A flash of lightning startled me as I made my way along the ridge. Beside me, I could see singe marks in a ring on the ground. Before me spread a large lake, surface uneven from the rainfall. Hexagonal stones stacked into spires along the edge. I spent a moment taking in the view before the sounds of arguing started up behind me.
Solas, the elven mage was debating the finer points of Qunari religion with Iron Bull, the towering horned spy. The two were talking about the Qunari practices that, to the mage, boiled down to indoctrination. Such debates come up between my companions often, when they aren’t discussing recent events. Its another endearing moment that adds another layer of depth to the engaging Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Inquisition is the third installment of BioWare’s roleplaying series, and picks up shortly after the events of Dragon Age 2. If you (like myself) skipped the second game, or even if this is your introduction into the Dragon Age universe, there is enough information and backstory given to you within the game that you will be very aware of what events led up to Inquisition.
The game opens at the Conclave, a peace talk between the mages and Templars, who have been at war since the Circle of Mages rebelled against the Templars in Kirkwall. You are an outsider, sent to keep an eye on the events that unfold. The Conclave is destroyed in a massive explosion, ripping a hole in the sky and unleashing demons on the world. As the sole survivor of the blast, you are equally viewed with suspicion and awe. When it is discovered that the strange glowing mark on your hand is capable of closing smaller, similar rifts, it becomes clear that your hand may be the key to stopping the mysterious powers behind the rift.
You become part of the Inquisition, a rebellion group focused on getting to the bottom of the rift in the sky, and the forces that caused the destruction of the Conclave. Through the reputation you’ve gained from being the survivor of the conclave, you become the leader of a movement, tasked with getting the various factions of the world to back you in destroying the forces behind the attack.
Inquisition hands you, as the Inquisitor, a lot of tools. You have a group of nine companions, some of whom will be familiar to players of the earlier games. Each one represents a different facet of Thedas society, and it is interesting to see how each react to your actions. Many of the decisions you make will not satisfy all of your companions; some won’t even satisfy the majority. You have various other characters who can be put to work to improve the Inquisition’s power, and your war council can be sent on missions to bring back supplies and secure alliances, in addition to to opening new regions to the world. These missions improve your standing with the public, unlocking you larger missions.
The regions you unlock are varied and spread across the Ferelden region of the first game, and the Orleasian empire that is an anchor for the continent. You spend time visiting each region, setting up camps to secure the area, closing rifts, and investigating various leads. Quests are extremely varied, and it becomes incredibly easy to spend hours in just one region. The ability to find rifts, destroy the demons being spawned by them, and subsequently close them, is particularly satisfying. The feeling of power from watching your character force the sky closed is, in some ways, addictive. Dragon Age: Inquisition makes it easy to spend the time doing “just one more.”
Which, in a strange way, is a good thing. The main story missions require you to gain a certain level of power that must be expended to proceed with those missions. Grinding is necessary, either to get the power required to unlock a quest, or to level yourself to a point where you are comfortable proceeding with a quest. For the most part, these two goals will usually come together.
The skill system is incredibly diverse. As the Inquisitor mage, I could choose from four different classes of magic, as well as putting points into the Inquisitor class that rewards party synergy. All characters are based around a warrior, mage, or rogue archetype, which makes your options seem limited at first. However, after leveling up and expanding your characters, unique skill trees are unlocked for each one.
The crafting system is deep as well, allowing you to both create new weapons and armor from schematics you gather during your travels, as well as by upgrading your current equipment. The different materials you gather, from silk to hide, iron to rare gems, determine the quality and effects applied to your weapons and armor. Chose the correct materials, and it becomes easy to make the already powerful weapons you find into even bigger threats.
The world of Thedas is created with quite a bit of care. There is an incredible amount of detail in the lore of the world, and you are constantly picking up different items that will teach you about the varying cultures that have crossed the continent. The varied landscapes of the different regions bring with them flora, fauna, and minerals that can be hunted and collected to complete various improvements to your base of operations. The scenery is beautiful to look at, and there are small details left to be appreciated. When selecting your companions for a trip, or even when you are creating your character, you choose from a hand of cards, beautifully created to represent your choices.
The decisions you make as the Inquisitor may not necessarily be story-altering in their gravity, but they do have a large amount of influence on the game. You are asked to pass judgement over some of the enemies you encounter throughout the campaign, and your decisions can unlock new side quests and reactions from your companions.
Inquisition is not without its flaws, however. Textures often delayed in popping in, which is particularly apparent when in the fortress that you can redecorate as you see fit. NPCs in the background occasionally fly into place, or suddenly appear. I managed to accidentally send my Inquisitor through a wall and out of the world while switching between characters. Manage to jump while trying to start a conversation, and you may find yourself stuck in midair flailing. The audio in the game is also fairly uneven. Conversations are occasionally drowned out by the soundtrack, and sometimes the game seems uncertain about what sounds are expected to take the lead.
The game also brings with it a tactical system to allow you to have direct control over what your party does in and out of combat. The menus allow you do have some control over your characters use of potions and main targets, but the tactical system allows you to choose the exact spells and movements that your party does. But the mode is a bit unwieldy to use, and I found myself not even bothering, with the exception of a few puzzles that required the tactical planning to complete.
Inquisition, in addition to its extensive single-player campaign, has a multiplayer mode. As one of the agents of the Inquisition, you and three other players are sent to clear out an area, completing various small missions as you go. Each session earns you items and gold, which can be salvaged or used to create more powerful weapons and armor. It mirrors the systems that already exist within the main game, but it lacks some of the satisfaction and engagement that you get from the campaign. You can pick from a variety of character archetypes, which you level up to unlock new abilities. If this sounds rather simplistic, well, it is.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is not the perfect game, but despite its flaws, it creates an experience worth taking part in. The deep story, varied questlines and engaging characters makes this game possibly one of the best AAA titles of the year. Inquisition manages to be the game that Dragon Age has seemed to aspire to since the beginning: a high-stakes story that draws you in, and makes it hard for you to pull yourself away from.