The developer behind Baldurs Gate, Neverwinter Nights and Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic, Bioware has been responsible for some of the greatest roleplaying games ever created. With that pedigree in mind, the two previous instalments in their Dragon Age franchise have never really measured up. Dragon Age: Origins struggled with a derivative story and an unwieldy interface, while Dragon Age II was dumbed-down and frustratingly linear. Gratifyingly, none of those criticisms can be levelled at Dragon Age: Inquisition.
Set once again in the land of Thedas, the story begins with the eruption of a huge green rift, spewing demons into a world already divided by a conflict between rogue mages and magic-hating Templars. The explosion wipes out the Chantry Thedas theocratic ruling body spreading anarchy (and hellspawn) across the land. As the sole survivor and messianic head of the newly established Inquisition, its up to you to rally the populace and stem the demon tide. This is all accomplished via indiscriminate monster slaying, as youd expect, but the slaughter is underpinned by an overarching political strategy. Via the clever device of the War Table in the stronghold of Haven, you can send agents out on missions, bringing various factions onside and solidifying your power base. The political intrigue amplifies the story well, broadening the scope and giving you more of a stake in events as they unfold. And all thats before youve even had to think about taking on a dragon.
The battles themselves are fast and frantic, with enemies posing a more substantial threat to life and limb than in either previous title. Your abilities expand as you progress, introducing an assortment of different fighting styles and tactics for your character and his or her three companions (selected from an ever-growing pool of supporting cast). The combat manages a satisfying balance between action and tactics, the latter enhanced by the inclusion of a top-down strategic view (reminiscent of Baldurs Gate or the PC version of Dragon Age: Origins), which pauses the action to allow precision micro-management of the games trickier encounters.
Outside of violent encounters theres a treasure trove of lore to dig through, a complex and involved crafting/resource-collection system and more sub-quests and side-missions than anyone with a job could ever hope to get through. Character is equally well-served, with substantial backstories for the major players and branching dialogue trees that help define your characters personality. The four-player co-op feels somewhat tacked-on, but does enhance the sense of operating as part of a tight-knit unit.
With Dragon Age: Inquisition, BioWare has recaptured much of its former glory, providing the new generation of consoles with their first heavyweight RPG in the process. This is a polished, engrossing and thoroughly modern title with over a hundred hours gameplay for those willing to invest the time. As well as elevating the Dragon Age franchise to the same tier as Mass Effect among Biowares greatest hits, Inquisition has thrown down the gauntlet before the creators of all other open-world games. Elder Scrolls VI, the next move is yours.