[Note: It occurred to me shortly before this review went live that there is a multiplayer mode in the game as well. I never touched it as I was so focused on the single player storyline. To my understanding, it works a lot like the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer. So full disclosure, I didn't play the multiplayer.] Sweet cream on an ice cream sammich, I was champing at the bit for this game to come out in the pre-Christmas season. Before I got into Shadowrun Returns I was fully immersed in this title...well, the story anyhow. Gameplay left a bit to be desired and you'll see why as this review goes on.
Right as the game begins you get to customize your character. The creation options didn't really feel as extensive as past games. I was sorely disappointed by the lack of hairstyles and beard options this time around but the eye color and makeup options were bumped up considerably. You can also put beards on women and makeup on men now. Inclusivity I guess? It didn't matter to me. I just found it funny that BioWare was so politically correct as to include that feature.
The strange ass lighting in the creation screen also lead to it being hard to see what you were actually doing with some of the facial and head shape sliders, so what looked good in the dank green and black dungeon lighting could come to disappoint you later once your Inquisitor emerges blinking into the sunlight.
The class selection is the standard Dragon Age fare of Warrior/Rogue/Mage but rather than choose your specialty as you progress, you pick it right away. So instead of just picking "warrior" and speccing them into two-handed weaponry, you pick "two-hander warrior" and get a few abilities to start. You also get your standard Human/Elf/Dwarf race selection with the added in Dragon Age specific race the Kossith or Qunari. I'm farely certain most people chose the latter as they want to ravage the countryside as the hulking horned bad asses.
Once that gets done, you see some gnarly ass spiders and swiftly run away from them. You run toward a figure of light and the bloom of light that emerges from the being consumes you. Cut to you passed out on a battlefield and soldiers come to retrieve you.
You awaken in chains with a strange green glow on your hand and guards surrounding you. Two women then enter the room and begin interrogating your. Cassandra Pentaghast (a familiar face from the game's predecessor) angrily asks you about the green light emanating mark on your hand and explains to your the events just preceding.
The Conclave, a meeting between mages, templars, and the Chantry (church), was called to broker piece following the events of Dragon Age II in which a rogue mage destroys a chantry in Kirwall in The Free Marches which prompted an all out war to break out between mages and their templar guards. At The Conclave, a large explosion happened killing all in attendance including the Most Holy, Divine Justinia of the Chantry. You happened to be the only survivor and are thus blamed for all the deaths.
From the explosion a large rift appeared in the sky. The rift then began to pour out demons from the other side of the veil, the wall between the fade (spirit world) and the physical realm. Each time the rift grows, your hand glows and it is surmised that your mark and the rift must be connected somehow. Cassandra and her companion Leliana plan to take you to the rift to see if you can stop it.
The game's graphics don't really seem top-notch. Visually it is very pretty and the landscapes are gorgeous, however, there are a lot of loading issues with the game itself. Since, I'm sure, the graphics take up so much of the game's memory, much of your time is spent waiting for the game to load. I encountered a few clipping issues and landscapes popping in as I went along but not nearly as many as others. I played on the PS4 so it wasn't nearly as prevalent but others that played on last-gen systems complained that the game would frequently catch head features and armor after a cutscene had commenced which broke immersion for them.
I mentioned the loading times earlier which are one of the two biggest pissers for me about this game. Not only do you have texture and model issues when the game is loading but also the amount of time you spend waiting for maps to load as your travel from locale to locale. There are 12 zones in total with a few sub areas and you spend a great deal of time going from place to place. It is especially annoying when you have to travel back to your home base to instruct your troops to move rubble out of the way only to have to travel all the way back. That's a total of 3 loading screens between the initial trip, going home, then going back. It's a chore.
Traversing the world is about as fun as a colonoscopy as well. The zones vary in size with 4 extra large zones, 3 large zones, 3 medium sized zones and 2 towns. The towns can be a bit of a pain in the ass unless you memorize the layout which I seemed to have a hard time doing. The zones themselves are, like I said, gorgeous and BioWare wanted to make sure you saw every last inch of them. I mean no disrespect but I wrote an article a while back about how I hated the fact that all games these days seem to want to go to an open world model and this game demonstrates exactly why I feel that way.
There are many things to do when you go to each specific zone as you can pick up side quests which range from simple fetch quests to more interesting fare like finding a crude map drawing and actually having to find the location on the map. The quests are fun, it's just getting to the objective that sucks. The terrain is very finicky. Some boulders you can walk on or over, others you can't. Some ledges you can jump up to, others are just out of reach so you have to walk ALL the way around the mountain to take the path to get up to the objective you were INCHES from just minutes prior. Many obstacles can be glitched past if you hop on your horse but sometimes the horse doesn't seem to want to step/jump over that particular pebble and will rear back and refuse to continue forward which forces you to go around. The map quests can be a bit of a pain as well since you are given no hints as to the location but I can see this adding to the fun for some as it hearkens back to an old school adventure game vibe.
The combat was so-so. It seemed like BioWare wanted to merge the tactical "hit-hit-potion" formula of Dragon Age Origins with the faster paced button mashing combat of Dragon Age II. The result is pretty good in the regular combat territory and is severely hampered by the "tactical camera". If you hit the touch pad on the PS4, it will bring you into a top-down look of the battlefield and pause the fight as you cycle between characters and give them commands as to what to do. I very rarely used this as I played a two-hander warrior and only used it to command my sword and board tank to run in and grab threat. My wife played through multiple times and said she could see it being useful on the higher difficulties but I saw no use for it save for the aforementioned on normal mode.
A big selling feature of the game as commander of your army is your war table. The table shows a map of Ferelden and neighboring Orlais and as the game progresses you unlock more tasks for your army to complete either through diplomacy, subterfuge or shows of force. Each choice can have a positive or negative effect moving forward but it doesn't effect the story too much. Most chains give some nice flavor text and can see some old friends return and some longer chains can give you items ranging from vendor trash to actually pretty good. You can also use the table to farm for crafting materials but, again, there wasn't much use for crafting on normal. If you want to create some bitchin' looking armor, chances are you'll get something better come the next story mission.
Speaking of story missions, those require power points. Power points are obtained by doing the aforementioned, sometimes-a-pain-in-the-ass side quests. This ties into "make sure you look at all this beautiful scenery" as you are REQUIRED to do a certain amount of side-questing before you can advance the game which can be a turn-off for some people. It's a completionist's wet-dream but anyone who is more story driven will have their Cheerios sufficiently pissed in.
Alright, so I've put the basic gameplay elements through the ringer and come up with a "meh/10". So how does the story hold up? It's a BioWare game if that is any indication.
The story does take a bit to get going but along the way you will get to know all of your trusted advisors very well. As other people join your team they all come with their own quirks and well fleshed out personalities. Talking in this game doesn't feel like a chore and the characters are genuinely interesting.
I was interested to see where they would go with the story with the mage rebellion in the title's predecessor. You do feel the looming sense of doom all throughout the game and even through to the ending you won't want to leave this world. The lore is far and away the the best aspect of the Dragon Age franchise and this game did not let me down in that department.
This was due in large part to the addition of Dragon Age Keep. Being that the game was crossing a console generation gap (and probably not wanting to deal with as many variables as they did in Mass Effect 3) they included an add on that you can access via an EA Origin account that lets you reconstruct your playthroughs of the first two games in minutes! If you're a lore whore like I am, it was excruciating trying to remember each decision as you played it in the previous games. I probably spent close to three hours looking up people, names and questlines to try to remember my decisions of the prior games. It was all worth it to me to have that assurance that my world was as it was even if I didn't get everything right. Some decisions didn't seem to affect the world at all but that may have been due to the choices I selected rather than their oversight. I'll have to try out different world options to see.
As much as I bashed on the core gameplay aspects, I did have fun with Dragon Age Inquisition. Though I thought some of the politically correct aspects of the game were a bit silly or tacked on it is a good game overall. It is an open-world affair and with the problems mentioned above with the movement within the world had me clock in my first playthrough at about 120 hours. If you have a lot going on away from the TV/PC or are a completionist in games like this, it's gonna be a while before you see the light at the end of the tunnel. After investing so much time, I haven't exactly been amped to begin a second playthrough but I'm sure I'll get around to it eventually.
FINAL VERDICT: Price Drop
Game - Dragon Age Inquisition
System - PlayStation 4 [Reviewed], PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
Developer - BioWare
Publisher - Electronic Arts