Gaming Reviews 1

Dragon Age: Inquisition Review

GND-Tech’s most anticipated game of 2014 has finally arrived. Dragon Age: Inquisition, a multiplatform Role-Playing Game (RPG) released in November 2014, is the third installment in BioWare’s Dragon Age franchise. Like the other installments, Inquisition is a character-driven dark fantasy wRPG. The first game in the franchise, Dragon Age: Origins, was released in 2009 to critical acclaim, especially from GND-Tech which considers it to be one of the best games ever made. From an objective standpoint it was perhaps the most ambitious single player game ever made, by offering an expansive detailed game world, non-linear progression, strong story focus, some of the best character development you will ever find, far more dialogue than almost any other game (Inquisition being the exception), six 90-150 minute playable introductions (origins) based on your character’s race and class, diverse tactical gameplay with no less than six different playstyles, a competent role-playing system, and masterful attention to detail. Best of all the plot and character development of Dragon Age: Origins branch out more than almost every other game, and this is based on player interaction. It takes no less than six playthroughs to see all of what it has to offer, and each playthrough can be vastly different from one another.

Along came Dragon Age 2 in 2011, only one year after the release of Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening. It is unfortunate that Dragon Age 2 was a rushed game, because it only accomplished a small fraction of what the first game did. The consequences of EA rushing Dragon Age 2 are noticeable in all aspects of the game, most prominently in the repetitive level design which reuses many of the same interior designs, and the game takes place only in a city with few exceptions. But these aren’t the only disappointing aspects of Dragon Age 2: the combat is also unbalanced as a result of being rushed, and not nearly as tactical or diverse as its predecessor. Battles aren’t designed to be tactical either, since enemies spawn in seemingly endless waves in close proximity, and combined with the JRPG-like pace of the game, it makes it feel as if Dragon Age 2 isn’t sure if it wants to be a pause-and-play RPG like its predecessor or an action RPG. The plot is also full of ridiculous moments and the story is not as fleshed out as it could have been, due to EA rushing the game. Dragon Age 2 reuses the same plot twist over and over again, and the ending sequences are cringe-inducing and highly unoriginal. There were many problems with Dragon Age 2, most of which can be directly attributed to the publishers rushing the game by forcing unreasonable deadlines, however the game still manages to be a more competent RPG than most others which is a direct result of RPGs being endangered.

When developing Dragon Age: Inquisition, BioWare wanted to return to their roots. They acknowledge everything that went wrong with Dragon Age 2, even making fun of it numerous times during Dragon Age: Inquisition (this can usually be found in dialogue with Varric, one of Inquisition’s companion characters). They wanted Inquisition to be more like the first Dragon Age game and also Baldur’s Gate II: Shadows of Amn, which is often said to be the best RPG that BioWare ever made. These design aspirations became evident last year, when we finally learned more about the scope of Dragon Age: Inquisition. It became obvious that was the most ambitious single player game of all time. Inquisition wants to do everything that Origins did, bring many improvements to the table, and expand to a vast multi-region open world set across various different nations in Thedas. No other game sets out to do as much as Dragon Age: Inquisition does, but the larger the scope, the more room there is for error. Let’s see of Dragon Age: Inquisition delivers.

Note that this review has been written by both of GND-Tech’s game reviewers: Enad and Jester. We apologize for the belatedness of the review.

Closer Look

Like every other recent EA game, Dragon Age: Inquisition requires an Origin account, regardless of where you bought the game from. This leads to some inconvenience, since Origin has no use outside of exclusive games and still has some problems from time to time. The game is built on Frostbite 3 engine, and is roughly 26GB in size (smaller than Battlefield 4). Loading times may be longer than what you’re used to, but installing the game on an SSD helps.

BioWare claims to have wanted to focus strongly on the PC version, since after all they used to be a PC exclusive developer and Dragon Age: Origins was so clearly designed with PC in mind, and console porting was secondary. Inquisition does have nice PC exclusive features, but not quite as much as Origins which has a friendlier UI, mod support, a walk feature, and other things which we’ll mention later in this review.

When first launching Inquisition, it is immediately apparent that both BioWare and EA are trying to deliver a message. In nearly every other mainstream game, the first start-up splash screen you see is for the publisher (in this case EA) and then the developer (in this case BioWare). The publisher’s splash screen usually lasts for an eternity as well. When launching Dragon Age: Inquisition, both the EA and Bioware logo share the same screen which is very surprising. Perhaps EA is trying to suggest that they aren’t as bad as their reputation suggests, and they aren’t about total control and domination over their products. The splash screens are really brief as well.

What is even more important is that Inquisition has an abundance of PC exclusive graphics options, UI options, control/key binding options, and a specially designed HUD for mouse and keyboard. Plugging in a controller will give you the console HUD.

We were so pleased to see race choices come back in Dragon Age: Inquisition. In Origins, you could choose either Human, Elf, or Dwarf races. Dragon Age 2 had no race choices so you were always Human. Inquisition has Human, Elf, Dwarf, and Qunari! The addition of Qunari was very surprising and this only leads to more diversity. Your race choice really affects the game: while you don’t get a different playable prologue like in Dragon Age: Origins, your biography changes and dialogue throughout the game changes. It also affects one of the main quests later in the game. As expected you can also choose between male and female genders for each race. Unlike Origins, the protagonist’s dialogue in Inquisition is fully voiced, which is very surprising given how much dialogue the game actually offers.

However, Inquisition has only a small amount of unique dialogue choices. Even Origins had a small amount compared to other RPGs like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. This is because Inquisition has no persuasion or intimidation skills like Origins had. It still offers many dialogue choices, but most aren’t unique. The only unique ones are race or class related.

It’s largely beneficial that Dragon Age: Inquisition has one of the best character creators in any game. Hardcore role players may find themselves spending up to an hour creating a character.

While Dragon Age: Origins has six playable 90-150 minute prologues, Dragon Age: Inquisition has only one prologue but it is the longest prologue we have ever seen outside of RTS games. It can easily last up to 4 hours. Dragon Age: Inquisition takes place around one year after Dragon Age 2. During the prologue, many of the most important political figures are having a meeting in Haven, discussing the ongoing Mage-Templar war and trying to come to some sort of agreement. But something horrible happens, some kind of explosion, and the only survivor of it is the protagonist, who was seen being led out of the Fade (spirit world) by a womanly figure. This explosion creates what becomes known as “The Breach”, a massive tear in the veil (which is what separates our world from the spirit world) causing demons to flow through and chaos to consume the land. Since the protagonist was the only survivor, he/she is considered to be a suspect and is therefore being held responsible for the explosion by some. The explosion also left the protagonist with a unique ability; the ability to close “Rifts”, or tears in the veil that ensued after the explosion. During the prologue, you will be battling demons around Haven alongside Cassandra, the first companion of the game (and an NPC from Dragon Age 2), and you will be closing some of these rifts. The prologue ends with you attempting to seal the Breach.

After the prologue, the protagonist becomes known as the Herald of Andraste, and most NPCs will be referring to you by this title so you had better get used to it. In Dragon Age lore, Andraste was a prophet and the mortal bride of the Maker (a God-like figure), and throughout the game many people believe the protagonist to be chosen by them, and that womanly figure who rescued the protagonist after the explosion is believed to have been Andraste herself. The events during the prologue escalated the Mage-Templar war, causing it to be worse than ever, and combined with demons threatening the land, Thedas is in a true state of emergency. This is why early in the plot the Inquisition is reformed; an ancient order that rises up when necessary, and relinquishes their power once the threat has been neutralized. In Dragon Age: Inquisition you play not only has the supposed Herald of Andraste, but also the Inquisitor.

Since Dragon Age: Inquisition is the third game in a story-driven franchise, we strongly recommend not playing it without having beaten Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age 2, and all of the expansions/DLC for both. While Inquisition isn’t as integral as Mass Effect 3 is to its predecessors, there is still some degree of integration. We strongly suggest finishing at least one playthrough of Origins, and then porting this character to Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening, the first expansion for Origins (even though it is unrelated to Inquisition). After finishing Awakening, you should port this character to Dragon Age: Origins – Witch Hunt, the next expansion, before finishing it and then porting this save file to Dragon Age 2. It is important to finish the “Legacy” DLC for Dragon Age 2 which is strongly tied to Inquisition. You should also play Leliana’s Song, preferably during your Origins playthrough. Everything in Inquisition will have far more meaning to you if you played the previous games and expansions.

It might come as a surprise that Dragon Age: Inquisition has no save-game importing. This is to avoid bugs, since it’s built on an entirely different engine and even a different platform for consoles. Instead, BioWare and EA created Dragon Age Keep. This allows you to recreate your characters from every Dragon Age game, as well as the vast majority of their decisions, so that you can effectively port your previous games to Dragon Age: Inquisition. Essentially you can add your Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2 characters here along with all of their choices, which then creates a new “World State” for Inquisition. This “World State” is what’s ported to Inquisition. Some might not like Dragon Age Keep, but it was necessary. Direct save-game importing is nice but will lead to bugs especially when porting to a different engine, as seen in Dragon Age 2.

Like other BioWare games, Dragon Age: Inquisition doesn’t have the most complex story, but it is more complex than the other two Dragon Age games and therefore the vast majority of other games in general. The story asks hard questions about different conflicts, and much of the added complexity comes from its religious implications. While the plot is overall more dire than any of the other Dragon Age games, the overall tone of the story is far less grim than that of Mass Effect 3 and even Dragon Age: Origins. Inquisition has more comic relief than any other BioWare tale, at times making me feel like I’m watching a Marvel movie. The very ‘colorful’ cast really adds to this. Many feel that Inquisition has the best cast of any BioWare game, and there is merit to such statements and this says a lot, since BioWare games have bar-none the best casts.

It’s not without its cliches and tropes though, in fact the game occasionally points them out in a mocking manner. But there are moments that are a bit hard to accept, such as in the “In Hushed Whispers” quest, in which Dorian is somehow able to cast a powerful spell that Alexius, his former mentor, was unable to cast himself.

Regardless of moments like these, the lore of Dragon Age makes Inquisition feel really original, even though the actual story isn’t. The world of Thedas is so remarkably complete and detailed, as if it’s an actual world rather than a fictional universe. Like Origins the story manages to be very involving due to how interactive and personal the game is. This is most evident in character interaction; characters are so responsive and dynamic that they almost seem alive, like in Origins. The player’s dialogue choices and actions affect their attitude toward you, and can affect their actions, which can lead to some extreme consequences… or not. They can lead to friendships, rivalries, or romances.

Like other BioWare games, Dragon Age: Inquisition is one of the most dialogue heavy games in existence. It probably has more spoken dialogue than any other game, with Dragon Age: Origins being the runner up. The dialogue choices in Inquisition are a bit different than every other Dragon Age game; there is a wider variety of responses which the player can choose from. The basic dialogue wheel has three responses: noble, clever, and direct. Then there is the emotional dialogue wheel, which has responses demonstrating sadness, happiness, confusion, or a less emotional response. You can also ask questions which don’t advance dialogue, and there are more “special” dialogue options, like asking a companion for an opinion, or dialogue choices based on your race or class.

The interactive plot and character design is what we hoped for, it lives up to the example set by Dragon Age: Origins. BioWare still has no equal in this part of their game design. Don’t let the slow pace deter you. The story develops slower than Origins, and you level up more slowly, because Inquisition is around twice as long as Origins. It can easily last well over 100 hours… in fact, a completionist playthrough will take closer to 250 hours. To get an idea of how much slower the story progression is, depending on your time spent in the Hinterlands (the first “open world” region of the game), you might spend the first 30 hours of the game or so with the first 3 companions and no new ones. Compared to Dragon Age: Origins, a 50-60 hour game, in which you unlock the majority of the companions at the 30 hour mark and you will likely have strongly developed relationships with some of them.

However, if you rush through Inquisition and do only main quests, then you will have more companions unlocked by the 30 hour mark, and you may finish the game in 50-60 hours. The difference is, a 50-60 hour playthrough of Origins is thorough, while a 50-60 hour playthrough of Inquisition is extremely shallow and equivalent to a 35 hour playthrough of Origins.

Gameplay

Like its predecessors and other classic RPGs such as Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment, Neverwinter Nights, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age: Inquisition is a pause-and-play RPG that seeks to deliver diverse and tactical gameplay/combat. You won’t just be playing as a single person, and you won’t be hacking and slashing things to death… at least not on harder difficulty settings (the game offers Easy, Normal, Hard, and Nightmare). You will be controlling a party of 4 characters, controlling their actions in combat, and on harder difficulties you will really have to plan your battles beforehand. You are given the same amount of control over your party companions and your own character. The party leader is simply whoever you are currently playing as, and you can also issue basic commands to your other party members such as hold position, disengage, attack my target, protect one of the party leader, and there is a function to clear all commands. Inquisition’s gameplay does a lot of things right but it also does a number of things wrong.

Like other games, the player (and therefore all party members) has a health bar which increases as you level up (affected by the Constitution attribute). Warriors and rogues have a stamina bar, and using abilities in combat uses stamina. Mages instead have a mana bar and of course spells drain it. Mana and stamina actually don’t increase when leveling up. Inquisition’s gameplay focuses a lot on cooldown rates for spells and warrior/rogue abilities, which can be lowered by selecting certain passive abilities when leveling up.

So Inquisition deviates a bit from traditional RPG gameplay. Another difference, a bigger one, is that the vast majority of enemies you encounter have more health than the player’s party characters. This, along with the lack of healing and the “Guard” and “Barrier” features which we’ll discuss later, were implemented to make combat more tactical. Battles are a lot less fair; if you’re fighting an enemy of the same level, they will have much more health, though less armor usually, and they generally don’t cast deadly area of effect (AoE) spells. This is much different than Dragon Age: Origins and D&D which put the player characters and the enemy on a more even playing field, not restricting the enemies abilities and having more equal health and armor values (excluding bosses). Bosses in Dragon Age: Inquisition have a massive amount of health, and you can attack different body parts for different effect.

Before you ask, companion armor customization has indeed returned. It’s different in Inquisition though: first of all, gloves/gauntlets and boots are considered “upgrades” now. In the inventory there is only one armor slot and a headgear slot. Boots and gloves/gauntlets are attached to armors at armor upgrade tables, which are located next to other crafting tables in safe hubs. Armors are usually limited to specific classes which is normal and very fitting for an RPG, and some armors thankfully have race restrictions. Most of the time however, armors will look different on every companion which adds a new dimension of variety, although this doesn’t apply to certain armors. Lastly, certain armor sets have the same look and a similar name to others, acting as “better versions” which is a feature found in many RPGs.

Dragon Age: Inquisition uses a modified rule system. It might seem awkward for a sequel to undergo such fundamental changes, but you can relate it to the feeling you get when playing an AD&D game (Baldur’s Gate) and then playing a D&D 3 game (Neverwinter Nights). The rule changes are easy to get used to; health values are different, statistical significance of certain aspects are different.

The leveling system, in which you level up by gaining XP from completing quests or killing enemies, is noticeably slower in Inquisition. In fact, the overall pacing of the plot and character development is also slower. All of this is because Inquisition is easily twice as long as Dragon Age: Origins, which is amazing since Origins is a 50-60 hour game! Since Inquisition includes multiple open-world regions, it’s worth noting that enemies do not scale to your level. This means encounters can actually be impossible, and these open world regions are very dynamic so you really have to be careful.

Despite the “open world” nature of the game, it’s not truly open in the same sense that The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is. The game includes quite a few regions, and while many of these regions are massive and “open world” (really just gigantic sandbox areas, but “open world” conveys a more accurate image), you don’t have access to all regions at the start of the game. You can consider it “region locked open world” but the total size of Inquisition’s world dwarfs most other open world games, including Skyrim. There has never been a game of this scale before. Of course there are even bigger games, namely procedurally generated ones, but a hand-made game world of this size is truly something to behold. There is much to do in the world of Dragon Age: Inquisition, and it is full of hidden locations and hidden side quests, sort of like a Bethesda RPG at times but overall Inquisition is no replacement for The Elder Scrolls, and it was never supposed to be. Regardless, very few open world games are crafted with this level of detail. There is a variety of side quests, and some of them even span across several different regions of the game and take a very long time to complete. Most of the side quests encourage exploration.

The world of Dragon Age: Inquisition spans various nations throughout Thedas, so it is perhaps the most diverse open world ever crafted. From the farms and countrysides of Ferelden to the marvelous, expensive city of Val Royeaux, to deserts, and very otherworldly places, Inquisition’s world never gets stale and all of it is crafted with an incredible amount of detail. They aren’t just video game maps, they are like virtual realities.

A new mechanic that Inquisition has is a “search” feature. Like in Dragon Age: Origins, Inquisition has many hidden things around the world, but now there is a way to easily find them. When in the vicinity of such things, your HUD’s minimap will begin to glow and you’ll hear a “shimmering” sound, which grows louder as you approach the hidden object. Pressing “V” by default scans the area and will point you in the direction of the hidden object.

Every area in Inquisition, especially the open world regions, are full of hidden things and hidden places, including things like crypts and dungeons. You can enter almost every building you encounter, although oddly enough you can’t close doors despite being able to open them (they close on their own.) Those who love looting in RPGs will love Inquisition due to its scale and exploration factor, plus loot is more valuable and important in Inquisition. There is a use for almost everything; herbs for making potions, animal/creature remains for research, ores and raw material for crafting, upgrade parts for equipment, etc. Herbs and raw materials are spawned around the game world and grow back very quickly.

Inquisition also has very busy hubs, full of NPCs who wander around and have conversations with one another. These hubs are where most of the companion dialogue takes place, and it’s also where weapon/armor upgrading and crafting is done, as well as potion upgrading and trading. Companions are also highly talkative outside of hubs, through randomized banter (which may involve the protagonist as well), and they occasionally add to dialogue scenarios. As mentioned earlier, the player can sometimes ask for a companion’s opinion during dialogue scenes, and the companion may even handle the situation on their own. This makes for very interactive storytelling and dialogue, which we at GND-Tech just love. We advise returning to your hub often, to complete operations on the War Table and to talk to characters, moving the character development forward.

Skyhold, a hub unlocked later in the game, is perhaps the most impressive hub of any game. It’s massive, impeccably detailed, and has so much to do. It almost doubles as a castle building game.

Worth mentioning is the inclusion of mounts, or horses which you can ride. Mounts have the same movement controls as the player, except with the ability to sprint by pressing Left Shift. Getting on a mount makes your companions disappear, and getting off of it makes your companions reappear next to you. After dismounting, your mount will disappear momentarily but it can be called back by pressing the equal sign key by default.

Inquisition has the same attributes as the previous Dragon Age games (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Willpower, Magic, Cunning), but for some reason they are raised automatically when leveling up. You have no control over your attributes when leveling up. This is where Inquisition’s relative lack of gameplay diversity (which we’ll go over in a bit) works in its favor: no matter what type of character you made, only two attributes will be very important for you, and these are the ones that will be incremented when leveling up. Also, Inquisition has more focus on upgrading/enchanting items to affect your attributes. So while the forced attribute system is a problem, it’s not a huge problem in Inquisition compared to the huge problems this would cause in a D&D game or Fallout game.

The overall UI layout and inventory system is fairly typical for a wRPG. In the pause menu, there is a section called “Character Record” which lists a character’s Abilities, Tactics, Attributes, and Behaviors. We went over attributes in the paragraph above, abilities include spells or other talents depending on your character (you get to choose one when leveling up), tactics only allow you to enable or disable the automatic usage of each ability, and behaviors are shown in the picture below.

These fundamental behavior rules are nice, sort of like Neverwinter Nights 2 but far more basic and with only a small fraction of the quantity. But the magnificent tactics system (in-game AI programming/customization) from Dragon Age: Origins? Gone entirely. This is a real shame, and it may very well be an engine limitation (you’ll see this repeated several times throughout the review).

Another thing that was removed was the skill system from Dragon Age: Origins. Each skill had 4 levels. Skills weren’t in Dragon Age 2 either. The skills in Origins are:

  • Coercion – Which refers to persuasion and intimidation
  • Stealing – Pickpocketing
  • Trap-Making – Self-explanatory
  • Survival – Tracking enemies on the minimap, which is automatic now
  • Herbalism – Making potions
  • Poison-Making – Making poisons
  • Combat Training – This was just a prerequisite for talents/abilities
  • Combat Tactics – Unlocked tactics slots, but the tactics system of Origins is not included with Inquisition anyway
  • Runecrafting – Crafting runes for enchanting, added by Awakening
  • Vitality – Simple passive health buffs, added by Awakening
  • Clarity – Simple passive mana/stamina buffs, added by Awakening

To be honest, most of those skills are useless. It’s not like D&D or S.P.E.C.I.A.L. which are full of very useful skills. The only one I personally miss is coercion, since every story-driven RPG I’ve played has it. While the skills system is gone, some of their abilities are still part of Dragon Age: Inquisition. Herbalism is more strongly focused on in Inquisition, but it’s not a skill so it’s not affected by leveling, and it can only be done at potion tables. You can also make poisons at potion tables.

The inventory is like almost every other wRPG inventory so there’s not much to say about it. It’s straightforward and easy to use. Like the previous games, the party’s items are all stored in one inventory, so all 4 characters have a shared inventory. Inventory capacity is determined by item count: at the start of the game it’s 60. Like the previous Dragon Age games you can’t drop items, you can only destroy them.

Like most other BioWare games, there is a Codex. It will store texts which can be found throughout the game (there are easily hundreds), most of which revolve around Thedas lore. If you walk into a tavern and a bard is playing a song, that song’s lyrics will appear in your Codex. Whenever you find a new enemy, the details and known information about that enemy will appear in a new Codex entry. Whenever you meet a new important character, that character’s biography appears in your Codex (and these may be updated over time). Inquisition has an abundance of reading material, such as short stories and these other Codex entries, far surpassing Dragon Age: Origins in this aspect.

One aspect which we were really concerned about was combat. We really love the combat design of Dragon Age: Origins, which gives the player excellent control over all party members, it’s tactical, it’s somewhat diverse, it’s challenging on harder difficulties (especially with mods). In short, Inquisition is all of those things too, and it does some things better than Origins, but as expected this goes both ways since Origins does plenty of things better than Inquisition in terms of combat.

Dragon Age: Inquisition essentially has two gameplay “modes” which is unlike its predecessors. In the default mode, the camera is in third person and you move around with “WASD” keys by default, like the previous Dragon Age games except point-and-click movement doesn’t work at all. Inquisition has some of the smoothest, most refined movement of any game, and you can even slip and fall down hills sort of like in Miasmata. There’s even a jump function, which to our knowledge is a first in pause-and-play wRPGs. The combat controls in this mode are quite different than the other Dragon Age games. From now on we will call this mode “Action Mode” for clarification. In this mode, there is no more auto-attack; to attack enemies you have to hold Left Mouse Button (LMB) almost like a hack and slash game. This is how Dragon Age 2 is on consoles, but Inquisition is like this on all platforms when playing on “Action Mode.” You can still pause in this mode however, but it is more action oriented. As an action game, combat in “Action Mode” is really basic, clunky, and it’s not intuitive at all. This combat style addition adds nothing to the game.

The other mode is “Tactical Mode” which has a totally different camera. Thankfully this uses separate key bindings, which shows that BioWare was paying attention to the PC version when designing Inquisition’s controls. By default, “Tactical Mode” is activated and deactivated by pressing T. Once activated, the camera immediately switches to an isometric view point, and circles appear underneath every party member’s feet. Despite being isometric, the zoom is limited and you can’t zoom out enough, which can be problematic in certain scenarios. Tactical camera control has its share of flaws, but it’s a great start and is very different than any other RPG we’ve played. Inquisition’s tactical camera doesn’t follow a single character, you move it around the battlefield freely like a strategy game. We love this feature. It’s also not limited to isometric viewpoint; you can move the camera around freely, and view battles in more cinematic fashion. This makes combat much more fun than it would have been otherwise. Auto-attack is enabled in tactical mode, which means you only need to order a party member to attack a target once, and they will continue to do it until you give them a new command or until the threat is neutralized (this of course applies to the player character too). Tactical mode is not focused on the player, but the entire party.

For the most part, the tactical camera controls are quite nice. As mentioned it moves around freely using the WASD keys (as well as Q and E), or by holding SHIFT and moving the mouse. Holding RMB and moving the mouse changes its angle, and the scroll wheel controls zoom. This is all ideal.

As mentioned earlier, you can’t zoom out enough which is one minor problem of the tactical camera. A bigger problem comes when moving the camera around the battlefield: for some reason the camera can “bump” into obstacles, so it can be harder to position the camera at an ideal location because of this. This problem isn’t present in other pause-and-play tactical RPGs, so it’s strange that it’s here, and it’s very annoying. It’s almost like the tactical camera is an entity with collision physics, which leads us to believe that it’s an engine limitation. But overall, the tactical camera alone makes combat very engaging. We strongly encourage playing Dragon Age: Inquisition only on Hard mode or Nightmare mode, and using tactical camera exclusively in combat. This is really the way it’s meant to be played.

No matter which mode you’re in, the game still uses point-and-click interaction, using the right mouse button like in Dragon Age: Origins. However, you can no longer right click something from a distance and have your character automatically run up to it and interact with it. You have to be in the immediate vicinity to interact with something, like an action game, and this is a minor inconvenience.

The combat pace itself is in between that of Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2, making it by far the most realistic. The pace and animations aren’t in slow-motion like they are in Origins, nor are they flashy and over-the-top like a JRPG or Dragon Age 2.

There is some debate over which game is more tactical: Dragon Age: Inquisition or Dragon Age: Origins. Objectively, Inquisition is more tactical in a number of ways, which we’ll list below.

  • Positioning and Terrain – Positioning is far more important in Inquisition. In Dragon Age: Origins, Neverwinter Nights 2, Planescape: Torment, and most other pause-and-play wRPGs, combat mostly occurs on generic flat terrain. In Dragon Age: Inquisition, the terrain itself adds to the tactical nature of the game. Since the game world is so diverse, terrain takes on many different forms. You might find yourself being funneled up a narrow uphill pathway, into an ambush. This will make combat far more difficult than if you were the ones setting up the ambush, and the enemies were the ones advancing up a narrow uphill path. Elevation is very important, there is even an archer ability that makes archers do more damage if elevated above enemies.
  • Angle of Approach – Building off of our previous point, Inquisition emphasizes using angles to attack enemies where they are weakest. Shield users, for example, are nearly invulnerable to frontal assaults, so you will have to flank them. This is also a factor with boss battles, and this isn’t a factor in Origins and other RPGs.
  • Stats – Enemies have more specific statistical strengths and weaknesses in Inquisition compared to Origins, such as demons being immune to fire and things like that. Inquisition focuses more on having three different offensive spell trees: fire, lightning, and ice (which are in Origins but aren’t as important), as well as staves dealing one of these damages. If you have a fire staff and fire spells, you won’t be very effective against demons. This factor is pretty much absent from Origins, although this aspect is obviously far stronger in D&D games. Inquisition focuses strongly on the usage of these three elements, kind of like Divinity: Original Sin. Characters can be frozen or “shocked” during combat, and rendered helpless.

All of this, combined with the fact that enemies don’t generally scale down to your level, make battles in Inquisition longer and more tactically challenging than Origins on average, but there are exceptions to this. If you “overlevel” or spend too much time fighting easier fights and leveling up, you may get to a point where you’re overpowered. This takes advantage of Inquisition’s open design; you can stay in the Hinterlands (the first open world region) for essentially as long as you want, growing overpowered in the process and making the rest of the game easier. Also, these comments only refer to Hard mode and above. Normal mode is too easy in both Inquisition and Origins, unless you’re new to pause-and-play tactical RPGs.

We strongly advise paying attention to the level recommendations. Main quests and other significant quests have them: for example, when initiating a quest at the war table, it may say something like “Recommended Levels: 12 to 15” and this means several things: this means enemies will scale between those levels, to match the player character. But they won’t scale outside of levels 12-15, therefore the quest would be too easy for seasoned RPG players if you’re leveled up past 15. We highly recommend abiding to those level recommendations, sticking to the lower end (in this case, level 12).

On the other hand, Origins has some tactics that aren’t present in Inquisition, such as the vastly superior and more fleshed out AI tactics system mentioned earlier. Origins is also more diverse, at least for mage gameplay, since it has a Healer spell tree (called the Creation school of magic) and an Entropy spell tree, unlike Inquisition. This means The Four Schools of Magic are no longer valid, and it’s really only two schools of magic in Inquisition (Primal and Spirit). Some spells that resemble entropy spells have been moved to other spell trees though, such as the “Necromancer” specialization. Spells similar to the Creation school of Origins can be found in Inquisition’s “Rift Mage” specialization, which also includes spells that resemble the force spells of Dragon Age 2. We will discuss class specializations later.

The only ways to heal in Inquisition are with potions, by resting in safe zones, and specific passive abilities which may heal you slightly in combat. Healing potions can be restocked an unlimited amount of times in safe zones, and they are shared with the group (and have a set limitation). There are other potion slots which are individual and therefore not shared with the party. These potions are not unlimited and require herbs to be created. Potions can only be made at potion-making herbalism tables.

There are no healing spells! Instead, Inquisition has a spell called “Barrier” which functions like the Mass Effect ability of the same name. It’s like magic armor; with Barrier activated, any friendly in the spell’s casting area gets a second “health” meter which drains over time, but all damage only affects this meter and not the actual health meter. Warriors have a similar passive ability called “Guard.” The result of these changes is that you will find yourself returning to safe zones and resting very often, almost like certain D&D games. Inquisition also has very strong focus on herbalism (making potions), crafting, and upgrading weapons/armor (sort of like smithing), which are less important in most other RPGs.

The crafting mechanics are very simple: you can craft weapons and armor if you have a schematic and the required materials. Each and every weapon and armor requires materials like metal to be crafted, but there are many different variants of metal which all have different properties. When crafting, you can rename the item as well. We mentioned the armor upgrading system earlier which is very similar, and you can upgrade weapons in similar fashion. Armor/weapon upgrades can be found on various armors and weapons throughout the game world: you can remove upgrades thankfully.

In terms of diversity, you can say there are six substantially different playstyles in Dragon Age: Origins (sword and shield warrior, two-handed warrior, offensive mage, healing mage, archer, dual weapon, but there are actually a lot more when you count specializations and the fact that you can make a warrior archer or a rogue archer, and a dual-weapon warrior or a dual-weapon rogue). Inquisition on the other hand has essentially the same styles, minus “dual-weapon warrior”, minus “healing mage”, and note that the “offensive mage” idea has a lot more variety in Origins which has both Entropy magic and the same three branches in Primal magic. The point is, Origins still wins in combat diversity, but then again Inquisition wins in world diversity. Origins is not open world and it doesn’t leave Ferelden, although neither game is short of cultural diversity!

Inquisition also gives you slightly less control over your companions in combat, and this isn’t just because of the awfully dumbed down AI tactics system. While you can indeed order companions to move around and hold position, you can’t for example change party arrangement or formation like you can in Divinity: Original Sin and other RPGs (e.g., staggered column, wedge, etc.), you can’t split the party up into two groups of two or one group of three with the fourth member elsewhere, like in Divinity: Original Sin. The commands you give to companions are completely undone once combat is over; so let’s say you’re in combat and you have Varric (an archer) holding his position on a distant rock, and he no longer sees any targets. Varric will then automatically return to the party leader instead of continuing to hold his position. We are quite certain this is implemented because more casual gamers would forget to give a command to regroup, but the hardcore RPG/Dragon Age fans shouldn’t suffer this level of streamlining. Perhaps only Easy mode and maybe Normal mode should be like this. But, as it stands, you will find your companions disobeying orders more often than in Origins because Inquisition likes to clear all orders on its own and make party members teleport back to you too often, requiring more pausing and more managing of the party. Despite the massive scale of the game, combat is limited to close range skirmishes. Ranged weapons and magic are effective no further than close to medium range, and if you split your party up across a distance, they will teleport back to each other. This is a big problem.

A strange aspect of Inquisition is that every party member is limited to having only 8 usable (equipped, if you will) abilities at once. That means mages can only choose between 8 spells during a battle, while rogues and warriors can only choose between 8 talents. This does not include passive abilities which are always functional. BioWare says this makes the game more tactical, but in reality it adds nothing to the game and this limitation should have never been included. But, like the automatically incremented attributes, this is not a huge setback in Inquisition due to its relative lack of diversity, and also because of it’s slow leveling. You won’t have more than 8 activated abilities per character (that is, non-passive abilities) until nearly the end of the game, and it simply doesn’t have that many abilities compared to Origins (much less a D&D game).

Like Origins, Inquisition has class specializations which add diversity to each class. There are three specializations per class. Each specialization is basically an extra, unique skill tree or spell tree, but in Inquisition they are even more strongly tied to the plot, they demand training, and you only acquire the resources to train in them after making the Inquisition large enough.

Earlier we mentioned closing “Rifts” or small tears in the Fade. This is another gameplay aspect of Inquisition. Demons poor out of these rifts until you close them, but closing them is as simple as interacting with them.

What’s really impressive about the gameplay of Dragon Age: Inquisition is how it utilizes its multi-region open world design. The open world isn’t just there to make the game bigger and more unpredictable. One of the protagonist’s goals is to expand the Inquisition, which is another interesting and unique gameplay aspect. You must spread the influence of your organization, and try to persuade others to join it, on a large scale. Throughout the game you can complete many different kinds of side quests (many of which are refreshing compared to the side quests in other RPGs) to expand your influence, letting you pursue missions on the “War Table.” You can capture areas and transform them into Inquisition strongholds.

Inquisition also has micromanaging aspects that resemble a strategy game, most prominently at the War Table which is located in your central hub (pictured below). Here you micromanage the Inquisition’s forces, since you’re the leader and you can’t do everything yourself. With the help of your advisers (Leliana, Cullen, Josephine), you can choose special, optional operations, where you send out your agents to complete special tasks. You don’t take any part of these missions yourself. You choose one of your advisers to oversee an operation, and when they’re done (there is usually a time requirement which passes by even when the game is not running) they will turn in a report. Each adviser has their own specialties so you’ll want to choose the appropriate adviser for each operation. This is very similar to The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, although more in-depth/flexible and the success of each operation is predetermined. You can also unlock Inquisition perks at the War Table which strongly affect gameplay, and there are many different kinds of perks.

So the game has its share of gameplay flaws, but the positives do indeed outweigh the negatives. In some respects, Dragon Age: Inquisition demonstrates some serious advancements in party-based pause-and-play combat. The tactical camera for example, while flawed, is an excellent addition. Along with the necessary improvements, we’d love to see this type of tactical camera in all pause-and-play RPGs. The importance of positioning and angles are another nice innovation that we’d like to see similar games adopt. The micromanaging aspects are outstanding and add an extra layer of depth to Dragon Age: Inquisition, one that is absent from other RPGs.

Audio & Visuals

Dragon Age: Inquisition is the best showcase of Frostbite 3’s capabilities. From a technical standpoint it is very impressive both for its visual fidelity and audio quality, not cutting corners like Battlefield 4 does.

The lighting system and shader quality are very good and very modern; as expected Inquisition has an outstanding ambient occlusion system. What’s really surprising is that despite the massive scale of the game, its overall texture quality is among the very best of any game, with 2048 x 2048 textures being extremely common. Its draw distance might be the best of any game, right next to The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (which ironically is another 2014 game with an overall texture quality that’s on par). Footprints are even tracked in snow, which is a nice detail. It’s a true DX11 game, using tessellation on things like mountains and large rocks/cliffs. In addition, characters and creatures are designed with remarkable levels of detail, although animations (including facial animations) are nothing remarkable… facial animations are only slightly above average.

Optimization is lackluster to say the least. Dragon Age: Inquisition might be the most demanding game today, and patch 2 only made performance worse. As of December 2014, an i7 2600 running between 4.0 – 4.2 GHz, 8GB DDR3 1600, and a GTX 780 Ti are only capable of 40-60 FPS on average on max detail at 1080p. Frame rate is typically in the 40s, but 50s aren’t rare either and occasional dips into the 30s happens at times. An i7 4820k running at 4.5 GHz, 8GB DDR3 1866, and a GTX 980 achieve 30-50 FPS on max detail at 1440p, with drops to the 30s mostly occurring in the Hinterlands. Downsampling via NVIDIA DSR hurts performance badly even with the slightest resolution increase.

One of the graphical shortcomings is the anti-aliasing. Inquisition lets you choose between post-process AA (basically a blur shader) and MSAA, but it only allows up to 4x MSAA. There is no transparency multisampling at all, no supersampling, no built-in downsampling, and performance is terrible with NVIDIA’s Dynamic Super Resolution even with the slightest increase (and GeDoSaTo most likely won’t work since this is a DX11 game). At 1080p you’ll be stuck with quite a bit of aliasing. At 1440p, aliasing is mostly gone but it’s still visible on some vegetation. Aliasing seems to completely disappear at 4k and above, where the game looks utterly flawless. Of course, since this game uses Frostbite 3 engine, forcing any real form of anti-aliasing is impossible. Frostbite 3 is designed to be locked down as much as possible, allowing for minimal external configuration and absolutely no modding (although Inquisition surprisingly has a console or command prompt), and it doesn’t seem to be the most flexible if indeed many of the issues discussed throughout the review are the result of engine limitation. We’re starting to believe Frostbite engine was really designed only for multiplayer FPS games.

Technical prowess aside, the art style of the game isn’t exaggerated in any way. The more worldly environments such as mountain ranges, plains, deserts, and the like, all look realistic, although the game’s palette and lighting system remain distinct, bearing some resemblance to Dragon Age: Origins. The more unique environments are stunning for their art design. But like Origins, there is no dynamic day/night cycle or weather which is very unfortunate. This should be present in the more normal regions like the Hinterlands, and it is something we have come to expect in modern games.

The sound engine is excellent, even though it’s not hardware accelerated. It’s unfortunate (but expected) that the game has no 3D sound support, but the sound engine does provide dynamic reverb and echoes, it provides a good sense of distance, and virtual surround support is decent. Expect actual surround to be good too, at least in 5.1, because Frostbite 3 is known for that.

Inquisition does have a strange sound option though. It’s not like other games which let you choose specific sound outputs (e.g., headphones, 2/2.1 speakers, 5.1 speakers, 7.1 speakers) but instead it offers a “Dynamic Range” choice between Headphones, Home Theater, and Night (which offers reduced bass according to the game description). There is no manual that explains what these options actually do from a technical standpoint.

It is unfortunate that Inon Zur didn’t return to compose the soundtrack like he did for the other Dragon Age games and numerous other RPGs. Inquisition’s soundtrack is still very good, but doesn’t quite have the finesse or originality that Zur is capable of.

The voice acting is excellent all around, especially from the companions, as expected from a BioWare game. One very interesting aspect is that there are four different voices for the protagonist: two for each gender, and you choose your voice in the character creator.

Conclusion

Whether or not you like Dragon Age: Inquisition, its ambition and scope cannot be ignored. It raises the bar because of what it sets out to do, this cannot be denied and the game deserves to be awarded for this. It sets out to do it all: tell an involving story that branches out more than most others, provide a magnificent cast with some of the deepest and most dynamic character development you will ever find, create a massive and highly detailed and interactive world, provide multiple playstyles and tactical gameplay, the list goes on. It has its flaws, but they are certainly outweighed by the positives. It isn’t nearly flawless like Dragon Age: Origins is, but it accomplishes a heck of a lot more. By our extremely vigorous criteria, it is worthy of being called the greatest game ever made, and it is objectively the most ambitious single player game of all time. It rightfully and easily won most of our awards at our Game of the Year 2014 ceremony, including Game of the Year. It simply does more than any other game.

In many ways, Dragon Age: Inquisition is the blueprint for the ultimate RPG, as is Dragon Age: Origins. The branching story and character design of Inquisition (which is rivaled only by Dragon Age: Origins and the Mass Effect trilogy), combined with the multi-region open world design in which the player runs and expands an organization, next to the multiple gameplay styles offered, the innovative (albeit slightly flawed) tactical camera, and of course the War Table and micromanaging, make it a truly innovative and remarkable RPG with so much role-playing potential and almost unlimited lasting appeal. However it is not perfect; a more complex and diverse rule system with more playstyles would be a big and very welcome improvement (e.g., D&D rules in a game like Neverwinter Nights 2), but even if you dislike the game and like other wRPGs then you should recognize the very high example that this game sets. Other RPGs should follow in the footsteps of Dragon Age: Inquisition as it is truly iconic.

Scoring Dragon Age: Inquisition will certainly be interesting. Our scoring system is explained here.

  • Presentation: Thanks to the excellent amount of PC exclusive configuration options, Dragon Age: Inquisition does well here. Despite being Origin exclusive the game is packaged very well and a lossless soundtrack is even included as a bonus. Due to the unparalleled scale of the game, it’s not without its share of bugs, but thankfully they’re mostly minor now as the broken quests have been fixed. 18/20
  • Story: While it doesn’t tell the most complex story, Inquisition manages to be very involving just like Origins and other BioWare games, thanks to the top notch character development combined with how interactive and dynamic the plot and character development are. It is one of the most dialogue-heavy games, it has one of the best casts in video game history (and one of the best that BioWare ever made), and the story here has more potential to immerse the player than most other games. But, beyond some of the characters, the plot is generic (save the world from big bad guy) and the antagonist is as underwhelming and unoriginal as imaginable. We also take issue with the amount of player dialogue choices; Inquisition provides more unique dialogue options based on class and race than most other games, but it has no other unique dialogue options. Dragon Age: Origins for example has Persuasion and Intimidation dialogue choices, which are absent from Inquisition. 13/20
  • Gameplay: Inquisition has some gameplay innovation, namely as the War Table and micromanaging aspects. Aside from this it is rather weak; the balance issues and limited forms of tactics harm it greatly here. Points will be deducted for the tactical camera controls/movement which need improvement (needs more outward zoom and it shouldn’t react to obstacles), the absence of the AI tactics function from Origins, automatically incremented attributes (why is this a thing?), the limitation to 8 usable abilities at once (again, why?), and the fact that companions don’t obey commands as well as they should, and the fact that combat is limited to close range skirmishes despite the enormous scale of the game. It’s also not a very well balanced RPG, with some specializations being outright superior to others. 08/20
  • Audio & Visuals: This was one of the best looking games of the year with very good sound effects recording, though the sound processing (HRTF) can be improved. 19/20
  • Lasting Appeal: The scale is massive, a single playthrough will last anywhere between 100-200 hours for most RPG players, and replaying the game can certainly lead to a vastly different experience in important quests due to how much the plot and character development can branch out based on player interaction. However, it is severely lacking in role-playing at the end of the day. The side exploration is lacking, but can be avoided entirely. It also lacks modding. 16/20
  • Overall: 74/100 (Average)

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[…] than what isometric-only RPGs allow. This is similar to how the “tactical camera” of Dragon Age: Inquisition functions, but more versatile. You can get a glimpse of Neverwinter Nights 2 combat in the videos […]