The review below was originally posted (by me) at Christian Entertainment Reviews. Since that site is up but no longer active, I decided to place an edited version of it here. Enjoy! A short review of the dlc is now up, too: Jaws of Hakkon, DA: Inquisition’s First Expansion, is Beautiful.
If you’re familiar with the Dragon Age franchise (by Bioware), you’ve probably already made the decision to play or not to play these role-playing games. For some, a game with swearing and “sex” scenes is simply crossed off the list of playing possibilities, and Inquisition (2014; rated M17+) is no different from its predecessors in that arena (except that the “sex” scenes are more “human” than ever before, according to fans).
But with a name out of Catholic history, perhaps you’re curious. I was, and, having been fairly unfamiliar with the franchise (I didn’t know about the personal relationships aspect), decided to check out the newest installment. Let’s clarify something up front before we move on, though: viewing possible “sex” scenes is not part of any quest except voluntary “romancing”—a player can romance certain characters, or not—and avoiding romance has little impact on the rest of the game. This game is not anything like an “X” rated film–more like an R in parts. Certain characters who make up your party can be pretty much ignored, too, if desired. On the other hand, there is no sex shown when romancing the traditional and humble Cullen, who is an example of someone who wants a healthy and permanent relationship.
Why is it called “Inquisition”? What is the story?
For “inquisition” to have meaning, you should know how it fits into the pre-existing Dragon Age cultures, religions, institutions, and lore. A difficulty in this third Dragon Age game is that players unfamiliar with the lore will be lost to some degree. In-game dialogue and codexes do inform the newer player, at least to a degree, but I found the game much easier to understand my second time around (doing some out-of-game research helped too).
I’ll try and provide a brief on the Dragon Age universe (no simple task), with an emphasis on Inquisition’s world. All the action takes place on the continent of Thedas and in the spiritual—or dream—realm referred to as the Fade. There are other peoples beside humans: ancient Elves and Dwarves, and the weirdly horned Qunari (they wonder if dragon was mixed into their race in the distant past). In Inquisition, the story unfolds in the Kingdom of Ferelden and the aggressively class-oriented Orlais Empire. Even though Ferelden is referred to as a kingdom, the king or his interests make no appearance in Inquisition. The Inquisition is completely free to seek alliances with the religious Chantry and related parties (Templars and Mages), and with the neighboring Orlaisians. Another very significant player is the Tevintor Imperium, home of slavers and dark magic users, though it’s not shown on your map.
The game begins immediately after a very chaos-inducing event—the violent deaths of all who attend a peace-seeking meeting of the war-torn continent’s leaders, rulers, and their representatives. Well, all die but YOU, and upon regaining consciousness you find you have a weird green light coming out of your hand. It is a Fade anchor, a key to both closing rifts in the fade and for entering the Fade physically. Something or someone is causing rifts to appear; that is, openings between the physical and spirit/dream realm, and demons and spirits are coming through, wreaking havoc. You are the only one with the power to close the rifts, although you can’t remember how you got that Fade anchor.
Because the Chantry’s leader, the Divine, was killed, along with its top officials, there is no one to make official decisions. All is chaos, fear, and violence. An “Inquisition” (the second in the faith’s history) is formed by a prominent former “Seeker,” Cassandra (Seekers are a small group related to the Chantry that investigates and judge); the late Divine’s “left hand” (spymaster), Leliana; a former Templar named Cullen; Josephine the ambassador; and you. You not only have the only means to close the rifts, but witnesses to a vision of the Divine before she died saw that she helped you and called to you. You are therefore referred to as the “Herald of Andraste.” Andraste in the game is the bride of The Maker, a late human who pleads with God on behalf of humankind. Andraste’s past and role in this Dragon Age religion is something like a mix of Jesus and Joan of Arc. While Andraste’s blood does not save humans, she is the advocate to an annoyed and aloof creator (maker) god.
The Inquisition is “inquiring” into the danger at hand, but also seeks to eliminate it and to close the rifts. The Chantry, which is reminiscent of the Catholic Church and is basically corrupt and unfaithful, is opposed to you; that’s why there has to be a new Inquisition. If the Chantry had its way, you, the only source of making the two realms of existence separate again, would be in prison or already executed (this is true for at least the first half of the game). Cassandra provides much of the information on the state of the Chantry and is the voice of true faith, and reform. She is much more of a reformation (Luther) figure, it seems.
Rating the game: The Good, The Bad, and The Boring
Let me go over a few considerations that are personal preference; if they are mine, they might be yours as well. For starters, Inquisition is a third-person role playing game (RPG), meaning you develop your character and have choices, but you don’t see things from “your eyes” but control your visualized character on-screen. I much prefer first-person as I find it much more immersive, and in-game items can usually be seen much better. Inquisition does itself a disservice by having some tiny, or difficult to see, off-the-wall humorous items in-game, but they can hardly be made out. There is no “scoping” in-game either, which would help with this issue.
Second, the story itself is actually pretty boring. Figuring out how to kill the bad guy who wants to destroy everything and become a god makes up the basic story, and in the end, it’s all that there really is. All the politics you become involved in are seemingly inconsequential in the end, with the real interesting part of the story left out, you find, via a cliff-hanger ending. If the next addition to this game, or the next game in the series, focuses on this cliff-hanger story, then it will have to give more validity to the “old gods” of the Elves. But who knows what that could mean, really, in relation to who the Maker is. These old gods are referred to as false and /or idols, but that could just be the not-really-true belief promulgated by the Andrastians (Chantry). POSSIBLE SPOILER: If Solas the “elf” hadn’t said that he didn’t believe in the Maker, one could even guess that he might’ve been an agent of the Maker in the past (or the vessel of that spirit), locking away the old gods.
Last, the game is more strategy oriented instead of flow oriented. Once you enter a battle, for example, you can’t exchange any gear (your inventory is actually locked). I find this really bizarre, since in real life you’d grab your knife if you needed it. You have the ability to control all of your companions. You not only provide them with armor and weapons, but you choose all their perks and abilities. You also can play as them instead of your actual character (except at your base), which is necessary at times, but it also gives you the opportunity to learn how other classes operate. Abilities are mapped so that while you’re battling, you and your companions not only shoot, but can select eight separate special attacks. You also can use various potions, tonics, and “grenades.” If this doesn’t sound complicated enough, there is also an attack mode you can go into where all action is stopped so that you can select everyone’s next move. Going into this battle mode looks truly awesome, even giving you the opportunity to see your party members or enemies up close (for once), but I don’t care to use it. I much rather like playing in the more immersive first person mode and having a more flowing, life-like experience.
Some of the puzzles or riddles in the game take a lot of consideration (or googling!) and can be very time consuming. A major part of the main quest—”Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts”—is one giant unrelieved puzzle, really, with a variety of endings. If you want the outcome to be a certain way, you would need to try it many times, or at least save frequently in order to redo parts; once a certain aspect is done, you can’t go back. If you want a certain outcome, following an online walkthrough should save you a considerable amount of time (if not frustration). Personally, I found that after it was about half-way over, I just wanted to get it done with and didn’t care which obnoxious aristocrat got exiled or executed, but wished they’d all just go and off themselves in their stupid civil war. After all, there seems to be no actually innocent party. (Spoiler: in the afterward to the game, I found that the person I helped forgot about me anyway, so there was no true point to it; disappointing.) After I played through this major quest marker a second time, I was even more frustrated with it . . . (I didn’t want to follow a walkthrough since to me that defeats one purpose of playing).
- The many maps are very well done and quite varied. Much is truly gorgeous. However, most individual maps have this uncanny way of being like Southern California, where you can drive an area for years and still get confused over which way to turn because all the main streets “look the same.” Many map areas are claustrophobic and foggy or hazy. The “Hissing Wastes” is a reprieve from these unfortunate map effects, with wide open vistas that even merits a comment from one of your party members.
- No doubt about it, this game had a lot of effort put into all the possible dialogues and cut-scenes. This is much appreciated in this era of cost-cutting.
- Character customization is incredibly detailed. You could literally spend hours creating your character, but once it’s done, it’s done—no changes allowed (with the one tiny possible exception when you play as a female elf). I did have difficulty with the “color wheel,” however.
- There’s quite a bit of crafting, and with the latest update, armor can be tinted to your liking.
- Battles are very colorful, and get better as the game progresses. There are definitely fun elements if you choose to use certain abilities, grenades, etc.
- Humor. The characters are generally interesting, entertaining, and humorous, and certain stories and cut-scenes contain top-notch humor.
- According the developer, you can spend up to 200 hours on one game play-through. If you do everything, including consistently crafting items for you and your crew, this seems possible.
- There is less gore compared to most similar type-of games. While there is no doubt some disturbing violent scenes in this game, there is little gore in regular game play.
- At the time I started this review there was a major glitch with a branch of the main quest (“Under Her Skin”), but a recent update fixed this. Though it was many months in coming, at least Bioware is fixing issues.
- It has a multi-player aspect which some players might enjoy.
- Poor game pacing unless you purposefully hurry through the main quest. In my first play-through, I took my time going through side missions, collecting materials, and crafting, until step 4 of 5 of the main quest. Nothing new after step 4, so went to 5 . . . game over. I played again and spent more time with my party, which adds more to the game, but which didn’t change the pace. You need to check the suggested levels for each main quest step, and do them then in order to have side quests to do throughout the game.
- Related to game pace: I kept finding unique or previously unknown gear near the end of the game. Strange, disappointing, and not useful, except perhaps from a replayability stand point. Still, I won’t replay just to find a couple of new things.
- Related to game pace: I never unlocked or used all “Inquisition perks” by the end of the game, yet had a huge overabundance of “Power” points. This evened out a bit better during my second play through.
- One can never be sure how the dialogue is going to go. You often talk with others and how you respond to them earns you favor or disfavor with them, but, what you “choose” to say and what your character actually says can be, or seem, quite different. You may think you are about to ask a good, simple question, but then your character becomes snide . . . It’s very unreasonable to have to save before every single conversation, so this is an odd and irritating aspect of the game. The “good character” responses tend to be at the top, and the “bad character” ones at the bottom, but that is not always the case.
- Sex interest and scenes. The game could be better if the developer’s manpower was spent on making a more involved story with more significant side quests, instead of making sex scenes. Disturbingly, in an interview with the game’s lead designer, Mike Laidlaw, he said they’d like to do more with the sex scenes if they had (or were allowed) to do more graphically. This makes me think that I may not be playing the next Dragon Age game that comes out.
- Sex in relation to faith in the game. There is much in-game faith in the Maker, and even a mention of vows of celibacy (so the idea that sex might be sinful in some contexts floats around in the game . . . to no apparent end), yet there is no concern about faith and having sex with whomever. At minimum, to keep the game in any kind of congruence with its main theme of faith, the developers should have made Cassandra—the main character of faith and reform—someone who won’t go “all the way” with you. As it is, besides Cassandra, a promiscuous bisexual killing spy (Leliana) or a snobbish mage (Vivienne) can become The Divine at the end of the game. The Divine is akin to the Pope, so this is either just absurd (and I’m not Catholic) or it’s a reference to historic Catholic Church corruption.
- The hair. Honestly, there’s hardly any “female” hair, and some of the few obviously feminine hair styles look like the hair is greased onto the head. In this day of astounding game graphics . . . really??? And, in-game, it seems that most women have “male” hair and many men have “female” hair. Oh boy. At least most female armor is more like armor instead of pole-dancing fare.
- Side quests are limited and once they’re over, they’re over. Much is repetitive in the game and not necessary to accomplish in order to finish it. It is all very “gopher” oriented, which becomes tedious. Unlike Skyrim, say, I find no reason to revisit maps and their scenery.
- The game’s story is linear and basic, with variety coming from humor, gossip, puzzles, and romance. Despite being able to play a few different characters, there’s not all that much reason to play it over. A real fan of the Dragon Age lore and universe will no doubt find more insight by playing over. Otherwise, everything but a different romance partner will seem old. Trotting all over a bunch of maps ten times to get someone’s letters or glass shards is enough the first time around.
- At Skyhold, your main base in the game, you have lovely quarters, yet these quarters are completely non-interactive. What’s the point? I don’t even care to go to them because there’s nothing to do there, yet depressingly, it seems like there should be. Your room is big enough to have a party in, too. Odd. And the storage that was added with the last update is located in the Undercroft, not in your quarters.
To Play or Not to Play?
Obviously, that’s up to you. As a Christian, the romancing can be avoided altogether, but it’s mostly pretty tame stuff as far as I can tell. Otherwise, the characters may: mildly insult faith, discuss religion and politics, swear or insult each other, or, have faith, goodness and friendship; unlike so many today, though, they discuss things and they all stick with you. So, aside from the colorful battles and redundant “gopher” quests, it can be interesting. If you’re bored and need something to play while waiting for the next Elder Scrolls or Fallout game, then it’s . . . there. In my view, the story and lack of real immersion are just not very compelling, especially over the long-term. In other words, the game is weak in regards to replayability, and it didn’t make me interested in either learning more about the franchise’s lore or in playing the earlier games.