digest and consider, and it had been a long while since I last set foot in Thedas.

Because DA games are released two-to-three years apart, remembering the characters, politics, beliefs, geography – basically the entire game world – is no easy task. Sure, I remember Varric and his trusty crossbow Bianca, but other than that it’s pretty much a blur, particularly when I’ve played a number of really great, similarly styled “medieval” RPGs since DA2 (like the Witcher & Elder Scrolls sequels and expansions).

BioWare have come up with a neat way to help alleviate this problem (though obviously not get rid of it entirely). The newly created and aptly named, Dragon Age Keep is a web portable that allows you to create a “World State” based off of Origins/DA2 story choices you make on the site. It essentially takes the place of where a save file from the previous games would’ve started you off, and it also serves to jog your memory in the process. It’s definitely a smart way to manage the lineage of a franchise that has spanned across hardware generations/platforms (a good thing, because if you’re like me, you lost your original saves long ago.) By using a graphic novel style story overview, The Keep allows the user to link together all three games storyline choices, even if you haven’t played (or completely forgot) the predecessors. BioWare did a similar thing with Mass Effect 2 when it first came out for PS3 (though that was on disc, not online).

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Now the Keep gives you control over pretty high level choices, but the devil is in the details, and I seem to recall all of the details being introduced fairly gradually in Origins and DA2.  On the hand, Inquisition literally explodes with civil war(s) and conflicts from the onset. Every major faction is vying for power in the chaos that ensues following the Breach – rifts in the veil allowing evil spirits to pour through (and the game”s “primary” objective… sort of).  They”re essentially Oblivion Gates. On top of that, the Inquisition – the newly formed legion you’re building to stop the Breach from spreading – is comprised of refugees from all casino online these other factions (meaning so is your party), which has consequences. If you help someone you didn’t even realize was a mage, the templar(s) in your group will frown at you. If you kill a Chantry member because they’re crazy, Cassandra (a seeker) will hate you. When you focus on trying to prevent the physical world from being ripped apart by the Breach, everyone (but your Apostate ally Solas) disapproves because you’re not doing their side quests.

The irony about Inquisition, and biggest hurdle, is that for all its open-endedness and shear massiveness you may actually end up appreciating RPGs that are a little more wrangled in. The game has tons of stuff to do, but less direction than I would’ve liked… Overwhelmingly so. In and of itself this bewilderment wouldn’t be so bad, but it actually lacks clarity and obfuscates your judgment when deciding how you want to proceed or which quests are important. For example, early on there’s a mission to acquire more horses & swords for the Inquisition.  The mission was not required in any way, so I didn”t think twice when I skipped it. It wasn’t until about ten hours later, when I went back looking for easier quests to gain influence in the Hinterlands, that I found out completing this quest also gives the player a horse to use for the rest of the game. Ughh. From that revelation onward, because I was focusing on just the main storyline for review, I always had the nagging feeling (pun intended) that I was missing out on important quests, potentially not experiencing the game to its fullest.

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Similarly, the War Table used to give an overview of available quests actually allows you to send other non-playable members of your inner circle to complete side missions in real-time, while you simultaneously go off to complete “playable missions” with your active party.  Because I was focusing on main storyline quests (that are all inherently for the player to, you know, play), I didn’t realize I supposed to send off members of my council to do my bidding while I grinded away at actual quests. Actually, it was the same horse & sword mission – the “sword” portion requires you to go back to the War Room to command one of your inner circle members to handle lookout tower construction. So here was a seemingly random area-specific sub-quest that actually gives you much needed transportation, as well as introduces you to an important and fruitful gameplay mechanic, but I had no concrete indication of such.

Conversely, I also hate seeing my list of unfinished missions continually increase out of control with quests I don’t even remember starting or care about (I should stop picking up books/letters).  And lets not forget about all the rift closing, Inquisition territory expansion, establishing settlement camps, and acquiring requisitions, all of which are scattered across humongous areas and necessary for earning Influence, but not actually quests per se. On top of that there’s all the background stuff you”d expect, like runescaping, armour & weapon building and modifying, leveling up and ability trees, potion & tonic creation and modding, gaining Inquisition Perks, and so on. It takes a while to get proficient at any of those facets of the game, and it takes even longer to acquire the raw materials needed to apply said skills (and they usually aren’t quest related). It didn’t feel this overwhelming in the previous Dragon Age games because a lot of that stuff either took care of itself or was reveled/acquired in due course while playing actual missions, rather than being dumped on you to sort out.

While there’s technically nothing preventing you from ‘finding out, while you’re grinding out’, when a game is this big you may end up never finishing… It’s like a kid in a candy store or having to kill your darlings: with so much to see and do in Inquisition, you run a higher risk of burning out. I can foresee quite a few gamers getting to a point where they’ve logged a hundred hours, still have half of the game’s main storyline left, but then losing their motivation to finish.  Even your intended missions will invariably sprawl out of control when you pass an unrelated cave or indication marker nearby on your map.  If that wasn”t enough, BioWare have also added a multiplayer mode to distract you and eat up even more of your time.  It”s fairly straightforward 4 player co-op which uses a character that is completely independent from your single-player character.  So loot or leveling up is, understandably, not shared across modes.

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Graphically, the game is a mixed bag. Running DA2 maxed out at 1080p looked great on my PC, but with Inquisition I had to turn settings down quite a bit on my aging GPU for proper playback. Oddly enough, at 1080p DAI seemed to run well enough for around ten seconds and then slow-down, then speed back up, regardless of what was on screen or whether the settings were “ultra” or “low” (probably not enough video memory?)  In order to get it to run butter-smooth, I eventually had to kick it down to “high”/720p, but that actually didn’t look too flattering. I also notice a semi-consistent glitch with incorrect depth of field during dialogue and cut-scenes. Instead of a character being in focus, they’d be blurred out, but the wall behind them was crystal clear. DAI would also occasionally minimize itself without being able to re-maximize, but other than that it seemed pretty stable. Being that this is the first outing with BioWare’s Frostbite 3 engine, I’m fairly confident any minor deficiencies will get worked out in subsequent updates or graphic driver releases (or you could play the console version, which is presumably buttoned down a little better).  Actually, rumour has it there”ll be a patch hitting the game on release day.

Admittedly, a lot of the issues I have with the game are self-imposed (from not having brushed up enough on my lore), while other setbacks I had (lack of quest/choice clarity, massiveness to the point of bewilderment) are also fairly subjective. Fortunately, in spite of all of this there is refuge – a tipping point when, after having invested enough in DA:Inquisition, it became a little more streamlined and coherent.

On your first playthrough it’ll probably take about 9-12 hours before the game starts getting good, and about twenty hours before you feel somewhat engaged. Prior to that, it’s actually somewhat mundane — schlock & grind gameplay with unnecessarily confusing game world politics… Yeah, I know; you basically have to play an averaged sized game in order to get to a point where Dragon Age: Inquisition finally hits its stride, but if you’re a fan of the genre or franchise, it should be worth it. Not only that, but in the grand scheme of things, even twelve hours is a drop in the bucket for Inquisition. At around that time (apparently it’s about 1/3rd of the way through the storyline) your main objective is reinforced, for better or worse the peripheral “set-up” choices have been culled, and your party/gear has reached a decent level of well roundedness. Most importantly, at ~10 hours in, you’ll surely have a decent enough grasp on the universe to know who’s who and what’s what, allowing you to really start molding the world the way you want.

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One of my favourite BioWare-isms is the Dialogue Wheel, and with 80,000 lines of dialogue, DAI is no different. I ended up falling in love with it while playing Mass Effect, so I’m glad to see it return to full effect in Inquisition. Actually, a lot of what I really like about the franchise (and RPGs) is winning people over or just finding out new/cool information that leads to more quests, and that material is as much rooted in dialogue trees as it is the quests themselves. Again, to get the most benefit, you need to be caught up on the who’s who of the game and probably have to be at least a little invested in the charaters. OH and a protip: Inquisition Perks (leveling up the entire Inquisition, not just your party members) is broken into four categories, and the first perk in each category is the one that offers you bonus/additional dialogue options. As with previous Dialogue-Wheel games, you’re gonna want to unlock those quickly.

My concern is that DAI is the game equivalent of “The Homer” – packing in everything including the kitchen sink. I found it to be a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none. Because of this, you’re left having your attention continually and equally divided, forcing you to pour in tons of hours just to start feeling invested in the world.  It”s a tough sell for a game to be this ambitious (that”s putting it politely). On the flip side, because it does so many things at least adequately well, there should be something in here for every RPG fan (it’s just a matter of finding it). Personally, when the dust settles, I honestly think DAI could discourage more players than it will attract because its Act 1 is pretty lacklustre.

Grade: B-

Dragon Age Inquisition – Deluxe Edition – PC


Manufacturer: Electronic Arts
ESRB Rating: Mature
Platform: Windows 7
Genre: role-playing-game-genre

New From: $85.99 USD In Stock