Tag Archives: PS4

Life Is Strange – Review

Short version: Life Is Strange is one of the most unusual video games I have ever played – and without a doubt one of the best written and crafted. While the play style and themes will not appeal to everyone, it is an extraordinary piece of storytelling that clearly demonstrates the power of video games as an art form.

It is a game about choices. It is a game about friendship.

If you are reading this, then you more than likely have read a few other things about the game. If you are unsure about trying it for yourself, ask yourself two questions:

  • Do you only enjoy action games or games that are challenging at a technical level?
  • Do you have trouble investing yourself in characters while playing games, watching movies, or reading books?

If the answer to both these questions is no, then you should absolutely play Life Is Strange.

How I (Finally) Played Life Is Strange

To be honest, I’m late to the party. I didn’t even pick up the game on Steam until after all 5 episodes were out, so my experience will be a little different from those that had to wait between episodes. Actually, I didn’t even play much of the game on my PC. I started it, but didn’t even finish the first episode. Looking back, it was simply too easy to be distracted by other things in the early parts of the game – largely because I was playing on my PC.

Three days ago, determined to give the game another shot, I purchased the Limited Edition of Life Is Strange for PS4. I finished it last night – and I don’t regret buying it twice for one second.

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Aside – PC vs Console

I’ve seen a few reviews of Life Is Strange that compare the visual quality of the console version from that of the original PC. To put it bluntly, such comparisons are irrelevant. The visuals are about the same in either case, and this is not a game in which high resolution or graphical effects are important. That’s not to say the visuals of the game are not important – nothing could be farther from the truth – but those visuals are not related to the technical prowess of your chosen platform. Personally, I found the controls of the console version to be slightly more intuitive, but there are pros and cons either way. In the end, I think I found the game more enjoyable on the console because it was easier to immerse myself in the experience while sitting on my couch, in front of a large screen, surrounded by sound. It felt more personal this way.

First Few Minutes and Gameplay

My intention is to keep this review free of spoilers (You should absolutely AVOID SPOILERS if you haven’t played the game yet. Though I imagine it’s power will be felt even if some of the details are revealed to you ahead of time.), but I will describe what happens in the opening few minutes of the game. You play Max, an 18-year-old girl who has recently moved back to her home town to attend an art school and study photography. While she is struggling to fit in, another girl has recently gone missing. Max has an incredibly vivid dream of a tornado destroying the town, shortly before seeing her childhood friend get shot in the school bathroom. This is when Max discovers she has the power to rewind time…

The rest of the game is all about making choices and dealing with their consequences.

As you might imagine, the power to manipulate time lends itself to some interesting gameplay mechanics. Gameplay revolves around exploring the environment and speaking with characters, then making choices about what to do or say. The ability to rewind means that you can often try different options before deciding to move one. When Max rewinds time it moves around her, leaving her unchanged – along with just about anything in her possession. This enables her to take some creative approaches to problem solving. Overall, the game play is actually very simple, but it is used to great and powerful effect.

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Sound and Visuals

The game’s sound is reasonably immersive and helps ground you in Max’s reality, but the music deserves special mention. The indie folk style is not really my cup of tea in the least (I tend towards rock, metal, and blues.), but it fits the game perfectly. The best way I can express just how superbly the music enhances the experience is with these two statements:

  • I’ve been listening to the soundtrack in my car for the past two days, despite not usually being a fan of the style, just to revel in the experience a little longer.
  • I suspect that anytime I hear this style of music in the future, I will be immediately reminded of Life Is Strange.

As for the visuals, the game’s art direction is beyond good – at once majestic and intensely personal. At first, the emphasis on photography in the game seemed a little superfluous. As the game went on, however, I began to appreciate just well the writers integrated the use of photographs into the themes and presentation of the story. In the second half of the game, photographs are used to great effect to illustrate how your choices have a ripple effect on the lives of those around you, and the importance of photos just increases as you progress through the story.

Feelings and Themes

At several points while playing the game, I was reminded of a couple other stories that involve a sense of mystery in a small town. Last year I watched the TV series Gracepoint (an American adaptation of the British Broadchurch), which is a sort of murder mystery set in a small coastal town. That sense of mystery, combined with the tension felt between a cast of well-rounded characters, was also strongly evoked in Life Is Strange. The game also reminded me of my time playing the first few hours of The Secret World. Small town, mysterious sense of danger, coming to grips with forces larger than yourself – all of these ideas exist in both games.

Life Is Strange also doesn’t shy away from some heavy topics and themes. Loss, murder, privacy, suicide, quality of life, love, insecurity, sexuality, and personal responsibility are just some of the themes explored in the story. One truly remarkable thing about Life Is Strange is how the writers have managed to explore these themes without really steering you in one direction or another – there is rarely a “right” or “wrong” decision, which is often true in the real world as well. Other games have tried to do this, often by making decisions and morality largely ambiguous, but Life Is Strange manages to pull this off without the same degree of ambiguity.

A lot of this is accomplished through the fine art of subtlety. For example, I don’t think anyone would reasonably say there is a lot of strong sexuality in this game – although a different developer or medium could certainly have incorporated more sexuality into this story had they wanted to. That said, many who have played the game feel strongly about some of the romantic undercurrents in parts of the game. The beauty of what the writers have accomplished is that a lot of what this game shows you is dependent on what you bring to it and how you perceive things. It can mean different things to different people. Personally, I think one of the great lessons from this game is how true friendship and love are really one and the same – it’s about something deeper than our common thoughts on sexuality and romance. It’s about caring for one another and being human.

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Criticism

Some aspects of the game’s final episode have been criticized as “undoing” much of what occurred in the first four episodes. While I completely understand why someone would come to this conclusion, I do not agree with it. I want to avoid spoilers, so I’ll just say this:

While your decisions late in the game can “erase” some of your earlier decisions, those early decisions are in no way invalidated. They remain relevant to the story, and arguably take on an even larger significance.

That one issue is really the only common criticism I have heard from those that have really played Life Is Strange, which is impressive on its own.

I will admit to being a little disappointed that the game was not longer, but that’s just because I wasn’t ready to be done with its characters and story. I should also point out that several of the plot threads could have been taken in another direction and developed into something much different – many of which could have been made into some seriously interesting and fun games. But at the end of the day, I believe the writers likely told the best and most powerful story they could – taking things in another direction or making the game longer would have taken away from the whole and compromised something truly remarkable. Honestly, I’m not sure how DONTNOD (the game’s developers) can hope to top this one, but I’m more than willing to give them the chance.

Closing Thoughts

Life Is Strange is an amazing game – an experience – that takes the player on an emotional journey few games can match. As I right this, I’m still having a hard time coming to grips with just how good this story really is and how to explain it. As is true of all great art, it means a lot of different things to different people. It is a story about time travel, loss, bullies, compassion, responsibility, courage, guilt, fear, understanding, and love.

It is a story about choices. It is a story about friendship.

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Destiny: The Taken King – Review Part 3

Wading In to 2.0

Hunting the Taken champions – initially on Earth and then on Venus and Mars – brought back a similar style of event to the Packs of Wolves I enjoyed from the previous expansions.  Find a zone with Taken in the area, hunt down a few Captains, and then an Ultra will appear.  Overall, I enjoy this type of gameplay far more than strikes, though it can be a bit frustrating at times.  At this point there was no way I could take down one of these champions and their attendant Taken horde on my own.  In fact, I don’t think I ever managed to take one down with only a single other player helping out.  This was sometimes a bit frustrating as on more than one occasion I found myself battling the champion alone or with one other player to have a group of three or four other Guardians arrive – about 5 seconds after the baddie despawned.  This demonstrates part of the challenge in communicating in an MMO-style game without any sort of global chat.

As far as the Taken themselves are concerned, my impression prior to playing the game was that Bungie was just reusing assets again.  It definitely doesn’t feel that way when you’re playing.  The different tactics employed by the Taken mean they are significantly different to square off against.  Their appearance and behavior are different enough but still rooted in the familiar.  Well done overall.

On to the Stormcaller.  The quest sent me off on a 2-part mission against the Vex.  First part was about par for the course, but the second part was suitably awesome.  It made you feel powerful and includes some good cinematics.

Improvements and Changes from 1.0

As you know, your Ghost has been revoiced.  So far, I prefer the original Dinklage version, but it didn’t matter much during the story missions because your Ghost doesn’t talk much during those.  You’ll spend far more time listening to Nathan Fillion’s Cayde-6 Vanguard Hunter over comms.  Overall, the combination of quest stops and cinematics breathes new life into Destiny’s characters that’s probably one of the biggest improvements from 1.0.

The quest system is nice and is a great way to better integrate the game’s content into some sort of logical approach that ensure the player always has something to do.  I generally had a couple of sidequest-like and a couple of main quests at any given time.  Following the conclusion of the main fight with Oryx, a number of other quests become available.  It has a feel of pointing towards a lot more content paths, but I’m not sure how long these paths actually extend yet.

Leveling happens fast and I didn’t feel any need to rush to 40.  Abandoning specific light scores on gear is a huge step in the right direction, as all of your gear contributes to your light level.  Ghosts have some effect now as well and the gear system just feels refreshed, although some details could use better explanation.  Or at least a “this stuff becomes available at 40” sort of heads up.  I received the Red Death exotic shortly after logging in, and even though it was the Year 1 version it stull proved helpful as I progressed through the story.  The Three of Coins item from Xur allows you the chance to get an exotic drop from any Ultra – useful to use when hunting Taken champions – and my first attempt got me an exotic helmet engram.  That engram yielded a helmet for another class and none of my other attempts got me anything better than a blue, but it’s nice to have the possibility.

I enjoy Vanguard bounties, and the ability to carry more of them and track them alongside quests is welcome.  Of course, the ability to carry more bounties is largely irrelevant when only 5 are available on any given day.  Three more are available in the Reef, but it seems Eris doesn’t offer them anymore.  Seems like they need a faster refresh or additional sources of different bounties – maybe each of the faction reps?  I also encountered a ????? bounty while patrolling the Moon.  Basically a series of three objectives that start out encrypted and slowly decrypt while playing.  This was a nice surprise and I’d like to see Bungie leverage more of this to add more to the Patrols.

The Gunsmith seems to have a purpose again, as you can test weapons from him to gain reputation.  Once you have the rep you can get higher-end gear from him – though apparently only on certain days, a la Xur.  These have a similar feel to bounties and encourage you to try different weapons, but again it would be nice if they refreshed more often.  I typically only play on the weekends, so waiting 12+ hours for a refresh seems a waste.

Reputation is still a grind, but at least you can earn rep with a faction at the same time as Vanguard.  Still no way for someone that depends on matchmaking like me to realistically gain reputation with Variks, but at least making progress with the factions is now viable.  The small number of Reef bounties makes progression there slow, but not much is available on that side anyway.  Barring a couple of story missions, I have yet to discover how to gain rep with Eris as well.  On the other hand, since anything that you can get from those with whom you can earn reputation require the new legendary marks, this puts another wall in place.

Having just hit 40, I haven’t delved deeply into trying to earn marks yet.  From what I’ve read, earning them is slightly easier than it was to earn their Year 1 counterparts in the past.  I’d still like to see some means of earning these marks while on Patrols, perhaps though public events.  However, one infuriating issue I’ve encountered so far is that it is evidently impossible to earn these marks until you reach 40.  By itself, this wouldn’t be a problem, but since the game mentions at one point that dismantling legendary gear can yield marks I dismantled a number of these as I leveled.  I never received a single mark.  I figured this was just a RNG issue and I was really unlucky.  Turns out I should have kept all my purples until 40 and then dismantled them.  Feels like I lost a lot based on a simple lack of information.  In other words, keep all your legendary gear stashed away until you reach level 40!

As far as the story of Taken King goes, I was impressed.  Finally flexing some muscle in terms of cinematics and using some NPCs, Bungie actually starts telling a story the way we all know they can.  The mission and map design also feels fresher.  A lot more vertical movement is introduced and some areas actually make you pause for a second and consider how to reach a location.  There is a subtle puzzlesque element at times that makes me think Bungie is finally starting to get a grip on what they can do with the Destiny IP.

As I mentioned previously, following the concluding fight with Oryx the game seems to open up a bit.  A number of questlines are introduced that suggest a fair amount of content remains.  I’m not sure if that’s true, but I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

Dreadnaught Patrols – Finally some endgame NOT tied to strikes, raids, and the Crucible?

The Prison of Elders was billed as PvE-endgame, but it was essentially the same thing as strikes – only with less story and a big treasure chest.  Not what I’m looking for.  My last story mission in Taken King was focused on prepping the Dreadnaught for Patrol missions.  I haven’t started these yet, but from what I’ve heard there are a lot of secrets to be uncovered in Destiny’s first new zone.  I’ve already recovered a calcified fragment which ties into a quest for Eris – mentioned as 1/50 on the map that reminds me of the 5 gold chests in the previous zones.  I’ve also recovered a rune from a mini-boss that appeared after I triggered successive waves of Taken in what felt like a mini-public event.  Evidently these runes allow you to summon bosses in the Court of Oryx.  This sounds promising – like the kind of endgame that interests me – although some of what I have read suggests actually jumping into these without a prearranged group may not net you any loot.  Hopefully the mysteries of the Dreadnaught will allow someone like myself to experience a more enjoyable endgame experience then the standard raids, strikes, and PvP.

Wrap-Up

Overall, if you are dead set against Destiny then I doubt Taken King will change your mind.  If you like it, you’ll probably find more to like.  If you are a former player considering coming back, I’d recommend you do.  Admittedly, original players got shafted a bit in favor of new players, but if you got 40+ hours out of Destiny 1.0 like I did, then you got your money’s worth and shouldn’t feel bad about shelling out a bit more now.  Most of us have spent far more on games that offered far less, and Destiny’s core gameplay has always been solid.  Hopefully Taken King revitalizes the game and Bungie continues in this direction.  There’s lots of potential in this IP, so I hope it continues to expand and improve.

Destiny: The Taken King – Review Part 2

Uncertain First Steps into 2.0

I wasn’t sure if I would even purchase Taken King.  When it was announced I was immediately drawn to the Collector’s Edition.  It seemed like a great compliment to my Ghost Edition and I wanted to check out the Strange Coin.  Of course, since I already owned the game and first two expansions this seemed like a waste of money.  Like many, I felt that Bungie was focusing all the good editions on getting new players into the game while ignoring their existing player base.  Instant turn off.

Bungie’s marketing of Taken King was smart and impressive.  I received an email letting me know that if I completed a couple of achievement-like tasks before the release of the expansion I would get some bonuses.  I intended to log back in to play at some point, but never did.  Perhaps if some of those hadn’t been tied to the Crucible…  The customized trailer featuring your Guardian was also a cool touch, and I ended up preordering about a week before release.  I just picked up the basic option without any of the extras since I already owned the based game and other expansions.

I didn’t touch the game until the weekend following release, so I didn’t try 2.0 without the new content.  Nor did I experience server issues.  Once I logged in I received a couple of messages and some loot, including an exotic pulse rifle.  Cool.  Then what?  Initially I was unsure where to go to see what was new – I wanted to get my legs under me before diving straight into the new story missions, especially since the story from the last two expansions didn’t last long.  I also wanted to unlock my new subclass so I could level it as I played through the content.

I got a couple quests tied to my Voidwalker subclass and started working on them, thinking maybe I had to complete the quests for my existing subclasses before getting to the third.  Unfortunately, one of these quests was tied to the Crucible, as was another quest.  Fine, I’ll give it a go.

Simply put, while the Crucible is still not where I prefer to spend my time, it seems vastly improved and more fun than before.  I don’t know if this is due to rebalancing – seems like hand cannons are not the on-shot killers they were before – or due to improved matchmaking, but I found myself consistently in the middle of the pack in terms of my performance.   Although in 4 control matches my team never won…  All the same, I had a tough time completing the quest to get kills with specific abilities.

I looked around the Tower and found some small but noticeable changes.  Old upgrade items got replaced and there were no interactive boards for exotics, ships, and shaders which seemed to serve little purpose at the moment.  I found Xur and bought some exotic gauntlets for when I reached level 40 – hoping I would still have a reason to keep playing at that point.

Three things happened that pulled me back into the game:

First, the opening cinematic depicting an attack on the Dreadnaught.  Epic.

Second, I picked up a quest to hunt down Taken champions on Earth.

Third, I got the quest to unlock the Stormcaller subclass.

Destiny: The Taken King – Review Part 1

Judging from the reviews I’ve seen so far, Taken King is generally being received as what Destiny should have been all along.  Even those who gamers who give it a low score seem to agree on this.  For me, it’s enough to bring me back to the game, though it’s still too early to tell for how long.  Is there still room for improvement?  Certainly.  But is Taken King a significant step forward for both the game and for Bungie?  Absolutely.

Oh.  And evidently this will be a 3-parter…

My Experience with Destiny 1.0

Let me start by briefly describing my experience with Destiny to date.

I played both the Alpha and Beta on PS4.  I purchased the Ghost Edition, which worked out well as I might not have opted to buy the first two expansions when they came out.  I have always enjoyed the core gameplay and the setting is awesome on an epic scale, but there’s a lot I wasn’t happy with in the game.

I’m not a fan of the Crucible.  I tend to play FPS games on PC so I don’t have the controller skills to compete with most players, and it seemed the game never matched me with players around my skill level.  Just not my thing.

I played all the original story missions and strikes, but never tried the raid or the higher-tier strikes (heroic and nightfall).  The reason is simply because I would rather spend my time playing than trying to gather or maintain a group with which to complete these tasks.  This is partly due to how bad the game/PS4 is at enabling players to quickly team up and communicate, but mostly because I just don’t have the time for all that anymore.

One of my biggest complaints in Destiny was how virtually all of the endgame content was intentionally devoid of a matchmaking option.  I understand the justification that an ad hoc group would have a tough time completing these tasks, but since the functionality is obviously there why not let the players make that decision?

Of course, this would not be so bad were it not for the fact that the primary means of getting the best gear was tied to these tasks or the Crucible.  My favorite aspect of the game was probably the Patrol missions, especially when public events appeared, but there is no high-end loot down this path.

Anyway, I played Destiny quite a bit for the first month or two and then lost interest.

I returned to the game a couple months ago to tackle the content provided by the first two expansions.  Overall, I was pleased with the additional missions.  They provided a story that was easier to recognize as a tangible plot and made better use of the game’s personalities.  I really enjoyed the new public events tied to the House of Wolves, and the bounties to track down specific targets were fun.  At the same time, it didn’t seem like there was a great deal of new content added.  The Prison of Elders struck me as a way to recycle existing assets to provide additional “content”, but I’ll admit a rush when cracking open that big chest at the end.  At which point the problem of locking the good stuff behind a social wall reared its ugly head again.  The higher tiers of the prison again lacked any matchmaking, and grinding for reputation playing just the first tier would take far too long.  Nice that I’ve got some tokens for Variks, but I doubt I’ll ever have the chance to use them.

Again I leave the game, unsure if I’ll return.

Dragon Age: Inquisition – Review

More than any other game I’ve played recently, Dragon Age: Inquisition is a game experience that reflects what you, the player, put into it.  While claims of 20 to 200 hours of gameplay based on previews and developer interviews are still being debated, the fact is that this game contains an impressive wealth of content.  I’ve already experienced one moment in the game when I though “a lesser developer would have ended the game here and saved the rest for a sequel or paid DLC.”  Inquisition is a great game, a more than worthy addition to the series, and in my opinion, more than redeems Bioware’s reputation after the widely criticized DA2.  I’m roughly 30 hours into the game and still feel like I’m much closer to the beginning than to the end.

To give any readers some background on my perspective going into this game, I’ve played both Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2, but I did not finish either of them.  (It’s not unusual for me to leave games unfinished, owed largely due to my widely varied interests and busy life.)  I enjoyed DAO, but like many players, I felt DA2 was an utter disappointment.

For those that have never played a Dragon Age title or, like me, did not finish one or both of the previous titles Bioware has created the Dragon Age Keep.  This site allows you to review all your decisions from past games, edit them, and make any decisions you missed out on.  Then you simply hit a button to prep your world for Inquisition.  This is all based on your Origin account, doesn’t require you to export or import any save games, and functions regardless of platform.  For example, I played the previous two games on PC, reviewed and edited my choices on the site, and am playing DAI on PS4.  Since both my Origin account and PSN account use the same email, everything synced automatically.  Oh, and unlike many other games lately, Origin’s servers seem to have no trouble at launch.  Everything connects as it should.

This all make it possible to get into DAI even if you’ve never played a Dragon Age game in the past, but there are a few resources that might be beneficial to you.  One of the greatest aspects of this series is the effort that has gone into crafting the world – a fantasy world that feels both familiar and unique – and taking a look at these sites can help you get the most out of Inquisition.  First, there’s Kirk Hamilton’s A Beginner’s Guide to All Things Dragon Age on Kotaku.  This is a great primer on the game world and provides everything a new player needs to understand key concepts like “What are the Blight’s?”.  There are numerous sites out there that provide info on the two previous games, two examples of which are Michael Rougeu’s article on Digital Trends and the Dragon Age in 5 Minutes video from IGN.  This will introduce you to some of the key characters and events from past games, and ideally I’d recommend hitting all three sites, then visiting the Dragon Age Keep before starting the game.  This will mean you have to delay a bit, obviously, but in my opinion it’s worth it.  Anyway, on to the review!

Mountain Overlook – GameInformer

Character Creation

Upon selecting the option for a New Game, you are immediately greeted by a large explosion (always a plus), and so the story begins.  I’ll avoid spoilers, but during the first few minutes you are given the opportunity to fine tune your character’s facial appearance in a fine degree of detail.  You’ll also select a race, gender, and starting class.  You must choose between one of two subclasses, but this merely determines your starting skills and gear; you have access to both skill primary trees (plus two secondary trees) for your class from the beginning.  Many of the changes you can make may be subtle, but you can easily spend a fair amount of time fine tuning your character’s appearance.  Some player have criticized a lack of broader variety in the available options, but the available options are obviously based on the game’s art style.  It simply wouldn’t make sense to have a character with bright pink hair in Dragon Age.

Graphics, Art Style & Technical

Inquisition is a beautiful game.  The first major area following the prologue (Hinterlands), is a land of rolling hills, valleys and woodlands.  In terms of overall style, DAI falls somewhere between Skyrim and Guild Wars 2.  The bright color palette of the Hinterlands might not meet the everyone’s desires, but players should also visit the swamps of Fallow Mire and the frigid coastline of Storm Coast before making up their minds about the game’s visual style.

The game is well polished and remarkably bug free.  I’ve experienced only a single crash, and the only issues I’ve encountered involved either a hang during dialog with a character – which resolved itself after waiting a couple minutes – and a problem finding an NPC to turn in a quest because the NPC had somehow traveled to an unreachable location.  Simply leaving the map and then returning to a specific fast travel waypoint respawned the NPC in a nearby location.

The quality of graphics on the PS4 is high.  Draw distance is good, as are visual effects.  I occasionally experienced a slight pause in Haven (your main base of operations following the prologue) and an area loaded, but this would occur once or twice at most and only in that area.  Weather effects, wildlife, spell effects, building designs, etc. all lend to the immersion of the game world.  Cutscenes are done in-engine, and while part of me wishes they were full cinematics (mainly because Dragon Age cinematics are usually superb) the fact that so many scenes include dynamic dialog options makes this impractical.

Sound

Further enhancing the game’s immersion is the sound.  Ambient noises of rain and wildlife are superb, and the occasional dialog between members of your party is likely to make you want to try different party combinations just to hear more.  Listening to a Grey Warden and a Qunari discuss combat tactics is entertaining, particularly when the massive Qunari explains that wearing an eye patch makes his opponents predictable – often resulting in the loss of his opponent’s head.  The voice acting is excellent and helps the characters come alive.  Voices generally do a good job of conveying emotion that fits the scene, rarely feeling forced or out of place.  The game’s musical score is simply outstanding.  Sometimes the music offers the subtlest background, while at others it asserts itself to match and reinforce a particularly epic scene.  The scenes leading up to your introduction to Skyhold make especially excellent use of music.

Gameplay

In terms of gameplay, Inquisition would probably be best categorized as an action RPG.  It feels less tactical than previous entries in the series, but this may be due to the fact that I’m playing DAI on a console and played the previous games on PC.  My character is an archer, so my experience is largely limited to ranged combat, but the overall gameplay and feel of combat is positive.  Most animations are good, and the camera is generally cooperative.  Character movement feels fluid and natural, though perhaps a bit sluggish at times during combat.  Bioware has also included a tactical mode which can be switched on and off as needed.  This allows you to issue orders to your party in a much more tactical manner, though the camera in this mode could use some improvement.

Two of the most obvious issues with gameplay involve jumping.  For starters, the jumping animation leaves something to be desired, and your characters seems to jump straight up in a very limited fashion.  The tendency to get caught by small objects while moving makes jumping tedious and frustrating.  Fortunately, you don’t have to jump too often (though I found myself cursing my bunny-hopping rogue as I tried to dodge the fireballs spewed by a dragon).  The second issue is that the jumping button is also used as your primary means of interacting the with world.  This means that, more often than not, you will literally find yourself jumping up and down any time you try to pick up loot.  More critically, in instances where your interaction is time-sensitive, the fraction of a second it can take for the game to recognize an interaction opportunity can have dire consequences.  Perhaps they should have mapped the interact function to the right side of the d-pad.  It’s counterintuitive, but I do not believe that button is used for anything else, and it would solve some issues.

The game’s AI also bears mentioning.  Enemy behaviors are nothing special, but the behavior of your party members can sometimes be problematic.  Put another way, “Could you guys stop bunching together when we’re being strafed by a dragon?!”  The tactical mode still allows you to control all your party members throughout a fight, so it’s not a big deal.  As in previous games in the series, you have access to a system that allows you to customize the behavior of your party, though many players feel the system is less robust than in the past.  While occasionally frustrating, this is not a huge problem.  I was able to defeat the aforementioned dragon with all the behavior settings left at default, while only exercising limited control over my party members’ movement and potions.

As any reasonable player would expect, missions are functionally fairly standard.  You’re tasked with killing targets, collecting items, talking to people, and exploring areas.  This isn’t a bad thing; just don’t expect some groundbreaking approach to RPG gameplay.  While generally straightforward, missions tie in closely with the story and events of each area.  They all have a purpose beyond simple filler, are well-written, and make you want to complete them.  There are no quest hubs, and missions are equally likely to be introduced through a conversation with a character or by stumbling across a note in some abandoned campsite.  For a game that prides itself on incorporating player choice and consequences, it would be nice to include choices and branching plots into more of the missions, but most consequences outside of the main storyline are based more on if you completed a mission, not how you completed it.  Inquisition still embraces meaningful consequences more than most games, but there is still room for improvement.

For all you completionists out there, don’t expect to finish off all of a zone’s content your first trip there (not counting trips back to Haven to clean out your inventory).  Content in some areas requires you to face stronger opponents than you are probably ready for, some quests require materials you have to acquire from later zones, and still other missions (like quests for your companions) will not be available until later in the game.  This keeps you returning to areas multiple times, further minimizing the sense of a simple linear progression.

While combat and traipsing about the countryside are arguably the most significant aspects of gameplay, they are far from all of it.  Crafting is involved and requires both raw materials and schematics which can be found throughout the world.  Varying the materials used allows you to choose both an effect and appearance of your gear, and items can be upgraded with hilts, blades, pauldrons, and the like for added effect.  Another critical element of the game is the War Table, which is where you manage the Inquisition on a strategic scale, sending agents on operations to gain favor, recruit allies, investigate rumors, and explore new areas.  This keeps the gameplay connected to the big picture and ties in nicely with the other game systems.

Story & Characters

Last, and absolutely not least, are the story and characters.  This is where DAI really shines, but also where you have to invest some time to get the most bang for your buck.  Characters are all well-rounded, with distinct personalities and strong backstories which are revealed throughout the course of the game – if you take the time to talk to them.  It’s generally a good idea to check-in with at least one or two characters any time you return to your base of operations, and always after major advancements in the storyline.  I’ve frequently noticed myself spending more than an hour in Haven just swapping out some gear and talking to people.  It’s not simply a scrollfest, as you have to make decisions about how you talk to people, decisions which have consequences.  Your compatriots’ opinions of you can and will open up new missions and War Table operations for you through the course of the game.

Being invested in the characters helps with any story, but DAI doesn’t need much help in this area.  The overall story can be best described in a single word – EPIC.  While it may seem like your standard fantasy, save-the-world fare, Inquisition still manages to set itself apart.  The events and scenes leading up to the introduction of Skyfall are outstanding.  The way the world’s politics and religions are incorporated into the story are some of the best I’ve seen.  To say there’s a rich historical backstory would be a massive understatement, and most of this is presented through excerpts from books, notes, and songs you find throughout the world.  While I’m ashamed to say I have read many of these so far, it’s worth mentioning that you don’t have to read all of them to still get a strong feel for the world.

Wrap-Up

I’m certain there’s a lot I’ve overlooked, and I’m not even close to finishing the game yet.  While there is still room for improvement, Inquisition is easily one of the best RPGs of the year.  In fact, it’s probably one of the best games of the year, period.  A great story that’s written and presented well, made even better through the fact that you actually have a say in how it turns out.  The Dragon Age games usually lend themselves to multiple playthroughs if you want to experience everything, and DAI is no exception.  Most importantly for Bioware, Inquisition goes a long way towards reestablishing the proud tradition of the Dragon Age series.

This post was modified a couple hours after the initial posting to include additional information on bugs, AI, and mission difficulty.