Feel free to either watch the video review up or read the written review below, but they both really cover the same bases.
The gist. Welcome to the fantasy world of Thedas. There are two rival forces of mages (which is a fancy word for wizards) and templars (which are basically warriors of the church) that have fought throughout the first two Dragon Age games. At the beginning of this game, there is a peace talk and some disaster happens which actually kills the highest authority in the church. No one knows who did it or why. Your character was there and was somehow saved from this disaster. The righteous see you as a chosen survivor to help rebuild the nation, while others question if this disaster was actually your fault. It’s a roleplaying game, where you get to choose race, gender, and what type of hero you want to be. The game has complex moral choices so you can replay the game later and make completely different choices and end up with a very different story. The game is focused on strategic combat with your character and up to 3 other party members, chosen from a cast of 9 available partners. You get to choose. You adventure across this world in gigantic spaces, completing quests that either help you straighten out this tragedy and what happened or help you build reputation as a hero.
This world you explore is gigantic. The first area you explore, called the Hinterlands, is actually bigger than the entirety of Dragon Age: Origins. It feels very much like Skyrim in that you can travel off the path, climb up mountains, and find all sorts of hidden little caves and things to do. The world is absolutely stunning and these different areas are all very diverse but all equally stunning. The diversity of enemies is also really varied from new monsters like giants to the biggest dragons in the franchise yet. There are thousands of side quests, meaning they’re basically optional, but this game smartly makes all of these quests seem vital, as you’re looking to build your team and your support. You might help a man by clearing out some evil soldiers, just to have the man come join you at your homebase and offer to do jobs for you. Your party members also help put things in context by having banter between themselves which fills in some of the story and connects the dots for you. With 9 partners, their conversations can be hilarious and you definitely want to mix up your team to hear all the combinations.
Visually, the game looks stunning. Not only the locations but also the characters. You can create your character to look any way you’d like but they look spectacular in the game, especially in the cutscenes. It’s amazing to see your work come to life like this. The combat is bright and flashy but still easy to follow and easy to execute. There’s an option to slow down time and assign tasks to all your companions, if you want to micromanage, but I had an okay time playing as a traditional hack and slash game, so I enjoyed it fine enough as is. You have all sorts of gear and weapons which all look pretty different, which adds to the ability to make your character look very unique.
There’s a lot of new ways to get around this game. The ability to jump is incredible but there’s also the inclusion of mounts. You have a stable where you can have all sorts of horses but also things like a dracolisk (a small dragon-like creature) or things like battle nugs. I’m playing a noble and heroic character, so I ride what’s called a hart, like a giant elk creature. You can speed up the process of the game by riding past combat, but your enemy might attack your mount and unseat you. There are still quite a few mounts I haven’t uncovered, so I don’t know if there are other really cool options out there.
The story is engaging and simple, playing up the standard tale of mysterious hero who has some sort of magical power that they don’t quite understand. You are somehow able to close down these rifts, which are openings to the demonic world called the Fade, where these demons try to sneak into our world and cause havoc. This is simple enough but the real complexity comes with how you choose to fight this war. There’s moral choices which come up, but the most interesting aspect of this is called the war table. You have operations that your team is carrying out but you get to choose how to solve them. For example, you have a distant relative trying to spread gossip about you. Do you send warriors and make an example of him, or do you send one assassin in the night to make him disappear? Or maybe you send a messenger that pays him to stay quiet. Little moments could have big impact if you treat it in the wrong way. Or you can get rewarded for doing things the right way. These operations happen in real time, meaning you might have an operation that takes 12 hours to complete, so when you login the next day, that operation might be completed. It’s an interesting, engaging, and really fun new way to interact with and change your world.
There’s also really fun ways to interact with your companions, including unique discussions and missions, and even ways to romance them. I’ll leave this up to you to discover.
The crafting system deserves a mention here, as it’s easy to use and really fulfilling. You can craft things like upgrades to your base, mission objectives, or things like weapons or armor. You get to choose some of these factors, so you can use different materials based on what you want. There’s a lot of complexity here if you want, but it’s also not essential if you want to stick with the action.
What doesn’t work?
My complaints are all pretty minimal. The inventory is easy to use but I found the amount of inventory to be too small. I sold everything except what my party was wearing but I still found myself often running into “Your inventory is full” messages, even after several in-game upgrades. It ruins the flow when you have to travel back to a town and sell your gear before continuing a mission.
There are loading screens as you travel between areas and there are fun little cards to read, with history and backstories of the world. This is fascinating stuff but the loading screens only stay on screen for a few seconds and it might be hours and hours before you see that info come up again. Yet, when the text goes away, there might be another 20-30 seconds of a blank loading screen. It’s just a minor thing but frustrating when you want to read this long paragraph but can’t finish it.
There were a small amount of missions that I found really confusing to complete, that maybe had misleading mission criteria or unclear directions, but this was a small minority.
You can tell from my overwhelming amount of positives that I absolutely loved this. It took me about 90 hours to beat this runthrough but I not only enjoyed every minute of it, but I’m already excited about multiple different playthroughs after this. Maybe I’ll be an assassin elf who’s only out for themselves or a compassionate mage who seeks to right previous injustices. These will all affect your decisions, what party members you bring, and what sort of combat you engage in. This game is polished, with minimal glitches and flaws, but is packed full of action and engaging content. It looks gorgeous, it’s fun to play, and it absolutely met all expectations that I had of it. It’s currently available on both PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC, so you very little reason to NOT play it.