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A colorful tale full of adventure, 'Dragon Age: Inquisition' will captivate players

“Inquisition” delivers a story that’s enthralling, with plenty of drama, tragedy, excitement and — if you complete the right quests — romance.

COURTESY OF EA

By BRIAN BOWERS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 18, 2014

The best medieval sagas are filled with valiant heroes, magic and intrigue. They also tend to be long. “Dragon Age: Inquisition” fits nicely into that mold.

BioWare’s latest fantasy role-playing game depicts a rich and colorful tale filled with adventure. The story picks up a few years after the action in “Dragon Age II,” expanding on many of that game’s themes and brings back some of its central characters.

In the intervening years, mages have risen in rebellion against the Templars, a military order that was created to monitor and control magic users. At a conclave involving leaders of both sides, an otherworldly blast kills many of the attendees and leaves your character with a glowing green mark on his — or her — hand. Of course everyone suspects you’re to blame for the blast and all of the demons that have started pouring through green tears in the interdimensional fabric known as the Veil. Things look pretty grim until you discover that your mysterious green mark can actually close these tears and send the demons packing.

Although many remain skeptical, others greet you as a potential savior and it’s not long before you’re put in charge of the Inquisition, a powerful new group established to deal with this nasty mess.

But before most of this unfolds, you’ll need to create your avatar. The character creation system is deeper than the previous game. You can select from three classes: fighter, mage and rogue, with the latter having the option of focusing on the bow or the blade. You can choose whether to play as a human, elf, dwarf or Kunari, an imposing race of horned warriors. You also are given a great deal of control over the appearance of your avatar’s face. You can manipulate his or her face into almost any configuration imaginable.

However, other options are limited. Hairstyle options are few and there are only two choices for voices for each gender. But that’s probably understandable when you consider the mindboggling amount of dialogue the game offers. Notes from the developers state there are 80,000 lines of dialogue totaling more than a million words.

The script isn’t the only thing big about “Inquisition.” The world is immense. The developers’ notes say that the first territory you visit covers more digital ground than “Dragon Age: Origins” and “Dragon Age II” combined. And there are many other regions you will visit, including deserts, forests, snowy hills and dank bogs. The size of this world and the number of missions and quests required to fill it have a major impact on gameplay. But more about that in a moment.

While this might sound impressive — or intimidating — what really has set the “Dragon Age” franchise apart from other fantasy RPGs are the story and characters. They were superb in “Origins,” and they were pretty good in the sequel, even though “II” has its critics.

“Inquisition” delivers a story that’s enthralling, with plenty of drama, tragedy, excitement and — if you complete the right quests — romance. And true to BioWare’s tradition, you must periodically make key decisions that will affect the course of the storyline and the fates of some of your companions. And these tales unfold in a world that’s rich in history and filled with fascinating cultures that rarely play nicely with each other.

It is also packed with interesting characters. You can gather up to nine traveling companions and each has a story to tell and several side quests to offer. This offbeat assortment of adventurers provides most of the game’s comic relief. When not swinging swords or flinging bolts of electricity, they usually banter and bicker -— especially if you take along the young elven wench who seems to be afflicted with Tourette’s Syndrome.

With all of this activity, the game offers dozens of hours of gameplay. I saved quite a few quests for a second playthrough and still clocked in at 59 hours. And don’t think you can cut it short by simply following the main thread in a sprint to the end. Before you can tackle a primary mission in the storyline, you must unlock it by spending “power” points. You earn these points by completing quests and performing heroic deeds. However, you’ll need many more points than you can gain while moving along the storyline, which means you’ll need to spend a lot of time wandering the countryside in search of side quests. While this can be a lot of fun, it can also dilute the story after a while. The effect is like that in the similarly sprawling world of “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.” The more side quests you pick up, the more the storyline fades into the background.

The gameplay is similar to that of the preceding games in the series. You spent lot of time talking to nonplayer characters. And you spend a lot of time fighting.

When engaged in conversation, you are usually offered several questions to ask or statements to make. Some are assertive, some are snarky, and some are heartfelt. The tone of your interactions determines how other characters — primarily your companions — respond to you. In most cases, you’re simply gathering information. But at key points, your response will be a matter of life and death for another character.

When you encounter an enemy, there’s little talk aside from belligerent taunts. You travel with up to four companions at a time and can direct the actions of each adventurer in combat. You have two basic options. Concentrate on one character’s actions and let the others fight on autopilot. Or you can pause the action and micromanage each character’s movements and attacks.

The layout of the attack and defense controls is very logical and efficient, so the action usually feels very fluid. A major battle can be quite impressive with swords clashing, fighters yelling and colorful spells zinging across the screen.

The graphics are pretty good, but definitely not perfect. People and settings are beautifully rendered. However, characters’ animations are a bit wooden and visual glitches aren’t uncommon.

The game’s biggest snags occur during dialogue sequences. It wasn’t unusual for certain characters to temporarily stall in the middle of the conversation.

The game earns its mature rating for violence, a few profanities and brief, partial nudity during the romance scenes.

“Inquisition” also offers and interesting multiplayer mode. Four teammates crawl through a dungeon taking on all comers. The biggest difference between a co-op battle and a regular mission is that you can’t control the actions of your companions, which can be good or bad depending on who you’re paired with. Experience and loot you gain builds up you multiplayer character but doesn’t affect the main campaign.

In almost every category, “Inquisition” stacks up well against its major competition — “Skyrim.” And in the key categories of story and character, it’s far superior.

Bottom line: “Dragon Age: Inquisition” offers an epic tale and exciting action that will keep you enthralled for days.

bowers.brian@stripes.com

Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC
Online: dragonage.com

"Dragon Age: Inquisition"

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