For many fans of the epic fantasy RPG series Dragon Age, Dragon Age II felt oddly limiting, taking away your playable race options and instead putting you in control of the human character Hawke.
Sure, you could still customise your looks and gender and even choose between mage, rogue and warrior -- but compared to the breadth of options (and different introductory sections) in the first game, Dragon Age: Origins, it did feel a little restrictive.
There's none of that in Dragon Age: Inquistion. It's a return to form, and you can happily spend a good hour in the character creator, tweaking the angle of the horns on your Qunari rogue before setting off for adventure. (And let's be honest -- it's the first time we've been allowed to play the fearsome Qunari, so you're going to want to do just that.)
I've been playing Inquisition for some time now, and I have to say that despite having fulfilled my review obligations, I won't be stopping any time soon. I'm already imagining the character I'll use for my second 70-hour-plus playthrough -- it's seriously that good.
At first blush, the plot may not have the sprawling, epic feel of Dragon Age: Origins -- but it does allow for a lot of scope both in the story and the way the game plays out. This time around, tears in the barrier between the ethereal realm known as the Fade and the real world are allowing demons to pass through, and you're part of the titular Inquisition hell-bent on putting a stop to it.
By addressing a few key issues from the previous games and expanding the gameplay significantly, developer Bioware has taken the series to a place where it can offer not only the best Dragon Age game to date, but for my money, one of the best RPGs out there.
The Dragon Age: Origins-style introduction section tailored to your specific race and class are gone in favour of starting out 'Skyrim-style' -- arrested, mildly amnesiac and pleading for your life. The Origins character-specific intros are definitely missed -- it was a great way of getting more emotionally invested in your character and the callbacks to your personal story throughout the run of the game made you feel like a genuine protagonist.
That said, Inquisition gets away with it because it has such a strong storyline from the outset. There are tears in the Veil, the barrier between the fantasy world of Thedas and the metaphysical realm of the Fade beyond, letting all manner of demons through. You seem to be the only person capable of closing them, for reasons that are (at least at the outset) very unclear.
Among the cast of companions that make up your adventuring party, you'll find a number of familiar faces, but plenty of fresh names to keep the game from feeling too much like Dragon Age: The Greatest Hits. There are nine companions you can recruit -- the largest cast of unusual suspects that Bioware has offered in a Dragon Age game to date.
In terms of gameplay, there's much here that's familiar, with some interesting tweaks to keep it all fresh. Micro-managers will delight in the new tactical view, which lets you pause combat and zoom around the battlefield, analysing the state of play before dictating your squad's next move. (For the more story-minded players, you can also just set your difficulty to casual and trust that everyone will take care of themselves.)
That said, there's plenty that's unfamiliar too. I encountered a locked door at one point that told me a needed a particular Perk to unlock it. It confused me until I headed back to my War Table interface -- you're in charge of various inquisitorial underlings, and this is where you can send them off on their own missions to unlock news areas and so on. It's also where you buy the new Inquisition Perks, based on how much influence the Inquisition has garnered in certain areas. And it's not just for lockpicking -- the new Perks system runs the gamut from more efficient gathering of herbs to unlocking more of those ever-important dialogue options on the conversation wheel.
The crafting system feels initially overdone - even a little opaque. There's a system for creating and upgrading (which is more than just having Sandal delightedly shout "ENCHANTMENT" at you) and a similar, but actually quite different, system for helping to supply Inquisition troops.
To be honest, some of the gameplay is a little hard to grasp early on - things such as landmarks, camps, dungeons and the like aren't explained and it's a little unclear for a while what they even do.
Once you do get a grasp on everything, it's actually quite stunning just how detailed this game is. One fairly early quest saw me running through a number of branching chains, heading back to the War Table to get a faction to do some building, then trekking back to the city of Redcliffe for some fast-talking in a dialogue tree. At the end I had not only my own mount, but bonuses for my factions and the whole thing felt genuinely rewarding for all the effort it involved.
The skill-tree system resembles a tweaked version of Dragon Age II's and it's great, but the inventory management is back to what it was in Origins, and I welcomed it back with open arms. You'll be tracking down recipes, plans, armour and weapon upgrades so you can craft materials, valuables and even research materials to help you understand your enemies better.
Probably the biggest change is exploration. Gone are the curiously railway-like maps to move between various zones -- Inquisition embraces the free roam and you can lose a lot of time jumping (and riding your shiny new mount) around finding new areas to explore and new ways to fall down mountains. The game also makes the best of the power that next-gen consoles can bring to bear: it looks beautiful. (And yes, PC does look even better.)
Similarly, the 28 different markers on the map legend can be a bit confusing. You'll also find some zones are harder than others. Even when on casual difficulty, I found some areas that killed me ridiculously quickly.
Both the newly-added ability to jump and the addition of different types of mounts change the way you can explore areas -- and that's handy because the areas are massive. If you remember Redcliffe in Dragon Age: Origins as windmill, small tavern, chantry and few shacks, then get ready to see it in a whole new light as you explored farmlands, mountains, mines, keeps and caves.
Are there bugs and issues? Of course there are -- any game this size has them. Your companions have a tendency to run around like fools -- try standing in a tight corner and watch them play funky chicken as they bounce back and forth trying to find a respectful distance. At one point I saw my companion Varric decide to forego the stairs on a keep and survive a fall would have instakilled my character with nary a scratch.
There's certainly a level of quest bloat as well. You'll find yourself with markers for quests you don't remember getting because of some information that flashed up too quickly for you to take in on a crowded screen. Inquisition, moreso than the previous two instalments, ever rewards the player who takes to time to look through the Codex.
Also, the addition of a search mechanic to help you find things you can interact with and even uncover hidden objects should be more fun than it is -- you end up just spamming it while running around and hoping for the best, sadly.
I was a very big fan of Dragon Age: Origins, with multiple playthroughs under my belt. Dragon Age II left me a little cold -- I struggled to even finish it. But Inquisition has me excited again. This is the game I've been waiting for and it's worth any of the delays that fans have had to stomach.
It's the best Dragon Age game, one of the best games Bioware has made and -- I'll say it again -- one of the best RPGs I've ever played. Dragon Age: Inquisition will have you sitting up at 2am wondering just how late you can play before you'll be too tired for work -- and then deciding to not stop and call in sick the next day.
Dragon Age Inquisition is out on 18 November in the US, 20 November in Australia and 21 November in the UK and Europe, on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and PS3.