Dragon Age: Inquisition - The good, the bad and the ugly.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is the much anticipated third entry in Bioware's popular Dragon Age series. I think most fans waited with varying levels of both excitement and anxiety. Anyone familiar with the franchise will remember the sharp criticism that Dragon Age 2 received from nearly all corners, and for those who missed out, suffice it to say that the game felt very rushed and suffered from a number of issues as a result, including glitches, strange mechanics and environments that were reused almost to the point of absurdity. Bioware seemed to take all of the criticism to heart and consequently made many promises regarding the next installment. On a number of occasions they reached out to fans for ideas and opinions. Most people, including myself, have been very hopeful leading up the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition. And so the big question is, does the game live up to all of the promise?
The short answer is, yes. For the most part, at least.
I'll preface my review with a few things. First, there won't be any major spoilers, and no story spoilers at all. Second, I have not finished the game yet. I wanted to hold out for a review until I'd finished, but it's been a couple weeks already. I have 50 hours in the game so far, and honestly I think I'm a only little more than half way through. If I wait till I'm done my review might not be out till next year, so here we are. And with 50 hours under my belt, I think I'm qualified. Third, this will deal only with the single player campaign and not multiplayer.
-Sweeping, beautiful environments full of opportunities for exploration and diversity of terrain and weather. My favorite part of the environments is that they're reactive. NPC's comment on your actions and the changing world. Combine that with wildlife and plants and it feels alive. This includes a wide variety of side quests, most of which feel natural and significant rather than like pointless fetch quests.
- Customization! From customizing the appearance of your own character, to the color and style of the weapons and armor of the Inquisitor and all their companions all the way to changing the drapery in your stronghold, this game is laden with customization. Not only that, but it's done beautifully and tactfully.
-Diverse and engaging cast of characters, both major and minor, all with interesting stories and designs. The Inquisition unites diverse characters from all across Thedas. It is refreshing to see such diversity of opinion rather than the Dragon Age 2 model of "Mages are GOOD" vs. "Mages are BAAAAAD". I've quite enjoyed getting to see things from multifaceted perspectives.
-Compelling narrative. Need I say more? Without spoilers, the story is very engaging and I remain excited at every turn to see what comes next. It is both familiar and surprising, a feat for Bioware to be proud of.
-Superb voice acting. With very few exceptions the voice acting is wonderfully done.
-Fun combat that remains interesting over the course of the game. Unlike the enemies of Dragon Age 2 who simply fell out of the air and began attacking, Inquisition offers enemies that roam freely. Most can be seen from a distance, allowing for the use of terrain and distance in tactical planning. Terrain can also be used as cover to avoid combat.
-Throw backs. Of course the story is a continuation of the first two, so it would make sense that there are references to the other games. However, Inquisition does this particularly well. There are abundant references to past characters and choices. These occur in the form of dialogue, letters, codex entries and songs. Though most of these details are minor, it really made me feel as though my past decisions mattered.
-Romance! And friendship, of course. The number of companions in this game is quite high, particularly if you include the advisors, and Bioware has done a great job of making their relationship with your Inquisitor feel realistic and genuine. There are eight fully romanceable characters and one partially romanceable side character ala Kelly. While I can't speak to all of them, my opinion so far is positive. Each character relationship, whether romantic or not, is nuanced and interesting. I'm looking forward to seeing how all of the character arcs conclude.
-Crafting. I find it fun to collect materials and recipes, and I've really enjoyed that aspect of the game so far. I've also been pleased to find that the items I craft are actually quite useful. The armor I make is often better than what I can find, though not so much so that it feels overpowered. That being said, I also appreciate that it isn't something you have to do. Good equipment can also be found through exploration and combat, or purchased if you've saved up your gold. To me, this is the perfect balance for a crafting system.
-Bonus: The hats.
-Steep learning curve. The game introduces a lot of mechanics very quickly and very early. As a veteran of the series, this wasn't immediately apparent to me. I picked up on the basics quickly. It was only later that I realized I didn't remember many of the menu and action buttons. I kept having to refer to the keybindings to figure out how to make certain things work, and even then it wasn't always entirely apparent how to make certain things work. How do I make my horse run again?
-In a similar vein, the game doesn't explain the new level-based system very well. I had a hard time early on determining whether or not it was appropriate for me to move on to new zones. While the main story missions indicate a suggested level, nothing else does. I moved on the Emprise du Lion very quickly only to run in terror from enemies 4 and 5 levels higher than me. It required a bit of trial and error for me to figure out where I was strong enough to travel. This can be frustrating.
-Glitches. I haven't had anything game breaking. Mostly just funny graphical glitches like the guard who's bottom half had disappeared or my Inquisitor going cross-eyed for an entire cut scene. I have heard of a few quest glitches, but these seem to be uncommon luckily. These will likely get better with time.
-The hair. There are two big issues with the hair, and both of them are ugly. The first is the odd selection of styles. Ladies have 8 different shaved head options, 4 or 5 very short styles and then a handful of others. Very few seem like good choices and I found myself picking the lesser evil rather than one that I genuinely liked. Qunari have it even worse. It's as if Bioware looked at the horns and then just threw their hands up. This may seem minor, but your Inquisitor plays such a central role and is visible without a helmet in so many scenes that you really have to look at the hair quite a bit. It's perplexing how they ended up with such a pitiful array of hairstyles. Why, Bioware? Why?
The second issue is one which I think only effects pc players. If your graphics settings for meshes is set to anything lower than high, all hair appears very shiny. This includes beards. This effect is so extreme that it was highly distracting to me. Luckily there is a solution here. Just set your meshes to high. However, if you play on pc and haven't seen this. I recommend turning your meshes down just so that you can see how ridiculous it looks. Once I realized I could make it stop, it became entertaining.
Despite the handful of negatives, I recommend this game very highly, for both veterans and newcomers. It is extremely fun to play and has a compelling and engaging story. It's also available on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and XBone. Everyone should go get it and report back. I can't wait to return once I've finished the game so that I can give my full opinion, complete with spoilers and all. Until then, happy gaming!