This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Dragon Age must have gotten some funny looks when it sauntered into the solid gold clubhouse of the new console generation. "Boy, can't wait to start wowing some eyeballs. Damn, it feel good to be AAA!"
Then there was kind of an awkward silence before Destiny walked over and put a friendly arm around it. "Dragon Age, are you sure you wouldn't be happier back at last-gen house? It's just this is a very high pressure environment. I'm concerned you'd have trouble fitting in."
"No, I wouldn't. Look at my big environments and water effects. I'm more next-gen than Commander Riker's beard."
"Oh for God's sake, Dragon Age, you look like shit! You always looked like shit, but we've been too polite to say anything. Your animation's janky as hell, three-quarters of your runtime consists of watching people explaining how they feel about things while emoting like animatronic presidents at Disneyland, and all their hairdos look like they're about to pop off like they're made of LEGO."
"Alright, fine, but I'd better see some moist-looking skin textures or you're out the fucking door!"
It might seem like I'm giving Dragon Age: Inquisition shit and obviously I am, but here comes the second act twist, you cunt: I think it's my favorite of the series. And that's probably because unlike Dragon Age II, it feels like stuff is actually happening in it, and it isn't just about the daily life of some fuck at his neighbourhood watch group. And unlike Dragon Age 1, it manages to do the epic scale while remaining focused on a central narrative, where the threat is something that one can sense constantly looming overhead and not some vague villainous force that we have to deal with at some point, but which seems happy to put its feet up and read Gardeners' World while we dither about with distractions as long as we like.
The plot is: the local equivalent of Satan is trying to blow up the world and you are the only one who can stop them. Done, bam, wallop! Nice, strong core for everything to be built around like an erection in a pavlova. Not-Satan kicks things off by blowing up a summit full of religious and military leaders, leaving the world floundering and you the only survivor, but with a mysterious green particle effect stuck to your hand that seems to be the only thing that can counter Not-Satan's machinations, machin-Satans, if you will. Off the back of this, everyone around you goes, "Shit, we thought we were onto something with all our existing spiritual and military authorities, but your particle effects have shown us the way!" And you accidentally become the leader of the inquisition, an army of the righteous, tasked to defend Tamriel or Hyrule or whatever this place is called from the forces of darkness.
You become fantasy Commander Shepard, a world-famous and highly respected leader despite the fact that they can't delegate for shit and have to personally do everything, from infiltrating enemy strongholds to picking flowers for the herb garden. This is what happens when you elect as leader a guy whose main qualification is being the first random Johnny in line when the green particle effects where being handed out. Should be grateful the Chief Inquisitor didn't end up being a pot plant or the guy who delivered the buns.
But when I said "random Johnny", I do mean random, cause once again you can pick from a variety of species and backgrounds, when Hawke from Dragon Age II could only be human. So that's nice. Actually Hawke shows up in this game, so everyone can bang on about how awesome he is for his whole sodding screen time. But he defaults to a generic grizzled warrior type, when the Hawke I remember was more of a snarky fop with a hankering for outlaw mage todger.
So the combat's what's kind of typical for latter Bioware RPGs. There's a system for strategically placing and commanding all your sidekicks in battle, which I took one look at and then never used, because you're also free to just charge in and wreck shit up in real time, and it was usually all I needed. It's like giving me a spoon and a cocktail stick and saying "Now you can eat your boiled egg your way." And there's plenty of opportunity for combat, because the open-ended maps lean things a bit MMORPG-y with small clusters of baddies littering the landscape like cowpats. And it gets a bit samey because it doesn't seem to matter where you are in the world, you only ever seem to fight demons or human bandits, although you can go into a cave and fight giant spiders for a breath of fresh, stimulating air, or should I say fresh urticating hair!
You also now have a horse to ride, which is another thing I took one look at and then never used, because it takes a few fiddly button presses to bring out or stuff into your horse utility belt and you have to stop and get off every 10 yards to pick another flower. You never know when you're suddenly gonna need thirty of the fucking things to craft the inquisition a new bowling alley or pie shop.
Actually, when I said it's on you to do all the flower picking, that's not strictly true. You can now send agents Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood style on missions that complete themselves after variable amounts of real time, and you can send people to gather resources, although A) there are a lot of better things they could be getting on with, and B) your horde of religious fanatics with the entire backing of a world-class peacekeeping force will come back with two shiny rocks and a daisy chain.
I'm not sure I like the way you have to wait real time for these missions to resolve. Twenty minutes, an hour maybe, fine, pop off to a sandbox to amuse yourself in the meantime. But three hours? Seems a bit much if you're not planning to flog us Dragon Age: Inquisition Fun Bucks to speed the process up. It's rather annoying when you've set yourself a personal mission that requires these missions to be completed, such as getting that spicy ambassador lady to show me her bum, because Christ knows I'd given up on the idea of actually finishing the whole game in the week I had to play it in.
I like to speed through the critical path and faff with the side stuff later, and that's not an option. There seems to be a minimum faffing about quota before you can advance the plot. There is a lot to like. I do enjoy sitting on my big scary inquisition chair and passing judgment on dicks who've pissed me off in a story mission, but I feel weighed down by a hundred different things whenever I try to move forward, like a kindergarten teacher in a school for the blind. Loading times are longer than the embarrassed silence after a loud fart in a church and keep stacking up when you're hopping around the world, looking for stuff to do. And if you're one of those mentalists who fret about whether you're fully optimized, this game will be a monkey on your back, as you micromanage every single party member's skillsets and equipment through a clunky-ass menu system, to say nothing of weapon and armour crafting, the third thing I took one look at and never used again, 'cause you pick up new, improved equips fucking everywhere until you might as well start burning them for fuel.
If you're boring or somebody's dad, you might appreciate the methodical bits, but frankly, I found it all too loaded down to keep the pace going after a while, and I was afraid if I took part in one more disorganized melee, my hairdo might fly off and interfere with someone's clay pigeon shooting.
Relic of an age gone by: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I know you can be as good or evil as you like in Dragon Age but I think calling yourself 'The Inquisitor' is leaning more on one than the other
There was a Dragon/Draggin' pun in there somewhere