Dragon Age: Inquisition Review
Despite its title, Dragon Age: Inquisition is really only interested in asking one question: how do you want to play? It’s evidently a notion that BioWare has considered during the development of its world, the characters, and the myriad tasks that have you exploring its snow-covered peaks, lush forests and arid scrubland. To this end, the developer has picked some of the strongest aspects of its own back catalogue and leveraged tropes established by other RPGs and MMOs to ensure that this fundamental question remains as open-ended as possible.
BioWare has done an admirable job on this front. You’ll seldom feel funnelled down one particular path or forced to approach combat, character development or skill trees in a certain way, nor will you lack for missions or party options. In fact, there are often so many choices of what to do next and how to do it that it falls into the trap of simultaneously charging you with saving the world while offering you to option to fill your time with busywork. Ultimately, the sheer number of distractions on offer undermines the intended gravitas of a story that tries so hard to be epic.
The abundance of choice starts from the ground up with character creation. A mix of four races, three character classes and a wealth of ability specialisations enable you to create anything from a dual-wielding Dwarven rogue to an elementally-charged Qunari mage. Saving the world is not a job for a single hero and so, for the most part, you are accompanied by three other characters that you can take direct control of, issue orders to or allow to govern themselves. There’s a very basic tactics system through which you can prioritise use of your companions abilities and the health threshold at which they’ll use potions, but it’s just as valid a tactic to leave everything on default settings and take control of your own character in the action-orientated third-person mode.
It’s here that the strain of ensuring that every option is as valid as the next begins to show. As such, the fuss surrounding the return of the tactical camera from the first Dragon Age game is largely unjustified. Being able to freeze the action during combat and pull back to an overview of the battlefield from where you can issue specific orders to party members and make better use of the inter-class combos is certainly an interesting idea. However, by making it one of several viable options in combat, BioWare has had to ensure that those that prefer their fights quick, dirty and without pause can still have a rewarding experience and this, in turn, limits its effectiveness.
While your comrades’ class builds are pre-set there are still plenty of choices to be made in deciding how to distribute their ability points as they level up. Alternatively, you can allow the AI to take care of that for you. While it’s tempting to hit the auto-level button rather than pore over skill trees, especially early on when you may be getting to grips with your own characters’ varied abilities, there is an immediate sense of disconnect that comes from letting the AI take care of itself. Multiplayer removes this burden by making you responsible for just one character with a pared-back move-set as you storm castles and ruins on wave-based loot runs. However, a lack of maps and game modes currently makes this an entertaining but ultimately superficial distraction.
Back at the keep, there’s another front on which the war on terrible things is waged. By convening the Inquisition war council, made up of faces familiar to those of past Dragon Age titles, you can assign members to make forays across Thedas. These tasks take in work of the Inquisition – which never becomes as grisly or provocative as one might hope – and serve to open-up new areas to explore to progress the story or reaps rewards for helping to solve local disputes by proxy. By undertaking the smaller tasks you obtain power, which is the currency spent to further the Inquisition’s reach, a thinly veiled measure to ensure that you’re not rushing ahead to missions beyond your character’s current pay-grade.
Dragon Age: Inquisition succeeds in many of the things it sets out to achieve and the fact that one the harshest criticisms that can be levelled at it is that it’s occasionally muddled, unfocused and too eager to please should not keep a great many people from enjoying it. It’s just a shame that in trying to be all things to all people it falls short of the triumphant return that fans have craved and the series deserved.