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The Bestest Best RPG Of 2014: Dragon Age Inquisition

Hark The Herald

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In Dragon Age: Inquisition, you are the most important person in the entire world. People will follow you into battle, go along with your decisions and occasionally kiss you on the lips. There’s an enormous world to discover and it’s all there for you. Go and have an adventure. You deserve it.

Adam: Inquisition is like comfort food. A month-long banquet of comfort food, with all the trimmings.

You could gorge yourself on it and end up feeling profoundly bilious and if you were to analyse all of the ingredients too closely, you might well find that there’s nothing particularly nutritious or substantial, but it tastes great. And it’s somehow soothing.

Partly that’s due to familiarity. There’s plenty to do but you’ll have done most of it before if you’ve been whiling away the years hanging around in fantasy kingdoms. There’s equipment to craft, herbs to gather, monsters to kill, demonic portals to seal, dwarves to snog. There are gruff warriors, rebellious rogues and sombre mages. It’s a silly game that mostly presents its silliness with a very serious tone. Yes, there are tragic moments and weighty decisions, but it is a game about leading a band of assorted heroic types around the wilderness to collect magical doohickeys and bits of animals.

Pointy ears, bull nipples and the occasional spot of rumpy-pumpy. I either remember or imagined Joss Whedon commenting that Buffy the Vampire Slayer would never win “serious” television awards because it had “bumpy foreheads” instead of walk-and-talks. Inquisition is a Bumpy Forehead game but it’s also about proper things.

It’s still daft though, and that’s OK. I could quite happily spend an evening adding comedy captions to all the screengrabs I took while I was playing. Mocking overblown fantasy nonsense is one of my favourite pastimes and I’m very happy to poke fun at Inquisition’s most ridiculous moments.

But it pulled me in and I cared about the choices, large and small, and the characters who relied on my messianic misfit. More than that, I found myself wanting to tick every available quest off the enormous list that was developing. Inquisition is an open world game and while I’m not entirely comfortable with that term, the ‘icons on a map’ approach is one that has almost become a genre in itself. Inquisition fits into that category but it’s my favourite example of the form to date.

The characters, quests and combat aren’t the heart of the game – the world is.

There’s so much to do that some of the quests, dialogue sequences and locations aren’t as solid as others. With this much to see and do, I’m not bothered by the occasionally uneven terrain. There are sequences that I thought were highlights that other people rolled their eyes at, and parts that I greeted with a shrug that other people found touching, amusing or exciting.

Inquisition was an important game for me, not because of any specific subplot or aspect of characterisation, but because it made me fall in love with the possibilities of big budget releases again. The genres that I tend to prefer don’t produce many AAA titles so I’m sometimes a little more insulated than I should be from the goings-on in the world of blockbuster gaming.

Even when I’m not playing All Of The Games I’m keeping an eye on them, and BioWare’s latest fits neatly into some obvious recent trends. There are those icons littering the map and the fact that the carefully crafted world sometimes takes a backseat while you’re running from A to B, hoovering up quests and barely thinking about the scenery you’re supposedly exploring, let alone the narrative implications of your actions.

That the game managed to capture my attention so completely made me excited about other games in this style. Inquisition has a strong flavour and personality, the sort that I often expect to be diluted when there are so many cooks at the cauldron. When I sang its praises I wondered if I’d still feel as positively about the game when I came to write about it again toward the year’s end. It’s only been a month but I stand by my first statement in that review – “Dragon Age: Inquisition might just be my favourite game released this year.”

It won’t click with everyone but for those willing to suspend their cynicism and buy into the world, it’s as rewarding as anything in 2014. And if it really really doesn’t click with you, I completely understand – most of BioWare’s recent output has left me completely unmoved – but I also feel sorry for you, just like so many people feel a bit sad on my behalf when they find out that I have a complete inability to enjoy Star Wars and Mass Effect.

I’ve spent nearly a hundred hours playing already and I’m tempted to start all over again on Boxing Day, when life returns to normal after an overdose of family and food. Back to the comfort zone. It might not be the most exciting or inventive game of the year, but it’s extremely good at being a massive fantasy RPG.

And you can snog a dwarf.

Alec: Like Wolfenstein, I feel like this is here partly because the playing field wasn’t too crowded this year. A fair bit of Inquisition has profoundly irritated me – I don’t really want MMO herb-grinding in my epic save-the-world adventure, and while the flirt-on-first-sight conversation options may well be appropriate to the Tinder age, they do lend a Russ Meyer quality to what is supposed to be high drama.

Even so, the sheer amount that Inquisition attempts to do makes it stand out a mile. When I load it up (I’m still some way from finishing it, as far as I can tell), there are so many options, so many things to do. Some involve gardening, far too many involve someone telling me that their lover has disappeared in a dangerous area and can I go find them and oh look they are dead, but equally very many involve a big, exciting scrap, fantastic scenery and running into a bunch of other stuff en route. And when I want a rest from it all, I’ve got a bloody great castle all of my own.

Even the fights, as overly-actiony as they are, look and feel like they’re operating on a whole new level.

Inquisition is an RPG which decides to take on a number of big What Ifs? and as a result leaves several RPG conventions behind. I don’t feel like I’m having a totally familiar experience, I haven’t ever been quite sure where it’s going (other than when I’m herb-farming), and that’s what I look for more than anything.

That said, to a great extent Inquisition is a singleplayer MMO, and there’s been a heavy price paid for that – too much of my time is spent at the Skinner box – but at the same time there’s a huge relief that I can give up the pretense. This is how I want to play an MMO, really – the star of the show in a big world packed with stuff, and if I want to spend half an hour farming Obsidian the option is there. I take it up willingly more often than I’m comfortable admitting.

And, of course, no-one does RPG characters like BioWare does RPG characters. There are more bores on the team than I’d like, but The Iron Bull’s a star, Sera brings both pomposity-pricking and increasing humanity, Dorian is a fine Errol Flynn and Solas is so fascinatingly odd. And refreshingly, reassuringly Welsh. Just don’t make me look at his face.

Something has been lost as the scope and scale expanded, yes – but what scope and scale.

Back to the complete bestest best PC games of 2014.

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