Dragon Age Inquisition Review: Epic Time-Suck
Amazingly enough, Bioware’s Dragon Age experiment is only about 5 years old. With Dragon Age Inquisition upon us, Bioware has been noted as saying that this latest entry in the Dragon Age saga was the effort that they had always wanted for the franchise. Thankfully, I agree almost whole-heartedly. Almost.
As a die hard RPG fan of everything from Bard’s Tale to Wizardry to Final Fantasy to Baldur’s Gate and everything in between, Dragon Age Origin’s was a refreshing transition from the fantastic Star Wars RPGs they had made before. With that interesting real time turn based RPG kind of hybrid engine, it allowed you to see and plan out your battles in an all new perspective and see your character act out the combat and spell casting all in relative real time. Beyond that, the game immersed me into a storyline that I enjoyed with a host of charismatic teammates that I genuinely wanted to befriend, romanticize, or piss off for that matter. You created your hero and somewhat acted out their backstory that would play out and somewhat affect the various possible end results that involved a hard decision as to who would die for the cause. In that adventure, the dark spawn and the arch demon were the big baddies to conquer.
In the sequel, a new hero on a different continent jumped into the middle of, well, something I can’t even remember considering I didn’t even finish the game. While the first game had me captivated due to it’s hard core RPG exploration and battles, the second game gave way to a more action based structure with ‘hero/class-based’ loot that frustrated me to no end. Couple that with bland environments and you have a recipe for trade-in fodder in my household. Sorry Bioware.
Now that we have all that covered, realize that the timing for Dragon Age Inquisition’s release couldn’t be better. With a void of solid RPGs on the next gen consoles, Dragon Age Inquisition is more than welcome on each console’s roster. There’s no Elder Scrolls or Final Fantasy or Dragon Quests or anything of note that is guaranteed to sapped hundreds of hours… until now.
During the development of DA:I, Bioware made it clear that THIS version of Dragon Age is the one they always wanted to do…and from this fan of the franchise’s perspective, I almost agree.
On the positive side of things, Dragon Age Inquisition the perfect balance between the first two games in the series. It has the size, exploration aspects, loot, and queue-able combat that made the Origins the RPG staple that it was. On the DA2 side of things, DA:I has the beauty and better paced combat to keep things moving along. It’s very clear that Bioware took learnings from their previous two games (and even some from Mass Effect) to pull together this epic. There are returning character cameos and even an opportunity to have your old hero from DA2 appear as an NPC in the storyline as well (you must utilize their Dragon Age Keep website to take advantage of this). With a next gen debut it was expected that the series show improve.
The crafting system is particularly time consuming. The acquisition of blueprints of specific pieces of armor and weapons as well as potion and grenade recipes lead to a neverending search for resources. This leads to the deliberate (and at times exhausting) mining, hunting, and gathering of various quantities of various items. Some require exploration while others require hard fought victories against beasties in side or even main quests. Interestingly enough, the created items often times are better than the found or earned equipment throughout the game. This, much like other open world games, leads to having massive inventories and prolonged stretches of gameplay where all you are doing is sifting through, buying, equipping, and crafting equipment before the next expedition is begun. For some, this is a desirable thing but for those craving that get in, experience the storyline, and get out, that is definitely out of the question.
Thankfully, a game with Dragon in the title has, well, dragons a plenty. With at least 10 different reptilian giants to defeat, these battles are properly executed within the game almost like boss fights complete with their own uber attacks and the ability to fly and utilize devastating elemental breath attacks. Hunting and taking them down is a rewarding and fulfilling experience.
Oddly enough, the experience is going to appeal or disgust players mostly surrounding the story and the various characters that you’ll take within your party. While characters like Sera the foul mouthed and funny elven archer and Iron Bull the thrill seeking Qanari hulk and Varric (of the second game’s fame) keep things light and fun, the other characters aren’t all that appealing. Often times I felt myself having more interest in the members of the Inquisition War Room which your character leads throughout the game. Cullen Rutherford and Leliana both return to the forefront as Council members to advise your character through this war and conflict but do not join in your party to battle the evil that you face. Newcomer Josephine’s involvement as the politician of the group still manages to hold interest as her diplomatic efforts seek to unite the land against the peculiar evil that threatens everyone.
This so called evil manages to spew demons across the land using Oblivion like rifts or portals that only your character can close. The lead evil Corypheus returns as a boss from the second Dragon Age to annoy all who hope to end this game quickly. While formidable, there is never a real rivalry or fear element tied to the conflict with Corypheus that places a sense of desperation to the effort at any point. In other words, it is debatable whether Corypheus is a sufficient villain to pull the story along in a meaningful way.
That meaningful way is important in a game that is this long (easily over 100 hours) and exhausting though. While completionists will devote themselves to powering through the game, it is quite easy for casual RPG fans to lose steam and look elsewhere for a challenge or a more interesting story. Meanwhile, hardcore Dragon Age fans will be delighted for yet another massive and finally worthy successor to one of the best RPGs consoles have seen. Thankfully, Dragon Age Inquisition is good enough to be considered great even if it isn’t mind blowing.