Marked for success
This year has been a strange one for gaming. The first full year for the new consoles has seen a host of eagerly anticipated games released. These games, while most of them not bad, didn’t live up to the high expectations we had. Destiny brought us good mechanics and wonderful worlds filled with… nothing. Titanfall spun the fast multiplayer shooter on its head without giving the player a real sense of purpose. People hyped Watchdogs before release so much that I can’t honestly think why now. Great games have come but none that I could call truly astounding, leaving me with a sense of yearning. Finally, a month after the original release date, BioWare released the latest installment in its fantasy franchise, Dragon Age: Inquisition, and I knew I had found my game of the year.
Faithful Press2Reset viewers may find that statement and my stance on Dragon Age confusing. Previously, even after playing Inquisition, I wrote an editorial whinging about the story-telling of this particular series. I still stand by those comments but, on its own, Inquisition stands tall – indeed towers – over its predecessors. In nearly every way, Inquisition improves upon what came before it; in gameplay, in story, in visuals, and in scale. All of this factors into what is easily the best game of 2014.
Inquisition starts the game quite nicely, throwing the player directly in the middle of the action. After peace talks between warring templars and mages ends in a mysterious explosion that tears a hole between Thedas and the Fade, the player is discovered with a strange glowing mark on their hand. This mark can close Fade Rifts, stemming the tide of demons flowing outward. As part of (and eventually leader of) the newly formed Inquisition, it’s your job to close the Rifts and discover who caused the explosion. At your disposal are a number of characters, some old some new, acting as either advisors, companions, or mere offscreen assets. Like many previous BioWare titles, the game has incredible writing. Characters are believable and well-designed, each with their own opinions and judgements on your actions. Indeed, the characters I disliked proved just how strong BioWare is in this respect: I did not like them because of who they were, not because of poor writing.
When it comes to writing, Inquisition outpaces all previous BioWare games in one particular aspect: purpose. As Inquisitor, you have the power to shape what your movement stands for and characters will react to that. Commander Shepard may have led the galaxy against the leaders but he didn’t overhaul galactic beliefs. Decisions made by the player shape not only the political landscape of Thedas but also the cultural. Moreover, commanding from an epic castle surrounded by snowy peaks, the player is constantly reminded that he is not the only part of this effort. The keep positively bursts with NPCs going about their various jobs. The war room also adds to this tone, orchestrating operations for faceless minions to complete. Playing the administrator may not sound like fun, but it does add to the air of command and, frankly, the player has plenty to do.
While story missions abound, much of the game is spent wandering various locales. When BioWare mentioned it took cues from Skyrim, I admit I rolled my eyes, assuming minor changes were made to make Inquisition more like that titan of exploration. Inquisition, however, provides the player several incredibly expansive regions to explore, gather resources from and kill foes in. Side quests in the starting area alone have trapped many players, forever wandering the hills of the Hinterlands. Additionally, though visuals are not this game’s strongest suit (characters’ hair still looks like plugs), these environments are truly wonderful. I do mean that in the literal sense of the word; they fill me with wonder. A dragon flies over a sand-blown arch, a deep forest hides a decaying elven temple, a castle stands atop a snowy peak. So, yes, BioWare has used Skyrim as inspiration. The thing is, though, it stood atop the Skyrim formula and did something grander. While I’m not sure which is technically larger, I do know that Inquisition handled its scale much better than Skyrim. Where Skyrim eventually feels like an endless slog to increase the size of the player’s already mountainous pile of gold, Inquisition’s landscapes provide resources for the organization. Influence, power, and more can be gained by doing virtually anything, be it killing a giant or gathering some herbs. All this adds to that sense of purpose.
Finally, as with every BioWare iteration, the combat has been tweaked again, this time for the best experience possible. Where Origins suffered from tedium and DA2 suffered from messiness, Inquisition has found a balance that allows the player to choose tactics or action RPG gameplay. Attacks in this game rely less on grinding away at foes and more on deliberate actions, meaning the player is either victorious or dead in a timely manner. If you chose to just run around as the Inquisitor (my preferred method), your allies will use their abilities automatically when they feel it appropriate. Gone are the tedious tactics programing, a feature I never had any patience with. However, should you have actual patience and an inherent distrust of AI decisions, a tactical camera mode allows you to send characters to specific places and take specific actions. These improved combat mechanics are probably largely due to the new multiplayer mode, where players navigate tiered dungeons, fighting through waves of enemies and gaining loot. As with Mass Effect, BioWare used the lessons learned from the multiplayer experience to improve the core experience to great effect.
A previous contributor to the site once said that a game did not need to be perfect to get a perfect score. Indeed, Inquisition does have its flaws. The pacing can get thrown off by the amount of exploration available and minor glitches and bugs niggle away at parts of it. However, at the end of the game, after nearly 90 hours of campaign alone, I immediately started a new game. The game is simply magnificent and, for the inspiring story it tells and the peerless experience it provides, it is truly perfect.
Tested on Xbox One