REVIEW: Dragon Age: Inquisition (PS4)
Posted on January 11, 2015
Dragon Age: Inquisition is the latest instalment from Bioware, the company most well known for the Mass Effect series, and it certainly does justice to the developer’s reputation as a creator of high-quality storytelling and action gameplay.
DA:I is a single player Role Playing Game (RPG), so it follows in the tradition of games like the Elder Scrolls series (most recently Skyrim). It is set in the pseudo-medieval fantasy world of Thedas which is fairly recognisable from the likes of Tolkien films, and films. It has elves, orcs, dwarves, and, of course, dragons – all clear markers for High Fantasy. As in most RPG games, the player has extensive options for customising the physical appearance and background of their character – you’re about to spend 30+ hours (some say over 200) playing as this character so you’d better get it right.
The camera provides a third-person perspective, which means that you can see your own character running around and completing actions as you control them. It also has squad-based gameplay: you lead a party of four other Non-Player Characters (NPCs) and direct them to undertake many different actions mostly related to combat such as attacking, moving, defending, healing, casting spells and so on. You can have as much or as little control over these behaviours as you like, and for those who like intense micro-management there is a lot of time to be spent upgrading characters, defining their behaviours under given conditions, and crafting new items to keep them up to the level of enemies you’ll find. There is lots to keep players occupied in managing their party and deciding which characters to include or leave behind on outings.
The main action revolves around battles with various kinds of enemies, from bandits and animals (hunting is possible) to powerful villains and massive demons. The action is fairly frenetic and probably requires a reasonably mature experience of gaming action (or good supervision) to handle, but it’s quite stylised and there is a minimum of blood, gore and gratuitous violence. There is also usually the option to ‘disengage’ from a battle and often the player is given the choice to resolve conflicts or solve problems without recourse to violence.
Herein lies the real beauty of this game: it has an incredibly rich storyline and character development with some excellent writing. This is one of the best RPG offerings around, and I’ve sat with friends who go into in-depth conversations on who they were befriending, what decisions they were making to influence the plot direction, and who they were romancing. Yes, romancing: there are some mature themes in that regard as well, but it’s all tastefully presented.
One of the most impressive (and, bizarrely, controversial) aspects of this romance potential is that same-sex relationships are possible. In fact, DA:I presents diversity in all its forms: hardened warriors can be females, fragile mages can be males, and there is a wonderful variety of ages, races, accents, and dispositions that reflects what the real world is like in all its diversity. This allow for some intriguing explorations of identity and sexuality – obviously, all of this would require quite some debriefing with younger players!
It is worth noting, that this game carries an M15+ classification guideline, and this is for violence, themes and sex with ‘strong impact’. This means that it can’t be sold to players under 15 years of age, and the guidelines stipulate that a parent must supervise gameplay if the child is under 15. There is a good chance that a child a a year or two under 15 would be fine playing this game (especially if they were mature and familiar with some of the more mature themes evident in revet RPG offerings), but they may need to debrief some of the themes they are presented with. In any case, this is a great game to play in pairs: two people can fully engage with the story and help to make decisions, and share the experience in the same way you would at a film.
All up, Dragon Age: Inquisition is an outstanding RPG game with beautiful environments, excellent writing, plotting, and character development, and a highly impressive display of diversity that shows that video games are becoming a truly mature, artistic medium. While I found myself putting down the controller after 30 hours or so, this says more about my predilection for action games and my lack of patience for slow-burn narrative and deep character plotting than it does about this very high-quality game.
Disclosure: Bioware provided a review copy of this game, but no other provisions were made for the writing of this review.