Dragon Age: In­qui­si­tion

360, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher/de­vel­oper EA (BioWare) For­mat 360, PC (ver­sion tested), PS3, PS4, Xbox One Re­lease Out now

Dragon Age has al­ways asked a lot of its play­ers. The se­ries be­gan as a know­ing trib­ute to the In­fin­ity En­gine RPGs that made Bio Ware’s name; strate­gic com­plex­ity was in its DNA, as was a cer­tain de­mand on your time. Ori­gins was a com­ple­tion­ist’s game, deep and broad, less ag­ile than Mass Ef­fect but ar­guably smarter. Its se­quel was the op­po­site. Dragon Age II hoped you’d care enough about its cen­tral drama that you’d not no­tice it all took place in the same room. It asked you to ap­pre­ci­ate the re­al­i­ties of turn­ing around a se­quel against a pub­lisher’s tick­ing clock, which is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent kind of de­mand.

Dragon Age: In­qui­si­tion is your re­ward for that halfdecade jour­ney if you made it, and the best ar­gu­ment you should do so if you haven’t. This is a vast open­world RPG that bor­rows from Skyrim, As­sas­sin’s Creed and The Witcher, but matches that con­tri­bu­tion with a heavy dose of Bio Ware’s renowned ear for character and hu­man­ity. As a follow-up to both Ori­gins’ breadth and Dragon Age II’s wit, it’s an out-and-out suc­cess.

Set ten years after the first game, In­qui­si­tion be­gins with an ex­plo­sion that tears a hole in the ‘veil’ that sep­a­rates re­al­ity from the realm of magic. Your character stum­bles from this breach in the Fade with only a fuzzy mem­ory of how they sur­vived. Branded as a killer and apos­tate at first, and later as mes­siah, you’re po­si­tioned as a com­pli­cat­ing fac­tor in the se­ries-span­ning con­flict be­tween mages and the Templars that po­lice them, be­tween Dark­spawn and the Grey War­dens that seek to erad­i­cate them, and be­tween Thedas’s frac­tious races. As the head of a new fac­tion called the In­qui­si­tion, you’re brought in to find an­swers and es­tab­lish peace. The main strength of In­qui­si­tion’s setup is that it places you in a po­si­tion to in­ter­act with the en­tire Dragon Age nar­ra­tive, in­clud­ing threads that have been left dan­gling since the orig­i­nal. Its weak­ness is that it asks you to ab­sorb an enor­mous amount of in­for­ma­tion quickly. You can get by with a cur­sory un­der­stand­ing of what sep­a­rates the Cir­cle from the Chantry, but ide­ally you’ll ei­ther al­ready be fa­mil­iar with this lore or will­ing to delve through con­ver­sa­tion trees to un­cover it.

This is a con­se­quence of a game that wastes re­mark­ably lit­tle time in in­tro­duc­ing you to its open world. The In­qui­si­tion has a power rat­ing in­de­pen­dent of your party, and you spend this re­source to un­lock plot-ad­vanc­ing main mis­sions. This man­dates that you spend a cer­tain amount of time build­ing the or­der’s rep­u­ta­tion by ex­plor­ing and com­plet­ing sid­e­quests, which are pro­vided in MMOG-like quan­ti­ties. Me­nial tasks such as gath­er­ing re­sources and hunt­ing ban­dits can be hoovered up be­tween ob­jec­tives or ig­nored en­tirely, while seek­ing out and clos­ing fur­ther Fade rifts un­der­scores the In­qui­si­tion’s role in the world. There are camps to es­tab­lish, puz­zles to com­plete, col­lectibles

Frost­bite af­fords the game an ex­tra­or­di­nary sense of place, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to the sight of a dis­tant moun­tain

to find, and cus­tomis­able keeps to cap­ture and hold. In­di­vid­u­ally, few of the tasks here match the nar­ra­tive com­plex­ity of their equiv­a­lents in pre­vi­ous games, but In­qui­si­tion aims for quan­tity, plus the sense of free­dom im­parted when you dis­cover the world on your own.

So you can jump for the first time in this se­ries, and ex­plore vast zones in any di­rec­tion you like – only a hand­ful are lin­ear. The Frost­bite en­gine af­fords the game an ex­tra­or­di­nary sense of place, par­tic­u­larly when it comes to the sight of a dis­tant cliff or moun­tain range. At­mo­spheric light­ing and en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­fects vastly ex­ceed what Dragon Age has achieved be­fore, and are used to great ef­fect in con­junc­tion with the dragon en­coun­ters that punc­tu­ate the open world.

And it’s out in the world that you can gather the col­lectibles needed to up­grade the In­qui­si­tion’s fortress in a dozen ways, down to the drap­ery, as well as find the ma­te­ri­als to fuel a deep, mod­u­lar craft­ing sys­tem. The game is po­ten­tially an ob­ses­sive com­ple­tion­ist’s night­mare, but min-max­ing ev­ery map is op­tional this time around. The process of ex­plo­ration is bet­ter on PC, how­ever: us­ing the mouse to dis­cover ob­jects to in­ter­act with feels nat­u­ral, whereas its con­troller equiv­a­lent is a ‘ping’ sys­tem that high­lights pick­ups in a ra­dius around you. This forces your eye to­wards the ground, which is ex­actly where it doesn’t be­long.

Com­bat is another weak­ness, at least at first. Com­plex­ity comes slowly, even though you’re given con­trol over all four of your party mem­bers, and padded en­emy health bars can leave you hold­ing down the same but­ton for min­utes at a time as you wait for your auto-at­tack to do the job. Things im­prove as abil­ity com­bos are un­locked and un­der­stood, but while the pre­sen­ta­tion is bet­ter, the se­ries still doesn’t man­age to rec­on­cile the read­abil­ity and strate­gic depth of the first game with the ac­tion-RPG feel that it has sub­se­quently sought. There are also visual glitches that oc­cur just fre­quently enough to be a prob­lem, such as NPCs clip­ping through walls, sit­ting on in­vis­i­ble chairs, and so on. This is a big enough game that it can bear th­ese is­sues with­out ham­per­ing the whole too ter­ri­bly, but it is a prob­lem nonethe­less.

Th­ese are, how­ever, im­per­fec­tions that fade into the back­ground when you’re faced with all the things that the game does so well. The scale of its land­scapes and the pow­er­ful, var­ied drama of each main mis­sion is matched by an at­ten­tion to de­tail and character that is rare for this type of game, whether that’s a deftly writ­ten con­ver­sa­tion over­heard as you walk be­tween des­ti­na­tions or an in-character codex en­try that makes you laugh. This is the most am­bi­tious game Bio Ware has ever made be­cause it op­er­ates on both the large scale and the small, where most RPGs pick one or the other. Dragon Age: In­qui­si­tion de­mands your time and at­ten­tion, but it gives a lot in re­turn, too.

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