The land of Thedas is in rough shape. The mages have risen up and are fighting a full blown rebellion against the Templars. The Chantry is falling apart, and its beloved leader (along with many among the upper levels of the hierarchy) is killed in a magic-fueled bombing during a peace accord, causing rifts to appear between the physical world and the Fade. This is the state of things as you step into the role of your new hero in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Being that you're the only person in the world that can close the rifts, it becomes your responsibility to grow the Inquisition from a small band of outcasts to a power to be reckoned with. With it, you bring order to the land and begin to reshape the world to however you see fit.
Leading the Inquisition
Inquisition is a sort of vindication of Dragon Age 2. Some criticized the story, and how the world was very small. Dragon Age 3 responds with a massive world that spans two countries (Fereldan and Orlais), with areas that range from snow capped mountains to arid deserts. These areas are so big that you'll need to ride a mount to help traverse them, and it's easy to get lost, especially in the deserts with its twisting tunnels. Not only are most areas huge, but they're filled with side missions, dangers, and wildlife to hunt. Hunting and gathering provides you with materials that can be used to craft weapons, armor, and upgrades. These areas look fantastic, and much of the game can be spent exploring caves and ruins to uncover secrets and loot.
Seeing a dragon fly across the sky for the first time is truly an awe inspiring event, and they are subject to random events like all the wildlife in Thedas. I was walking along the coast and witnessing a fight between a dragon and a giant, and I couldn't help but stop and watch. The scale at which the creatures are designed match sense of threat and power that they project.
The story is as epic as the landscape, and relies heavily on the events from Dragon Age 2. Players get a true sense of how gigantic Thedas is, and experience the diversity of its kingdoms and culture. The nobility of Orlais, for example, wear masks all the time as part of a grand system of social ladder climbing called The Game. Players also feel the full weight of responsibility in reshaping the political landscape, more so than with previous games that were largely limited to a single kingdom or city. There are so many quests that it is entirely possible to lose yourself in playing side missions and forget all about furthering the main story. As a signature mark of the Dragon Age games, players will have to face a number of moral choices that will deterimine the fate of your character, the Inquisition, its members, and all of Thedas. One scene, for example, has you choosing between saving an Inquisition team from slaughter or securing a key factional alliance to confront a greater threat.
Another aspect of your leadership role involves going to the War Room to send one of your three advisors on different tasks. These missions, which play out in real-time in the background, can be handled using diplomacy, stealth, or a show of force with the army. These missions rarely have a direct bearing on the rest of the game, but they open new areas and earn special rewards. The War Room is also where you use your influence to open key areas and launch key operations to move the story along. There were times that I got a bit obsessive about the War Room, since actions require real-time to carry out. So, I wanted to pick the opportune moments before dispatching one of my agents to perform a task that could take up to 23 hours to complete. However, you can really feel it when you run out of important things to do. You can send agents out on short missions to gather resources, but the rarity of whatever they bring back is random, and it does feel like the busywork that it is.
When you're not exploring the world and talking to people, you'll spend most of your time fighting off the threats of the world. Inquisition's combat combines the tactical approach found in Origins with the fast action of Dragon Age 2. At the touch of a button, the game pauses and goes into tactical mode so players can assign each party member's next move. You can't queue up multiple moves, which is a little disappointing, but I got used to the limitation. Holding down the gamepad trigger lets time move forward and letting go pauses it again. When using the keyboard, the controls are separated into two keys, one pauses the game while the other brings you in and out of tactical mode. Pulling the camera all the back with the mouse wheel will also automatically bring you into tactical mode.
I much preferred using mouse and keyboard controls, which has a toolbar for skills and potions, along with the ability to pick targets with a mouse click. However, switching between tactical and combat mode felt smoother and more intuitive with the gamepad. Those that prefer pure action can probably get through the entire game on normal difficulty without ever touching the tactical mode, but doing so makes Inquisition feel very much like a plain hack-and-slash RPG. Either way, you also need to get used to the lack of a dedicated healing skill tree for mages. The primary means of healing are through potions that are shared by the entire party, resting at camp, and fast traveling to any location. There are enough ways to mitigate damage so that healing isn't as much of an issue later on in the game, but things can be pretty rough early on. Although having no dedicated healer released me from an obligatory need for a healer mage accompanying me at all times, I still would have liked to have the option.
As with all games of this scale, Inquisition has its share of glitches. The most common issue is how my journal would continue to show quests that were impossible to complete, like trying to find and talk to a person that was killed either by me or the local wildlife. Another common issue is how the characters would sometime talk, but their mouths don't move. There are a few more, but none of the problems I experienced were game-breaking.
A part of the Inquisition experience can be brought into multiplayer, where up to four players come together to fight in a dungeon crawling mode. Players choose a character then team together to see how far they can get with their combined abilities while earning XP an gold. The skill trees are very different in multiplayer compared to the campaign, and don't offer as much flexibility. Each class has two skill trees, each with a single straight progression path. Making your way up the skill tree allows you access to some branching abilities, but they are also a little limited. For example, the Archer doesn't have the ability to drop into stealth to make a quick getaway, or poison its weapons for extra damage over time. Apart from changing out the armor, there aren't any customization options, not even gender. So, those hoping to recreate some semblance of their campaign character may be disappointed.
The gameplay challenge varies from match-to-match, and it largely depends on what level your character is. It's generally a good idea to play with as many people as possible, but a party of two people can progress at a crawling pace by getting stronger with every subsequent match. Although enemies vary in difficulty from match-to-match, the multiplayer's biggest challenge comes a total absence of health potion pickups. Players recover all their health when they enter into a new stage, but there can be a lot of bloodshed in getting there. Similarly, dead players have to sit out the rest of the stage and watch from the living players' perspectives until they open the door to the next area.
All potions and grenades need to be purchased from the store, using either in-game or premium currency. However, health potions aren't automatically replenished, and you have to remember to equip them. In my experience, players might forget to bring the health potions at all. There's also no way to share loot or resources, which limits the cooperative feel of this dungeon crawler. Players have to purchase loot crates, which randomly provides items. Those experienced with Mass Effect 3's multiplayer may feel comfortable, but it shares many of the same shortcomings. It may take significant time and effort to outfit your character with the gear it needs to be a heavy hitter. Items can be broken down for raw materials so that players can custom craft their own gear, which does go a long way toward differentiating yourself from others with of the same class.
One of the multiplayer mode's most interesting features comes from treasure rooms that can only be accessed by specific classes. For example, only a warrior can break down a weakened wall section, you need a mage destroy a magical barrier, and rogues pick locks, so you're encouraged to have at least one of each in order to make the most of an area.
Although the multiplayer combat isn't quite as fulfilling as it is in the campaign, nor is it (at least in early levels) as fast paced as Mass Effect's, there is something very satisfying in leveling up a character and making it further than you did before. Also, unlike Mass Effect, Inquisition's multiplayer mode feels very removed from the rest of the game. Even though you're exploring ruins and fortresses as agents of the Inquisition, you don't get a sense that you're doing anything for the cause. Mass Effect included a "Galactic Readiness" system that acts as minor bridge, so that you at least had some sense that your fights were contributing to something greater. With Inquisition, it doesn't feel like it matters whether you succeed or not, and you're entirely on your own for resources and gear. You may be part of the Inquisition, but it's not necessarily supporting you. The only connection between the two modes is potentially seeing the multiplayer character appear in Inquisitor's fortress, which you might need a keen eye to do.
With a huge, breathtaking world, an epic story, and choices that leaves a significant mark on the world around you, Dragon Age: Inquisition embodies everything that makes the series so popular. There are times when the game could feel too big, and that there might be too much to do, but that's hardly a complaint. It's a reason to be completely immersed in this world. Multiplayer has its moments, especially if you can get together a nice team, but it does have a perceivable grind and the loot system has a very high sense of unpredictability. Still, there's so much content in the campaign that even if you decide to skip out on multiplayer entirely, there's enough to keep you occupied until the inevitable DLC expansions start releasing, and perhaps enough to last you to the next full game.
This review is based on a PC code provided by the publisher. Dragon Age: Inquisition will be available in retail stores and digitally for $59.99. The game is rated M.