Game Reviews - Reviews

Dragon Age: Inquisition (EA, Multiformat)


Videogames, as anyone knows, are a distraction. They offer a welcome excuse for avoiding sorting out that mounding pile of laundry or changing the blown bulb in the downstairs toilet. They provide respite from the tedium of everyday life and an opportunity to embody a fictional character in an entirely fantastical world. Consequently, David the biochemist will spend an average evening saddling up dragons and scorching riverside hamlets, grinning with glee as petrified villagers scream and run for safety. Brian from accounting will fill a random weekend ranking up on Shooty Shooty Bang Bang 3 so he can unlock a gold-plated flamethrower. Games are a nice way of passing an hour or two – or three or four – but for many more casual players they are not any more consequential than that. They don’t mean anything or have any intrinsic value. Videogames could be erased from the world altogether and their users would find some other way to occupy their time. David would take up badger baiting. Brian would try his hand, and his feet, at ballroom dancing. The world would keep turning.

This would be fine if it were not for the games that demand more than stolen moments of your valuable time, that expect more from the relationship than an empty dalliance. Dragon Age: Inquisition does not so much fall into this camp as crash-lands into it, rending the earth asunder as it roars, bares its fangs and beats its scaled wings to make its presence known. The latest sprawling epic from development house Bioware, the genii behind the equally impressive Mass Effect series (EA, Multi), this new instalment in the swords and shields saga is absolutely huge in terms of scope and ambition. The continent of Thedas may admittedly be your generic locale of forests and craggy valleys where strange races dwell but proceedings are given a neat spin by the introduction of “The Fade”, an evil otherworld that threatens to permeate this one through supernatural rifts. Your character, and as is the norm you are able to choose between different types before embarking on your adventure, is tasked with plugging up these ectoplasmic holes lest the universe be overrun with malignant demons.

The main storyline details the war between these forces but as in the likes of Skyrim (Bethesda, Multi) and Grand Theft Auto (Rockstar, Multi) the lion’s share of your time will be spent on the countless number of branching activities and side quests squirreled away within this virtual kingdom. As in those flagship releases there is an almost numbing amount of things to do, and there is more variety than in the repetitive fetch tasks (“Go to the Castle of Dumbkopf where ye shalt find the Key of Convenience to unlock the Oubliette of Lazy Design”) that are common to the genre. Inquisition, as many have noted,is more open world orientated than any of its predecessors. In one sense, it feels looser and less shackled to an overarching narrative. Yes, there is a tale to be told along with the requisite dialogue trees but the designers are not so heavy-handed in forcing you to stick slavishly to it. However, combat, and there is a great deal of it, is another thing altogether. The frequent battles, which combine magic with good, old-fashioned, skull-cleaving weaponry, are balanced between button-mashing and strategizing that is reminiscent of RPGs of yore. The ability to pause skirmishes to plan your tactics and position the members of your party is nice touch similar to the mechanics of tower defence titles. It should please players of different disciplines.

Happily, Inquisition has a sense of its own preposterousness, so the pomp and ceremony are counterbalanced by a sense of humour, and the bloodshed is leavened by the traditional Bioware romantic subplots that are more oo’er missus than genuinely titillating. Further, the potential grimness of it all is leavened by the fact that the world looks absolutely stunning, most notably when running full tilt on new generation consoles. Top marks to the graphical boffins for the colour palette, architecture and topography on display here. It truly is a sight to behold even with the odd glitch, and you will spend a long time beholding it. While some games meekly ask for a few snatched moments of your life, Inquisition will dominate every waking second. Ross Thompson