Dragon Age: Inquisition: The Kotaku Review

Dragon Age: Inquisition: The Kotaku Review
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Dragon Age: Inquisition is a fantasy game. That word — fantasy — is a sort of shorthand, with a bunch of connotations. The word suggests to us that this game has dragons, and elves, and magic. There will be knights, monsters, and probably an evil witch or two.

But “fantasy,” the word, means so much more than that. I have a great many fantasies of my own, but few of them have anything to do with epic battles between good and evil. Our fantasies are our wishes and our dreams, yearnings that are a bit too idealised to reasonably be called hopes. They let us imagine the world as we wish it could be, even when we know it will never be that way.

Like most people, I wish I were different in this way or that, or that my life were different. I wish I were a naturally gifted singer, or that I might never have to worry about money again. Above all, I wish I had more time. More time to live, more time to relax, more time to spend with the people I care about; more time to learn, to practice, and to become a better person.

Dragon Age: Inquisition does indeed have dragons, and elves, and magic. But it is also a fantasy in that other, more special way. Inquisition ushers us into a vast world and sets that world revolving around us, patiently waiting on our every action. It has time for us.

Finally, the world will be what we want it to be. Finally, we’ll have the time to get everything right.

Dragon Age: Inquisition is a role-playing game from BioWare, the storied studio behind the Baldur’s Gate series and, more recently, the Mass Effect trilogy. Inquisition is the third in the Dragon Age series, following 2009’s Dragon Age: Origins and 2011’s less-well-received Dragon Age 2.

In the game, you’ll make a character from one of four possible races (elf, dwarf, human, and the viking-like Qunari) and choose to play as one of three possible classes (rogue, warrior, or mage). You’ll spend a great deal of time talking with various characters, where you can choose to play as a kind, friendly sort; a brash, stubborn blowhard; or some mix of the two. You’ll recruit a group of helpful companions, who you’ll befriend over the course of the story. And when you’re not negotiating or socializing, you’ll explore a variety of massive, open-ended environments, completing small and large quests and using your various skills to battle against a variety of human and monstrous enemies.

So, you know. It’s a role-playing game.

Dragon Age: Inquisition: The Kotaku Review

The populist narrative around the first two games in the Dragon Age series, in a nutshell: Dragon Age: Origins was a masterpiece, a throwback to the classic CRPG days of yore and one of the meatiest fantasy role-playing video games ever made. Once you installed it, it would periodically mail you $US20 bills, and completing it would cause your hair to magically reform itself into the most flattering style possible. Dragon Age 2, meanwhile, was one step above a hideous Facebook game, a chintzy knock-off with a terrible story and simplistic design. If you played it wrong, it would come over your house, look you straight in the eye, and pee on your floor.

Of course, the reality is more nuanced than that. Origins was a terrific game but certainly had shortcomings. Dragon Age 2 has enough redeeming qualities that it has attracted and maintained a vocal, passionate fan base. But, generally speaking, Inquisition has arrived with something to prove. That it acquits itself so thoroughly and with such humorous specificity is welcome news.

Rather than spend ages comparing the new game with its put-upon predecessor, I’ll just leave it here: I panned Dragon Age 2 back when I reviewed it, describing it as “akin to attending a dinner party and being fed unsatisfying side dish after unsatisfying side dish while awaiting a main course that never arrives.” By way of comparison, Dragon Age: Inquisition feels like visiting an all-you-can-eat buffet loaded with delicious food, where you can just keep on eating forever. And all your friends are there, too.

The story goes like this: The world of Thedas is reeling in the aftermath of the dramatic events at the end of Dragon Age 2. The Chantry (read: the Church) is in turmoil, and mages across the nations of Orlais and Ferelden are in open rebellion against the templar warriors who had previously been keeping them locked up.

In an effort to restore the peace, the Chantry’s spiritual leader, a woman called Divine Justinia, offers to broker peace talks, calling a conclave between the leaders of the church, the templars, and the mages. Everyone arrives at a mountaintop temple, but before the talks can begin, a massive explosion levels the entire structure. Justinia is killed, along with all of the templar and mage leaders. Even worse, the explosion rips a giant hole in the sky, through which countless demons and other destructive spirits are pouring into the world.

Things in Thedas have quickly gone from bad to much, much worse. Standing in the middle of it all is the explosion’s sole survivor: You.

Dragon Age: Inquisition: The Kotaku Review

You are taken in for questioning by the Chantry’s few remaining commanders, who quickly ascertain that you probably weren’t the mastermind behind the day’s events. While you have no memory of what happened before the explosion, the blast left a mark on you: a green bolt of energy on your hand that gives you the power to close various “rift doors” that have begun to open up out in the world. That means that — yup! — you are The Chosen One, the key to saving us all from a demonic invasion. (Remember when I said it was a role-playing game? It sure is one.)

The story builds and then spirals outward from there. You gradually earn the trust and eventually the friendship of your captors, first stabilizing things at the site of the blast and then scraping together some sort of plan, which is no small feat in the absence of so many of the world’s leaders. Armed only with your mysterious rift-closing ability and the cachet it has begun to give you among the public, you break off from the church and use a legal loophole to establish an “Inquisition.” That is, you give yourselves the power to operate independently, build an army, make alliances, and figure out how to close the hole in the sky and save the world.

Cue the rest of the game.

I’ve already written quite a bit about how much I liked Dragon Age: Inquisition, so it feels like I should get this out of the way: Should you play Dragon Age: Inquisition? You absolutely should.

Given that I’ve already written one lengthy article listing a good number of the game’s specific ins and outs, if you’d like to read some more meat-and-potatoes stuff about the game, I hope you’ll go read that. Rather than reprint all of that here in slightly different language, I’ll start out by bullet-pointing the pertinent things I said in that article:

  • It’s a BioWare RPG through and through, and players shouldn’t expect anything vastly different from past games from the studio. You meet people, build a party, go adventuring, can start romances, etc.
  • It’s absolutely huge, and is one of the biggest games of this type I’ve played. Of course, there are “bigger” video games out there, but the feeling of enormity that Inquisition imparts leaves it feeling as massive as even the most sprawling open-world game. Each of the game’s many explorable areas is large enough to be the main hub of a smaller game.
  • It is, at times, lacking technical polish. Many of the bugs that I encountered have either already been patched out of the game or will be addressed by a patch when the game launches tomorrow. Inquisition will likely remain somewhat rough — the tech supporting the game is often lovely looking, but it just seems to be held together a little loosely. It’s not a dealbreaker by an stretch, but there is some funkiness going on at the margins.
  • You can’t rush through it, and it regularly stymies any attempts to do so. My first playthrough took me 85 hours, and I am sure I missed a huge amount of stuff.
  • Multiplayer looks fun, but I (still) haven’t tried it. I wrote that last week, but you know what? I still haven’t. Sometimes these things happen, especially when a game isn’t out yet. I will absolutely play the game’s interesting-if-slight-looking cooperative multiplayer, and when I do, I’ll write about it and/or update this review. That said, there’s such an absurd amount of cool stuff to do in singleplayer that the game would be easy to recommend even if it had no multiplayer at all.
  • It’s not really newcomer-friendly, and relies heavily on a knowledge of existing Dragon Age lore, as well as the events of the first two games. There’s not really much for that if you’re a newbie, though I’ve written an extensive lore primer for those who haven’t played before. Read that and work through the Dragon Age Keep website. You should be fine.
  • It’s gorgeous, and while some of the character animations in cutscenes still have that trademark BioWare stiffness, the fields, deserts, swamps and mountains in the game are generally lovely to behold.

Among the one-sentence descriptions listed above, one of them sticks out: This game is huge. Video games certainly don’t have to be big to be good — as Kotaku‘s Yannick LeJacq adroitly pointed out, the push for bigness can lead to overstuffed games filled with time-wasting “content” — but in Inquisition‘s case, the size helps.

That’s because Inquisition is meant to be an epic adventure, and thanks to the game’s at-times paralyzingly vast scope, it really feels like an epic. You’ll go from exploring hidden dwarven ruins in the desert to solving puzzles in a woodland elven ruin to negotiating the solution to a civil war, and while you do each of those things, you’ll constantly be aware of how each thing relates to the other things, while remembering all the other cool stuff waiting for you to go check it out.

Dragon Age: Inquisition: The Kotaku Review

Inquisition gets off to a somewhat inauspicious start, and for the first several hours I kept trying to shake off a feeling of niggling disappointment. “Oh, ok, so this is what we’re doing? This doesn’t seem that great…” And then, more than ten hours into the game, the plot hits a turning point, the camera pulls out, and the true scope of the game comes into focus. What seemed like the main game is revealed to have been only a lengthy prologue, and without further ado, the real Inquisition gets underway.

That kind of pacing can be a problem for other games; how many times have we heard someone say “No, but really, it gets good ten hours in!” For Inquisition, however, the drawn-out introduction was an asset. Rather than being a lackluster section that players must suffer through en route to the “real” game, the first act provided some necessary character development and gave me the time to understand the scope of what it was I was trying to accomplish.

The Inquisition, in its early days, was little more than a disreputable renegade section of the church, holed up with a raggedy army in a run-down mountain town. If I hadn’t taken the time to work on building up with my forces in the beginning, their eventual transformation into a feared international power wouldn’t have been nearly so satisfying.

Dragon Age: Inquisition: The Kotaku Review

Once you’re in the midst of the second act, Inquisition conjures a rare feeling of endlessness. At any given moment there are so many different things to do, so many places to explore, it can be overwhelming. I found myself in the rare position of enjoying a game so much that I wanted to take my time and savour it, yet slowly realising that the game is so large that I can play it as much as I’d like and I won’t even come close to reaching the bottom. Most importantly, things rarely repeat, and most every location is unique. It’s a welcome move away from the copy/paste dungeons of Dragon Age 2 or even, it must be said, Bethesda’s Skyrim.

Here’s a good example: I arrived at a desert oasis and began to explore. It looked like there were some ruins located down in a rocky valley in front of me. Behind me, there was rolling sand, as far as the eye could see. I assumed that I could only go into the valley, and that the sand was some sort of invisible wall. Turns out, nope: I could walk a ways out into the dunes, and after reaching the summit of the nearest one, I found several hidden things out in the sand beyond. Oh look, a castle. I wonder if I can go explore it. (I can.)

Every time I thought I’d hit a wall, I’d walk a little ways in one direction or another and instead find that the game kept going. And that’s the thing: This game just keeps going, in every direction, much farther than I’d been conditioned to expect. Of course, there are walls around each of the open maps. The game isn’t infinite. But those walls are placed so far apart, and the spaces between them is filled so carefully with interesting diversions, that they seem even larger than they actually are — and they’re quite large to begin with.

Here’s how an average session with Inquisition starts out: you load up your game, check your journal to see what quests you’ve been working on. You’re looking to complete a couple of sidequests in a frozen area called the Emprise du Lion — a quarry run by one of your enemies needs clearing out, and the enslaved workers need to be freed. You make a note to head there, then go into to the war room in your home base.

Dragon Age: Inquisition: The Kotaku Review

In Inquisition, you’ll spend a lot of time at the war table, looking down on a map of Ferelden and Orlais, the two kingdoms where the game takes place. The war room is new to Dragon Age and represents a sort of metagame that ties the various sidequesting and exploring into a comprehensive whole. The map is covered with small pieces that represent operations you can undertake; someone has been spreading rumours about you and needs to be silenced, or a noble house has requested a formal letter of support from you, that sort of thing.

You have three options for any given operation, related to your three closest advisors — Cullen, the ex-templar soldier who commands your forces, Leliana, your all-seeing spymaster, and Josephine, your diplomatic ambassador. If you commit one of the three to a given mission, they will be unavailable for a set amount of real-world time. Some missions only take a few minutes to complete, while others will take 16 or more hours. (Thankfully, time continues to pass even when you’re not playing the game, which means you can assign a lengthy operation overnight and return to find it completed.)

Dragon Age: Inquisition: The Kotaku Review

Initially, the real-time aspect of the war-room assignments set off some warning bells. Most people who play games associate real-time cooldowns with free-to-play games that gate your progress unless you pay to play more. Fortunately, Inquisition isn’t doing anything like that — any crucial missions or new areas can be unlocked immediately, and the real-time operations are designed more as a scaffold to fit in between the more substantive parts of the game.

You’ll constantly return to the war room to oversee new operations, a pattern of activity that over time reinforces the feeling that you’re not just some warrior leading a group of other warriors around the kingdom, you’re an actual leader. Like any leader, your power eventually becomes an abstraction, just a piece on a map with a written report from whatever henchwoman you dispatched to do your bidding.

After reading the reports on your completed operations and dispatching agents to undertake new ones, you leave the war room and head down to your blacksmith to work on your gear. Inquisition has a fleshed-out crafting system that lets you create and upgrade your own equipment to take into battle. The system is overly fiddly, particularly if you’re playing with a controller, but it allows a fair bit of control over the look and attributes of your equipment.

Dragon Age: Inquisition: The Kotaku Review

Best of all, you can name any new weapon or armour that you’ve crafted. As it turns out, Destiny‘s terrific gun-names have rubbed off on me, and I had a fine time coming up with cool names for my armour and weapons. Not every mage gets to walk around with a suit of armour named “Fire Walk With Me,” but mine does.

With your gear sorted and ready for your next excursion into the field, it’s time to survey the grounds and chat with some of your friends. Your home base is a vast, sprawling compound filled with winding passageways and hidden secrets. At first, merely locating each of your followers is a challenge. Eventually, you’ll learn your way around and do a quick pass of the courtyard or the library to chat with whomever you’ve been meaning to catch up with. There are a great many friendly follower characters in Inquisition — more on them in a bit — and each of them has a great deal to say.

Eventually, you wrap things up. After spending the better part of an hour exploring your home base, sending your agents into the field, customising your gear, talking with your friends and followers, and rendering judgment on a few more pieces of unfinished Inquisition business, it’s time to go out into the field and begin to explore. All that, and you haven’t cast a single spell.

A good deal of your time in the world of Inquisition will be spent simply exploring, climbing to the top of a mountain or the bottom of a canyon just to see what’s there. That exploration is greatly facilitated by your character’s ability to jump, which is a new thing for a BioWare RPG. Where the studio’s past games have mostly felt like a series of (sometimes lavish) restricted corridors through which your character could only move forward or backward, Inquisition is a genuinely open game, the studio’s most open since the planet exploration of the first Mass Effect.

Dragon Age: Inquisition: The Kotaku Review

You can climb up hills and boulders, slide down dunes and rock-faces, and generally explore like you would in most other open-world games. The true test: You can do that one RPG thing where, by stubbornly jumping and mashing forward on your joystick, you get your character to climb a hillside that is technically too steep. It’s still a far cry from the sort of free-flowing navigation one might expect in a game like Assassin’s Creed or, well, Far Cry, but it’s a big step up for BioWare.

The upshot is a world that feels substantially more open and alive than any past BioWare game. You’ll make your way around, talking with the locals, dealing with any monsters or enemy soldiers on the road, and generally clearing out each area and making it safe for its inhabitants. You’re not just grinding for experience points, either — field exploration ties back to the big-picture war room stuff in some interesting ways.

Complete a sidequest or objective out in the field and you’ll be rewarded with a “power” point, which can be saved or spent to unlock either new regions on the map or a new mission to progress the story. You’ll also gradually earn “influence” points, which operate on a different scale and, at each progressive tier, allow you to unlock perks for your party like enhanced lockpicking ability, more inventory space, and extra dialogue options.

Dragon Age: Inquisition: The Kotaku Review

Some of the people you’ll run into out in the wilds can be recruited and sent back to your base to begin working for the Inquisition. Called “agents,” these people will help one of your three advisors and shorten the amount of time it takes them to complete missions on the board. I do sort of wish that agents had been a slightly more involved part of the game, but they still reinforce the connection between the events out in the world and the big-picture war room stuff in a neat way.

The result of all of this interconnected design is that you’re always aware of the big picture, even as you’re taking the time to focus on something very specific. You may hear two people talking about a problem they’re having, then see a notification that a new operation related to their problem has opened up on the war table. Complete that operation back at the war table, and the next time you see those people, they will be talking about how the Inquisition helped them with their problem. Or, you may come across a broken bridge in the field. Go back home and assign a team to parachute in and fix it, and a new area of the map will open to you.

Dragon Age: Inquisition: The Kotaku Review

Last example: in another nice small touch, you may find the lyrics for a song out in the wilderness. Return home, and the bard at your base’s tavern will be singing the song you found. The more music you find, the more her repertoire expands.

It’s impressive just how well BioWare managed to interweave so many different styles of gameplay into something resembling a cohesive whole. With that said, it all works in part because the war room stuff is so greatly simplified — there’s no real gameplay to it. You simply decide what you want people to do and they go do it, then you move on to the next thing. You’ll never find yourself forced to make difficult tactical decisions, or anything close to it — the war table may look like a top-down strategy game, but it is most assuredly not one.

All the same, because of the war table and its underlying power and influence economy, every action you take in the world feels consequential to the broader efforts of the Inquisition, and many of the big-picture moves you make back home feel like they actually affect people out in the world.

Dragon Age: Inquisition waits for you. No matter what you choose to do at a given moment, the rest of your many tasks will simply sit in stasis, waiting for you to come and deal with them whenever you have time. It’s one of the biggest disconnects between the narrative and the gameplay, and one that has bothered role-playing games since time immemorial. The Inquisition is in a race against time to save the world, but hang on a second, I’m just going to head out to this field and gather some herbs… oh and hey, this villager asked me to put some flowers on his wife’s grave, so I should probably do that…

While that sort of disconnect grows a bit silly as the game goes on and your protagonist becomes a person of consequence, it’s also, paradoxically, one of Inquisitions most appealing aspects. This game is a fantasy, after all; it’s a fantasy of a world where time has no meaning, and you can hit every single item on your to-do list in whatever order you please.

Dragon Age: Inquisition: The Kotaku Review

In my real life, I’m never able to do all the things I want to do. I have to write about this thing and that thing, and talk to this person, and that person wants to see me about some project, and I haven’t talked to my sister all week, and, and, and… The real world is not much like Dragon Age, where my friends patiently wait for me to catch up with them whenever I feel like it, and where the most crucial conflicts of my life will be resolved when I arrive, and no sooner.

Should Dragon Age: Inquisition really be more like real life? I submit that it should not. Many games, from serious fare such as Peacemaker to sci-fi strategy games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown have structured their gameplay around the challenges and compromises of command. What sacrifices will you make, how shall you allocate your limited resources, and what compromises will be necessary for the greater good? The clock is ticking, and there are decisions to be made. Hurry up, commander.

Inquisition deliberately rejects that sort of challenge in favour of a more forgiving approach. That is not a sign of game-design failure but rather an indication of the confident generosity of the people who made it. This game does not challenge your palate; it’s comfort food, and that’s perfectly ok.

Combat in Inquisition represents a near-precise middle ground between the arguably over-complex battles of Origins and the arguably under-complex battles of Dragon Age 2. Each fight works more or less the same: You’ll come across a new group of baddies out in the field. Your ranged characters (mages, archers) will begin to attack, while your melee characters (tanks, reavers) rush in and begin to wail on whoever looks toughest.

Dragon Age: Inquisition: The Kotaku Review

By and large, fighting in Inquisition should feel familiar to anyone who has played a Dragon Age game in the past, with one substantial change: There are no longer healing spells. There are only two ways for your front line to regenerate health while in combat: quaff one of a very limited shared pool of health potions, or take a regeneration potion and watch your health bar slowly refill. It’s surprising just how much that one change affects the pace of combat in Inquisition. You won’t have to cart around a designated healer, which frees up one of your four party members to attack, cast buffing spells, and generally be a more proactive member of the party.

On normal difficulty, your teammates can take care of themselves, which means that you can mostly just control your protagonist in combat. That’s how I played most of the game, and I found it to be plenty enjoyable. Teammate artificial intelligence is decent, but not great — in particular, your ranged characters will often wander closer to the melee than they should, and wind up getting needlessly creamed by enemies before wolfing down your precious health potions, when they should have just stayed the hell out of the way to begin with. No, Varric! Bad Varric! Get back!

Dragon Age: Inquisition: The Kotaku Review

Fortunately, you can quickly pause any battle and pop out to an overhead tactical view, issuing commands to your troops as you see fit. The tactical view works better with a controller than I was expecting, and in particular, I greatly valued the ability to advance time with the right trigger, releasing it to pause the game again. Difficult battles — particularly some optional late-game fights against a group of high-level dragons — required me to spend most of the fight in the tactical view, and I was glad for the option.

With that said, the combat system doesn’t quite hold together as well as I was hoping on higher difficulties. The enemies certainly put up a stiffer fight, and you’ll need to spend almost all of your time carefully issuing orders. But in my experience, my party required too much micromanagement for high-difficulty fights to ever feel all that fun. In Dragon Age: Origins, follower AI could be reprogrammed with a seemingly endless number of if/then equations that, if applied correctly, could actually let you create a coherent strategy and even adjust it on the fly. Inquisition‘s AI is much more simplistic, assigning various priorities to different moves and actions, such as when to take a health potion and when not to. Overall, I never found Inquisition‘s combat to be as rewarding as high-level battles in Origins were, even while in general, I found the new streamlined system to be just as enjoyable as Origins, moment-to-moment.

If one can judge the quality of a BioWare game by the quality of the companion characters, Dragon Age: Inquisition is doing quite well for itself. The game offers a whopping nine active companions: rogues and warriors and mages who you can take with you out into the field, along with several others who make up your inner circle but don’t actively fight by your side. Any and all of them can be romanced by your lead character, and I’m happy to report that my romance was much more of a “cute smooching on the battlements” kinda deal, as opposed to “two weird sex dolls banging their faces together” thing. That said, I haven’t seen every possible option.

Dragon Age: Inquisition: The Kotaku Review

The actual overarching plot is pretty thin, really — there’s a big rift in the sky, there are demons to fight, there’s a big bad guy with a big bad dragon who you have to defeat, and so on. But BioWare games have always lived in the smaller, personal stories of their supporting cast, and it is here where Inquisition thrives.

As you add characters to your party, you’ll find them hanging around your home base, waiting to chat with you. It’s absolutely worth taking the time to talk with each of them — not all of the characters are winners, but this may be the best interesting/dull follower ratio BioWare has yet managed. The more you talk with them, the more they will have to say. Certain events in the story will cause them to open up further. Eventually, you’ll be able to head out on special adventures to help them.

Dragon Age: Inquisition: The Kotaku Review

In the party selection screen, each character is represented by an illustrated, tarot-like card. In one of the game’s many lovely small touches, the cards’ illustrations will change after you witness pivotal moments in each character’s development, mirroring the new ways you’ve likely come to view him or her as you’ve gotten to know them better.

Often, a character who seems dull on the surface will eventually, with some prodding, reveal hidden depths. Most every character in Inquisition is a flawed individual, trying their best to overcome their shortcomings and do better. Many of them don’t even seem to like your protagonist at first, and it’s a testament to the writing that by the game’s conclusion, I felt as though I had watched a group of strangers become an unlikely family.

The script, assembled by a team of writers led by longtime Dragon Age scribe David Gaider, is unusually generous in its treatment of the supporting cast. Every character — including, crucially, the protagonist him or herself — is fleshed out with an astonishing amount of writing and voiceover work. Notably, women and LGBT characters are given wonderful representation — Inquisition has more interesting women driving the plot than any game in recent memory. In addition to a number of gay and otherwise non-straight characters, Inquisition is also one of the only mainstream games I can think of to include an explicitly transgender character, written with care and confidence. Happily, the cast’s diversity feels less like deliberate progressive box-ticking and more like an honest attempt to portray the diversity that one might expect from an international force of this size.

Dragon Age: Inquisition: The Kotaku Review

It would be easy for a protagonist to get lost among all these great supporting characters, but Inquisition manages to craft the main character into an anchor that holds everything else together. I played through the game as a woman mage, and then again through a fair chunk as a male archer. Each playthrough felt remarkably different from the other one, based solely on the actions and appearance of its main character. One hero doesn’t really get along with the puckish Sera and doesn’t know what to make of the Chantry and its faith; the other gets along great with the stuffy mage Vivienne and loudly proclaims his faith for all the world. Over the course of the story, who you choose to play as has just as much of an effect on the experience as who you choose to play alongside.

Faith has always played an important role in the Dragon Age universe. The Chantry is one of the most powerful institutions in all of Thedas, and the myth of The Maker revealing himself to the prophet Andraste — basically their version of the Christ myth — has always been left unconfirmed and up to interpretation. That vagueness is an asset, and an honest reflection of how faith works in the world outside of the game.

So often, the architects of fantasy worlds like Thedas and Middle-Earth explain and catalogue everything down to the tiniest details: A magic potion is made of precisely this much of that ingredient; a sword’s creator was born in this region of this province; the werewolf summoned by this spell has this many hit points and is precisely this vulnerable to silver.

With that tendency for over-explaining in mind, it is surprising how boldly Inquisition‘s writers have tackled murkier notions of faith, doubt, and the higher power. Thanks to your hero’s miraculous survival and subsequent ability to close demonic rifts, people in the world begin to call you “The Herald of Andraste.” You can’t even remember what happened that day, but they believe that you’re a religious prophet who bears the will of The Maker himself. Through no real doing of your own, you’re the second coming.

Throughout the story, you’re repeatedly asked what you make of your new status as spiritual leader. Do you embrace it? Do you express doubt? And regardless of what really happened on that mountain, who’s to say what the hand of The Maker looks like, anyway? People would believe that you have been chosen regardless of what really happened. Is it better to let them go on believing?

Dragon Age: Inquisition: The Kotaku Review

Games like this rarely have themes beyond the hoary old “What would you sacrifice to save the world?” bit, so it’s refreshing to see Inquisition wrestle with those sorts of bigger questions. I didn’t leave the game feeling as though I’d arrived at some greater insight, or that all that rumination had actually led somewhere — likely a result of the game’s scope getting the better of the writers — but I remain enriched for having asked those questions at all.

When speaking of fantasies, the poet Mariah Carey once said, “There’s no beginning and there is no end; feels like I’m dreaming but I’m not sleeping.” Though I doubt she was talking about Dragon Age: Inquisition at the time, her words are an apt summary of the game.

There are so many fantasies on display here, and the majority of them transcend the dragons and magic that the “fantasy” label so often suggests. At its best moments, when you’re deep in the thick of it, Inquisition truly does feel like a dream with no beginning or end. You are free to explore, to travel, to discuss, to ruminate. The game may lack rigorous simulation and challenging logistical quandaries, but it doesn’t really matter. It succeeds nonetheless, thanks to its joyful generosity of spirit.

For all its mythical trappings, at its heart, Dragon Age: Inquisition presents us with the most intoxicating fantasy at all: That we will be loved, respected, and followed to the ends of the earth. That we will be able to make time and space for everything and everyone that matters to us. That even a world as vast as our own can be saved, if we only work together.


  • Took me a while to get into DA:o but I loved it in the end, skipped number 2, and thinking I’ll pick this one up. It really does look fantastic.

    • I don’t know if it’s because they split the early narrative across a few options, but the first Dragon Age made an absolutely sh*t first impression on a lot of people.

      As a huge Baldur’s Gate/ Neverwinter Nights/ Bioware generally fan I gave up on the game TWICE right after the first major battle bit because it just wasn’t grabbing me.
      I ended up coming back to it several months later, persevering past the first couple of hours and then loving the game from there.

      Even the second one, for all its flaws never seemed as dull and unplayable as Origins seemed for the first two hours.

      Can’t wait for Thursday!

      • I just couldn’t get into DA:O, after mass effect with it’s fully voiced dialogue origins just seemed stilted. The best part of DA2 was the sarcastic response option, true genius.

      • I felt the real strength of DA:O was very much the party members and their personal narratives. A lot of people I talked to wrote it off because of the relatively clichéd fantasy settings. While to some extent that was true, it did take time for the strength of the character development and overall narrative to seep through. Meanwhile those initial impressions meant many people might have not had the patience to see it through.

  • I have a great many fantasies of my own, but few of them have anything to do with epic battles between good and evil.

    Kirk’s gone confused DA:I with his earlier article re: first-person prostitution in GTA V. 😛

  • Excellent read, thanks Kirk! I’m thinking this review has me sufficiently hyped to purchase this game.

    • That are 4-5Mb in size. C’mon Kotaku, I’m not happy unless I download several music album’s worth of gifs in one article.

      • Yeah, it’s crap like this which eats up most of my data allowance. I avoid this website on my mobile as a result.

  • Having not played the first Dragon Age, I just got it free on Origin, only played the demo of the 2nd one and hated it, is it worth playing the 3rd or will I have missed too much story?

    All these gifs are killing my phone

    • The way the story’s set up you’ll only need to know a few fragments of 1 and 2, each game is their own kinda thing. I’m sure it’ll be covered in Inquisition, but there are a few articles on sites with plot outlines already made. Not sure if Kotaku has one yet.

    • Seriously, the excessive use of gifs is borderline inconsiderate.

      Why even bother having a mobile site if you’re just going to molest people’s internet caps?

    • If you don’t want to get really in depth with the story, you will miss out on details and references to things and characters from the first 2 games and in the novels Asunder and The Masked Empire but not such that it is likely to affect your enjoyment of the game. If you want a lore primer for Dragon Age, the Shoddycast series found here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3CbqC1Z9fk&list=PLpRVL9Mo9dGouCnzTyLDUGYF8UwP6g6Co) is excellent and will bring you up to speed on the races and politics of Thedas.

  • I cant get over how bad that UI is. Did game makers learn nothing from the woeful Skyrim UI? Or read that detailed document labelling all the errors it made in terms user-friendliness, design, structurally. Yet most of the same mistakes exist here. Watching some videos on this today the worse offenders are the menu screens. Things like the inventory window, imagine how bad they will be 80 hours having to constantly scroll and scroll to find item, and worse the list only shows like five items or so at a time and the massive loot screen in the main window. ghastly.

    I really want to buy and like this game but every time I see the UI in operation it is a real turn off. Dargon Age: Origins had an amazing UI that matched the style of game but what has this one got, when you open a lore object you get a blank black box, with an outline and all text in caps with bad formatting (based on a video I watched earlier today)

    • I’m really unsure how people like this write with such arrogance that they believe their personal preferences are rules and that minute problems that only exist from their perspective should be seen as gospel by everyone. I happen to utilise the subjective right of opinion and say “i quite pity the person who lets something so negligable affect them so deeply.” Notice i didn’t say “i can’t believe how bad this person is because my perspective differs.”

  • I really want to play this but I’m afraid that if I do I won’t get into Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights and Planescape: Torment anymore.

  • It’s days like today that drive me toward the powerful urge to pirate games. Pre-ordered my digital copy months ago and still have to wait another day (and change) longer than the US.

    The only patience that I have to spare right now is that which I intend on using through the many, many hours of my life that this game will consume.

  • What’s the deal with the Grey Wardens? I mean, they were all over Origins, they were a gigantic part of the world…

    They dumped them for part 2, they practically didn’t exist.

    Then for this, no mention?

    • I’ve read somewhere else that this will be explained in DA:I. Apparently the Grey Wardens have become very quiet all of a sudden, and no one’s knows why. I’m hoping it’s related to the Warden.

      • This could be correct and I personally hope it is.

        That being said, I believe it was Alastair that spoke of times past that the Grey Wardens are virtually unheard of because they are simply not needed unless there is a Blight. I assume, given that the Blight is over there is little for them to do, besides recruit, rebuild and train. None of those things really need to be made public.
        That is the assumption I am under, at least.

    • They Grey Wardens are present in the game and do play a significant role in the story, but you are not playing as one. Blackwall, one of your companions, is a Warden however. Bioware have always said that Dragon Age is about Thedas, not about any one faction, so while the Warden’s remain present, they are not the center of the story.

    • Bioware have retconned the bejesus out of the Dragon Age series…. Healers went out of business when the magic health soda business got going.

      I’m bending towards getting this but I wouldn’t be surprised if things change…. I mean if you killed Zevran, Lelianna and Anders in DA:O or Awakening…. Doesn’t matter! Back for DA2 they came and here in DA3…. “It was all just a dream…..”

      Then the quinari with horns…. Merrill complete personality swap and tattoo changes (medieval laser surgery), and then on top of that Zevran apparently didn’t die when I cut his head off in DA:O and returns without his tattoos…

      Flemeth turned into Magneto as well

      • Not sure changes to gameplay mechanics count as a retcon per se, but I see your point. I will give you the retcons of character deaths, but as far as we know, only Leliana is returning (Zevran’s voice actor is doing one of the Inquisitor voices). As for the Qunari, Sten was meant to have horns in Origins, but it caused major clipping issues with helmets, so they handwaved some lore about Qunari without horns.

    • I had the impression that lore wise the Wardens were rather tied to the blight, they kept small forces around the world but they were like a small knightly order, somewhat in decline.

      Hell they had been completely kicked out of Ferelden in the first game and Awakening you were being tasked with rebuilding while you had all that goodwill.

      I’d guess that the more time that passes after a blight the less of an impact they’ll have on politics.

      I’m hoping that they will keep popping up and being part of the world but I wouldn’t expect them to be a major focus for a while unless the focus goes back to dark spawn.

      • Well considering that the origin of the darkspawn is heavily tied into the Fade and the Golden City (that’s not spoilers, it’s in the first minute of DAO), it wouldn’t surprise me if they factor into the game in some way. Besides, there’s a whole bunch of stuff left to come home to roost, especially regarding the end of Awakening.

        • Which would be awesome and I know you brought up that they supposedly had a secret plot.

          My point was more that it makes sense if they aren’t always front and centre from a lore sense, but would love more Warden stuff.

  • I can’t decide on PC or PS4. I have the others on both but found combat a lot easier on PC than I did on console. PC will probably be cheaper as well. Anyone have suggestions or opinions. Also why is it not out in Aus until Thursday, tho I am guessing JB Hifi will have it available tomorrow

    • PC reportedly has a lot of control and stability issues at the moment. PS4 is reported to be pretty much trouble free (just a couple of minor bugs). I pre-ordered on PC, but I am going to play the PS4 version at least until the faults in the PC version are patched.

  • Holy crap, I was gonna wait to next month to pick this up, as I have Far Cry 4 to play for now, but damn, think i’ll have to pick this up now.

    Is JB Hifi the cheapest using the 20% off voucher?

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