GOTY 2014 - Top Ten - #6
Here it is: our list of the top ten games of 2014. The result of dozens of hours of preparation, discussion and debate, this list represents our consensus on the ten best and most-significant games of the year. Don't miss out on any of our Game of the Year coverage. Check out our full schedule here, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook for instant updates.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
BioWare | November 18, 2014 | Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360
Despite new consoles launching last year, 2014 was very much the year of transition. Publishers wanted consumers to buy into the next generation but never committed wholeheartedly to exclusive development for those platforms. In many ways, this held back the design of many of this year's top games. Everything looks better but nothing really feels new; it's old-gen design with a next-gen coat of paint. Dragon Age: Inquisition is very much a game with one foot in the past and one in the future and that causes some design dissonance, but this remains one of BioWare's strongest efforts in years.
Mass Effect 2 encouraged some changes at the RPG powerhouse, emphasizing action over slower, more methodical combat. Dragon Age II suffered for that sudden sea change and didn't meet the expectations of players who enjoyed the deliberate approach of Dragon Age: Origins. Inquisition is an evolution of the style that harkens back to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Combat works in real time and controls much better than in previous iterations on consoles, while still allowing players to pause combat and survey the battlefield in order to take a more methodical approach. This isn't news to anyone who's been played these style of games in the past but to have it work as well as it does off the PC is a revelation.
One the player opens up class specializations, the game begins to encourage greater diversification regarding setting up a party and what tactics to use in combat. Late-game classes are dramatically different. On higher difficulties, insufficient preparation for fights with dragons is the difference between a satisfying victory and total decimation.
The player is rewarded for changing their party regularly, too, with unprovoked banter between squadmates. None of it is necessary to understand and enjoy the story, but it adds a good deal of context and makes each character feel more three dimensional. I experienced three squadmates constantly making fun of another character, which was a charming addition to character development in the game.
Dragon Age has always had an advantage over its sci-fi sibling in terms of role-playing because it abandons the KOTOR trope of black and white morality that Mass Effect famously uses. Inquisition does a superb job of allowing the player to simultaneously be a saint, a lothario and a politician (as if such things were mutually exclusive). Telltale could learn a thing or two as well about having choices that create consequences not visible for hours (or even tens of hours) later.
Inquisition did a great deal to bond me with my player-character. I cared about my Inquisitor and their companions, but how I saved the world felt irrelevant. It was enough for me to simply exist in it. DA:I's strongest improvement is the massive, diverse selection of environments the player can explore. Each area differs in flora and fauna, as well as in lore. More than the world in any other original RPG I've ever played Thedas felt like a developed world, and through my Inquisitor, I felt like I was interacting with it.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is one of the best games of this year. It holds on a little too tightly to some older RPG tropes that slow down the pace of the game, but the combat, the role-playing and setting are all so well put together that it was a joy to experience from start to finish. I cannot wait to see what BioWare does next with the series. – Tyler Martin