Probably the worst thing about Dragon Age: Inquisition is that it’s called Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s just not a very sexy title. Then again, neither is Game of Thrones—and that turned out pretty well.
Do you like Game of Thrones? If you do, you should play Dragon Age. Even if you don’t like Game of Thrones, you should probably play Dragon Age—it’s one of the best games of the year, and definitely a standout in this crowded holiday season. But you should know a few things first.
A point of order: This isn’t a review. Dragon Age: Inquisition is an absolutely massive game, full of more things than you can possibly do or see in a single playthrough. At this point, I’ve played about 32 hours of Inquisition, and it feels endless—but in a really exciting way. (I’ll explain more on that a bit.) It’ll probably take me at least as long to get anywhere near an ending, and that’s not even including the new multiplayer mode. So I haven’t yet spent enough time with the game to review it in full. In the meantime, consider this more of an explainer for the uninitiated—a guidebook of sorts explaining just why one would want to devote so many hours to a single game (but still fewer hours than it takes to watch all of Buffy or The West Wing).
Dragon Age: Inquisition is actually the third game in a series that began with 2009’s Dragon Age: Origins and continued through 2011’s Dragon Age II. Dragon Age: Origins is held in pretty high regard. It’s a throwback to the sort of computer role-playing games that weren’t really being made anymore at the time of its release, the spiritual successor to the revered Baldur’s Gate series. Dragon Age II isn’t so highly regarded; while it has its fans, it also streamlined a lot of the first game’s systems in a way that upset fans of Origins. It was also a repetitive affair, reusing the same basic levels over and over again.
As such, Dragon Age: Inquisition strives to blend the hardcore role-playing that made Origins so beloved with the sequel’s smarter design decisions. On this front, it’s a resounding success— Inquisition is bigger and better than its predecessors in just about every imaginable way. But is it for you? Let’s find out:
Game of Thrones is a good point of reference. Mostly because of the depth. In this game, you’ll be dealing with a large cast of characters and helping to decide the fate of an empire—relationships and politicking is just as important as all the dragons and magic. (Dragon Age has much more dragons and magic than GoT.) Like that show, the game features stretches of heady drama, intrigue, and wit, which are just as fun as the crazy battles you’ll find yourself in. If you’re a fan of A Song of Ice and Fire, the books that GoT are based on, you’ll especially love Inquisition—but like any good cable drama, this is something you’ll want to really sink your teeth into.
The story is pretty great. Here’s the premise: The fantasy world of Thedas is thrown into chaos when an explosion causes a massive, otherworldly hole in the sky to appear, pouring all manner of spirits and demons and bad magic into the realm. This explosion wiped out a village, and left you behind. You don’t know who you are, but being the sole survivor makes you look really suspicious—until people discover that your hand is marked with the same energy pouring out of the breach in the sky. Therein lies your mission: to curry favor and gather support while you learn how and why you’re the key to fixing the world. Of course, things only get crazier from there.
You can play a lot of different ways. Part of the inherent appeal of Dragon Age: Inquisition is the role playing—what kind of hero will you be? You can make your character look however you like, customizing appearance and selecting race and gender (race being elf, human, dwarf, or the horned giants known as qunari) as well as class (spell-casting mages, sword-swinging warriors, or sneaky rogues). I roll as a mage, since I’m fond of superheroes and will always gravitate towards options that let me cause my opponents to spontaneously combust.
But the game also accommodates a variety of skill levels. On the easier difficulties, you can more or less just power through, controlling only your character and letting computer-controlled companions do their own thing. Strategy-oriented players can micromanage to their heart’s content. There’s certain to be a way to play Dragon Age: Inquisition that’ll suit you quite well if you take the time to experiment.
It’s big in a good way. Inquisition is breathtakingly big in a way that can seem intimidating at first—there’s just so much to do. But where many games attempt to achieve a similar effect by just cramming the world full of busywork, much of what fills the locales you’ll be exploring in Inquisition are textured, world-building side-quests. The game really looks and feels rich with history in a way the first Dragon Age games didn’t—it makes you want to take a deep dive into this world’s lore. Also, it’s really, really pretty.
You don’t have to play the first two games. But you should consider doing a bit of homework if you haven’t. Part of the appeal of prior Dragon Age games has been player choice—if you’ve played the first two games, the world will look a bit different based on your decisions. Didn’t play them? Totally fine. Visit the Dragon Age Keep for a bit of an interactive recap of the first two games, which allows you to make some of the major decisions you’d make in Origins and Dragon Age II. It’s a good introduction to Thedas, the rich and complex world in which the Dragon Age games are set. If you want all the particulars broken down for you—the way a friend might explain things over a drink—check out this piece by Kotaku writer Kirk Hamilton. The game does explain itself quite well, though; you’ll just have to do a fair amount of in-game reading to get the backstory. Which isn’t that big a deal, because the game’s journal entries are well-written and hide a lot of great stuff that’s of interest to newcomers and veterans alike.
Ultimately, a little patience goes a long way. Even though I’ve only played some thirty-odd hours, I like Dragon Age: Inquisition a lot. It’s one of my favorite games of the year—even though I was initially resistant to it. With all the games coming out this month, Inquisition‘s bigness was intimidating in a way that might’ve soured the experience. But then I started playing. Now it’s really hard to stop.