Dragon Age: Inquisition
If you're at all into Western RPGs, then Bioware is probably a name that makes your heart go pitty-pat. They've been behind some of the most (rightfully) highly praised RPGs of all time, from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic to Baldur's Gate, and they're also responsible for two of the biggest RPG series in recent memories... Mass Effect, and Dragon Age. If you're a fantasy fan, it's the latter that held your heart, and Dragon Age: Inquisition has arrived to devour every scrap of your free time for the foreseeable future. As Inquisition begins, roughly ten years after Dragon Age: Origins, the world is already having its share of problems, when the mages, who have previously lived under lockdown, decide to buck the Templars' control. Things go from rocky to, well, apocalyptic when a massive rift opens in the sky and demons begin pouring out of it. In the middle of all that, literally, comes you. You appear out of nowhere, staggering out of a glowing portal, and suddenly you find yourself named the Herald of Andraste whether you like it or not. Admittedly, when you discover you've got the power to close the rifts opening up all over the realm, it does seem like you're destined for some pretty big things... too bad that means a lot of people want you dead, and you're suddenly saddled with the responsibility of leading the Inquisition to boot. Now you're leading an army, and all you have to do is close that enormous breach in the sky and everything will go back to normal... right? With a daunting amount of play time, huge, open maps filled with quests that span both Ferelden and Orlais, an epic quest with a diverse and fully realized cast, and a massive stronghold to oversee and grow, Dragon Age: Inquisition isn't without its flaws, but is formidable and fun in all the right ways.
While Dragon Age 2 forced you to play as a specific human and limited your character creation to aesthetics and class choices, Inquisition gives you much more freedom. You can now choose your race (and of course still whether to play as male or female) again, playing as either human, elf, dwarf or (finally!) the imposing horned Qunari, and if you like tweaking your character's physical appearance, then prepare to be paralyzed by the sheer amount of options available to you here. How you look doesn't have any impact on the game, of course, but it's nice to be able to really create someone unique. Most of your time is going to be spent exploring some frankly massive maps. Each location you open up around the world is huge, some even containing several towns on top of multitudes of unique sidequests, and every location is different down to the various resources you can gather in them for crafting.
Because every hero needs a place to hang their hat, your base of operations is something you'll be seeing a lot. It's here you'll chat (or maybe flirt?) with your party members, craft or enhance your armor, and perhaps most importantly, organize missions from your War Room. See, there's a lot going on in the world that doesn't necessarily need your direct involvement, but you can dispatch your agents to take care of these issues for various rewards. Different people will, of course, take different approaches to problems, so always take some time to consider who's best for the task at hand. Though your stronghold starts small, later in the game you'll get the chance to improve it dramatically, and its functionality will improve as well. Additionally, you can find and unlock everything from different window styles to banners and more to customise the look of it, because the end of the world can darn well wait for you to rearrange your bedroom for maximum Feng Shui.
Inquisition's Rift mechanic feels a bit like something you'd get if you crossed Defiance's Arkfalls with The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion's Oblivion Gates. When you find one, demons pour out of it in waves until it's destroyed/closed for good thanks to your magic stink finger. Combat, for the most part, hasn't changed from the first two games, though a lot of the other underlying mechanics have. You can now only carry a very few potions, for example, shared throughout the party, and when those run out you need to either run back to camp to resupply, or hope you stumble across a rare supple cache because potions are never dropped as loot. It's a hard limit that makes certain battles and dungeons very difficult. Character progression has also been simplified, sort of, in a way that makes crafting items more important. You don't get to distribute attribute points to things like strength or cunning anymore... those can only be permanently increased by unlocking certain spells or abilities, so creating or enhancing weapons and armor with crafting components that apply the proper bonuses you need for your party is a big deal. You can of course still buy or find equipment, but the game is going to shove a lot of schematics at you, and the things you make yourself will almost always be better than what you can find or buy.
Analysis: One of the biggest changes in Inquisition is the way each area has evolved and grown. It's not just that they're big, though they certainly do convey a sense of scope and scale the previous games just didn't, it's that they flesh out the world as a whole. They do suffer a little from padding, with much of your time spent trundling about for resources or fighting off scores of enemy spawns, but they're sprawling and beautiful and filled with secrets and quests enough to keep you busy for hours in each one. Likewise, while the story's basic concept of gathering an army to thwart a big ancient evil is nothing new, the way it unfolds is fantastic. Pivotal cutscenes have a fantastic sense of cinema and drama that's downright jaw-dropping in places, and you really get a sense of high stakes. A lot of games have you play the hero on whose shoulders the fate of the world rests, but Inquisition makes you really feel and realize it the way few others ever have as more people, not just soldiers but civilians, rally around you. There's a scene partway through the game featuring a song that gets taken up by your entire army that should be cheesy, but instead raises goosebumps because of how masterfully it's executed and what came before it.
If you held on to your save file from the original games or built one using the online Tapestry, Inquisition will import your choices from those games and alter its world accordingly. For the most part, the impact this has feels relatively minor. It's neat to see what a character you may have helped as the Hero of Ferelden is doing now, or what Hawke, your hero/ine from Dragon Age 2, has been up to, but little of it is substantial or significant enough to really get you excited to load up with an entirely different save file for your next playthrough. The choices you make in Inquisition range from minor to major as you'd expect, but there aren't quite as many of them in the grand scheme of things. Largely, your most frequent choices come down to deciding how to react to something or simply whether to help someone, though there are instances where you'll be forced to pick sides and render judgement. If you're a Bioware fan, one of your most important decisions is likely going to be who you want to romance, and the progression of these relationships feels refreshingly natural. For the most part, triggering them comes down to choosing flirty or otherwise romantic, so you can simply ignore them completely if you choose, but it'll be a long time before anything even slightly serious comes of it.
Inquisition's romance options are refreshingly diverse, featuring characters who are straight, gay, or bisexual, and if the notion of gay or bi romance isn't for you, well, opt not to flutter your eyelashes at someone of the opposite sex when the option is given. Bioware has rightly been given a lot of approving nods over the inclusion of their first trans character, even if he only exists in a minor role, but I'm still going to have to deduct a few points for not having Varric as a romance option. Your party members actually feel a little more well-rounded that some previous Bioware titles, so it isn't always easy to tell what will make them happy or upset them as opposed to, say, Origins' Morrigan who scowled whenever you held the door for someone. Instead, their attitudes towards your actions feel more realistically driven by circumstance than a simple matter of being arbitrarily good or bad.
On the gameplay side of things, Inquisition has clearly tried to give itself a bit more of an open-world feel with its enormous areas, but it also feels as if it's become more combat focused as a result. Those huge maps tend to have many more enemies than anything else, and most of the quests you'll encounter revolve around either killing enemies, tramping to different locations and claiming them for the Inquisition by dropping a standard, or slaying your way through the countryside while you pick up certain amounts of resources. The addition of mounts helps get around quicker, but riding on horseback fails to offer any real excitement, besides the way your party members vanish until you hop down, so don't expect to get too attached to your little pony. While there are towns and cities, there often isn't very much to do in them, and they're dwarfed by the amount of time you spend wandering around the wilds. That exploration and combat feels like it overshadows everything else, and even the way most conversations are now conducted through a strangely impersonal camera angle means Inquisition doesn't feel quite as intimate an adventure as its predecessors.
While there are a truly daunting amount of sidequests, it almost seems like less would have been more. If sacrificing even a fifth of the simple "fetch this thing for that person" or "find X amount of this resource" quests meant the rest would have been fleshed out more, the game might have been even stronger for it. Few of the optional quests really stand out or are particularly memorable, mostly serving simply to make you stronger or give you treasure, so even completionists who normally can't bear to leave an area until every single thing possible is finished might get quest fatigue after a while. In an era where big budget games seem to be getting shorter and shorter, however, complaining that one game has so much to do in it is sort of the ultimate entitled gamer problem. There is still a tremendous amount to do that is exciting, fun, and even frequently extremely funny or unexpectedly moving. Stumble across a stormswept battle between a giant and a dragon, judge the fate of a man charged with the heinous crime of chucking goats at your walls, delve into the ugly family matters of your most seemingly flippant party member... hey, I can put up with picking bouquets of elfroot if it means I get all that and more.
It's ridiculously to get lost in Inquisition. It's a beautiful, beautiful game, with stunning environmental design and landscapes swept by rain or drenched with sun through the leaves. The soundtrack relies a lot on ambient sound, but the melodies when they do appear tend to be beautiful, and of course the voice acting is as fantastic as you'd expect. Dragon Age: Inquisition is a behemoth of a game that delivers on virtually everything it sets out to do. It's a cinematic epic filled with all the things that prove Bioware's people are masters of their craft... hard choices, diverse characters you'll grow to care about, and a world rich in lore and history. And, yes, you'll get to knock around a dragon or two. Or be knocked around by one. Probably the latter more than once.