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First Impressions: Dragon Age: Inquisition

I tried not to get excited about Dragon Age: Inquisition, I honestly did. Though I don’t think any of BioWare’s recent games have been bad, they certainly haven’t been as good as they once were, and I didn’t want to get my hopes up only to have them crushed.  But I couldn’t help it – I love the Dragon Age games and, as much as I tried to deny it, Inquisition was definitely my most anticipated game of this year. Dragon Age: Origins is what got me back into gaming and is still one of my favourite games, and Dragon Age 2, though very flawed, had some great ideas and characters in it. I wanted Inquisition to be good, even though I wasn’t convinced it would be. I was ready to be disappointed.

I shouldn’t have worried. Inquisition is brilliant, a return to form for the franchise and the developer, and dragging myself away from it for long enough to write this review was a challenge. Calling this a ‘first impression’ is a little misleading – I’ve sunk forty hours into this game already. It might all fall apart in the end, but so far it’s been incredibly strong and I can’t recommend it enough.

Thedas is on the brink of war. When a magical explosion kills the Templar and mage leaders, any chance of peace is lost, and to make things worse there’s now a hole in the sky that’s full of demons. You’re the sole survivor of the blast, and the only one who can close the rifts thanks to a mysterious mark on your hand. Along with the newly-formed Inquisition, an organisation trying to re-establish order in all the chaos, you’re the only one who can save the world. You must become the Inquisitor, recruit and lead a team of heroes, try to sort out all of the world’s political problems, and do something about that hole in the sky.

It’s a pretty standard BioWare story, but it works really well. It’s a return to the epic scale of Origins, an international conflict of competing factions that the Inquisition is caught in the middle of. The politics are interesting, focusing on the mage and Templar conflict once again, as well as placing more of an emphasis on the internal politics of the Chantry. The story is suitably dramatic, both in climactic story missions and in the personal drama of character arcs; the writing here is brilliant, creating a huge, complex setting, which only becomes more interesting as the game goes on and your decisions shape the world.

As always, you gather a party of interesting characters with angsty backstories to discover. The party in Inquisition is the largest yet, with nine well-developed characters for you to love or hate, each with an engaging plot. In addition to your party, you’ve got your three advisors who don’t go on missions but help to lead the Inquisition. You can send them on assignments, resolving conflicts with your army, spies, or connections. It’s a nice addition to the game and helps to make the Inquisition feel like a much larger organisation than just you and your friends.

The story is definitely the game’s selling point; the combat is nothing to write home about. It’s not a chore to get through, but that’s about the best I can say about it. You can control one character and let the AI handle the rest in a Dragon Age 2-style hack-and-slash mode, or zoom out and use Origins’ tactical camera to control your entire party. The system needs a bit of polishing – the tactical camera doesn’t always zoom out far enough to be useful, and switching between the two views mid-combat doesn’t work well, at least on PC. You can’t use the mouse to move when you’re not in tactical mode, and you can’t use the arrow keys to move in tactical mode – this makes the transition jarring and a little disorientating. It feels geared towards consoles, which is a little annoying, as it couldn’t have taken much to put in mouse-controlled movement for PC again.

The areas in Inquisition are huge, clearly taking some inspiration from the success of Skyrim, and that’s not a bad thing. There are optional side quests and collectables everywhere, the areas are all distinctive and interesting to explore, and it fits the scale of the game’s story. The crafting system is also much improved – you can make weapons and armour now, using different materials to customise their properties. It’s simple and fun, while not distracting from the main game.

Dragon Age: Inquisition is a story of world-spanning political and religious conflicts, but this is the story of the people in the Inquisition as well as the Inquisition itself, and it’s fantastic. The gameplay is probably the best in the series, despite a few problems with the combat, and it’s the first Dragon Age game that genuinely looks good, with some beautifully designed environments and cinematic set-piece scenes. It’s complex, emotional, thrilling, and by far the best game BioWare’s released recently. If you’ve ever enjoyed one of their games, you’ll enjoy this one.