Review: Dragon Age: Inquisition (PS4)

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Title: Dragon Age: Inquisition
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (41 GB)
Release Date: November 18, 2014
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: BioWare
Original MSRP: $59.99 / $69.99 (Deluxe Edition)
ESRB Rating: M
Dragon Age: Inquisition is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC.
The PlayStation 4 disc version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Golden Minecart Award Winner 2014:
– Best Role Playing Game (PS4)

The change between Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2 was drastic enough that I wasn’t quite sure what to expect out of BioWare’s third outing. What started as an amazing entry into the role-playing arena (from the folks that brought us the excellent Baldur’s Gate 2 on PC) became an almost hack-n-slash sequel, with corridor-like areas that left little-to-no room for exploration. So where does that leave Dragon Age: Inquisition? It was pretty evident that a large group of fans of the original were pretty disappointed in the sequel, but would that number be enough to convince BioWare to return to the drawing board for Inquisition?

The first videos of Dragon Age: Inquisition revealed much promise. I was even surprised to see that the console version of the game included the tactical battle mode. The PlayStation 3 version of Dragon Age: Origins excluded the tactical battle mode available in its PC counterpart. The feature allowed you to pause the action and scale back on the arena in birds-eye-view. This made it easier to scan the environment and plan your attack from a better vantage point and was very reminiscent of the PC games of old (Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale). I was very disappointed to see it missing from the console version (almost as an indication that console gamers weren’t ready for that style of gameplay). Even without this tactical element, early signs of Inquisition revealed elements more akin to Origins than its action-heavy sequel.

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It is an absolute relief to find that this is indeed the case. Not only is Dragon Age Inquisition a deserving sequel to the Dragon Age series, but it also adds some new gameplay mechanics to the mix that grow a rich world into an even more expansive living entity, full of intrigue, politics, and incredible environments to explore.

Gone are the corridor-like areas of Dragon Age 2 and to be honest, the environments are more akin to something like Skyrim (though not nearly as large, and not seamlessly traversable). Gone are the hack-n-slash battles from the first sequel as well. Although you do control the action with multiple button presses, you really aren’t jumping and dodging during combat, and can even sit back and let the characters do as they are told. This provides a battle mechanic for two types of gamers: those who like to micromanage, and those who just want to control one character and let the AI handle the rest of the party.

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Gameplay:
Dragon Age: Inquisition places you once again in the shoes of the savior of the world. Anyone who expected to start this game as a shopkeeper whose goal is to break even at the end of the season might be disappointed. Inquisition is about the big picture. It’s about commanding a large group of heroes. It’s about negotiating terms with various classes and making sure everyone plays nice in order to destroy the real threat which comes in the form of large rifts appearing across the world, spawning demons that want nothing more than to do what demons do.

As a lone survivor of a cataclysmic explosion that murdered a large number of important diplomats, you are the prime suspect. It doesn’t help your case that the green energy that spewed from the explosion is present in your hands, and that you alone are able to close the green rifts that spawn around the environment. Although after some insistence (via in-game dialogue choices) and the fact that you did aid in the closing of a smaller rift, your guilt is doubtful, and some folks start to believe that you truly had nothing to do with the explosion. As a matter of fact, your luck changes drastically, and before you know it, you are now leading the people who previously wanted you hanged, go figure. The events I just described are merely the prologue to the game, as I will leave the rest of the story to you. Besides, like a lot of BioWare games, the story will unfold differently for you, depending on how you choose to play your character.

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And speaking of character, the character-creation tool in Dragon Age: Inquisition is pretty robust. While you can’t change your character’s body like in some games, the facial design is pretty amazing and you can make the ugliest bloke or most-dashing hero depending on your preference. There are some presets available, but once you get past them, you can change just about anything in your character’s facial attributes. It’s great to see your creations come to life within the in-game cinematics, especially with next-gen texture work and facial expression.

There is so much to do in the game that I almost found myself overwhelmed initially. It didn’t take long to understand how everything worked, and within a few hours, I was taking on quests and sending out my team on missions like some inquisition leader. While your wanderlust will leave you wanting to jump into the action and explore the world, you are after all, an inquisition leader, and there are more people depending on you this time. As such, there are some tasks far too big for you and your three companions to take on. This is where Dragon Age: Inquisition introduces a new gameplay element.

Before you take on the personal requests to clear out some bandits in the marshes, why not send out a troop to the coast to investigate the disappearance of some soldiers? One of the diplomats killed in the previously-mentioned explosion is having a funeral, it would be a great idea to send a representative of the inquisition to express condolences. And why not send someone who knew the diplomat well?

The thing to take from all of this is the epic scope that Dragon Age: Inquisition presents to you. There are so many things going on around the world. Fortunately, you alone are not responsible for addressing every issue. You do however have a choice on how to handle some of these larger situations. For example in the funeral I mentioned earlier I had a choice of sending Cullen (my military inquisition member) and his troops to honor the departed, or I could have sent Liliana (a close friend of the departed) to pay her respects. My choice would be met with different results and reactions from the receiving party. You can only send one representative per mission at a time for obvious reasons (cloning didn’t exist quite yet) so paying attention to what each member brings to these missions is required. Would a military honor guard be more important at a funeral than an old friend?

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If this aspect of the game sounds confusing, do not worry. While it adds some great world-building elements to the game, the application of it involves choosing a point on the map, determining what the issue is, and choosing whose advice to take. You are alerted while out on the field that a mission has been completed, and the results are provided to you along with the rewards.

Dragon Age: Inquisition also includes a crafting system. I always shy away from the crafting in games because it always seems to break away from the flow and it involves paying attention to what you find. Inquisition has a looting system similar to games like Diablo and Destiny, in that blue weapons are worth noting, but gold and purple weapons are ones to look out for. Some weapons and armor include upgradable elements like hilts and leggings. You can even find the components to craft these added elements. For example, I crafted new handles for my daggers that added dexterity to my character. Despite my shyness towards crafting in games I did find Inquisition’s crafting system enjoyable and would sometimes leave quests prematurely in order to race home and add a grip to my mage’s new staff.

Most of what you will be doing in Dragon Age: Inquisition is exploring, solving quests, and engaging in combat. Fortunately, BioWare made great strides in ensuring that the gameplay mechanics that go into those tasks are enjoyable and keep you coming back for more because Inquisition is huge. If pointing to an area of the map and traveling to a location gives you any doubts about the scale of the environments in this game, cast them aside. While the game is zone-based (travelling involves selecting areas on the map), the individual environments will take hours to explore. These are far from the corridors in Dragon Age 2. Although certain areas of the map do tighten into linear paths the maps are enormous and there is plenty to do. It’s also refreshing to know that not all of the small quests are simply fetch errands. That’s not to say that every single quest is fun, but you will find that completing some of these otherwise minor quests will yield great results to the overall game. Finding some particular herb, for example, might aid you in creating a healing salve that could help the inquisition effort. Much like other sandbox games, I found myself embarking on smaller quests well before jumping back into the story. It was just incredibly fun to explore the environment and find things to do. Which brings me to the graphics…

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Visuals:
I consider myself a pretty healthy role-playing gamer (that includes PC games) and I have to applaud BioWare on creating one of the most beautiful environments in my gaming experience. I would literally tilt my controller forward slightly in order to make my character walk slowly through some of the areas simply to take it all in. These locations felt as if someone took great care in making sure that every rock and tree were placed in locations that made the whole world come to life.

Instead of simply going from hill to hill, I would round a corner to find a small passage between rock formations that lead to clearings overlooking huge valleys. As I approached the clearing, I would begin to hear clamoring and shouting, only to discover a small battle taking place below. The first time I ventured into the marshes, I spun the camera around for a few minutes. It was raining and the entire map was covered with added effects to sell the weather. There was a large moon creeping through parted clouds in the background and the resulting reflection on the wet ground was nothing short of breathtaking. My party ended up lighting these magical torches that lured the enemies out of the water (in order to bring them to solid ground for combat). The added lighting effect in the environment was just another testament of what BioWare has done with their new baby.

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I consider animation a part of graphics (especially in the case of a review). It’s quite easy and mostly forgivable to have characters who are walking uphill to simply maintain their running animation and simply lift one leg higher than the other as you climb up a slope. This type of animation has been done for a while. Heck I specifically recall a PlayStation 2 game that impressed me years ago because the main character would lift her legs when she was climbing to a higher environment. What Inquisition does a bit differently is give that lift some weight. Sometimes I would walk up to a large stone on the ground, large enough to cause my character to hesitate but small enough to climb with some effort. Instead of simply running into it my character would lift his leg and try to heave himself up. The more steep an area would become, the more effort it would take to climb it. Thus, there was a little resistance in the animation whenever it was a too much for him to take. The reason I mention this in the graphics section is that, at times my characters would be climbing up a rocky area, and the “struggle” to climb made for a visual that complemented the feeling of the journey.

A perfect example of the visual I am referring to is in the Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring movie where the fellowship is traversing the snow and you see some of the characters struggling to climb through it. If all of the characters were walking with equal animation and pacing, it would seem less arduous and more like characters simply going through a walk cycle, not so in this game. There is a feeling of struggle even in getting from one outcropping to the other. In a game about exploring exotic lands, such a small visual nod to the animation makes for a beautiful overall presentation.

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And of course I have to mention the cinematics. After all, BioWare and real-time cinematics go hand in hand in a conversation. Once again, steps have been taken to make every conversation feel like a high-end canned animation. Not only have facial expression and character models improved over games like Mass Effect and previous Dragon Age games, but added effects like true depth of field complete the in-game cinematics and really draw you into the conversations.

I did notice a little inverse kinematic error in my character that made him hold his arms so tightly to his torso that it looked as if he was in pain as he stood talking but it wasn’t nearly enough of an issue for me to cry foul.

Audio:
Regardless of how mind-numbingly amazing the visuals might be, they could not deliver the same emotional response without the appropriate sound effects to complement the experience. What is an amazing visual display of a rain storm in the aforementioned marshes without that splattering sound of footsteps on the mud, or deafening thunder to make your heart skip when lightning strikes right next to your characters?

Inquisition’s score does not disappoint either, nor does it drown out the sound effects. In fact, during some of the exploration areas of the game the music is completely removed allowing for the environment to become the ambient score. Music only comes into play when something relevant is happening such as combat or an important cinematic.

Once again no strangers to creating amazing cinematics, BioWare has hired an amazing group of actors to perform the voices for the world of Dragon Age. I am also pleased to hear my character’s voice as I never really liked the silent main character aspect of the original game. I experienced a few minor audio drops here and there, but nothing that lasted too long or made the game less enjoyable.

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Online/Multiplayer:
Multiplayer in Dragon Age: Inquisition shares similar combat play mechanics as the single-player experience except you only have control of one character. Initially, you are given a choice of a handful of pre-made characters to choose from, each representing a class-type from the game. You then join in a group of up to four and engage in small “side-missions”. These missions tie into the campaign in that you are part of the inquisition and are embarking on a quest for one of its leaders. Your party is a B-Team of sorts.

There are some interesting elements to these multiplayer co-op missions but one important thing to note is that you will have a pretty difficult time completing these missions alone. I realize that this is the “multiplayer” side of the game and thus it is meant to be played with other people, but for the purposes of this review I wanted to try it out at a time before anyone had access to the game so I tried a solo mission. I was immediately swarmed by the enemy and killed within a few minutes. It should be comforting to note that upon death your character maintains any experienced and money gained in the effort, so you don’t ever really “lose” anything.

The game is, however, pretty stingy with its health potions. You are only allowed two potions per mission and you do not automatically get restocked at the beginning of the mission (unlike the campaign). Instead you must purchase them from a shop. This would not be tremendously bad, except that you must buy them in bulk from a relatively expensive chest.

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You get one chest free per day and the rest are paid for by in-game money or (you guessed it) real money. The entire purchase system gave me flashbacks of freemium games on my phone and I would seriously have considered this a reason to dock points except when I was finally able to get into a larger group and things got interesting.

We survived a little longer, earned a bit more experience, and came out of the missions a bit richer. We still failed the missions but lasted longer with each attempt and got better. This is also when I realized that playing the co-op missions as I would play a game like Diablo 3 was ill-advised. Our dwarf companion would taunt enemies towards us and we’d tackle a few enemies at a time. Our mage would cast barrier on us before sending us on our way into the fray. The missions started to become more enjoyable as we played more and more and for the most part, I never felt that I needed to spend real money to unlock potions.

The mission maps were also relatively large dungeons and you don’t have to repeat the same missions over and over, so we were able to gain experience over different levels, thus it never became quite stale.

While I would never buy the multiplayer component of this game as a standalone entity (though it certainly is a step in the right direction) I would have to say that as an addition to an already amazing single-player experience Inquisition’s multiplayer component is simply a tasty cherry on top.

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Conclusion:
I have no doubt that the challenges of creating role-playing games in this demanding climate of gamers are great. No longer are we satisfied with tiled environments and the same trees showing up a few yards from each other. No longer are we satisfied with seeing the same facial expression show on a character every time he or she feels depressed. And we are definitely no longer satisfied with small linear environments in a genre that encourages exploration and discovery.

BioWare understands this, probably more than anyone else out there. They certainly are not without flaws and Dragon Age 2 was an example of this, but their ambition to create one of the most engrossing worlds, complete with living/breathing characters, has come to fruition with Dragon Age: Inquisition. It is absolutely a sum of the parts mentioned above.

While there is a bit of struggling through the menu and inventory system and I wish I could switch melee and ranged weapons on the fly, these minor complaints pale significantly in comparison to the grandeur that is this game. If you have a RPG chromosome in your system and you want to experience the next evolution in storytelling and exploration within a virtual environment, you can do no better than Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Score:
9.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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