At the rate I’m going, I should probably just call my blog Slowpoke Reviews. I’ve finally gotten around to finishing Dragon Age: Inquisition, the fantastic “new” entry in the Dragon Age series from Bioware. The game released in 2014 to critical acclaim, including numerous Game of the Year awards–in fact, my copy was the “Game of the Year edition,” which included all of the DLC.
I got this game with my Xbox One in November of last year, and had been playing it on and off since then. Fallout 4 inevitably took over much of my time when it came out, and that combined with being in a new city with a new job meant I didn’t always have much time to sit down for extended play sessions. Though honestly, I rather like waiting a little while to play games–that way, I can get the full edition, with all of the post-release content, the way it was intended by the developers.
In fact, the DLC melded so well with the main game that I didn’t even realize I was playing DLC until I looked it up later. I actually feel bad for those who played through the main game before the Trespasser DLC came out, because the story (annoyingly) ends on a cliffhanger that is (sort of) resolved in the DLC.
But enough about that–let’s talk about the actual game, shall we?
Despite owning both of the previous entries in the Dragon Age series, this is the first game in the franchise that I have actually played. Thankfully, it doesn’t require that you play the previous games in order to understand what’s going on (though I imagine it helps). You customize your character however you like, essentially starting from scratch since you lose your memory of some important events that kick off the story. A common trope in gaming, but it works.
From the get-go, there is a lot to sink your teeth into. The world is huge, and the lore is so deep and expansive that even after reading every book or note I came across, I still felt like I would need to take a few college courses to learn it all. I imagine much of this comes from the universe created by the first two games in the series, so I suppose the designers had much to draw from. But I still give credit where credit is due.
For those interested in that type of thing, you are in for a treat. I was stunned by the level of detail put into everything: the different cultures and religions, the gods each people worshiped, the history of conflicts between races. This is Elder Scrolls-level lore.
Of course, for those uninterested in reading through pages of logs and books, you can simply ignore them and head straight for the fights. The combat system is simple yet allows for more intricate, strategic planning. You can simply hold down the right trigger to continuously use your primary attack, and then press the face buttons to use skills that you unlock by leveling up. Fairly standard fare for an RPG, but you can also bring up a strategic view of the battlefield, where you can assign members of your party to perform specific tasks, like move to a certain location or attack a certain enemy. Personally, I never used this feature, but I can see its usefulness.
Also, the music is SO GOOD. I loved just stumbling upon bards playing surprisingly excellent music in the towns I would visit.
The main quest itself is pretty cut-and-dry, your standard good vs. evil story. The main villain is disappointingly two-dimensional, but nearly all of the other characters have a surprising amount of depth. In fact, this was probably my favorite part of the game–talking to and getting to know the side characters. Everyone has their own story to tell, and if you’re willing to put in the time, you can have some truly rewarding adventures in the myriad of side quests available.
I imagine the game would’ve taken me a lot less time to complete had I ignored all the side quests. All told, it took me about 100 hours to finish, and that despite leaving a few side quests unfinished. I’m somewhat of a completionist, but the few side quests that were left either involved glitches or mundane fetch quests.
Speaking of, let’s talk about the mundane aspects of the game. Most of the main quests were quite fun and exciting, involving traveling to new places and fighting new foes. These are the “epic” parts. But a large part of the game is also spent doing things like picking herbs, organizing your inventory, and performing fetch quests, searching for landmarks and “shards” among other things. I won’t fault the game too much for this, though, since you can of course simply choose to skip it all. But why put it in the game if it’s not enjoyable?
I read a great article on Polygon about this recently (of course I can’t find it now) that basically echoed what I’m saying here. It’s just such a weird juxtaposition–on the one hand, you have the expertly crafted story, deeply layered characters, and epic main quest; on the other, running around picking up elfroot and chasing after a goat.
I also found it somewhat disappointing that it wasn’t quite open-world. There are several distinct areas that you can travel around in, and while each is indeed huge, they’re not actually connected–if you leave one, you’ll be taken to the world map and have to fast-travel to another area. But this never bothered me that much, and I actually liked that each region was so distinct and had its own atmosphere that I could tell them apart easily (unlike certain truly open-world games, like Skyrim).
But in the end, I still view Dragon Age: Inquisition as a master class in both storytelling and world-building. It is an accomplishment in itself to hold my attention for 100 hours, and the folks at Bioware managed to do that and more. Now I guess I should go back and play the first two Dragon Age games. Perhaps some ultra-Slowpoke reviews will follow!