December 03, 2014

Impressions: Dragon Age: Inquisition

So far I have logged about 35 hours with the Xbox One version of Dragon Age: Inquisition. Bioware has taken their craft to the next level with the latest installment of their High Fantasy RPG series.  All of the set pieces I have encountered convey a very lived-in world, from the wildlife to the random encounters with those that would do you harm.  There is so much to do and so much to see that it can, at times, feel a bit overwhelming.  I was a big fan of Dragon Age: Origins, but never really got into Dragon Age II.  This installment is a healthy mix of both, and I think Bioware has found a winning formula.

Cover art for Bioware's latest installment

Dragon Age Keep
Dragon Age Keep is a web-based tool Bioware gives the player in order to sync their Inquisition world state with the deeds the player performed in previous games.  Its also a good way to catch up if you missed either of the previous installments in the series.  Players are treated to a flash movie of the various things that happened in the default world state and are prompted with the chance to change the way things happened.  These choices are just the major ones that occur, and all of the other decisions made (no matter how seemingly inconsequential they may be) can be altered in the tapestry.  Think of it like a large quilt where every patch is a decision that needed to be made in the previous installments.  Reading over these options helped me remember my Dragon Age: Origins choices, and helped determine what I would have chosen had I finished my playthrough of Dragon Age II.  After you have tailored everything the way you want it, you begin the process of exporting the custom world save.  There are some FAQs on this if issues arise.  In my case, I discovered my XBox Gamertag was not tied to my Origin account for whatever reason.  After sorting that out, everything went pretty smoothly.

Character Creation
The character creation in Inquisition is every bit as intricate as we have come to expect in a Bioware title.  Overall I feel like most of my creations looked great when static, but I did have one character that looked a little "off" when animated.  There are only 2 voice options (British and American) to choose from per sex which is a little bit of a letdown, but with all of the dialogue I can see the reasoning.  There are 3 classes to choose from in the beginning: Warrior, Mage, and Rogue.  Don't let this worry you too much as there are several trees for each class to make your character unique.  At around level 10 (with the appropriate amount of story completed), you will be able to specialize into 1 of 3 new trees.  These trees are determined by your class selection in the beginning, and your companions have a preset specialization they will gain access to around the same time.

The World
The world is absolutely huge and to offset the tedium that could arise from traversing such a large landmass, the developers have given players a means to make this less cumbersome.  Players can fast-travel to predefined locations on the map, as well as to camps they establish and keeps they conquer throughout the world.  Bioware has also given the player the ability to jump.  This sounds pretty simple and somewhat underwhelming, but anyone that played Origins knows its a huge addition.  Moving from point A to point B no longer requires the game equivalent of a handicap ramp to get to that one spot you want to explore. Travelling across a debris-laden landscape feels a lot more organic allowing players to actually discover things as opposed to discovering paths to things.  Yes, there are mounts in the game and they get you moving through the world at a faster rate of speed.  I generally forego the mounts since the other party members disappear when you mount...in a puff of smoke..  The reason I rather run is due to all of the banter between my party members as we navigate the countryside.  Initially my biggest disappointment with the game's world was that it was not seamless.  I know, Skyrim probably spoiled me a little bit.  After playing the game for a bit though, I am really happy that it is not a seamless experience.  Since everything is broken apart, I get many different "zones" that all feel unique.  I have traversed forests teeming with wildlife, magical groves, swamps where undead rise from muck, and so on.  You also enter and exit a lot of buildings in Dragon Age, and if I had to load every time as Skyrim does, that would get tedious.

Companions
The companions are some of Bioware's finest.  They are all pretty unique and bring a lot to the story. Interacting with these companions can feel very human.  There are companions I disliked in the beginning whom I have come to love having in my party and conversing with regularly.  They all seem to have their personal quirks and beliefs that affect how they react to you as well as the world around them.  There are once again romancing options, but everything seems more diverse. There are characters whom are heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, and even transgender. Everything feels very natural though, and not forced.  Not every companion is a romance option, but there are other possible romantic interests among the non-playable characters you interact with regularly.  I have had several interactions outside of my party members that feel very real and human too.  One example is being able to flirt with the female scout (not a romance option for you) who precedes you at every new location prepping for your arrival.  She gets taken aback by your flirtatious advances and will trip over words while trying to present her report to you.

Combat
Combat in Inquisition can be controlled using two distinct methods.  The first method is real time, controlling only one of the characters.  This makes the game play like the console versions of Diablo III.  The AI of your companions while playing in real time mode can be set for certain behaviors.  I find the default AI fairly competent with minimal tweaking required, but I imagine it could pose significant issues playing on the Hard or Nightmare (a step above hard) difficulties.  The second method is a paused, top-down view.  This allows the player to be more strategic in their choices and gives a complete view of the battlefield.  Players can select an action for each character and then begin lapsing time by pressing and holding a button.  When they release the button, the action pauses again and they can choose to issue new commands to the party.  Thus far I have generally played the game entirely in real-time mode, except for 1 particular boss fight. Then general consensus I have gathered online is that folks are mostly playing the game in the same manner; real-time mode until a significant challenge presents itself such as a dragon or other boss fight.


Showing off some combat near a dragon's nest..

War Council
New to the series is the War Council.  You and members of your Inner Circle make up this council and gather around a table to plan your next moves.  From this table, the player can select missions to send various representatives to in order to receive some sort of reward.  An example would be if there was a Lord who was starting an uprising against your Inquisition.  You could let your general handle it with military force, your ambassador resolve it with diplomacy, or your spymaster do whatever needs to be done.  I don't think the choice matters a lot here other than how long the mission will take (real time), although some missions require a certain approach to be taken.  Some of the missions have a power cost associated with opening them.  Once you unlock them, you lose that amount of power.  Power is acquired by completing objectives in the world, like closing rifts and setting up camps.  The table is also where you spend Perk points you get by gaining influence throughout the region.  Some of these perks seem more useful than others, but can vary from unlocking resource gathering missions to increasing inventory space.



The War Council in action.

Choices
This is where the game truly shines in my opinion.  There are a lot of decisions to be made in Inquisition and your willingness to make them is what sets you apart from your companions.  Some choices seemed pretty cut and dry to me, while others I actually felt bad about having to decide.  You see, things in Inquisition's world are not black and white.  Some very evil things are done with good intentions and it is up to you to decide the fate of everyone.  Decisions are made via dialogue options for the most part, but there are a couple of times when beginning a specific mission is a choice that eliminates other missions as an option.  In this case, Bioware gives the player prompts to inform them that if they proceed with the missions, other things will be off limits to them in the future.  One new aspect to the game that really adds weight to your role as an inquisitor is rendering judgments.  The accused is generally someone you have encountered on your adventures or is linked to someone you have encountered.  They are brought before your throne and you have to decide their fate.  Your decision impacts your companions' view of you, but it also has repercussions in the world.  In fact, it seems like all of the choices I have made have made an impact in some way.  Its a really unique feeling to be shaping the world with an army at my command.

The Good

  • The choices players are asked to make are not easy, and have weight to them.
  • The world is huge, and filled with content.
  • The story missions and sequences are among the best I have ever had the pleasure to play through in a game.
  • The characters and companions throughout the game are very well done.
  • The combat is pretty fun once you come to grips with the system.
  • The crafting system is excellent, especially being able to name what you craft.


The Bad

  • I think the Introduction chapter of the game could have explained the combat system a little bit better.
  • There is a bug that can sometimes delay dialogue while interacting with characters or companions (Have only encountered this once).
  • Some slight juddering on cut scenes at times.
  • The missions on the War Table are hard to click when they get jumbled up.
  • Weapons and armor in the world do not have a lot of variation.
  • The camera can be difficult to control at times and will get stuck on terrain on a rare occasion while using strategic mode



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