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Dragon Age: Inquisition / 20th of November 2014

Scale, the very word seems to have been created for Dragon Age: Inquisition alone, yet it utterly fails to sufficiently describe the sheer magnitude of the ambition prevalent throughout every aspect of BioWare’s latest masterpiece; the world is gargantuan, the cast is extensive, the quests are many and the enjoyment is near boundless. There can be no doubt that this is the Dragon Age game that we have all been waiting on, it feels as though it is an open apology for the corner cutting of its predecessor, and it marks a real return to form for a company who have earned their reputation as one of the leading lights of the RPG genre the hard way-in short, Inquisition is a very strong contender to be 2014’s game of the year.

The game opens with the player’s character sent tumbling out of a rift in the sky into the world of Thedas, awakening to find the people trembling beneath the calamity that has befallen them, and chattering about the woman seen behind the character as it happened, with some believing this to be the prophet Andraste; an important religious figure within the world of Dragon Age, and the idol around whom the Chantry’s foundations are laid. Needless to say, faiths are shaken, and the populace of the world must do their best to wrestle with their own convictions-it is this uniform, yet deeply personal struggle that forms the bulk of the narrative within Inquisition, and whilst its religious allegory can be a tad hackneyed, it is still supremely well-handled as a whole, and it certainly makes the world of Dragon Age’s third instalment a much more authentic and engrossing one as a result.

There’s no denying that this latest iteration of the series is a bit of a slow burner, the first ten to twenty hours or so are populated with a seemingly never ending series of fetch quests (similar to the first Mass Effect’s opening stint on the Citadel), and God knows just much time can be spent fiddling with the most in-depth character creation tool that we have ever seen, there truly are-as Bioware have pointed out-trillions of possible combinations that be carved out; male, female, human, Elf and Qunari, the choice is most certainly yours. Yet, once out in the world proper, Inquisition becomes an undoubtedly breath-taking experience.

And speaking of characters, an area that BioWare has always been a strong in, Inquisition offers up an array of in-depth and believable companions, arguably the company’s finest creations since Mass Effect 2, with even returning faces, such as Dragon Age 2’s Cassandra, becoming more developed, rounded and likeable personalities in the process. In this case, her true motivations are no longer obfuscated by duty, but rather replaced with a more personal level of introspection that brings the theme of faith well and truly to life. The world of Dragon Age: Inquisition is not simply enormous, but thoroughly detailed and illustrative, each and every aspect of it could hold up to the most stringent of analysis, making it one of, if not the most stunningly detailed universe to be found in the medium of gaming, and considering that it also offers us the Mass Effect series, that really is quite an achievement. So many hours can be lost simply enjoying the world; listening to the gossiping of NPCs, sitting in taverns enjoying the performances of bards (who are surprisingly good) or wandering across the mammoth expanse of its world map-Inquisition is a game that simply must be savoured.

Featuring a dialogue system immediately familiar to BioWare stalwarts, Inquisition allows for the player to indulge in emotional responses to dialogue at times, providing further scope for the player to have their character respond to situations as they see fit, though the shockwaves of some choices are typically unavoidable, which can obviously come back around to torment the player later on. Actions though are met with a response from the party, some will either agree or disagree with what the player does or says, which helps to establish relationships with them, and in some instances, can possibly develop into romance options-exactly as one would expect in a BioWare release.

A big change, however, from the last Dragon Age, aside from scale, comes in the form of the combat system, the last iteration feeling like little more than a clumsy and tiresome hack ‘n’ slash in my own eyes, Inquisition, thankfully, is a completely different ball game. Of course, combat has never ben Dragon Age’s strong point, typically feeling a tad inaccurate and loose, and this is something that Inquisition does not do much to correct, yet here we see the return of the tactical camera that featured in the PC version of Origins; this allows the player to switch to an overhead view in order to direct their comrades in battle, making it far easier to create successful combo attacks. However, personally, I found little use in its inclusion here, seldom switching away from my standard approach to combat-permanently holding down the right trigger with one hand whilst drinking a coffee in the other-which proved more than enough to see off the majority of foes on the regular difficulty setting, but still, it’s certainly nice to see it make a return in Inquisition.

Besides, character behaviour in combat can also be tailored somewhat thanks to a set of customisable options, much like Final Fantasy XII’s gambits, which further remove the need for the use of the tactical camera. Initially though, I found this to be a tad confusing as I vainly searched for a means to create the role of a healer within the party, only to eventually realise that effectively all restorative magic had disappeared, leaving each individual character to heal themselves through potions, or by resting the party at a camp-wherein potion reserves may also be restocked. Likewise, I had initially guessed that the establishment of such campsites would serve little purpose beyond extending the Inquisition’s reach, but obviously, this was an incorrect assumption, the inventory management tools that they provide are surely the key to the successful navigation of the world’s perils, after all, “before anything else, preparation is the key to success”, as Alexander Graham Bell once said.

Though obviously, not all battles are so easily overcome, there are some truly hard fought encounters to be experienced, they can assuredly feel like random difficulty spikes (confrontations with dragons for instance), which can initially be a tad off-putting, especially as they require a level of quick thinking that the AI seems incapable of providing, so it’s probably a good thing that the developer has seen fit to allow the player to change control of party members on the fly. I could be found wildly swinging a two handed sword as my avatar one minute, then firing off deadly accurate bolts with Varric’s beloved Bianca the next, and it’s also a feature that Inquisition insists that the player use outside of battle too; utilising Varric’s lock picking skills to prise open locked doors, or the casting abilities of a mage to remove a magical barrier. Needless to say, you’ll be spending a fair bit of time walking in another man’s shoes.

As Inquisitor, the player is also tasked with sitting upon their throne, dealing out sentences onto those that have wronged them in the game, ultimately determining the fate of these unfortunate creatures, and opening up additional side-quests that stem from these judgement calls. Some will take the player to the war table, an overhead view of the world, where they can use the power of the Inquisition to send out scouts into unknown areas, finding missions to further enhance the group’s influence and standing within the world, in a style similar to that of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. Put simply, there is a vast wealth of content to do and explore, the story mode alone can be bested in around eighty hours or so, yet there is so much more to do, with many more, potentially even hundreds of hours worth of gameplay simply waiting to be discovered and experienced in the main adventure alone. Yes, that’s right, there’s more.

There is also a very straightforward, four-player co-operative component included as well, here, players are restricted to simply selecting a pre-set character type, before battling through waves of enemies on one of three different maps: Elven Ruins, Orlesian Chateau and Tevinter Ruins. There’s no denying the obvious similarity between this and the multiplayer mode found in Mass Effect 3, and like that, there are also micro transactions to be found here, though these are also easily ignored as player’s endeavour to advance the level of their characters up to the cap, which is set at twenty. Upon doing so, they can be promoted, returning them to level one and earning every character a permanent stat boost, depending on the class used, this can be attributed to either Willpower, Constitution or Cunning. Completing the multiplayer has no impact whatsoever upon the single player game, serving only as a welcome change of pace for players from time to time that is certainly worth trying, but not really investing in. Still, with it included on the disc, it rounds off what is already a more than ample package, rendering Dragon Age: Inquisition as an absolute steal at the price.

There really is so much to discuss about Inquisition, so much to do, and yet I haven’t even touched upon crafting, it is a truly remarkable feat that BioWare have managed to pull this off, its scale and ambition feels unrivalled, and despite this, I have not fallen foul of any particular bugs or glitches, making it a testament to the abilities of its creators. It is a game world in which the player’s decisions hold real gravitas and bearing, and where they themselves will become fully invested, leaving them as important a part of the makeup of its world as any other character or location. And thanks to its underlying thematic excursions, it is a world as immediate as it is deep, making Dragon Age: Inquisition an especially rare beast indeed within the RPG genre; it is a truly beautiful, intelligent and life consuming title that may just be the first truly must have release to grace this new generation of consoles.

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