Every reviewer hits a dilemma when it comes time to score a game. Do I reserve the top score for the mythical “perfect game” or does top score mean that this is a game I recommend without hesitation? For me it is the latter and I have no qualms in giving Dragon Age Inquisition a top score of five stars, it’s really that good! It’s not perfect, it’s not without flaws but the hours of combat, political intrigue, and dynamic characters will push those flaws to the background as you get fully immersed in one of the best RPGs since Skyrim.
Dragon Age Inquisition picks up shortly after the events of Dragon Age I and Dragon Age II. The Templar/Mage war is in full swing and both sides have taken heavy losses, both Freldan and the Free Marches are rebuilding after their respective tragedies, and the world is precariously balanced on the edge of chaos. You remain the sole survivor of an event (I won’t spoil it here) that threatens to upend the fragile political system. You are pulled into forming the inquisition; an organization tasked with rebuilding the world around you and figuring out who or what is underlying this political upheaval.
You will get the most out of this game by playing through the first two games. Characters, events, and choices you made in DA I and DA II (and DLC) will have repercussions in the world of Dragon Age Inquisition and no one is more adept at this then Bioware. Similar to the Mass Effect series this brings an amazing continuity to the world around you. However, if you are a first time adventurer to the Dragon Age series the game does an admirable job of explaining key factions and events through party dialog and scattered books around the world. So you won’t feel left out, but you won’t get the full impact from the story.
Bioware has always excelled in building fully fleshed out characters and Dragon Age Inquisition is no exception. Each character begins as one note actors but throughout your 90+ hour campaign you will find a surprising amount of depth. Every character gets an opportunity to shine with twists and intrigue. Even your advisors have fully fleshed story arcs that are as interesting as the main cast. This makes the investment in your teammates worthwhile and I was sad to finish the game and no longer be able to share the world with them.
One of my favorite aspects came from character banter. While you are wandering the wilds you have the ability to bring along three team members. Throughout the campaign characters had interesting discussions among themselves that referenced both the changing world around them and the changes they themselves went through. I never once heard a single discussion repeated or the NPCs run out of things to say. An impressive feat!
But the game is not just political machinations and party discussions; it’s a large and fully fleshed out world. The maps are the largest seen in a video game this shy of an MMO and dwarf the first game by magnitudes of 10. The different locations you visit are huge and some of the biggest areas took me 10-15 hours to complete. Your adventures will take you across Fereldan and Orlais, from frozen tundra’s, to lush forests, to barren deserts. These areas look beautiful! Small wisps of snowflakes flutter across, trees larger than houses swaying in the wind, or canyons rolling off into the distance will take you breath away.
Combat is a fantastic blend of Dragon Age I and II’s combat system. Battles take place in real time with enemies and allies hitting with satisfying thrusts and swings. The AI does a decent job of holding their own in battle and playing classes as you would expect, warriors fight at the front lines, rouges stealth and circle around back, and mages cast fireballs from their hands. You have the option to fully customize the behaviors of your allies with a fairly intuitive modify screen or you can pause the game at any time and set party actions, something I recommend you get the grasp of early on before the more difficult fights in later areas.
One of the more surprising changes in Dragon Age Inquisition is the lack of healing spells for any character. Warriors and mages have the ability to add armor and barriers respectively that enemies have to whittle through before attacking your character’s health. Healing is only achieved through limited use potions. This change forces you to manage resources and return to camp before adventuring out. The upshot is that you are no longer required to have a dedicated healer in your party. It takes a little getting used to but it allows you to switch out teammates with much more freedom than before. No longer will you be baby-sitting an Anders out of necessity.
Dragon Age Inquisition is an amazing game but like I mentioned above it is not without faults. Character models are still less than stellar, sliding slightly into the uncanny valley. Do yourself a favor early on and turn off “show helmet” in the options menu. Seeing your character, that you spent hours designing, squished into a helmet for most of the game is just silly, and take my advice, turn “lip shine” all the way to zero. Otherwise it looks like you character has a sponsorship deal with Blistex. I would have preferred the ability to zoom out more during combat (something Bioware is working on for the PC version) and it would have been nice to be able to cue up multiple attacks when pausing combat, rather than one at a time. It was also disappointing to have to go to a website to load up my choices from previous games as opposed to EA pulling it off their servers. However, these are small gripes and do little to distract from the game.
In my book Dragon Age Inquisition is worthy of the coveted 5 star recommendation. The scope is staggering, the characters are amazing, and the story is one of my favorite in years. The world that Bioware has built feels like a living breathing place. Even after all this time I can’t stop contemplating loading up a brand new game and doing it all over again. Yeah, it’s that good!