Last year was the year when Dragon Age really did come of age. Dragon Age 2 left fans with a bitter taste in their mouths; whether rushed by the publishers or otherwise, the game lacked in many areas (literally, who else got fed up with running through the same dungeon over and over again?) and many wanted a return to the days of Origins. The fans spoke, but did Bioware listen?
From the rolling hills and coasts of Ferelden to the scorching deserts and ornate towns of Orlais, there is plenty to see and do. Setting foot in each part of Thedas is like stepping into another fantastical world; different climates, weather, wildlife, plants and resources are abundant, and the landscape is stunning. There have been moments in gaming where you take those first, tentative steps out of the 'tutorial' area and are greeted with scenery that takes your breath away, and Inquisition does this wonderfully. The game looks fantastic, especially the coastal waves on The Storm Coast (I spent half an hour alone just wandering, finding random places and waiting to see when I'd hit the edges of the map) and it feels refreshingly like RPG gaming taken back to its roots. You start with a small section uncovered, but the map quickly becomes saturated with markers for ruins, temples, landmarks, and new quests you complete to gain 'power', which you use to complete operations via the war table in Haven (and later, Skyhold).
The war table itself is a nice addition to the game. You, as the Inquisitor, can summon your war council (complete with a couple of familiar faces) and use each of them to carry out missions and operations on behalf of The Inquisition. Your choices and their suitability for each mission are reflected in the rewards (I actually had one response telling me, politely, to get lost, and received nothing for my efforts), and this is also how you unlock new areas of Thedas to explore. The main bulk of your effort is with swords, staffs and bows, though.
Fighting is a different experience in Inquisition, with changes being made to the way your party can be developed amongst other things – your mages no longer act as healers, taking either a defensive path with barriers and buffing defences, or offensive with a range of elemental spells instead. The mages also feel like they've been nerfed in comparison to the previous games, especially Origins, where the right combination of spells could do thousands of hit points of damage; although as you level up and come to learn the effects and powers behind each one, it gets easier to deal bigger amounts of damage to your foes. There's no health regeneration out of combat, so your party relies solely on potions to keep themselves going; on the face of it this sounds like it could be a considerable pain in the backside, however you can replenish the standard health potions for no cost at Inquisition camps (and these were all I really used throughout the entire game, anyway), and you can upgrade their effectiveness and the amount you can carry at your base in either Haven or Skyhold, depending on how far into the story you are.
The worry is that Bioware has fallen slightly short of the mark in trying to offer the best of everything to please everyone in some sort of attempt to atone for Dragon Age 2
There's also the addition of a top down view of the battlefield, enabling you to take a more strategic stance when controlling the battle, although it feels as if the whole process of battle is too fast paced to really make much use of it, and you'll probably find you spend more, if not all, of the battle time in the standard view. Battles themselves are varied enough throughout the story, though none of them really require any particular strategy to get through, and the only really interesting battles are with the various dragons nesting around Thedas.
Alas, the novelty begins to wear off, and after the initial awe and excitement, it all begins to feel a little anti-climactic. The threat to the world is large and brooding above your heads, yet nobody really seems to know how to deal with it, and they're quite happy for you to carry on picking flowers and collecting ore to make armour and banners first. It doesn't feel quite urgent enough, and the side quests you complete just feel a bit mundane. Worthy, certainly, helping gather blankets and chasing down goats to feed the refugees of the war brought upon them by mages and Templars, but still, it feels a bit like they were thrown in just so you had something to do.
Fortunately, quests get better and bigger as you carry on, and the story picks back up as the true villain of the piece is finally revealed; all of a sudden the sense of power and urgency rises, and characters you didn't expect to see suddenly pop up in very welcome cameos.
The added multiplayer is reminiscent of that in Mass Effect, and has no bearing on the game itself. A fun diversion, you play in teams of four, and tackle various maps in which you'll each need to make use of your individual skills if you hope to progress. It works well and at the time of writing, is busy enough to make sure matches are available most of the time.
In all, there's no denying that Inquisition is a decent, solid game, with an interesting host of characters, stunning aesthetics and a great amount of gameplay. The worry is that Bioware has fallen slightly short of the mark in trying to offer the best of everything to please everyone in some sort of attempt to atone for Dragon Age 2. It's a great game, but it just doesn't feel like it's at its full potential because it’s trying to do so much.