As each new year sees the arrival of games taking the RPG and fantasy genres to new heights, there's a fair bit of pressure on Dragon Age Inquisition to perform. Not only because it's the first BioWare RPG coming to next-gen consoles, or that many fans felt that the previous game was a step in the wrong direction. But when the developers freely admit that Skyrim changed everything for fans and makers of open world RPGs, living up to expectations has never been harder.
Luckily, that seems a challenge that Inquisition is poised to deliver on - if the early reviews are anything to go by.
The strengths of Inquisition are clear to EA and BioWare, given that reviews have dropped a full week ahead of release. A bounce back year was expected, as the studio sought to silence critics and take fan feedback to heart, while establishing a foundation for all future BioWare games released in this new era of console gaming.
Although the early reviews take some issue with aspects of the game - its core story, the mysterious forces driving events, or even the overhauled combat systems - they seem to agree that in the genre of open world adventures, Dragon Age Inquisition is a return to form for both the studio and series.
Joystiq (Alexander Sliwinski):
"The immensity of work that went into Dragon Age: Inquisition, however, is overwhelming. This is what we expect from a role-playing game by a major studio like BioWare and publisher Electronic Arts. You have access to more than enough game right from the start – no DLC subplot mishegas here – with plenty extra to explore if you veer off the main story path. My first playthrough was around 70-something hours, and I still had several multi-hour levels I didn't get around to unlocking - not to mention that I didn't even finish exploring every nook and cranny of the places I had unlocked."
National Post (Chad Sapieha):
"It is a paragon of multiple-path storytelling and character development. It offers a master class in intricate, customizable, multi-hero combat. And it delivers not one but ten beautiful and expansive open worlds to explore, boldly throwing down the gauntlet to rival developers. It is, in all likelihood, the fantasy role-playing game Xbox One and PlayStation 4 owners have been waiting for.
Even with its heaping helping of bugs, Dragon Age: Inquisition is very likely the best game of 2014. It’s a rich, expansive, and beautiful fantasy RPG that meets virtually all the expectations gamers have collectively heaped upon software made for eighth generation consoles."
Polygon (Philip Kollar):
"This is the astounding scope I referred to above. It's no longer as simple as how your choices affect your small band of adventurers — though that can vary quite a lot as well. Dragon Age: Inquisition puts the fate of the world in your hands in a way that few role-playing games have done before. And even after another 80 hours devoted to it, it's a world I cannot wait to return to in whatever BioWare does next. I don't know what higher praise I could give."
Shacknews (Steven Wong):
"There are times when the game could feel too big, and that there might be too much to do, but that's hardly a complaint. It's a reason to be completely immersed in this world. Multiplayer has its moments, especially if you can get together a nice team, but it does have a perceivable grind and the loot system has a very high sense of unpredictability. Still, there's so much content in the campaign that even if you decide to skip out on multiplayer entirely, there's enough to keep you occupied until the inevitable DLC expansions start releasing, and perhaps enough to last you to the next full game."
Destructoid (Chris Carter):
"It cannot be overstated how much Inquisition has to offer in terms of side content. It feels like every five minutes you're stumbling across a new optional quest, along with fresh landmarks to find, camps to set up, shards to locate (that unlock a completely new optional hub zone), animals to poach, resources to gather, puzzles to solve, and more. Better yet, everything contributes to the overall war effort, so you never feel like you're wasting your time. BioWare claims that you need over 100 hours to complete everything, and based on my experience, that number is accurate."
Games Radar (Maxwell McGee):
"My favorite moments, however, are the sentencings. These small vignettes have little consequence on the overall course of the game, but dammit if they don't make you feel like a boss. You sit on your mighty throne - which you can totally customize, by the way - fingers steepled, deep in thought, and conduct a sort of mini-trial. Some defendants are criminals, other are more… complicated, but all will face your judgement. This, along with the war council, the choices you make, and the fact that people start referring to as 'your worship’, all feeds back into the fantasy that you are the boss. And boy does it feel good to be the boss."
PC Gamer (Phil Savage):
"That this review has highlighted plenty of issues is because Inquisition is imperfect in lots of small, yet noticeable ways. Make no mistake, though: I love so much of what this game is. The story is something I’m eager to discuss with people as they play through the game—to discover what they did, and learn of the breadth of divergence possible in each person’s campaign. More than that, Inquisition is filled with moments that make it such a fulfilling and worthy sequel for the series. The heartwarming interactions with those companions I befriended. The brief touches of humour and levity. The way that, through the Dragon Age: Keep website, my decisions across the previous games have been woven into the fabric of this one. My first fight with a dragon—the way its animations perfectly conveyed arrogance, annoyance, and eventually exhaustion—will be one of my most enduring gaming memories of this year."
IGN (Vince Ingenito):
"When I’d finally slain my first dragon in Dragon Age: Inquisition, I felt a little sad at the thought that I was probably beginning to exhaust its seemingly endless stream of content. But then I saw the quest ticker: “Dragons Slayed - 1 out of 10.” In all my hours, I had only ever seen three. It’s a surprisingly huge, dense world, and I soon realized there were still entire sandboxes I hadn’t even set foot in. Even in my hundredth hour, I’m still discovering. Despite its less than compelling plot, I still want to go back to explore and fight through every nook and cranny of Dragon Age: Inquisition, until every dragon’s skull is mounted on my wall."
Game Informer (Joe Juba):
"These are minor qualms – along with some crashes and audio bugs – but are generally overshadowed by the many things Inquisition does right. The only major disappointment is the central story arc. In concept, it sounds cool: The Inquisition is formed to close a demon-filled breach in the sky, unite the paralyzed power groups of Thedas, and stop an Elder One from taking over the world. However, when you actually reach those beats in the story, many of the would-be defining events feel abrupt or poorly explained. This would normally be a death knell for an RPG, but in this case, the main narrative is just one of the many stories woven into the experience."
Gamespot (Kevin VanOrd):
"Inquisition's characters and world, on the other hand, recall the grand gestures of the original Dragon Age, even though the game as a whole is so structurally different to its predecessors. It offers the thrill of discovery and the passion of camaraderie. It features a glee club called The Sing-Quisition, and a dwarf with writer's block. It establishes connections with its world in big ways and small, with the sight of a titanous temple and the smirk of an Orlesian commander in love. Dragon Age: Inquisition is a wonderful game and a lengthy pilgrimage to a magical world with vital thematic ties to one we already know."
As expectations for the biggest brands and sequels seem to lead to more disappointment than satisfaction these days, it's rare for a game with as much pressure to perform as Inquisition to truly... well, perform. But it sounds like the developers have done their best to exceed the hopes of players and mass audiences, if anything. That may have been necessary to erase any lingering doubts from devoted players' minds, but it means good things for gamers everywhere.
Do you find the overwhelmingly positive reviews surprising, or did you count on BioWare to over-achieve with this installment in the Dragon Age series? Will you be picking up a copy to lose yourself in Thedas for dozens of hours, or tackle the multiplayer modes with friends?
Dragon Age Inquisition officially releases on November 18, 2014 for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
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