Dragon Age: Inquisition is a AAA video game made by developer Bioware that is both standard and completely different to any other 'normal' AAA video game - and that's a marvelous thing.
We've all read the reviews, seen the streams and heard all about why it is the game of the year. I'm hear to talk about some of the things you may not have heard about DA:I - things that you may not have read elsewhere, or even experienced yourself in your own play through.
It actually worked out of the box
Yes, I was the one lining up outside my local EB store to pick up the deluxe edition of Inquisition at 8am. As excited as I was to take it home and pop the discs in to my PC, ready to install, I was nervous. What if it crashed? What if there was some game breaking bug that stopped me from doing anything important? With 2014 being the year of 'The Broken Game' (I'm looking at you AC: Unity) coupled with the fact that this was the first time I'd ever pre-ordered a game that wasn't from Nintendo, I was ready for anything.
To my happy surprise, I was greeted with a clean install, and was happily roaming the world of Thedas within the hour. There were no real issues where I got stuck (that is a lie, there was one issue, but that was my fault, so it doesn't count). Reviews mentioned several bugs in pre-release code, but this day one patch had worked a treat.
It's the small things
The stories that Bioware create are already legendary. The Mass Effect universe is a well crafted futuristic look at existence that is comparable with Star Trek and Stargate (that's right, I went there) and the Dragon Age world of Thedas is a fully fleshed out medieval story chock full of rich lore and political intrigue. But while these stories often involve world changing conflicts, the big stuff often takes a backseat to the stories of the people.
One particular superb piece of game design that I come across in Inquisition is something I'm willing to bet 90% of people either missed or didn't even consider.
In one specific area of Orlais, Emprise Du Lion, there is a town with a river running through it that has been frozen over due to certain circumstances.
While roaming around this area, I was collecting all resources I come across, as I often do with RPGs. a trail of elfroot plants led me to a red lyrium deposit to destroy, so that was cool. "Clever design", I thought. At this point I noticed something slightly over from the deposit, so being the adventurous type, I decided to check it out. It turned out the be two decaying bodies, lying on a blanket of sorts. There were two lootable items in the vicinity - a pocket diary and the body.
Pocket diary - "I'm going to ask Ondrine to marry me. I've got it all planned. I'll take her to the ridge overlooking the valley, and we'll open the bottle of wine father left for me. I think it's time. I know she's been waiting for a while; I wanted it to be perfect. There will always be a war somewhere. There will always be sadness, and wondering where our next meal will come from, but we'll have each other."
Body - item, diamond ring.
Even at this point I thought "wow, that's incredible. this didn't need to be there at all, but that's pretty cool."
As I went to take the ring (loot can be sold for coin of course) I noticed that the ring had a description accompanying it - 'An inscription on the inside of the ring reads "may our love be eternal. -B."'
I ended up standing there for 5 minutes, thinking about the situation. This cliff could just have nothing on it, and it wouldn't look like it needed something there. Yet, one of the designers had thought to put this little thing here, a few images and some text, and there was a whole story here. A young couple, looking to find the joy in a life surrounded by war. They would have lived in the village down below the peak. They died here, just before he could propose. I left the ring on the body.
Whoever the dev was that put this little piece of story in to the game - I want to meet you and buy you a coffee.
Often when I get into a game as heavily as I did with Inquisition - I clocked 40 hours in the first 4 days here - I wind up having weird half-waking dreams about said game. They are often fever like - I end up waking up in the middle of the night, in a cold sweat at times, feeling anxious, can't stop thinking about the game, and I end up having terrible sleep as a result.
With Dragon Age: Inquisition however, everything was different. I still had dreams - when it's close to the only thing you do from waking up to going back to sleep, it's to be expected - yet, they were actually nice dreams. If I'd wake up from them, it would be in the morning, with a smile. I actually got better sleep than I would normally while playing this game.
Time is your friend, not your enemy
DA:I is a fantasy game that gives you a massive bunch of stuff to do and says "here you go - do whatever you want." While this is pretty common in open world games, Inquisition deals with this in such a way that you never feel like you 'need' to be doing anything. The game is kind of like a tree - the main story is the trunk, but there are so many branches going all over the place that you can climb wherever you want, and return to the main part any time you like.
Want to go dragon hunting? Sure. Want to sit and relax in the tavern, drinking with your buddies? Why not. You would rather go play in a forest for a while, even though you are right in the middle of a particular storyline in the desert? No worries, come again soon!
Even with the war table mechanic built in to the game, where you can send your advisers off to do your bidding, you can deal with it any time you like. The timing of the missions is in real time, so if you want to send them off for long missions and come back tomorrow, you can. If you are out in the field hunting down Venatori for Dorian and Cullen says he's ready to report in, he will wait patiently for you to return at your convenience. You can do what you want, when you want, however you want.
The banter. Oh, the banter.
As is typical Bioware fare, your characters will not only have complex relationships with your character, judging your actions depending on their perceptions of the world and their own beliefs, but they will also chat amongst themselves at any given time. With 9 characters providing both 2 way and 3 way banter conversations, there is no way they will run out of (often amusing) things to say before your adventure concludes.
All creatures great and small
Much has been said about nearly every character on nearly every website that has talked about this game. But while the standouts of the game are your advisors and companions - I don't think I will ever forget Bull, for as long as I live - This game puts stock in every single character you come across, even if it is an NPC with only a few lines.
Sutherland's company is an excellent example. As Sutherland is just some random NPC that you come across, you don't think any more of it, but the rabbit hole goes deep with this guy. I was quite proud to have this guy around. Even though he doesn't have anything to do with you as a companion, by the time that part of the story was through, I was (and still am) hoping there will be some kind of DLC surrounding his company.
The Chargers are also some of the most interesting characters in any game. I'm always a sucker for ragtag groups of people, but this bunch takes the cake.
Even the Quizquisition guy is great entertainment (you'll understand when you find him).
The voice acting is not only superb for all of the important characters, but for the lesser ones as well. One particular dwarf character that you only come across in a side quest of one of your companions (therefore you may not even encounter at all) was fantastically voiced. It is easy to see that every voice over in this game was recorded with care and love for the world.
The variety of accents these characters possess is also incredible. Look out stereotypical American/British impersonations - the diversity here blows other games out of the water. From Cass to Leliana to the Empress Celine to Josephine, this game keeps things fresh all the way.
Lastly, even though it is mentioned everywhere around the web, the character diversity here is the best I have ever seen in any game. Particularly in 2014, we have seen a real struggle in the games industry surrounding women in gaming - so when it comes to this game, it is extremely refreshing to not just see the fact that women are represented in all sorts of positions of power, but that it isn't a big deal. I noticed at one point that in the war council, where the heads of the inquisition were meeting, 4 out of 5 of them were women - and there wasn't anything strange about it. No cracks about the guy being around all these ladies; no in-your-face notions that this was a 'women power' thing; it was just natural. Even the scouts that you meet up with at each camp out in the world, wearing proper armor, were often women. There were both woman and men in all sorts of positions of power, and plenty that also were not, and it was Equal.
Minorities of gender, race and sexuality are also represented here - but they aren't just thrown in for good measure. Every character has a reason to be there - its not "hey guys, I'm gay!" - it's just a part of the character, naturally accepted, not a defining feature. Equality is the best word to describe it. The way Bioware has handled trans characters is also a first for a AAA studio - and a massive step in the right direction.
True high fantasy at its greatest
Though I ended up playing quite a variety of games throughout 2014, Dragon Age: Inquisition will be my most cherished experience for the year. It felt like a game tailor made to my tastes, and I enjoyed every second.
If you're asking yourself, "should I play this game?" - I think you already know the answer.