Dragon Age: Inquisition put to the test - size isn't everything

Author: Michael Graf
Date: 2014-11-11 09:01:00
Big, beautiful, and full of adventures - Dragon Age: Inquisition takes us into a game world to fall in love with. Just a true Dragon Age, it's not.

It is high time that psychiatry addressed hero obsessive-compulsive disorder. Because the salvation of the world - oh, it is just nonsense for the sick and at best a beginning, they do not rest in delusional generosity until the last virgin is slain, the last dragon is saved (or vice versa?); They tirelessly lead even the most lost sheep back to the herd and wander to the end of the world to pluck that one leaf that they still need for an unimportant magic potion. If you know that, and even more if you recognize yourself in it, you will find your Eldorado in Dragon Age: Inquisition .

Because the actual story of the role-playing game, which actually saves the world - including necessary secondary jobs - fills a maximum of 30 to 35 hours of play. So much for the "50 hours main story" that Bioware promised us. The also announced "100 hours of side quests" could be closer to the truth, the huge game world of Dragon Age: Inquisition is full of tasks and treasures to the last corner - and full of collecting tasks that would do any Assassin's Creed to the credit.

Yes, Dragon Age: Inquisition is a game like a supermodel: big, cleverly marketed, a real feast for the eyes, and in some places, uh, artificially inflated. Only the true Dragon Age announced by Bioware, the Dragon Age, which wipes out the void of the second part once and for all - that is not Inquisition.

A world to fall in love with

Mark Darrah, the executive producer of the Dragon Age franchise, revealed in a recent interview that the success of Skyrim - 15 million copies sold! - also influenced the Inquisition: "[The players] now have completely different expectations of the narrative style and the exploration of the world." We'll get to the story in a moment, Darrah has already kept his word about the game world, but it couldn't be more explicit about Skyrim be inspired. Far more than its predecessors, the third Dragon Age turns out to be a role-playing game for explorers, its world, which is divided into separate areas, is not only varied, but also simply gigantic.

Basically, Inquisition takes place in the Ferelden known from Dragon Age: Origins and in the neighboring empire Orlais. There are a total of ten "hubs", that is, landscapes that can be explored freely, which we gradually unlock as the game progresses - we will explain how exactly. To describe the areas as "extensive" would be an understatement; if you really want to browse through all the tasks, you can plan your annual vacation. Because even smaller sections like the swampy Fahlbruch offer around two hours of hero food, medium-sized ones like the storm coast already four, and in the huge hinterland you can easily spend six to eight hours.

And you also feel good about it! Because the world is tempting to explore because it looks fantastic. We travel through forested hills, snow-covered mountains, dusty deserts, stormy coasts, dense primeval forests, nocturnal moors - and there are special locations to discover everywhere. In the test of Dragon Age: Inquisition we climb every second hilltop, every dune (you can jump now too!) And just look around.

Thanks to the grandiose foresight, we almost always spot something that makes us curious: statues, ruins, oases, fortresses, caves, villages, temples, waterfalls. And we just have to go there. Why? Please read the beginning of this article again.

Skyrim stays more dynamic

In one aspect, however, the role model, the Skyrim world still has the edge, namely in terms of dynamics. Outside of quests, there is a lot more surprising, a lot more curious, a lot more random happening in Skyrim. Then a dragon attacks the village in which we are about to sell booty; City guards comment on our equipment, children invite people to play hide-and-seek, randomly generated robbery victims ask for randomly generated looted property to be retrieved.

Dragon Age: Inquisition seems quite static in comparison. Sure, Templars fight against magicians here, a hyena snatches a desert fox there, but not as much unexpected happens as in Skyrim - also because the dragons from Inquisition all stay well where the designers have planted them.

It is also a shame that there is only one real big city in the Inquisition world with the Orlesian Val Royeaux, which also only consists of a few streets. But that doesn't change the fact that Bioware has created a backdrop for Dragon Age: Inquisition that tempts with the index finger, that lasciviously spreads in front of us and whispers: Hey, you hero, explore me! And yes, we explore. We explore as if there was no tomorrow. And no main story, but more on that later.

Collect like Ezio

The exploration is of course not an end in itself, the scenes are crammed with side quests and loot, even in the last corner we can still find treasure chests or at least useful crafting ingredients. And then there are also the collecting tasks. Anyone who uses magical "telescopes" to track down and pick up dazzling shards can later use the fragments as currency. They serve as entry tickets to a special dungeon where monsters and rewards await.

Those who, in turn, paint on the "astrariums" (sometimes quite complex) constellations that are scattered around the world, uncover treasure caves. And there is so much more to collect: flags, sights, camp sites, alcoholic beverages, and, and, and, everything yields at least experience points and code entries that tell little background stories.

Sure, the soulless collecting doesn't really fit into a role-playing game because it isn't heroic work, but hard work. Nevertheless, there should be enough players who happily start collecting, be it just for a reward or to clean the annoying "Here's something to collect!" Icons from the map - what about the hero's obsessive-compulsive disorder? It works in Assassin's Creed too. Especially since there is normal heroic work in Inquisition. A lot of it, in fact.

Part-time jobs with main job potential

On top of that, the hero side jobs in Dragon Age: Inquisition can be very entertaining, at least in part. We do a lot of simple courier and hunting jobs like "Take this letter to somebody", "Find four corpses over there" or "Kill that guy over there" that are reminiscent of an MMO. However, many side quests also tell interesting stories and take us to locations that Bioware has put no less effort into designing than the rest of the world.

For example, we explore a temple ruin where time has frozen while mages and demons hit each other's heads. It is a matter of honor that we let the time and with it the demon invasion continue, even if only to steal a fancy wand. Another time we drain the water from a reservoir to explore a flooded village and its cave system.

Or we venture into sometimes elven, sometimes dwarf ruins, prevent dark rituals, storm snow fortresses, hunt giants and dragons. In short: Exciting tasks that other role-playing games do not even include in their main quest are waiting by the wayside in Inquisition. We shorten the often long walking distances by means of fast map travel between camps and villages - or on our horse. When riding, however, our companions break loose, so we have to forego one of the highlights of the Inquisition: the bickering between the comrades.

Oh, while we just mentioned the dragons: Bioware has distributed ten fire spouts in the Inquisition World, we have to find them first. And even if the critters are intimidatingly large, it's not that easy, because they usually hide in remote corners - or at the end of order chains.

But the search is worth it, the dragon fights are one of the absolute highlights of Inquisition, they are first-class staged and tough, last ten minutes and spit out great rewards. The victory over one of the - by the way, deadly - scale lizards is one of the most satisfying successes in the whole game. Not bad for a side job.

Not a story for beginners

It's good, we're already hearing the complaints: What are you talking about side quests? The important thing about a Dragon Age, oh well, the bioware core discipline, that's the story! Yes, that's true, but given the "new" strengths of Inquisition - the mass of content and the enticing world - the main plot takes a back seat. Which does not mean that it is lousy, it leads through the game, creates some memorable moments, has twists and turns, is very well staged thanks to cut scenes and locations that are well worth seeing and picks up more and more speed as the game progresses. We are all the more excited to see how things will continue.

Still, the Inquisition story doesn't fulfill everything we expect from a Dragon Age, at least not if it is supposed to emulate the first series part. But let's start at the beginning: A mysterious explosion tears apart a peace conference between magicians and Templars and with it their armistice, the war escalates for good.

Uh, second: war? Magician? Templar? Church? Oh, yes: If you haven't played any of the predecessors, you only understand Drachenbahnhof at first and later only shrug your shoulders at the performances of old friends. Even if Bioware promises otherwise, the story of Inquisition is not exactly beginner-friendly.

The universe is no longer as gloomy as it was in the first Dragon Age, this time neither children are possessed by demons nor slaughtered farming families - if Dragon Age: Origins was as rough as Game of Thrones, Inquisition is more as good as Lord of the Rings.

At this point we simply say: Templars and magicians have never liked each other, even less after Dragon Age 2 , and not at all after the fateful explosion. In addition, there is now a huge dimensional crack in the sky that spits demons into the Dragon Age world. At the same time, smaller portals are opening up all over the world, from which monsters also pour out. The Templars accuse the magicians, the magicians the Templars, fists and fireballs are already flying.

The world saver - a Qunari ?!

Only one person survived the disaster: of course our hero, in whose hand there is a mysterious splinter with which he can close dimensional cracks. Then why not start with the big one? From this the customary chosen story develops, in which after around 10 hours we get to know the real villain and the cause of the crack - who also doesn't say anything to those who are not familiar with the series.

Our hero is even more meaningless. He later leads the church inquisition, which is supposed to pacify magicians and templars and at the same time take action against the demons, but remains strangely stiff - and mustn't be really angry either. Bioware often gives us a choice between several approaches, but the worst can usually be described as "tough but fair". The savior of the world must not be deeply selfish, which is bad news for black-souled players. Commander Shepard from Mass Effect was allowed to let the puke hang out more clearly. In addition, the hero has to be content with tame cotton ball dialogues, only very rarely is he allowed to give his counterpart his opinion.

By the way, we choose our world saver from three classes (warrior, magician, villain) and four peoples: humans, elves, dwarves and horned qunari. In addition to other combat skills, our choice of class gives us special dialogue options, for example we are only allowed to decide as a magician in a court case against another magician that the accused is "appeased", that is, loses his magical abilities and personality. That is good for the atmosphere.

Our choice of race, on the other hand, is occasionally mentioned in dialogues, our Qunari are viewed with suspicion by many interlocutors - after all, they belong to a warrior people who usually don't give a damn about human problems. And that's supposed to be the chosen one ?! But that also explains the game reasonably credibly: We are in a sense a Qunari-Punk, a member of the Tal-Vashoth, who reject the stiff Qun code of honor and live as it suits them.

In a diplomatic mission at the Orlesian imperial court, our Qunari also has a tangible disadvantage, because the courtiers despise his people and whisper about the "ox man" behind his back. So we have to try a lot more for her favor, which is by no means annoying, but rather logical and atmospheric.

The end ... well, it's okay

Much more important than our class and race choices are of course our story decisions. Do they have a noticeable effect? No, at least not on the story arc. We are allowed to choose which faction to work with several times during the game, which at least in one case also results in other assignments. But sometimes we just notice - nothing at all, the basic events happen one way or another - maybe we'll see the consequences of our decisions in Dragon Age 4.

A small final scene after the credits leaves no doubt that there will be a sequel - once again it doesn't work without a cliffhanger. So the ending leaves us a bit unsatisfied, also because important characters suddenly have nothing more to say. But to be clear: The final act of Dragon Age: Inquisition is definitely not as horribly open as the end of Dragon Age 2 or as unsatisfactory as the finale of Mass Effect 3 .

Because even if the ending raises new questions, the final act of the Inquisition also answers some old ones; after the final battle there is also a little end to the game with the companions, as in Dragon Age: Origins. And then there are drawn pictures that illustrate how our decisions will continue to affect - even if only superficially. Like the whole story, the ending is okay, but not great, not special.

The end of Origins left us even happier at the time, also because it set a memorable milestone with the, ahem, Morrigan decision shortly before the end. Inquisition cannot offer anything as succinct as this - apart from the final cliffhanger, because it may be annoying, but it is quite interesting and actually makes us wait for the sequel. In addition, we are allowed to continue playing after the end, fulfill open side missions and explore the world. Even if that is not entirely logical in view of the events shortly before the end of the game, it is now completely criticism on a high level.

Pale comrades

In addition to the plot, the second core discipline of organic goods is character design, above all of course the hero companion. Most of the nine comrades-in-arms remain pale at first, even the dwarf villain Varric known from Dragon Age 2 has little to say. From the beginning we only take Sera to our hearts, the crazy elven archer makes a memorable appearance and makes us laugh again and again - for example, by pronouncing the name of the main villain differently every time, but always wrongly.

Her ironic comments are also great, when a boss opponent hisses at her, she groans: "Oh man, now this thing is talking to me too!" In short: Sera is the lively, lovable and at the same time annoying star of the Inquisition Ensemble, a (thought) worthy new addition to the Dragon Age ancestral gallery. Well, organic goods it works!

But it doesn't work with all companions. The icy circle magician Vivienne, for example, we can kill an annoying noblewoman at our first meeting, but otherwise she develops little that is worth remembering. Well, after all, everyone brings their own assignments with them, in which we learn more about their past, for example we learn a piquant detail about the Tevinter magician Dorian and finally find out who Varric's crossbow "Bianca" is named after.

These are undoubtedly beautiful stories, as with the story, the same applies here: The characters are not bad and much more sophisticated than the accompanying blowflies that circle us in other games. But we don't experience goosebumps moments like Leliana's campfire singing from Dragon Age: Origins with the Inquisition comrades. Incidentally, the accompaniments are generally well set to music, which we cannot say of all characters, especially speakers from supporting roles like to sound like they are reading.

We are allowed to flirt with fellow campaigners again, after all, romances are part of the classic organic goods repertoire. In order to clog, it is enough to talk to the respective person as often as possible, to fulfill their tasks - and not to annoy them with our quest decisions. Anyone who demands freedom for the magicians, for example, earns crooked looks from the Inquisitons seeker Cassandra and recognition from Dorian.

In our experience, however, this actually only affects love relationships. Even when we tried specifically to anger individual characters, they don't change their behavior in dialogues - they just don't get into the box with us. They only leave the party when we dung riders go completely against the grain.

We would have wished for the system from Dragon Age: Origins (high recognition brings value bonuses) or - even better - from Dragon Age 2, whose companions became friends or rivals depending on our decisions, each given a different special ability. In Inquisition, their liking or dislike seems almost irrelevant.

Heavenly headquarters

In addition to the nine combat attendants, three office stallions support us, pardon, advisers: The spy boss Leliana, known from Origins, the ex-Templar and soldier leader Cullen and the noble diplomat Josephine. They work for - surprise! - the inquisition, which our hero as the inquisitor logically leads. This paramilitary world savior association resides in the Skyhold, which we move into after eight to ten hours of play, and which serves as the linchpin of Dragon Age: Inquisition.

The impressive and atmospheric summit castle delights us not only with fabulous mountain panoramas, but also with an all-encompassing main area. We can travel here at any time to visit traders, manufacture items, judge defeated enemies, chat with our comrades-in-arms and expand the castle complex, for example with a helpful herb garden. Above all, there is the map table on which we accept the next main mission and unlock new areas - the further we advance in the story, the more regions there are to choose from.

However, there are no new main missions and areas for free, they cost power points that we earn with completed quests and other achievements - for example closed dimensional rifts or defeated dragons. If you only complete a few side quests and follow the story too closely, you can sometimes only continue the campaign when you have amassed more power. This can sometimes make progress a bit slow. That didn't bother us in the test - after all, the game world is so inviting that we also like to tackle the secondary tasks - but we also understand anyone who thinks the power blockade is stupid and would rather follow the plot consistently.

In addition to main missions and new areas, there are also side missions on the map table that only take place in text windows. For example, mercenaries ask for orders or companions for favors, sometimes a rebellious nobleman demands our attention, sometimes we are supposed to secure resources for the Inquisition. For each of these assignments, we can choose who should take care of the matter: Leliana's spies, Cullen's soldiers or Josephine's diplomats.

However, this has hardly any effect - except for the time required. As with the companion missions of Star Wars: The Old Republic , the missions run in real time, later missions can take over three hours. This leads to the fact that we visit the sky festivals from time to time to collect our rewards, mostly the orders drop items or influence points.

The latter play a not entirely unimportant role. In addition to side missions at the War Table, we earn them, among other things, when we conquer special sights in the game world or recruit new comrades-in-arms for the Inquisition. If we have accumulated enough counters, our level of influence increases and we can unlock an "Inquisition Bonus" per level. These are special advantages, for example we are increasing our item carrying limit or teaching our villains to pick advanced locks. Every now and then we hire special characters in the game world. These upgrades also motivate.

Also nice: Every now and then the quests from the game world are dovetailed with the card table side quests. For example, in the desert we come across sources from which poisonous fumes boil - we cannot get through them. So we give the order on the map table to build a bridge that will actually be in the game world after the mission time has expired and that will allow us to cross the sources.

Another time we capture an indigenous chief who smears goat blood on the sky fortress - a kind of vengeance ritual. We can now condemn him to go to war with his clan, which in turn leads to diplomatic entanglements on the card table and the associated side mission. An atmospheric idea, because even if the orders only run in text windows, they give the impression that we are actually leading a military organization and not just four guys who knock each other all over the world.

Tactics lead to finger cramps

Which brings us to the next topic, the fighting. Bioware had promised that the battles would be more tactical again after the action-focused Dragon Age 2. The tactical view known from Dragon Age: Origins, which shows us the battlefield in a zoomable top view, is celebrating its comeback in Inquisition. In a way. Because the "new" command perspective has little to do with Origins - apart from the fact that the game automatically pauses as soon as we switch it on.

The fact that the tactical camera does not meet expectations is due to the fact that it is awkward to use with a mouse and keyboard; you can clearly see in Inquisition that it is designed for gamepad operation. For example, we cannot simply shift the perspective by moving the mouse pointer to the edge of the image, but control the camera using a floor cursor, which we laboriously move with the WASD keys or with the mouse wheel pressed. If we select a different character, the perspective jumps back to this hero every time, so we have to scroll to the opponent again.

Okay, now the PC version can also be controlled with the gamepad, which makes operation a little more intuitive, but doesn't solve all problems either. For example, the camera usually doesn't zoom out far enough for us to really get an overview of the battlefield. In addition, we are not allowed to chain actions, but only ever order the use of individual skills and assign general targets.

The most elegant gamepad function is the variable pause: if we pull the right trigger, the time continues, if we release it, it stops again. So we can clock exactly to the second, with the mouse and keyboard control we have to hammer the CTRL key to switch the pause on and off.

So let's be clear: With the mouse and keyboard, the tactics view leads to finger cramps, we hardly ever used it in the test of Dragon Age: Inquisition. Also because we almost never need them anyway.

Attack of the action heroes

The fact that we rarely need the tactics view, even on the higher levels of difficulty, is mainly due to the fact that we use our AI comrades with their skills in an extremely clever way, even without our intervention. For example, a suitably talented magician automatically envelops characters who are attacked with protective shields and revives fallen comrades.

We are allowed to give the companions tactical guidelines again, but they are much more uncomplicated than in Dragon Age: Origins. For example, with just a few clicks of the mouse, we determine who our warrior should prefer to protect (the magician, of course), the maximum number of healing potions the boys and girls are allowed to swallow and which skills the group should use and which not. But that's about it, the AI does the rest very reliably.

Now that would be a good thing in itself, but it also makes Dragon Age: Inquisition more action-heavy. Because our main hero just has to hit it - if we keep the left mouse button pressed, he keeps hitting or shooting (by the way, even outside of combat, which is annoying). In addition, the cursor sometimes accidentally jumps to another enemy in the midst of the battle.

We trigger skills via the number keys or click on the talent bar - which only has eight slots. This limitation is due to the four double-assigned gamepad buttons, even if our hero can do more, we have to limit ourselves to eight talents. That also takes away tactical leeway: the fewer skills, the less we can experiment with different approaches.

Sure, of course we could always optimize something in battle and, for example, make sure that the group of fire demons kindly attack with ice instead of lightning spells because the critters are allergic to frost, but we don't have to. Shield-armored Knights Templar, on the other hand, simply repel frontal attacks, we have to attack them from behind or, for example, paralyze them with spells.

But even for that you don't necessarily need a break, if we rush the whole group onto the shield bearer, it will go down at some point. Which is why most of the standard fights are based on tactical scheme F: aim, bomb, maybe freeze someone or panic with fire spells, done. However, the fact that the beating often turns out the same doesn't mean that they are boring: They are fast, gaudy, spectacular; It's fun to switch between your favorite heroes, to do magic, to shoot arrows and to strike.

Explicitly excluded from Scheme F are the hard fights against dragons, in which we often pause to change the positions of our group members. Ranged fighters should keep their distance from the fire-eaters, but don't do it automatically - this is where the companion AI reaches its limits. Every now and then our comrades-in-arms stood around idly, even if there were still enough opponents - but only for a few seconds.

Drink yes, do magic no

In normal battles, we usually only pause to better control the consumption of healing potions. While we're on the subject: Dragon Age: Inquisition is known to dispense with healing spells, all healing in combat goes through the potions. Even after the battle, our heroes do not heal automatically, but only when swallowing potions, when traveling fast over the map or when resting in tents.

That sounds stupid at first and is not necessarily logical (why can a magician resuscitate the fallen, but not heal the wounded?), But is less of a problem in combat than feared, even if the mechanics are of course clearly designed to simplify play - which is Dragon Age- Fans won't be too pleased. In practice, however, we just have to make sure to always have someone in the group who can conjure up magic shields to minimize the damage. The AI does the rest.

By default, our supply is limited to eight healing potions, which all group members share. When resting and at storage boxes (which we find especially before boss fights) we refill used recovery showers for free, all other water (such as mana and regeneration potions) we have to brew from the ingredients we have collected at the alchemy table. We don't need a separate ability for this, we simply unlock new potions by looting or buying the associated recipes. The same applies to forging runes, weapons and armor. With the latter two we can combine different crafting materials as we wish, each ingredient brings different value bonuses. In this way, individually adapted objects can be made, which is fun, if not absolutely necessary.

Focus on fighting talent

Even classic role-playing talents like "persuading" or "picking locks" are nil in Dragon Age: Inquisition. As mentioned, our dialogue options depend on our class as well as on our companions, for example Cassandra can persuade an unwilling healer to work with the Inquisition. Locks, on the other hand, can be picked by any villain (e.g. Varric or Sera).

We are also no longer allowed to manually increase the character values of our heroes; they increase automatically. When leveling up (and by finding very rare "Amulets of Power"), we only earn talent points with which we unlock new combat maneuvers and passive bonuses. At the beginning we have four talent trees to choose from, which are the same for every class.

Magicians, for example, specialize in fire, ice, lightning or protective magic. From level 10 onwards, each character gets an individual talent tree, Dorian, for example, can then concentrate on death magic (fear and ghost magic), Cassandra on Templar skills, with which she can protect the party even better.

In the individual talent tree, each hero can also unlock his own focus ability, a powerful super attack for which we have to collect focus points in battle beforehand. This is available, among other things, for successful combo maneuvers, for example when our magician freezes an enemy so that our warrior can split him up with one blow.

Especially in tough battles, the focus talents like to tip the scales, Dorian, for example, is allowed to slow down the time for a short time - for the opponents, the group continues to move at normal speed. Sera, on the other hand, covers the target with extremely fast knife wounds, Cassandra strengthens the fighting strength of all companions. Nobody says Dragon Age doesn't have cool skills. Very few of them.

One horror menu, please

Incidentally, the talent menu - like the inventory - is horrendously awkward to use with a mouse and keyboard, which we "owe" to the developers' gamepad focus. Almost all actions, whether we are learning a new skill or want to change our equipment, take two to three clicks too many. Bioware has immediately canceled alternative weapon sets.

In addition, the inventory menu consists of completely confusing lists, the sorting function does not help either - and neither does the gamepad, item lists are simply confusing - the developers did not necessarily have to orient themselves to Skyrim here. Geez, Bioware, you already did a better job in Knights of the Old Republic !

By the way, we are allowed to upgrade weapons and armor, which is a cool idea in itself, but leads us to no less fiddly menus. In addition, we do not understand why boots and gloves are no longer a separate item class, but are screwed onto suitable armor as "upgrades".

This is cumbersome and annoying because sometimes we simply forget it - the hand and footwear can give us useful value bonuses. In the obvious delusion of making Inquisition more accessible to casual role-players, Bioware has not simplified it, but rather complicated it.

And while we're at the moment of complaining: The hero controls themselves take some getting used to at first. For example, because we can trigger attacks with left clicks even when no opponents are around. Also inconvenient: unlike in the predecessors, we can no longer simply click on an object with the left mouse button so that our hero automatically walks there and picks up loot or opens a door.

The right-click only works when we are right next to our goal. Sure, that becomes part of the flesh at some point, but it can irritate series connoisseurs. Especially those who have to clear every plant, every ore deposit that they see along the way - did we mention this role-playing obsessive-compulsive disorder?