Dragon Age: Inquisition is somewhat of an inconsistent game from BioWare. At times it feels like a return to the masterpiece RPGs we've come to expect; at others, it feels incredibly shallow and boring.

[Note: this review is for the PC version]

 

I sank a little over 70 hours into Inquisition to complete every little quest, activity, and plot point. When the credits did roll I felt a sense of complacent acceptance and slight satisfaction, though nowhere near what I had hoped to enjoy. For all the good it does, Inquisition feel like a step in the right direction when it comes to player-controlled narrative. A lot of little flaws, obvious ideal inspirations, style choices, and poor gameplay choices make the game feel incredibly boring or unsatisfying. In the end, Inquisition feels as if it's making strides to set up greater expectations for the Dragon Age franchise, but lacks the dynamic storytelling, writing, and own identity to make good on its own potential. This is a good game but it is no near-perfect entry that other people say.

 

Inquisition had a lot to live up to after the criticisms (some deserved, some not) for Dragon Age II and Mass Effect 3 and this feels like a step in the right direction. The improved character creator tools and ability to influence banter and backstory choices really are marked improvements for immersion and control of consequences. For the first time in a long time, I felt a sense of importance and enjoyment in steering actions in the world around me. Likewise, the biggest strength the game offers is the sense of progression and growth as you tailor the actual inquisition faction to suit your wants and goals. Seeing how the world reacts to your actions in an organic way feels good and there’s a sense of moral ambiguity that is a welcome relief to the binary choices you’re usually forced to make.

 

I chose a human noble as my starting character and decided to make him wield a two-handed weapon to deal as much damage as I could. As a specialization, I picked Templar and decided to ally with the mages. I was thrilled to find most people thought it was odd that I would pick to align with mages given that my family typically went into the church like organization of the world and became mage hunting Templars (all choices I made as well). The dialog choices and reactions of other characters in the world as I refuted claims of divinity and helped the down trodden over empowering the nobility of the world impressed me to no end. As I influenced events like electing a new leader of the church, defeated would be tyrant noblemen, and promoted more progressive ways over tradition, the world changed and tailored itself accordingly. Allies were won and lost, diplomacy and threats were always open to me, and I was at the forefront of all events with the organization I built into a new world power. That’s a damn good feeling.

 

There are a few hang-ups the game doesn’t quite know how to handle. These are issues that aren’t flaws but aren’t boons either. For one, the crafting system is almost enjoyable and lends another avenue of character customization; unfortunately, several odd choices like a lack of dye option, some schematics favoring odd attributes for characters, and a narrow list of choices hinders as much as it helps. Choices from previous games can be imported into your game via a new option called “Dragon Age Keep” and while I actually think this is genius as you can tailor your choices and outcomes without having to play through the games again, it still suffers from bugs and mistaken actions. Several times, characters would reference events and outcomes that had never taken place with the choices I made. Finally, the companion characters are not nearly as interesting as in previous games. This is a matter of objective opinion, but with the exception of one or two characters, I found I cared less for my party members than ever.

 

I’ll be frank about Inquisition’s flaws. It wants to be Skyrim so bad you can almost hear the “arrow-in-the-knee” jokes. In an attempt to address their critics and shortcomings in previous games that BioWare may have gone overboard with the size and scope of their world. With the changes in gameplay, things have taken a turn for the worst in many aspects and take either way too long or far too difficult. Coupled with a paper thin conflict/resolution and less than stellar villain, the whole package suffers greatly.

 

The strength of the Dragon Age franchise was always its own sense of identity and take on the traditional RPG elements. However, it’s clear with this entry of the series that the developers looked not to their predecessors but to a certain entry in the Elder Scrolls line-up for inspiration. Several areas, characters, and events take clear reference from Skyrim. For a series like this, it’s disappointing that instead of trying to perhaps blend things from a good game, the developers decided to imitate almost to the point of shame. The one thing this game truly mastered from Bethesda’s successful title is there are bugs galore.

 

One of the major points of contentions from Mass Effect and Dragon Age II was the small scale of the game world and linear nature that they took. Inquisition’s world, by comparison, is a connection of huge sandbox areas. But the problem is that it almost feels like the BioWare has done this with fair amount of spite. Most levels, while vast, are filled with a lot of empty space or minor quests. At first this doesn’t seem like such a gripe, but after minutes of trekking from point A to B and an environment that inhibits easy exploration, it becomes less of an engaging experience and more of a time sink.

 

The biggest complaints I have, by far though, are the changes to quest layout and combat.

 

As mentioned before, the sometimes obscenely large areas are filled with side quests that are less enriching and more busy work. Every time you complete a quest you earn your inquisition force some amount of influence and power that you use to unlock missions or advance the story. Sometimes you even earn agents and items for your forces that aid you further and this feels very good. But there comes to a point where influence and power mean nothing and many of the quests just dissolve into fetch, kill X number of mobs, collect Y number of items, and other examples of mundane MMO-like grinding tasks. Much of my 60-70 hours were attributed to this more than anything else and such a feature really discourages prospects of replay.

 

Combat has seen numerous changes, most notably healing and damage. Now, this isn’t necessarily bad; the pace of Dragon Age: Origins was tactical but sluggish and DA:II was faster paced but monotonous. Inquisition tries to find a nice balance but doesn’t quite perfect it. The tactical camera, which was touted and featured as integral in all the trailers, doesn’t work perfectly. Often it will bug out, get caught on terrain, or fail to execute actions you’ve qued up. Also, while normal combat against smaller enemies is fun, boss fights become time wasting chores. Larger bosses (like dragons and higher demons) are all about memorizing attack patterns, positioning, managing ability cool down timers, rationing potion consumption, and a little bit of luck (especially on higher difficulty settings). The nasty taste of MMOs once again rears its ugly head and it’s something I came to resent the more time I invested.

 

I can’t go into the story and villain too much without major spoilers but I can say that it’s a far fall from great storytelling that BioWare used to deliver. Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Baldur’s Gate… the studio used to own the market on great characters, magnificent and interesting villains, and masterful story. Inquisition is leagues better from their latest entries like Mass Effect 3 and The Old Republic MMO, but it still is lacks the dynamic punch that we’re all used to.

 

I know all of the flaws that I’ve highlighted seems to paint a bad picture but that’s not the point I’m trying to make.

 

Is Dragon Age: Inquisition a good game? Yes. The length and gameplay is solid enough that you feel like you get your money’s worth. Is it a great game? No, and it certainly isn’t the near masterpiece that other reviews paint it to be. I’m giving my honest opinion and while it certainly is objective and slightly abrasive, it isn’t meant to be negative. But it’s time to look at the studio, and especially this game, with a critical eye and expectation.

 

7.5/10