Dragon Age Inquisition (DAI) came out very recently for the PC, Playstations and Xboxes. I got the PS3 version. This is an early thoughts post about the first 20-30 hours of the game (it’s reportedly around 200 hours long if you do a completionist play-through, hence this post before I [possibly] put up a comprehensive review after finishing it).
I hadn’t intended to include this section, but the PS3 version at least doesn’t have a manual. It has a tiny booklet with no in-game information whatsoever. I’m baffled by this. I’ve played both previous games so it wasn’t too much of an issue, but it’s still an inexplicable decision.
I realise this’ll interest almost nobody else, but I like it, so it’s included. The game has options for German, in both text and voice. After a playthrough or two, I’ll probably give that a go. And who said videogames weren’t educational?
At first, I thought Dragon Age Keep had failed to work, for the good reason that it had failed to work. However, to check and try again, I visited the Keep site and tried clicking to export my world state [which I did not do for my first playthrough]. This feature can be found at the bottom right corner after you click to open the right side bar. When you’ve done it, it’ll take a time stamp. Make a note of that, and then compare it to the one that appears on-screen after you try importing before character creation.
The PS3 browser has been buggy for a while, but, provided you have an internet connection, the Keep does work (I checked with a second character and the import did succeed).
The Keep is a free, online, browser-based system which allows you to recreate or change the choices made for the first two games, and then import those to DAI in order to affect the world.
There’s greater racial choice than before, with the horned and tall Qunari joining fantasy staples elves, dwarves and, of course, humans. Both genders are available, and there are two voices to choose from per gender (one English, one American).
The character creator does offer far more customisation options than before. Tattoos, for example, can now be practically any colour because a colour wheel rather than discrete options are how you select the hue [NB Qunari do not get tattoos, but instead get in-game warpaint instead of helmets, which they cannot wear due to having horns]. However, there is a dramatic difference in graphical quality between the PS4 version and PS3, and it’s a bigger difference than I was expecting.
Creation options are the best of the series by a long shot, but the surprisingly lacklustre graphics mean that you may well be wondering whether your Warden or Hawke (protagonists of the two preceding games) actually looked better.
The hair is a low point. It looks far too shiny, almost like plastic. This is also the case on 360 or a low end PC. If you’re playing on PC, turn the mesh textures up to maximum and it resolves the problem.
There are no scars in the PS3 version for memory reasons (according to Bioware’s Mike Laidlaw). In the PS4, Xbox One and PC versions (unsure of Xbox 360) you have a range of scars to choose from, can position them where you like and alter their shallowness/depth.
Whilst I do like Dragon Age a lot (including this game), the weaker than expected graphics were somewhat disappointing.
Crafting and Customisation
I was looking forward to this a lot. The vast majority of armours look different on differing characters and you can craft your own. Cloth, metal and leather of varying types can be combined to provide different appearances (so you can inflict the beeswax catastrophe of plaid weave on whoever you dislike) as well as unique bonuses (resistance to particular types of damage, for example).
In addition, weapons can be crafted in a similar manner, and you can create arm and/or leg armour which you then fuse to your main armour to augment it a bit more.
Crafting armour requires schematics which can be procured both as loot and bought through shops (unfortunately I don’t think you get a preview of what the armour’s like in either statistical or appearance terms).
In addition to armour and weapons, you can also make your own potions. Beyond the basic healing potion, which is topped up whenever you’re in a camp, there’s a range of others which must be made by the player. Improvements to potions and grenades are optional but can offer significant benefits (it seems, I must admit I haven’t done much potion/grenade upgrading).
Last but not least, the player’s base of operations can be customised. This is almost entirely aesthetic, so if you want to hang Qunari banners all over the place to remind your mostly human underlings who the boss is, there’ll be neither bonus nor penalty. A few upgraded areas (such as the garden) have a couple of options (chantry or herb, in this case).
NB creating a space doesn’t seem to work for naming crafted armour/weapons. However, as well as preserving spaces as part of the initial (and usually bland) default name you can, weirdly, insert one by making an apostrophe and then a space right after.
For the first time, a tactical view is available to all platforms. It’s the first game I’ve ever played with such a thing. At first it felt rather odd and old-fashioned, but (especially for more serious fights) I’ve grown to quite like it. There’s also the over-the-shoulder approach available, which is very similar to Dragon Age 2’s combat style.
Unlike DA2, it seems that you can no longer use all abilities, only those mapped to the eight slots available. That’s... interesting. You can alter them, of course, as you like and maybe I just missed how you do it, but that’s how it seems.
Tactical view offers the advantage of moving over an enemy to reveal not only their health and effects, but also weaknesses and immunities, so you can damage them more easily.
When speeding up time in tactical view, sometimes there’s a 2 second black screen delay. This is not a bug, it’s related to hardware limitations. It seems to happen when you aren’t already centred on the character you have selected.
There is very little healing. All characters have a shared pool (8, initially, can be increased with perks) of healing potions, which are easily replenished at camps but there’s no easily acquired healing spell. Instead, health is protected by spells such as barrier, or status effects such as guard. Enemies can also use such things (but you can destroy them with the right spell). It feels more tactical, as you send off one warrior to distract a boss whilst your other three characters wipe out the minions so you can all focus on the (by then) solitary boss. With the right spells or warrior skill you can block off a corridor, dividing enemy forces so you can take them down more easily.
Thankfully, the second wave of enemies that was very common in DA2 makes no return here.
I’ve been playing on normal, and my party hasn’t yet been wiped out. I may crank it up to Hard for a later playthrough.
Outside of combat, there’s also the base of the Inquisition. Weirdly, it feels a little bit like XCOM: Enemy Unknown (on steroids). You go out to a massive area, massacre the local bandits/wildlife, and when you return home you have more power to unlock missions and bits of dead lizard (and the horrendous plaid weave) to make new gear. After major story events, check in with your companions and advisers, who may well have new things for you to do (outside of the war table).
The war table is a big map of Orlais and Ferelden. As well as just visiting the open world areas (which you can do more easily via a world map in your menu), you can pick missions to attempt, and order your advisers (diplomatic, espionage and military) to send their agents to conduct missions of their own. These are well worth doing and yield small rewards in gold, influence, items and so forth.
The Inquisition also gains perks, as do characters (although much more slowly, at least early in the game). These vary from increasing your inventory from the small 60 (alas, no chest to store stuff forever) you start from, to opening up new dialogue options on matters religious, historical and so forth. When you recruit agents in the field (a fairly rare occurrence) these also provide a perk, reducing the time it takes agent missions (see above) to be completed.
On a more minor note, locked things are far rarer than in previous games (it feels like you could do without a rogue most of the time), and some barriers can be smashed down by a warrior or dispelled by a mage.
The user interface is functional but feels like it could be streamlined. Things are never in a weird place but it does seem that it takes a bit longer to get things done than could be the case. On the plus side none of the crafting materials takes up the finite space available in your inventory, so you can collect metal, cloth and herbs without worrying you’ll hit a limit.
I can’t go into details because I’m only a certain distance in, and spoilers are the work of Satan. I do know who the major villain is and much of the background to what’s happening.
Weirdly, for a Bioware game, the story feels a little stilted after the very start. I think this is because of two things: your character doesn’t come with much background at all initially [more is revealed later], and you get thrust into the Hinterlands. The Hinterlands is one big open world area where you can spend 20 hours plus trying to do everything. My advice is to leave as soon as possible to get the story going.
After the early part of the game the story really kicks off, and the Inquisition becomes the centre of gravity which is all that stands between the world and chaos. The characters are well-written, and it’s nice to wander around your base, bumping into people you’ve recruited and people who’ve just shown up (tip: chatting to them can provide new quest opportunities).
I can’t properly assess this until I’ve completed the whole game, of course. Slightly slow at the start, but currently feels very promising.
This is why I don’t like giving scores.
I’m not someone too fussed by graphics. For others, they matter a lot. The graphics in DAI are generally poor. The hair looks plastic, textures often take a while to load, the facial hair [stubble more than shiny beards] looks poor and so on. The moustache of one characters was so bad it was almost amusing (not Dorian’s, I hasten to add). It is worth mentioning that the clothing can look really rather nice, and even has a good ‘wet’ look (a bit like Dragon’s Dogma, but the dry/wet difference is determined by location rather than as a combat effect).
If you’ve got a low end PC or ‘last-gen’ console but plan on upgrading in the near future you may well prefer to wait. The graphics are disappointing, and sometimes to an extreme degree. The first vitar (facepaint) I found for my Qunari mage looked pretty good (some basic white stripes). A later one (almost full-face yellow) was so bad I swapped back.
However, for me the graphics are a secondary issue. So, this area of weakness is not a deal-breaker, from my perspective.
The music is good, and in places very good indeed. As always, voice-acting varies a bit but the general quality is very good. It’s also weird, but nice, to hear Cullen as commander of the Inquisition’s army, after we’ve seen him progress from nervous Templar, to Knight-Captain in the last game.
Assessing the Inquisitor is very hard because there are four voice actors (two per gender, one English, one American) and I’ve only heard a lot from one (Alix Wilton Regan, English female voice). Very good so far, but I want to try the others as well.
The effects could perhaps be a little better. They’re not bad, but also haven’t made a huge impression.
Bugs and other issues
In a game this massive, there will be some bugs. Worth emphasising that they’re often platform-specific. Anyway, here are the ones I encountered on the PS3 version.
Sometimes there’s a very faint (probably one pixel-thin) horizontal black line halfway up the screen. In dark settings, it’s hard to see, in snowy surroundings it stands out.
Not a bug, but the loading times can be a little long.
Sometimes, going into/out of tactical view can mean lots of sounds cease to be heard. This can be rectified by leaving the area. Whilst this has happened very rarely to me, it’s still irksome.
X means both jump and loot (and light fires, where applicable). Once I tried lighting a fire, was too far away, and ended up lighting it in mid-air, which then had my character hovering (halfway through a jump animation). I could still move around, and looting resolved the comedy problem.
To date I’ve suffered two freezes. The first was a ‘regular’ freeze (no warning about potential corruption of the system on restart), and upon reloading the last save the issue did not recur (although I did skip through the preceding cut-scene). Whilst this isn’t great, freezes do often happen now and then with massive RPGs (cf Skyrim, Dragon Age: Origins etc).
The second occurred during a cut-scene immediately after I’d saved (the save icon was still up). I waited a little while in case the save was still being processed, and afterwards did get the potential corruption warning, though all was fine.
It took me some time to sink my teeth into Inquisition. I think the early visit to the Hinterlands coupled with the lack of information about your character was something of a mistake. However, once the story kicks into gear it really seems to take off. As well as the companions and advisers, I like the secondary cast that join the Inquisition.
Apart from the freezes, the bugs are all minor but the little delays can make it feel like a good book where every page takes five seconds to load. Not a major problem but it does take the shine off a little.
At this stage, I’d give it 8/10. It should’ve been a point higher, but the loading times and numerous small bugs do stack up.