Dragon Age: Inquisition, A new jewel in the RPG crown

Ever since The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim completely devoured hundreds of hours of my life, I’ve been hankering for another open-world RPG to reawaken the feelings of awe and excitement I felt when first looking out over the tundra of Whiterun. BioWare has given that to me in Dragon Age: Inquisition , and I absolutely adore them for doing so.

Picking up almost exactly where Dragon Age 2 left off, Inquisition begins with an explosion that tears a hole in the veil separating the physical world of Thedas and the demon world beyond. In case you cannot infer, that’s a bad thing. Luckily your character is the sole survivor of the cataclysmic explosion, but when you awaken you discover a mark on your hand and onlookers proclaiming you the Herald of Andraste (the prophetess whose teachings led to the creation of the Chantry and the largest religion in Thedas). As for the mark, it grants you the power to close rifts like the one caused in the explosion. So then: most of the world thinks you’re some highly important religious symbol, and you have the power to seal the tears threatening the world… talk about being thrown into the deep end.

And being in the deep end turns out to be a recurring theme: Dragon Age: Inquisition is lore heavy. The world has been built up around three separate entries in the IP, so by now the land of Thedas is absolutely stuffed with history and places. It’s basically a fantasy dork’s wet dream, and if previous RPGs (like Skyrim) left you feeling underwhelmed insofar as lore is concerned, know that Inquisition has it in droves. And it’s wonderful. The last time I was this involved in a game world’s lore was with the Mass Effect series, and Inquisition has arguably ten times the amount of canonical depth. Throughout my time with Inquisition I was in awe of what BioWare has made. This is one of the most believable and engrossing game worlds I’ve ever encountered, and while it might seem terrifically overwhelming for newcomers to the series, it is not insurmountable and definitely shouldn't be seen as a deterrent. The weighty codex (which unlocks as you discover new people, places, enemies, etc.) provides all the information you could need for piecing together the world of Inquisition, and it’s a world that will, if you let it, keep you enraptured.

This, of course, is the biggest new element introduced in this third instalment: the open-world. Don't, however, imagine an open-world like you’d find in a Bethesda RPG like  Skyrim  or Fallout 3. There are still loading screens and the world itself is divided into multiple regions that need to be unlocked. However, those regions are enormous in scale and absolutely jam-packed with content for you to sink your teeth into.

Other major series changes include the removal of healing spells and the introduction of limited healing potions (you can carry eight for your party of four). This was somewhat controversial for long-time  Dragon Age  fans, but it does mean you’re essentially freeing up a party member slot that would have ordinarily been reserved for a mage who simply stood at the back casting healing spells. It’s a big change but it works and makes party combinations a lot more varied. Being able to upgrade potions and discover new recipes allows you to customise potion, tonic, and grenade slots for each party member, thereby adding a further tactical element to your confrontations.

Insofar as combat goes, you’re free to approach Inquisition as a light third-person action game, focusing on your own character and timing your abilities. Alternatively you can take full control of your entire party via the tactical camera. Unfortunately the tactical camera has a tendency to get lost in terrain and foliage, and even though the action is paused so you can line-up abilities for each party member, having to jostle the camera into position is a little jarring. Furthermore, mouse + keyboard controls aren’t that comfortable; the PC version of  Inquisition  is a much better experience with a gamepad. While the PC release will benefit from higher frame rates and graphics features, it’s also prone to a few bugs. I experienced one hard crash to desktop and on more than one occasion I’d have NPCs floating across the landscape. Cut-scenes, of which there are numerous, have this strange stuttering to them which is unsightly when compared to the rest of the game.

All of these bugs and glitches, however, are extremely easy to overlook when you stand back and take in  Inquisition  as a whole. This is BioWare at their best; it’s a level of sheer immersion that harkens back to Mass Effect 2 . Similarly to Shepard’s second outing, Inquisition  is festooned with incredibly detailed and fully realised supporting characters. I found myself growing very attached to certain party members purely thanks to the phenomenal voice acting and superlative script writing. Little touches (like Iron Bull taking you incognito into your army’s camp so you can hear what your soldiers think of you) are dotted all over the game that all come together to create the most compelling gaming experience you're likely to find in years. Just when you think you’ve seen all the game has to show, new features, skill trees, characters and gargantuan locations unlock 10, 20, and even 30 hours into the story.

I once read a quote from a developer on Inquisition that the game feels like a D&D campaign. Or at least I think I read that. When I tried to find that quote it alluded me, so maybe I made it up. Either way it’s an accurate comparison.

Inquisition proves that Dragon Age knows what it means to be an RPG with its roots deep in table-top gaming soil. It feels like the true sequel to Origins, only it’s far more rich and lore-heavy, but it suffers somewhat when it comes to the combat. Sure, there’s the tactical view that some gamers keep claiming that they need in their fantasy RPGs, but Inquisition’s combat feels far better when played like an action-RPG with just a few tactical elements thrown in. And the menus suck.  And the helmets look stupid. Anyway, that’s not important.

What is important is how  Dragon Age: Inquisition makes me feel (or how it makes you feel, in your case), and I feel incredibly warm and squishy every time I sit down to play. It really does feel like a D&D campaign: not truly open world but open enough; filled with political intrigue and fascinating characters who behave in a way you’d expect (like regular people, just with pointy bits in different places); and loaded with things to do that feel important. The side-quests can be a bit of a grind occasionally, especially when you really want to see what the next main story thing is but you still need to collect twelve boar snouts to earn enough Power Points. But the whole mechanism behind Power Points makes sense in the long run, giving the player character a real sense of place and purpose in the game world. Aside from a few snags, this game will make you happy.

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