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Monday, December 15, 2014

Dragon Age Inquisition Review: What a show.

You wanted Bioware to make Skyrim? You got it. If there was one thing wrong with Bethesda's opus (and there were many things) it was it's hok-tacular story telling. I mean they got Michael Gambon, Michael (goddamn) Gambon, and all he was asked to do was... dragon shout tutorials.

But Bioware is better than that, less inclined to sprawling open worlds, and more comfortable carefully crafting three dimensional characters. Then the combat and then the story. Those are the best things about inquisition in descending order. The cast is once again, exceptional, and the combat keeping in step with 2's methods. I.E every character has a bunch of skills that cool down and cost stamina and you can switch to anybody you want on the fly.

The story doesn't get as much love as it should. At least the main narrative doesn't. The end comes off as more of a mid-season finale then the show stopping trilogy capper I'd hoped to have seen.

If looks could kill, I'd be bleeding out.

But those are mostly communication problems. As massive and as satisfying as the game is, it does an absolutely terrible job managing your expectations. When I was a third of the way through it felt like the game was just getting started. Near the end I noticed two continents on my world map were completely untouched. Surely I couldn't be done yet... I haven't even seen half the world! 15 minutes after I thought that, the game was over.

The reports of 80 hour run throughs have been grotesquely exaggerated. If you sip and savor the game; Mine the best stones, find the rarest ingredients, kill most of the secret dragons, and track down those friggin' shards, you'll milk 45-50 hours. At most. It's not as long I wanted it to be, but only if I compared it to Mass Effect and DA2 before it. Inquisition is unique. A grand experiment in story telling across a massive world. In that way it feels more successful. 

The massive scale allows time for Bioware to be goofy. I'd be lying if I said my favorite parts of all their games are when they break the po-faced "save the universe!!!" bravado and just make me laugh. There's 30 secret bottles of liquor hidden from start to finish, each weirder than the last. "Bitterbile, a vintage that is not so much served as it is brandished." There's a quest for a missing ram called "The Ballad of Lord Woolsley" and Varric's back. God, I love Varric.

You quippy, authorial, lil' munchkin, you.

Speaking of which, have I ever told you guys I'm the one person on planet earth that hated origins and loved (like head over heels, loved) Dragon Age 2? No? well stick around and get angry! 

I did, though. The design of the first game was so rote and expected I thought Weta Workshop would sue. Millions of dollars spent to essentially recreate the same dreary high fantasy fare I'd a seen a million times before. After I killed the big purple dragon, I called it gilded vomit and put it down for good. But I was a Bioware faithful, Mass Effect had a lot of pull for me in 2010, so I got DAII on the cheap. I steeled myself for a rushed amateur hour and was absolutely stunned at what I saw.

The combat was faster paced and more intuitive. The characters were more interesting and original. The story was focused on smaller, slow boiling, political catastrophes. The vast majority of the design work had been redone and improved. Yes... dungeons were reused too much, but I can forgive 5 overused locations if they have more personality than most of Skyrim's paint-by-numbers dungeons combined.

I said all that so I can say this: Inquisition is DAII-2.

...with a couple familiar faces if you skipped it.

I mean that in the most flattering way possible. The story has a large international politics bent as well as the rote "kill the big bad wizard" deal. Guess which one the team focused on more? It's actually kind of a shame, too. The villain is so much fun to look at, it's absolutely criminal how little screen time he has. You literally only meet him 3 times. And as I said before, the show stops just as it feels like the rising action is starting.

But that's just the main story. For once, the main story in a Bioware game is not the main event. I hope you like crafting, because this game will have you scouring the world for secret herbs, magic pelts, armor schematics, pissed off dragons, lyrium smugglers, astrolabes, invisible keys that lead back to a massive dungeon that demands hundreds of the aforementioned invisible keys. Oh, and fortresses to storm.

Can you ride an Elk?! Damn straight, you can ride an Elk!!!!

There's too much to do and you're gonna have a blast getting lost. I've sunk 78 hours over two characters and I'm more than pleased with A. how deep the character creation tools are, and B. that you can choose two different voices for each gender. My roguish, English, human was a far cry away in personality than my brusk, American, wizard elf. Yep. You have 4 actors to choose from and the two I chose were pretty solid. Nothing approaching Jennifer Hale's FemShep... but you shouldn't have your expectations so high. Get down from there!

In the end, Inquisition couldn't save 2014 from generally being a miserable time to be a self identified "gamer." It didn't live up to the heights of Mass Effect 2... but it didn't toy with my fragile emotions by letting me down as hard as ME3. It's not a great game, some of Bioware's stellar DLC may change that, but for now it's a very, very, good one. In a year littered with massive delays, disappointments, and over hyped mediocrity, I say it's enough.

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