Dragon Age: Inquisition Review - Fighting the Good Fight

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I'm in the countryside, spending hours helping villagers find their livestock and refugees find their loved ones. I'm in my fortress, listening to my friends' and allies' hopes, dreams and military advice. I'm on the stormy coast, preparing my team to fight a dragon.

This is Dragon Age: Inquisition, the third in a series known for its complex fantasy world, fascinating characters and heartbreaking choices. And Inquisition does not disappoint. Released Nov. 18 for PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC, Dragon Age: Inquisition ($60) is a must-play for any fantasy role-playing game fan.

Story: Pop-Pop-Populism

Things go from bad to worse in the war-torn kingdom of Ferelden when an enormous "rift" appears in the sky, killing several world leaders and disgorging a horde of demons. You'll play as a character who appears from the midst of this chaos, and has the ability to close these rifts as they appear in the world.

The four advisers in Dragon Age: Inquisition.

The four advisers in Dragon Age: Inquisition.

The people of Ferelden soon believe the player character is the divinely chosen "Herald of Andraste." The Herald also finds her- or himself at the center of, and then leading, a movement called the Inquisition, an attempt to investigate and broker peace among the various warring factions.

There are mages, people born with an affinity for magic that also makes them susceptible to demonic influence; the Chantry, the church of Ferelden and the surrounding kingdoms; and the Templars, quasi-religious knights who are supposed to serve the Chantry and keep the mages in line. Plus (without getting into spoiler territory), an unequivocally evil fourth group shows up, with the literal intention of destroying the world.

It's all exquisitely complicated, but Dragon Age: Inquisition does a good job of easing players into the intricacies of its political and religious conflict. This straightforward "save the world" plot gives the story an easily graspable backbone for newbies while allowing avid fans to dive right into the deep end. 

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The Inquisition is, in effect, a populist movement, and as such, you'll need to win over the hearts and minds of the world, sometimes one person at a time. Along the journey, other characters will join your movement, from strict and devout warrior Cassandra to reluctant jack-of-all-trades Varric.

All of these characters have complex beliefs, quirks and motivations. Solas the elf mage, for example, likes when you favor mages and show polite interest in elven lore. Vivienne the mage, however, takes a hard line on her fellow mages, and will disapprove of any perceived leniency. How much characters approve or disapprove of your actions affects how they treat you throughout the game.

Gameplay: 'Inquisiting' Minds Want to Know

Dragon Age: Inquisition is an action role-playing game: Your Inquisitor and a party of up to three other characters will explore environments and fight enemies in real time. In the beginning of the game, players can customize their Inquisitor, choosing gender, fantasy race (human, elf, dwarf, or a huge, horned people called Qunari) and your fighting style: warrior, mage or rogue. Only the latter affects the gameplay.

Closing a Rift in the Hinterlands of Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Closing a Rift in the Hinterlands of Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Defeating enemies earns you experience points, which unlock new attacks and other combat abilities. You can switch among party members at any time, and the characters you're not controlling automatically follow preset behaviors.

If you want more precise control, Dragon Age: Inquisition brings back a tactical mode that lets players pause the game, plot out characters' moves and then set plans in motion. The gameplay is broken down into a series of missions, accessible from the "War Table" in your home base.

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Dragon Age: Inquisition isn't open-world like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, or World of Warcraft. You won't be able to start on one end and just walk to the other. Rather, separate areas are accessible from your map or the War Table. These areas are themselves staggeringly huge, and packed with optional missions and quests in addition to the main story, all managed from a journal in the menu screen.

From finding lost farm animals all the way up to slaying dragons, these side quests would feel like diverting filler in most other games. But Inquisition's whole story revolves around players building up their characters as grassroots heroes. How else would you win over people than to prove you can help them in their day-to-day lives?

Inquisition's gameplay will feel familiar not just to Dragon Age fans, but to anyone who's played an action RPG. While it may not be new, Inquisition's gameplay is certainly an improvement over earlier games in the series, and is balanced in a way that remains accessible to new players while still offering plenty of challenge.

Fantasy Dating Simulator

"Fantasy dating simulator" was how I explained Dragon Age: Inquisition to my roommates. More than 20 hours into the game, I was still answering my roommates' questions of, "Did you get any?" with "No!"

My inquisitor (on the right) flirts with Sera.

My inquisitor (on the right) flirts with Sera.

BioWare's games are known for their complex romance subplots. Inquisition is no exception: Six of the party member characters and two nonplayable characters — who include straight, gay, lesbian, and bisexual men and women — are possible romantic interests for the player.

These characters also have much more on their mind than falling in love or starting relationships. You'll have to prove you're serious not only by flirting and showing interest, but also making political and military decisions with which your crush agrees. I was more than 25 hours into the game before my crushes started showing the remotest interest in my persistent flirtations.

Art and Graphics: Forged by a Paragon

The art of Dragon Age: Inquisition is huge in scope and incredibly detailed. Each location has its own look and feel, from the rocky green forests and meadows of the Hinterlands to the bright spires of Val Royeaux. Main characters' faces, clothing and expressions are all unique and nuanced.

Despite the high-fantasy setting, Inquisition's graphics shoot for realism, though they don't quite compare to those of other next-generation games like Destiny or Assassin's Creed: Unity. On the Xbox One, I noticed some surfaces were overly shiny, a trait present in the lighting effects of just about every next-generation video game so far.

The game also has some scattered graphical and performance glitches. Because nothing in the game is pre-rendered, and your player character can be as small as a dwarf or as large as a hulking Qunari, sometimes clothing and other objects seem to pass right through each other. One time, my Inquisitor was briefly stuck moonwalking instead of performing her usual running animation. Another time, in the middle of a tense conversation, my Inquisitor's arm suddenly twisted up behind her head, then corkscrewed back down.

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I also encountered some more serious glitches. On the Xbox One, several conversations during the Western Approach missions stalled, leaving the characters staring dumbly at each other until the game eventually caught up. During the Winter Palace mission, my save file became corrupted: The next checkpoint wouldn't load, and the game froze on a loading screen. Eventually, I restarted the mission entirely. Make sure you save frequently and create multiple save files, just in case.

Music and Sound: The Song of My People

The soundtrack of Dragon Age: Inquisition contains all the elements we've come to expect from a high-fantasy series: soaring trumpets, strong drumbeats, passionate strings. Maybe it's familiar, but it works — just the sound of the theme song as it plays over the title menu was enough to get me pumped for the coming quest.

My inquisitor recruits the Iron Bull, a Qunari warrior voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.

My inquisitor recruits the Iron Bull, a Qunari warrior voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.

In Inquisition's soundscape, the character dialogue always steals the prize. Not only is it well-performed, but there's just so much of it — you'll rarely, if ever, hear a conversation or a line of dialogue replayed twice. Among the many excellent voice actors, Freddie Prinze Jr., as the Qunari mercenary Iron Bull, stands out the most.

Multiplayer: Lower Decks

Dragon Age: Inquisition offers a co-op multiplayer mode where players can team up to traverse demon-infested dungeons and claim loot.

The multiplayer mode has only the slightest connection to the main game: You play as one of your Inquisitor's rank-and-file out on a mission for the Inquisition. These characters increase in experience as you run missions. I tried it out with a friend, and it's a good thing you don't have to beat the levels to gain experience — we died three out of three times, even when some higher-level Xbox Live players joined our party.

I finished my multiplayer session as a level 5 mage, but I don't think I'll be playing again.

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Though the idea of playing out the Dragon Age: Inquisition version of that Star Trek: Next Generation episode "Lower Decks" (an episode that focused on some regular Enterprise crewmembers instead of the high-ranking main characters) was conceptually amusing, in practice, it felt both emotionally and competitively distant from the main game. I probably won't be playing multiplayer again.

Dragon Age: Keep: How To Retain Your Dragon

If you've played previous Dragon Age games, you can import your previous game data into a new play-through of Dragon Age: Inquisition via a tool called Dragon Age: Keep. By logging in to or creating an Origin account (EA Games' online gaming platform), you can import the unique look of your Warden (from Dragon Age: Origins) and Hawke (from Dragon Age II). If you don't do this, you can still recreate the characters' appearance by hand from within Dragon Age: Inquisition.

My Dragon Age: Keep world state.

My Dragon Age: Keep world state.

You can't directly import your choices, however. For that, you'll have to go to the Dragon Age: Keep website and recreate your choices from the "tapestry" of selections. Be sure to thoroughly fill out every Keep option; nearly all of them have a direct bearing on the world state in Inquisition.

Bottom Line: No One Expects The Dragon Age Inquisition

Fans of the Dragon Age series will not be disappointed by Inquisition's engaging story, memorable characters, addictive gameplay and sheer scope. But Inquisition also does a good job of organizing and explaining its setting and gameplay, so first-time players won't feel lost or intimidated.

The result is a well-paced and engrossing game that is also incredibly, insanely long. If you like BioWare games, or RPGs in general, particularly those of the high-fantasy variety, then get ready to put 40 to 80 hours of your life into Dragon Age: Inquisition. It's worth it. 

Jill Scharr is a creative writer and narrative designer in the videogame industry. She's currently Project Lead Writer at the games studio Harebrained Schemes, and has also worked at Bungie. Prior to that she worked as a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide, covering video games, online security, 3D printing and tech innovation among many subjects.