I have to wonder what EA's obsession is with implementing co-op gameplay into the third installment of single player games. Mass Effect 3, Dead Space 3, and Star Wars: The Old Republic (I mean, if we're calling it part of the KoTOR franchise), all tacked on multiplayer at game three, so now it's Dragon Age's turn. Sure enough, Dragon Age: Inquisition is not only the the third game in the franchise, it's also the series' first flirtation with multiplayer.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is a direct sequel to Dragon Age 2, putting the player in the shoes of the sole survivor of a mysterious explosion that has opened up rifts into some demonic dimension. These rifts are scattered throughout the land and its your job with a party of three AI characters to close the rifts with a power you've been infused with. But your job is actually greater than this simple task as you build up the Inquisition, turning areas of the world to your cause and supplying the armies that support that.
This game is likely the deepest and most comprehensive Dragon Age game we've seen, and while the first game in the series focused on the characters themselves and their origins, this game is focused on the greater world. There are nine possible characters available for your party with difference consequences, stories and standings available depending on your combination. The sheer size of this game can not be understated, the first area in the game is a massive sprawling section with dozens of territories to claim, rifts to close, and quests to fulfill. And it's only one of many.
On the PC you'll be treated with both mouse and keyboard controls or gamepad, and the interfaces for both of these are quite different. While the former works quite well, issues with the tactical camera can become frustrating. The gamepad does make the game feel more action oriented, but you're still able to access the tactical options that made the first Dragon Age so popular.
Make no mistake, this is the largest and most in depth RPG that Bioware has put out in some time, with literally dozens upon dozens of hours of gameplay, customization, and dialog to experience. Any RPG fan or Dragon Age fan is going to find something to enjoy here, but that's not even touching on the game's cooperative mode.
Much like Mass Effect 3, Inquisition's multiplayer occurs in a separate mode from the main story. The single player campaign has your (Human/Elf/Dwarf/Qunari) (Rogue/Warrior/Mage) directing the Inquisition, while the co-op mode has you playing actual agents operating in the field. This time around, there are zero hooks linking multiplayer and single player (unlike ME3). You can go the entirety of your Inquisition career either solely playing the single player or going co-op exclusive and never see anything suggesting you check out the other mode.
As a proud member of the Inquisition, your task is to join up with three friends, run into Elven Ruins/Tevinter Ruins/Orlesian Chateau and murder everything inside. The context for each mission changes very slightly every time you join a new game, with a variety of characters narrating your expedition between checkpoints. The mission: waste everybody who looks like they might want to slit your throat. That's it, really. Just run in and kill everything. There are a few mid-mission objectives that can pop up between checkpoints, such as "protect this guy!" or "save these documents, which are inexplicably on fire!" but the main mission always focuses on beating everything that doesn't look like you to death.
The co-op is, straight up, no foolin', a multiplayer dungeon crawl. There are twelve classes to play with three of them unlocked from the very beginning. Three is a weird number, considering the mode is built for four players to trudge through the dungeons. Each class possesses two unique skill trees to venture down as you increase in levels, and between missions you can equip up to four skills and four different potions to help you slaughter more baddies. The combat is a slightly simplified version of the single player: click on bad guy to attack, hit a number key to do a special ability, use a potion to heal or fling bees at an enemy. It's pretty par for loot-driven adventure games like this and totally competent. And also they let you throw a jar of angry bees at a demon, which is pretty much the best thing ever.
Forgive me for making the comparison about click-heavy, loot based, fantasy games, but it feels like a 3D Diablo. You're running randomly generated dungeons of the same three tile sets over and over again, harvesting gold and picking up the errant piece of gear (which you're not able to view until the dungeon's end). The process itself is enjoyable, and the classes are different enough keep your interest even after maxing out a specific tree. It doesn't hurt that it's also skull-blisteringly difficult.
Seriously. If your team isn't operating at max capacity, some spikey-armed corrupted Templar jerk is bound to turn your mage into a kebab as your tank absently wails on a hapless weakling. The surprising difficulty makes working as a team and communicating a priority, since failure to do so will result in a record-time KO against certain baddies. It's no wonder that voice chat is active by default.
The dungeons are built with the three tile sets and one of three random enemy types inside. There's either demons, Venatori, or Red Templar guarding each instance, all three with their own unique enemies and attacks. It creates a situation where, although you're running through a Chateau endlessly, you're never running through the same Chateau. It gets a ton of mileage through the various tile sets and keeps things fresh even if you've just died in the Tevinter Ruins for the sixtieth time, knowing that this next run will be the one you'll actually finish.
The game itself is just fine. It's a solid way to spend 20 or so minutes with a few friends, wandering through castles, crafting gear, and trying not to be devoured by teleporting demons. It's a dungeon crawl through and through, and while it might take a bit to unlock different classes (via crafting), it's got enough solid hooks to keep you coming back again and again.
I won't lie, I'm a bit surprised about this whole thing in general. The entire time I was playing, I wondered why this was included in Inquisition at all. With no hooks linking it to the single player campaign at all, it's almost like I had two separate games that were, in a weird way, distracting me from one another. There were times I thought "I could be playing the campaign right now," while playing multi, and there were times when I'd be playing the campaign and wondering what sort of sick backflips my archer could be doing. After the reaction from Mass Effect 3's multiplayer affecting the single, I guess it was Bioware's best option to keep both games in entirely separate rooms refusing to acknowledge each other. Which is kind of a shame, really.
Back in September of 2012, the then President of EA Labels, Frank Gibeau, announced EA wasn't planning to make single player only games anymore, even with traditionally single player experiences. I suspect that Mr. Gibeau noticed the colossal amount of scrilla free-to-play products rake in on a regular basis and decided they needed to be in on that.
That being said, the real money currency in DA:I is kind of obfuscated. It's there, but by no means are they at all hitting you in the face with ads to buy Platinum. The only way you'd know the stuff exists is by checking out the tab in the in-game store. Everything can be purchased through currency earned in missions, while Platinum just expedites the process. It's kind of weird to call not being beaten over the head with microtransactions a "cool feature," but it's definitely great to see an almost passe attitude to it. "I mean, I guess you can spend your hard-earned real money, if you really want," the Quartermaster seems to say, poised over a large chest packed to the point of bursting with loot and potions. "But, like... You could just, ya know, play the game instead...."
Maybe EA is trying desperately to not sweep the "Worst Company in America" awards again. Maybe they've remembered they were a video game company and not a microtransation money-laundering front. Maybe a super generous parasite infected all the execs and their now hive-mentality concluded that money wasn't as important as customer satisfaction. There is no reason why this thing shouldn't be a $15 downloadable add on. But giving it to the players, free of charge on top of the already fully fleshed out single player campaign?
Well played, EA. You're not in the clear just yet, but keep this sort of stuff up and people might stop using your name in place of profanity.