“There is something old and true in fantasy that speaks to something deep within us, to the child who dreamt that one day he would hunt the forests of the night, and feast beneath the hollow hills, and find a love to last forever, somewhere south of Oz and north of Shangri-La.” – George R. R. Martin
There may be something incredibly pretentious about beginning a video game review with a quote about fantasy novels, however I lack the words to eloquently describe my Dragon Age: Inquisition experience. Because if there’s one thing that is most striking about Inquisition, it is the fact that it plays at why so many people are enamored with the Fantasy genre: the idea that you could be the hero of your own story.
So far, DA: I has certainly been a hero for Bioware and EA games, and has enjoyed positive reviews across the board. Which is a good thing for Bioware, really: DA: I has some big boots to fill after Dragon Age: Origins—which was received as a fan-favorite game—and Dragon Age 2—which was considered to be a flop. So how does DA: I stand in the face of such high expectations?
I admit that as a Dragon Age fan—and gasp, even a vocal defender of DA2—I was incredibly excited for DA: I simply for the sheer desire to continue the series and perhaps resolve some aspects of the overarching story of Thedas. Torn asunder after DA2 in a worldwide war between Mages and Templars, while also reeling from the Blight that plagued Ferelden in DA: O, things don’t look too good for the world at large.
In fact, an attempt to broker peace between these warring factions mediated by the predominant and culturally shared theological institution, The Chantry, is what sets off the main storyline. A tenuous truce and a peaceful conference is shattered with the assassination of the Chantry’s Divine leader, an explosion that conveniently kills nearly all who attended the peace talks, all topped off nice and neat with an eerie hole in the sky that has a habit of pouring out demons and other foul beasts.
Fortunately, that’s where you, the player, comes in to set things right and—arguably—save the day, in good old protagonist style.
Of course, with a new game comes new features, and one of the (literally) biggest new features that comes with DA: I is its overarching world map. Unlike DA2 where many players grew tired of Kirkwall and its limited, reused dungeons, DA: I is a wide and yawning world in comparison. From the grassy, rolling hills and ranges of the Hinterlands, to the high cliffs of the Storm Coast, with sand dunes and frozen wastes, bogs full of undead and everything in between, DA: I is set on immersing you in the world of Thedas, with beautiful graphic details and swelling musical score to boot.
Though DA: O endeared fans to the plight of the Grey Wardens and the ruination of Ferelden, DA2 was a stark reminder that there is more to Thedas—and with its rather explosive ending, demonstrated how far an event can ripple and influence the world. Fortunately as the Inquisitor, you wield incredible influence, and your every decision has repercussions that shape your forces and your eventual campaign to close the Rift in the sky.
Lands that you explore can be claimed for your own needs; people besieged by rogue bands of Templars and Mages can be welcomed into your growing force; the list goes on for the many sort of micro-managing tasks that you can do along your journey. Truth be told, it almost seems that there is an infinite number of tasks and side-quests that you can complete alongside the overarching plot. Though many of these side-quests tend to be of the “fetch quest” variety, the rewards are (usually) strongly entrenched within the story at large.
Completionists may grumble about wanting to finish every quest in a single area before moving on to the next—and indeed, many recommend getting out of the first map, the Hinterlands, as soon as possible, before it becomes too tedious. After all, one of the great things about DA: I is how it tailors to your needs—don’t want to go and rescue What’s-His-Face’s lost pet goat? Then skip it for now and move on to something more interesting; the quest will still be available later on, and the game does not push you too much to finish quests ASAP, leaving players the time to explore at their leisure.
However, these side-quests do assist in spreading word of your fame to rally the people to your side, and to strike fear into the hearts of your enemies. Remember, you’re the Inquisitor, you’re a recognized strong-arm of the Chantry, the world’s leading religious organization. And DA: I has another interesting in-game feature that serves as a reminder of this power, while also helping you mine for gold and for loot: The War Table.
The War Table serves to help unlock new areas, and to complete more quests that can earn you perks and advance the storyline. It opens new doors to the world of Thedas, and, for those of you who are in it for the flavor text, offers exciting glimpses into Thedas’ rich lore. I will warn that there is quite a bit of reading involved with these War Table duties, but these snippets and requests offer clear insight Thedas at large as you change it throughout your campaign.
Also, do note that War Table operations do take real-world cool down time. Some operations may take hours to complete–a good excuse to finish up a round of in-game time in the evening, only to check in on how your forces are doing the next day.
Plus, it’s pretty cool, and pretty satisfying, to see how much of your efforts are rewriting Thedas’ own history. Your advisors may present to you an uppity noble with a good military record, who you can send assassins to execute, or rumors to ostracize from polite society, or even hire for your own forces while also ridding yourself of a potential thorn in your side. It’s not typical for the chosen-hero-destined-to-save-the-world narrative to be this involved in politics on top of saving the world, which in my humble opinion makes this roleplay aspect all the more fun. You can bleeding-heart your way to victory by choosing the middle ground and the “good” answers all the time, or you can simply send your army in wrangle agreement by the sword—DA: I is ever always your story, however you see fit to play it.
When you’re done planning your movements on the War Table and on the field, it’s good to know combat and speccing your character is pretty forgiving, to keep up with this theme of making this your own fantasy. I will say that I have been playing on Normal difficulty so far, which means that the AI have been pretty good about taking care of themselves, and letting my Dalish Mage wail on enemies safely from a distance without having to worry too much about micromanagement. DA: I is a brilliant balance between DA: O’s complexity and DA2’s underwhelming simplicity, easing newer players into combat mode without much difficulty, while also giving veteran’s something that is quick to adapt to.
Again, on Normal difficulty, I found that tactics aren’t too much of a problem–I can wail on enemies and set up Barriers however I see fit. Battles move rather quickly; you can target an enemy from a distance away if you’re a ranged character (like a Mage), and start firing while your Warriors and Rogues rush in for the melee. And enemies spawn frequently enough that there’s always EXP fodder waiting around the corner to keep things exciting.
As for healing spells before, after, and during the fray–it seems that DA: I has removed them entirely, so players need to not worry about having a dedicated healer in the party, but instead keep an eye on Potion supplies to keep your team healthy.
Equipping skills and mapping them to your character is just as easy and forgiving, especially with items that can reset ability points. Though they are a bit pricey, you can theoretically experiment with your character builds as often as you want until you find the right combination of passive abilities and skills that will work for your play style. Crafting weapons and armor is also a rather easy aspect of this game, to compensate for any and all bad stat choices you make.
Of course, we cannot discuss a Bioware game without leaving room to comment on its Companion characters. First off, kudos to the voice acting talent that have brought these characters to life; DA:I features some of the best acting so far, without too many hammy moments, coupled with improved animation that is less “stiff” than previous games that make cutscenes fun to watch and listen to. Populating Thedas is a whole cast of characters that include beloved franchise staples who make cameo appearances—and in some cases—are integral members of your party. And then there is also a whole slew of new characters that go beyond the common fantasy tropes, and perhaps make them better.
For instance, I was unimpressed with Bioware’s reveal for Blackwall, your new Grey Warden for this journey. He read to me as the typical gruff, stoic, brooding Warrior-type, with probably a heart of gold buried underneath all that beard. A bit of prodding, and a bit of side-quests and storyline events, incredibly witty banter and dialogue, and suddenly, he’s not so bland.
In fact, I argue that the Bioware writers have done a fantastic job with companions this time around, taking what fans have loved about previous games and building up a rich, and notably diverse cast of characters that can satisfy just about anyone’s wants. Although I will note that there seems to be a bug with companion banter—the companions talking to one another during missions and running through the overworld is a fan favorite and currently suffering from some weird bug where they barely speak to one another at all in comparison to previous DA games; be prepared for some awkward, long stretches of silence.
Oh and because this is a Bioware game: Yes, there are romantic options as well. And the DA franchise has come a long way from DA: O’s kind of awkward sex scenes. DA: I has gone to great lengths to improve make the romantic aspect of the game a rather touching reprieve from the struggles that your Inquisitor faces—or as a heartbreaking, exciting way to only increase the burdens your Inquisitor bares in their storyline.
I have always regarded the romance as a fun bonus feature, and for those of you who are a fan of it, DA: I does not fail to deliver in the love department, too.
If there is one disappointing thing I have heard thus far about DA: I, it is that there are several critical glitches for the PC version, to the extent that some players cannot continue the game. These range from critical cutscenes failing to trigger, either by just not appearing, or by character dialogue not appearing, which is a shame after so many hours logged into this game–and believe you me, DA: I is an investment of your time
and money. Other glitches are rather benign; my Dalish mage seems to enjoy flinging herself across the screen at points, and sometimes textures do not load onto characters–to disastrous results, but minor quibbles in the grand scheme of playing.
Overall, though, DA: I can be considered as a vast improvement from the previous DA iterations. The story is compelling, the combat is easy to get into and work around, and the characters—arguably one of the best features of Bioware games—have a lot of heart that can make a playthrough all the better. With its new features and solid Bioware storytelling, it is a satisfying experience that at its core, is your story however you see fit to play it. Whether you’re in it for the lore or for a fun hack-n-slash, the game is pretty solid ground for all kinds of players—though it may seem a bit overwhelming at first.
But the game does work to ease you into the swing of things, till at last you find yourself looking over your War Table reports, doling out swift justice, then setting off on the next task to bring the world to order—all at your pace, and your leisure.
Thus, I believe DA: I to be a rather good game, perhaps one of the best examples of a game entrenched in fantasy tropes that I have played in recent memory, for its incredible array of features, characters, and, for embodying why many of us turn to fantasy in the first place: this story revolves entirely around you and how you want to complete it, become your own hero, become a tyrant, romance all the characters, if you want, and seal the hole in the sky–the choice is yours.
– Beautiful visuals and improved cutscene animation
– Easy and fun combat/skillsets to master
– Appealing storyline with epic-Fantasy flair
– Witty dialogue and cast that bring the characters to life; bonus points for a push for diverse characters, too
– Veteran Dragon Age fans will be especially pleased with all of the Lore that is stored in this game–there is quite a bit of reading to do here and quite an attention to detail for the Dragon Age enthusiasts
– Time: This is a hard game to speed-run through, it is a bit of an investment, time-wise, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea
– Glitches: There are some critical glitches for the PC version, please be aware before purchasing
– Arguably, all the Lore that I praised about earlier? That can be off-putting and the game can be overwhelming at first, with all of its information heaped on top of everything–though it does do its best to ease in newcomers to the franchise