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Dragon Age Inquisition isn't the perfect Dragon Age game, but it's a vast improvement over DA 2

Posted by warreni, 10 November 2015 · 2877 views

Dragon Age RPG review
I should preface my remarks about this game by saying I didn't hate Dragon Age 2. It was in no way a worthy successor to Dragon Age: Origins, which is probably still BioWare's best game of the last 12-13 years. While Dragon Age 2 saw very few returning characters from the original and radically altered the original's meticulous turn-based combat, seemingly in an effort to "consolize" it (or what I like to call the Mass Effect effect), it was still a quite playable action RPG with an interesting story. Yes, environments were recycled to a ridiculous degree, a fact that only exacerbated the player's feeling that the world of DA2 was terribly small. However, overall, BioWare produced a decent game, although arguably a sketchy successor to its premier role-playing game.

Dragon Age: Inquisition falls somewhere in-between the two. The story is still entertaining and loaded with interesting companions and NPCs, and the world of Thedas feels bigger than ever, with the single Hinterlands map opening up to more than 11 similarly-sized areas plus a large Inquisition stronghold. Combat is where this installment in the series falls down, once again. BioWare implemented a pause-and-issue-orders feature and a semi-tactical view in inquisition, but it has several severe limitations: there is no setting to pause after every action or after a character is hit, et cetera; the semi-isometric "tactical" mode gives you a limited view of the screen and can actually make it more difficult to track a target; and, and this is the big one, because all special attacks or abilities are on cooldown timers, there's essentially no point in remaining in this mode for an entire battle, because the game doesn't allow you to queue move and attack orders. So while the tactical mode is a good idea on its face, the implementation renders it fundamentally moot and it's only occasionally useful throughout the game, mostly when you want a specific party member to use a specific ability at a certain point in time or when you want to order that person to imbibe a healing potion (the AI won't always do it at the most opportune time, no matter how you tweak the settings). Otherwise, you're just basically controlling your Inquisitor character, spamming regular attacks and using your special abilities as they recharge. In other words, combat will feel painfully familiar to veterans of DA2 with one significant difference--the game doesn't just throw a bunch of mobs at you from nowhere to "increase the challenge"; while there are still plenty of random encounters, there are at least as many planned encounters and it doesn't feel like the game is overcompensating by swarming you with enemies.

The UI isn't the greatest either, although I give BioWare brownie points for trying something a bit different. They actually designed two distinct UIs for gamepad and KB+M users, and while both are functional, the KB+M nerds get the shaft as seems nigh-inevitable in these situations. The problem is that your party acquires numerous skills, a fair percentage of which are active skills which must be triggered by pressing an associated button; the variety of these and the quantity of quest content are such that any character can easily come close to filling up two of the trees that he or she has access to, but each character still only has access to a total of eight hotkeys, which renders the other abilities basically unusable in a combat situation, so in many cases hard choices have to be made about what the player deems to be the most useful abilities, and that's a bit ridiculous in a genre where building a custom character/party is a good chunk of the point of a game.

Graphically, the game impresses, even on fairly low detail levels (which is really all my hardware allows me to utilize at this point). I can imagine this being a very attractive game with current generation hardware, but the Frostbite 3 engine allows it to render some very nice details even on weak hardware. Environments are distinct and filled with subtle variations in the vegetation, weather, and wildlife that really make them seem alive; in this sense, it's a bit better than Skyrim, which, outside of the Dragonborn expansion, had you spending hundreds of hours in a dreary, bleak winterscape.

The sound is equally well-done, with Trevor Martin providing a grandiose score befitting this kind of game and easily rivaling the best work of Inon Zur. Again, as one would expect from BioWare, voice-acting is of uniformly high quality for NPCs and companions alike.

As I said earlier, the story is compelling, although unsurprisingly somewhat generic. This is a BioWare RPG, after all, so while the color is what gives the narrative its character, on its face, it's another "random guy with amnesia turns out to be the only person capable of saving the world from an all-consuming evil" tale. However, the game itself is far more of an open world than either of its predecessors (and is reflective of Bethesda's influence in this context), and you're largely free (at least once you reach a certain point) to ignore the main story and just randomly quest in the different areas as you unlock them. You have to bear a certain caveat in mind in doing this, however, as story content only scales to a certain extent and it is possible to substantially overlevel story quests if you're not paying attention.

There is a crafting system in which weapons and armor are composed of several constituent parts and you can use recipes to craft each part of an item or a complete item, and you can combine different parts to produce different results. This system depends on the collection of ubiquitous vegetation and minerals found throughout Thedas, and while it's not really necessary, it's a nice addition for those who really enjoy this aspect of RPGs.

There is also a multiplayer system which I frankly just haven't bothered with, so I can tell you nothing about it.

On the whole, I enjoyed my return trip to Thedas, particularly as there were many nods to previous games in the story and cameos by some old companions. Despite the issues with the unsatisfying combat and cantankerous UI, this is still a quality role-playing game, and one that shows that BioWare can learn useful tricks from Bethesda, even if it still has the unfortunate tendency to incorporate elements that make the PC versions of its games feel "dumbed-down" in comparison to games of yore. I can wholeheartedly recommend this, especially to the two people out there who really like Dragon Age 2, but even to the considerably-larger group who loved Dragon Age: Origins.

Game is trash

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