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Dragon Age: Inquisition: Third Time’s the Charm
As a series, Dragon Age has always suffered in the shadow of its older space-faring brother Mass Effect (whose next entry is already being hotly anticipated), suffering from a perceived generic setting and a divisive second entry that traded choice and variety for a more structured story. It looked as if Dragon Age would have to settle for always being the bridesmaid. Enter Dragon Age: Inquisition, the third entry in the series and perhaps the franchise’s last chance to establish an identity truly of its own.
Thankfully, through an amazing amount of content and a truly breathtaking world, Inquisition surpasses its predecessors by leaps and bound and establishes itself as one of the truly great RPGs of modern times.
Inquisition returns players to the world of Thedas, currently gripped in the midst of a bloody civil war caused by the events of the second game. When a desperate, last-chance peace summit is attacked, you (as the protagonist) emerge as the sole survivor with no memory but a mysterious mark on your hand, enabling you to close demonic portals that have opened throughout the land. As the world collapses around you, it is up to you to reestablish an ancient order and stem the tides of demons that now spill from the sky.
As storylines go, Inquisition’s walks the delicate line of world-threatening size and fascinating personal level drama. Every character that joins your fledgling cause, from the uptight believer Cassandra to the marvelously unhinged Sera, has a satisfying personal arc and plenty of in-field banter to fill them out as believable people.
Your character is a being of your own design. There are numerous choices for customization, with four races and three classes, ensuring that player choice is sufficiently visible from the get-go. The choice of race, gender, and class creates a differing experience during each playthrough. A female elf that casts spells for a living is going to have a much harder time convincing stingy nobles of her trustworthiness as opposed to a strapping human warrior with a noble background. This immediate recognition of choice really helps the player invest in the world and encourages multiple playthroughs just to understand the consequences of your race and class. Couple this with the incredibly in-depth Dragon Age Keep, which allows you to tailor the choices of the first two games to your liking, and you have a world that is truly personal.
Indeed, the world itself feels fantastically alive, brimming with characters and places to see that leaving even the starting area is something you will likely find yourself unable to do for the first few hours.
The theme of choice permeates Inquisition. As leader of an impressive military and diplomatic force, you are charged with making the tough decisions in a world of the greyest morality. Dragon Age has always been known for its lack of a clear-cut ‘good.’ Inquisition continues this legacy by requiring the player to make rulings on everything from the fate of random citizens to decisions that will shape the world. It truly is a testament to Bioware that every choice in the game feels important. At one point a young elf girl asked me for advice on whether to join Grey Wardens (an ancient order dedicated to fighting evil). “Sure,” I said, giving the matter no more thought, until the same girl was trotted out as a sacrifice hours later. As a blade sliced her throat, her executioner stared me in the eye. The game was making it abundantly clear. This was my fault.
After that I considered every interaction to an extreme extent. Few games can force you to so directly consider the consequences of your actions, so when one does—and in such brutal fashion—it is worthy of note.
It doesn’t hurt that the game is gorgeous. Outside of some stiff character animations the game looks fantastic, and thankfully your custom character no longer sticks out like sore thumb, helping sustain the immersion. While there are occasional sounds bugs, the majority of the game runs smoothly, an impressive feat in and of itself nowadays.
Much was made upon the release of Dragon Age 2 of the perceived ‘dumbing down’ of its predecessor’s more in-depth battle system. With Inquisition Bioware has taken these complaints to heart and reintroduced the tactical battle camera from the first game. This enables more player freedom in how they approach combat. With both an active battle system and one that freezes the field of play, Bioware has given players much greater command over how battles will play out. On the lower difficulties most players will likely keep the game active and use the tactical camera only during intense later sections. However, on the harder difficulties tactical planning becomes a necessity, as even small groups of enemies can leave you bloodied and bruised within a matter of moments.
Inquisition also includes a multiplayer component ,but those expecting Mass Effect 3 levels of connection to the single player will be disappointed. The multiplayer is a four-player dungeon crawl that serves more to allow you to test out different character builds. It is a harmless distraction, but provides little extra value to the game, though in a game this stuffed with content, that is no criticism.
Perhaps one of the most glaring elements that sets Inquisition apart from its fellow releases is how much of a true ‘game’ it feels. In this day and age of DLC, special editions, and season passes, Dragon Age: Inquisition is unique. In the well over 90 hours I spent on the game I was struck by the absence of paywalls, companion apps, and annoying paid-for extras. It stands in stark comparison to Assassins Creed Unity as a lesson in true game design. Never once will you be asked for anything other than your time, and that is something Inquisition easily earns. This is an old-school game that is designed to enthrall and entertain for hours and it succeeds with leaps and bounds.
Bioware came into Dragon Age: Inquisition with something to prove. After two good entries, the series was in danger of becoming the ‘other Bioware game.’ Inquisition puts those fears to rest. It is an old-school RPG blended beautifully with modern sensibilities, creating a truly awe-inspiring experience.