Dragon Age – the fantasy RPG child of Canadian game developer Bioware. After two enjoyable games in Dragon Age Origins and the slightly less imaginatively titled Dragon Age 2, the series’ third instalment Inquisition, is now here. While the more hands-on combat of DA 2 as well as the added dialogue wheel and rich graphics appealed to some more than Origins’ technical and complex system, few could defend the small, repetitive and bland city of Kirkwall against the multiple densely lore-packed visitable locations of Origins. Each game had their strengths, but where does Inquisition fit into all this? Bioware have all but perfected what fans know as Dragon Age. Basically, Dragon Age Inquisition is the best game of the franchise so far.
When you first experience the new combat system, you wonder why it’s hasn’t always been like it. Rather than a total do-over, several small changes that may otherwise go unnoticed really make the difference. Simple changes like being able to move whilst you hurl arrows at your enemy, or holding down the attack button to continue attacking rather than button mashing or only having to press once and sit back are more than welcome. The best of these changes is the tactical field view. Being able to stop time, look around the battlefield and line up moves like a less PG version of Sims gives you a chance against more challenging foes, and makes it feel much more satisfying when you finally down a dragon the size of Leicester Square.
Secondly, the plot – though a bit formless and vague in places – is a welcome return to an Origins level of depth. One thing that makes you care a little more than you ever really could with DA 2 is the fact that the future of the world is at stake, and some of the plot’s biggest moments feel truly epic. You’re not a legendary Grey Warden anymore, but it feels good to be facing a fret as fearsome as Origins’ Archdemon again.
Next, side quests. Can anyone honestly say they’ve ever enjoyed a Dragon Age side quest that much? Most people never even did more than about five of the things on Origins and DA 2 put together. They’ve just never been as rewarding as the main plot missions, until now. Well, kinda. Side quests will never quite be the best thing about a game and rarely have much depth unless you’re playing an Elder Scrolls game. However, what is refreshing about Inquisition is that you actually want to do them. Not only do you need to for in-game ‘power’ to progress in the main storyline, but the rewards that come with it are worth an extra ten minutes here and there.
Helping a local farmer kill some nearby wolves may win you a horse to ride, while helping a worried husband save his wife can gain support for your cause. Rewards make these simple tasks meaningful, and the often well-written dialogue and supplementary lore serves to engage players even when completing more unstimulating tasks.
Furthermore, the exploration has vastly improved. On DA 2, the city of Kirkwall and the surrounding areas were all players had, and seeing as how you could enter a cave and realise five quests you’d already done just happened to take place in the same small cave, it’s fair to rule it out as a contender for best map. Origins was better, though restrictive and corridor-like, there were multiple locations to be explored and each had its own unique lore and aesthetic. Inquisition simply knocks both out of the park. Players can pick an area to go to (most likely one with a quest they wish to do) and then explore that area to their heart’s content. These areas range from lush forests, to stormy coasts and vast deserts. You can spend hours in one area without getting bored of its scenery, and that’s something many RPGs lack.
These areas are much broader than anything on Origins or DA 2. Even when you think you’ve completed everything a location has to offer, you discover a new cave or quest you just can’t bring yourself to ignore. The sheer number of things to do is staggering and honestly, a little daunting. It’s good to play a game where exploration is not only encouraged, but rewarded; no detour turns out at a dead end.
This is all helped by a very easy-to-use quest map that helps players focus on a set goal. This is one of the most useful additions to the game, and helps players find their way round the clever mix of narrow paths and open plains. Everything you see in the distance tries to lure you away from your current goal, but the quest map and the well-connected paths keep you from ever truly losing yourself.
Finally worth noting is the simplified character tactics and skills. It took some a while to work out exactly what was going on when levelling up characters on previous Dragon Age games. Longer still when you were trying to figure out how you wanted them to act in battle. In Inquisition, the complexity of these systems is mostly a thing of the past. While some of the more hardcore fans will miss the levels of customisation, most will welcome the change. It’s much simpler and therefore satisfying to craft the exact role you want each member of your party to play in combat due to the more simplified perk trees and tactics settings. Whether you want a massive Qunari warrior at the front to divert attention while your rogues flank your otherwise-engaged enemy, or you’d rather your warriors to charge in while a mage casts spells to support them either by slowing or weakening an enemy or by protecting your warriors, it all comes down to the perks you assign, and it’s so straightforward to do this time around.
Basically, Inquisition is awesome. Origins was a huge and epic game that managed to spawn a total of nine expansion packs and DLC, novels set in the Dragon Age universe, a table top role-playing game, an online comic book series, action figures, a web series and even its own anime film, but surely anyone who loved to delve into the huge amounts of extra content can only adore the massive depth that Inquisition has.
DA 2 was also a beautiful and less frustratingly complex game, in which players saw through a story spanning 10 years, helping to tell the tale of the ‘Champion of Kirkwall’ by making tough moral choices, creating a clan of the deadliest of allies, sealing Hawke’s place in history and ultimately seeing through events that shaped the future for the whole of Thedas. In fact, the story quite directly affects the cataclysmic events of Inquisition, making it important for story at least, despite polarizing some fans. Without these games, Inquisition could not be as great as it is, that said however, Inquisition simply tops them both significantly. As players become the ‘Inquisitor’ and lead an army of truly legendary heroes to reveal the truth behind the looming desolation, they are immersed into the entire world of Thedas for the first time and are given a level of freedom never seen in the franchise so far.
You aren’t just the leader of a small group of eager adventurers, but right at the centre of a huge movement to reform and bring order to a land plagued by political debates and civil wars, not to mention an apocalyptical threat… It’s pretty damn amazing.