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Thursday, 4 December 2014

Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Hey, guys. This is actually my 200th review(/editorial) on this blog. So that's a thing.

Dragon Age: Inquisition.

I've been demurring on this review for some two hours now because there's altogether too much to talk about in this game. 

The third in Bioware's original high fantasy RPG series (the Neverwinter Nights to Mass Effect's Knights of the Old Republic), and originally created as a MMORPG before thankfully being converted into a single player game, Dragon Age: Inquisition puts you in the shoes of the Inquisitor, leader of the newly formed Inquisition. The skies have been torn open, creating a vast breach that leads to the spirit world of the Fade and filling the world with demons, and you have been tasked with closing it, and defeating the mysterious Elder One who opened it in the first place.

The game has a lot more in common with the first game in the series, Dragon Age: Origins, than it does with the second. While Dragon Age II was a personal story, limited in scope, following a single character's life through a single city, Origins and Inquisition are both more sweeping and epic, telling tales of an extraordinary character invested with great authority saving the world from an apocalypse. It's not a bad approach: Focused, personal stories are great (and I deeply enjoyed the one told in the second game), but Dragon Age's setting is built for vast epics about gods and demons and suchlike. 

I admit, it took me a while to warm to Inquisition, though. It throws you in the deep end very early on, trusting that you'll pick up the plot and gameplay as you go along, and I didn't. It wasn't until I'd wandered the first open area of the game, the impossibly vast Hinterlands, for a good hour trying to figure out where I was meant to go and what I was meant to be doing that I started to get a good grasp on roughly what I was meant to be doing, and it took a little longer to quite get my head around why. 

The Hinterlands could have been much improved by the addition
of a dragon.

Once I had that figured out - and it did take a concerted effort of panning through the menu screens and essentially self-tutorialing - the game opened up to me, and I started really enjoying it. The gameplay is fairly simple at its most basic level, and not dissimilar to either of the earlier Dragon Age games, and you don't truly need any more than that to complete the game on one of the easier difficulty settings. The more complicated parts of gameplay eluded me for the most part, and as a result I never really concerned myself with things like the tactical battle system or crafting or any of that guff, but it's there for people who enjoy that kind of thing, and plenty of people do. 

One new gameplay feature is the war table. While you use it to unlock areas to travel to (using power accrued from completing sidequests, which is a good way to make the player do them but did get somewhat wearying when halfway through a quest the game would cheerily inform me that I needed ten more power), you also use it to give operations to your three advisers (returning characters Leliana and Cullen along with new addition Josephine), which result in items, influence, and other operations. These operations take real time to perform, but luckily (as some operations take eight or ten or in one memorable case twenty hours) you don't need to be playing for that time.

(One slightly less welcome gameplay change is the near total lack of healing spells. The Spirit branch of magic, previously used mostly for healing, has one or two mana-expensive and cooldown-heavy spells that will restore health, but for the most part now focuses on buffing characters, leaving the role of healing to your very limited supply of potions.)

Leliana, a bard from Origins, returns here as the Inquisition's

As for the storyline, once I had caught up on what was going on, I was hooked. The Elder One is a compelling villain, tying into mythos set up in the first game, and the game takes pains to set him up as a threat early on (in my playthrough, where I recruited the mages instead of the templars, it did this by showing a dark future where he partially succeeded with his plans). Your party characters are, for the most part, very fun and interesting two. My personal favourites were aristocratic mage Vivienne and innocent (if somewhat murderous) spirit Cole, but the game also sees returning characters Cassandra and Varric join your party, along with characters like mysterious elven mage Solas (played by Gareth David-Lloyd, making him the second member of the Torchwood cast to play an elven mage) and Qunari mercenary Iron Bull. 

Their interactions between each other are all great fun, and I recommend looking up their banter on Youtube and just spending three hours listening to them all. I also recommend looking up all the romance subplots - as in most Bioware games, you can pursue a romance with a range of characters, and Inquisition has a nice spread of same gender and opposite gender romantic plots. I personally pursued a romance with ex-templar Cullen, having decided prior to playing the game that he was really the only option, but I realised while playing that I probably wouldn't be opposed to any of the romance subplots. Food for future replays, maybe. 

Your inner circle.

While the game ended on a slightly disappointing note for me (I don't know what I was expecting or wanting, but everything seemed to be a bit too neatly tied off for my tastes), the road getting there was a pretty expertly crafted story, and a lot of my disappointment in the story's ending proper was mitigated by the post-credits scene, which in the style of the Marvel Cinematic Universe was about a minute of the writers angrily lobbing plot twists at your face. 

I realised about twenty minutes after the last of those plot twists hit me in the jaw that they'd been foreshadowed all along. Foreshadowed really unsubtly, even, and my shame at my own denseness was only cancelled out by the fact that apparently every other player was exactly as dense as I was. 

Overall, a very good game, even if it's not flawless, and definitely a contender for my game of the year (if I - do that. I'm not sure I've played enough games this year to warrant such a thing). No sequel has been announced yet, but one is pretty much certain, given that I counted at least three sequel hooks in Inquisition. We might be waiting a while, though, given that there was a three year gap between Dragon Age II and Inquisition. 

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