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Dragon Age Inquisition review: All men must DAI

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I’ve had to tear myself away from Dragon Age Inquisition to write this review, and considering I got it on Sunday, let me tell you it was a hard thing to do. I’ve poured hours into the game and I have this feeling I’ve barely scratched the surface. On the plus side, what I’ve scratched so far is largely good, and that means not much spoilers in the review below.

Dragon Age Inquisition takes place immediately after the events of Dragon Age 2. If you are afraid that means you need to play the first and second to get any sort of narrative bearing on Inquisition, fret not. You can always catch up, or use the Dragon Age Keep website to tailor the history of your world. Besides, the story is your pretty basic ‘chosen one’ fantasy trope. Your hero is found as the sole survivor of a reality ripping explosion that killed scores of two different affiliations. These two organizations, the mages and the templars were trying to come to some sort of peaceful accord, so you can see why they would suspect some foul play. Strangely enough, the explosion that made the reality rifts also gave you some inexplicable reason to close them. Oh, and demons come out of the rifts. So yeah, chosen one. Go forth and build your organization (some might say… Inquisition) to battle the forces of evil!

While the main story will probably never win any awards for subtlety, The Dragon Age Setting (gettit, The DAS? Thedas? Man, you’ll get it when you play) does tackle some pretty tricky subjects of faith, power and the control of power. The world is also amazingly chock full with quests and easter eggs, a huge world to explore. Some people relate it to the vastness of Skyrim, but I actually think it has a a leg up to Skyrim. A huge open world is great for people with oodles of time, but as a completionist who now has very little gaming time due to real life concerns, I admit I was saddled with decision paralysis in Skyrim, and sadly I never completed it. While Dragon Age Inquisition is still huge, its game areas are bounded, and there are markers in the War Room to guide you to main questlines, and tell you what your preferred level should be in those quest lines. Still, I had to tear myself away from some of the starter areas before I got burnt out as well. (Point of advice, leave the hinterlands after you have completed the main quest and some side ones, it’s a time sink.)

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Speaking of the War Room, it is a new addition to Dragon Age, but it is similar to the grand strategy of Mass Effect 3. But better. Quests and choices in the game reward both power and influence. Power is used to open storylines and playable areas in the game, and influence is used to provide perk benefits to your inquisition/character, so even the most basic fetch quests that reward power and influence at least makes it seem like they have a greater part to play in the larger picture. Your war room also has quests that you do not personally handle, but that is performed by your council of advisors and their followers. Most of these quests are completed after a certain amount of real time has passed, and depending on who you send, they will resolve the matter in a different way, sometimes leading to different rewards. Any completed quest rewards you of course, but since you don’t really know what you are going to get, and since the writing gets you invested in the ending, chances are you will end up sending the people whom you agree with the most. I realized towards the end that I tended to favor my spymaster and diplomat over my tactician, velvet glove and all that.

More importantly though, the main draw of Dragon Age Inquisition is the same as other Bioware games; awesome character stories for all your side companions and the chance to boink them. So how does that turn out?

Surprisingly well, actually. I believe that all of the companions are great, with most being better than Dragon Age 2, and even Dragon Age 1. Sure, no one will ever beat the awesome of Dr Mordin Solus of Mass Effect 3, but all of them seem a lot more fleshed out than the previous DA1 and DA2 characters. Even the annoying and the boring characters have a certain depth to their annoyingness or boringness, like they’re that way due to their upbringing and background, not because a writer phoned it in, and Iron Bull (starring Freddie Prinze Jr) gives quite a few of the Mass Effect characters a run for their money. (Sorry, I didn’t much care for most of the original Dragon Age characters.)

Part two of the ‘get to know your companions and boink them’ rating system is going to be a hit or a miss for some. Personally, I liked it. As opposed Dragon Age: Origins, where maxing out your relationship meter with a companion means the obligatory weird polygonal writhing of two uncanny valley humanoids with unrecognizable fantasy music playing cutscene, romancing your companions lead to some varied results. Don’t get me wrong, most of your companions still like to express their love in the form of NSFW cut scenes, but this time, Bioware is less worried about the act itself than the blank space before or after it, when a relationship is at its most exposed, and some characters just express their love with a kiss or a cuddle. Some people might whine about the change, but I think if you wanted NSFW clips, there’s a whole plethora of them out there on the net. Similarly, it seems that you can’t romance quite a few characters now, but that actually makes it all seem more authentic (also helped by the graphics engine upgrade). After all, not everyone is looking to bump uglies all the time. I also like how characters are illustrated like tarot cards, and when something major changes, their card changes to fit.

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The gameplay is sort of a goldilocks compromise between the tactical top down view of Dragon Age Origins, and the ARPG of DA2. You generally play Inquisition as an ARPG, although for more difficult fights you can pause and switch to tactical mode to guide your party’s movements more precisely. Personally, I don’t have the patience to play tactically in an RPG any more, so the ARPG option (with the difficulty turned down to easy) was a welcome choice. You CAN play the game tactically if you want, but I think at higher difficulties, the need to pause and switch back and forth from tactical mode seems to be too much trouble.

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Unfortunately, I couldn’t run away from the other clunky aspects of the game, especially the inventory management system. It seemed like there was a lot of stuff in my inventory, and sadly some quest (research) items are mixed into the normal items. As a hoarder, that means my inventory gets inflated very quickly (tip: turn in your research items before selling anything). This issue is also affected by the equipment management system of my companions. While I do like the fact that I can choose the equipment for all members of my team, I tend to end up being the mule, keeping equipment that might not be great for my main team, but would still be an upgrade for some companions I use less regularly. The crafting and modification system is similarly extensive, and unfortunately that makes me end up primarily using everything I find, as opposed to spending additional time looking for the materials to make a piece of armor ‘just so’.

Lastly, it seems like no triple-A release is the same without bugs. I have had many critical and not-so critical bugs while in the game, from weird colors and rendering, to crashing out of the game, so save often.

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Regardless of UI and bug issues though, Dragon Age Inquisition is still a good game. It could definitely have been better (more streamlined at least), and I could always be stuck with a Mass Effect 3 shit ending, but as of this moment, I think it is the strongest of the Dragon Age series out there. And that is a strong statement.

And if you’ll excuse me, I have a world to save.

Dragon Age Inquisition is available online on EA’s Origin system, and in stores everywhere.

kakita

Singapore’s resident Press Ganger, that is, the man to go to for Privateer Press’ WARMACHINE, and HORDES. Kakita also dabbles in Games Workshop’s WARHAMMER FANTASY and WARHAMMER 40K lines.

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