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Sunday, 30 November 2014

Dragon Age: Inquisition, and Bioware's Return to Greatness

Hey everyone! I'm back again, with a review of Dragon Age: Inquisition to hurl in yo' faces!

Dragon Age: Inquisition is the third instalment of the Edmonton-Based game studio, Bioware. In it, you play the Inquisitor/Herald of Andraste, and fight against a world gone mad after a conclave meant to bring the Templar-Mage war to a halt was destroyed in a magical explosion, tearing a hole between the world of mortals and the world of demons. You have a mysterious mark that allows you to close these tears in the veil that have opened in the wake of the Breach, and this lands you as a key member of the reborn Inquisition.

But before we can discuss the story, lets get the technical shizwa outta the way. Inquisition is built on a new engine for Bioware. Before, they typically used the Unreal engine, but for their latest game they've switched over to the much more powerful Frostbite engine, and it shows. Animation is much smoother, and the physics are much more visceral and engaging. So many times, I've had my warrior smash apart a cart just because it happened to be behind an enemy I was slamming through it, and my hits really feel like they connect. The gameplay is somewhere between the Action-based RPG of Dragon Age II, and the more tactical combat of Dragon Age: Origins. However, unlike both games, it's managed to succeed surprisingly well at both. The tactical camera mode has an option to allow you to advance time only a short distance, allowing more tactically focused players greater control. The decent computer AI allows players who prefer more action-based combat to let their party members make generally decent decisions while the PC focuses on hack-and-slash. Combat also makes tactical positioning and combat more varied and emphasizes its importance. While in the previous instalments, things like flanking and positioning were important, the gameplay never really emphasized this except with the melee-built rogue in Origins, who received a backstab bonus and . However, in Inquisition the bonuses for flanking are much more obvious, as some enemies are extremely difficult to fight head-on due to their defenses.

But the game is far from perfect. There are a number of conversational glitches, such as with many of the scenes involving two spoilery-characters. They'll often stop talking in the middle of the cut scene, and not resume talking unless you skip through the scene, causing you to miss a lot of details of what's going on. This only seems to happen with cut-scene conversations, however, and the contextual conversations work very well. There's also some issues in cut scenes and even the main game with clipping, such as a dual-wielding dwarf rogue wearing the Inquisitor's Hat, as your daggers stick up through the brim of the hat. It looks hilarious but it can take you out of the game a bit.

No more murder-knife in Inquisition as well. Your character will use your equipped weapons in cut scenes (with one exception, but it's story based), rather than some mysterious super-knife like in Dragon Age II, or some sword your warden picked up off the ground as in the final scene of Origins.

The characters, however, are where Inquisition really shines. Where in the previous two games, relationships often felt a bit forced or like something you just needed to earn enough points in to win some sort of prize, in Inquisition the relationships feel much more organic. This is helped by the lack of an “approval” bar somewhere. You're still informed whether or not someone approves or disapproves of your actions, but there's no numbers attached. This also helps the romances a great deal. Unlike in previous games where, once approval was high enough or you flirted enough or whatever the characters would throw themselves at you and you'd unlock a sex scene, romances in Inquisition are much more involved, frequently requiring side quests and your character going out of his or her way to win their companion's affections. One of the romances even involves a duel! It makes them feel much more realistic and organic, and above all earned than in previous games. Also, you can't be stealth romanced in this game. You'll know right away if you're getting involved, and you have multiple opportunities to abandon a romance. There's a reason this game's version of the Paramour achievement is for “Committing to a romance.”

Inquisition is a massive, sprawling game with easily 80 or 90 hours of gameplay for the most dedicated of players, and no two playthroughs are ever going to be exactly the same. There are no “right” or “wrong” decisions in this game, and there's no perfect playthrough like in previous Bioware games. Above all, it feels like a return to Bioware's standards of excellence that we saw with Origins and even Baldur's Gate 2. If Bioware keeps this up, there will be only good things ahead for the studio.