As hard as BioWare has tried, the Dragon Age games have never quite been able to eclipse the company’s past triumphs. The Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Mass Effect series not only evinced the developer’s ability to break new ground, but build off features that made the properties so cherished in the first place. Dragon Age: Origins, from 2009, had its fair share of problems, but was so involving in its avant-garde approach to the classic fantasy RPG that its pros outweighed its cons. The 2011 sequel, Dragon Age II, while not an outright disaster, fumbled by committing a certain notorious trope; switching up the art style, limiting scope, tampering with the battle system, axing character races, and leaning more toward a Mass Effect-in-Middle-earth energy by adding a conversation wheel in a half-hearted attempt to establish a moral compass, yet the game’s ending was essentially the same no matter how you behaved.
Thankfully, the third time’s the charm with Dragon Age: Inquisition, a colossal, excessively detailed culmination of five years’ worth of trial and error. This is the kind of adventure BioWare has always wanted Dragon Age to be: a free-of-restraints quest for glory in a war-torn land, and a splendid mixture of relationship building, seemingly endless exploration, and combat that combines the best elements from Origins and Dragon Age II to create something fresh and consistently natural.
Nearly everything about Inquisition feels monumental. From the expansive environments to the vast number of activities that can be accomplished at any given juncture, there’s nothing about the game that can be described as “small-scale.” The main story, while not overwhelmingly original, is endearingly entertaining, pulling your emotions in various directions as you deal with the consequences of actions both split-second and long thought upon. Inquisition has a much more open-ended vibe than either Origins or Dragon Age II, making each decision carry sizable weight; the choices you make don’t just affect things in the moment, but, more often than not, a ways down the road.
After an explosive introductory sequence that leaves you the sole survivor of a cataclysmic bombardment, branded with a mysterious mark and able to vanquish devious otherworldly rifts, you’re seated atop a throne with a significant amount of authority. The crux of Inquisition, and what routinely makes it such an exhaustively encompassing endeavor, is what you do with your newly attained power. No matter how many people you strive to satisfy, there will always be those who turn their backs on you. The process of earning respect is a key aspect of the game; establishing your team with only the most loyal companions is a tricky task among many other demanding objectives.
Once you’ve dipped into the game’s heavily customizable odds and ends, and made decent strides in the core campaign, you’ll soon realize just how much there is to do and see in Thedas and its many regions. Progression is tracked by acquiring points in various hubs and their surrounding areas, unlocking missions (and an elephantine checklist of supplemental content) as you go. The world of Inquisition is so massive that venturing into unknown territories is common. The distractions come fast and furious, from optional dungeons to creature poaching and puzzle-solving, and there’s rarely a situation where you’ll find yourself wandering around in search of an expedition, as you’re always seemingly in the midst of one. It doesn’t hurt that the game is so visually elegant, with very few graphical hiccups (objects popping into frame, some unstable animations on the battlefield) to speak of. The impressive Frostbite 3 engine again proves its worth instantaneously during initial cinematics and later with more nuanced artistry like the subtle expressions on characters’ faces.
Following over 95 hours of gameplay with Inquisition, it still gives the impression of hardly having scratched its surface. Sure, there are drawbacks that regularly raise eyebrows: Its dialogue can be a bit cheesy, and its narrative turns comparatively cliché, but the bulk of what BioWare has produced here easily stands alongside their unapologetically admired releases. A thoughtful multiplayer mode is a pleasant enough way to get real-life friends in on the dragon-slaying festivities, but, in all likelihood, you’ll want to return to the personal realm you’ve forged with utmost urgency, because there’s oh-so much more to do, and nary enough hours in the day to see it all done.