You know you've got a modern classic on your hands when, after nearly 200 hours, you finally allow the credits to roll on the last of the DLC, and you still don't want to put the controller down. Dragon Age: Inquisition was 2015's excellent continuation of the popular Bioware series, and it delivered in style; bringing their trademark immersive, expansive experience to long-term fans and new players alike.
Before starting the game, you spend some time with the Dragon Age Keep which, despite a bit of wrangling to get it to talk to our console, allowed you to import decisions from the previous two games; Origins and DA2. Choices you had previously made, both big, world-defining decisions (your Grey Warden was a kingmaker, after all) and seemingly small, personal choices were carried across. Spending an hour tweaking these decisions was a great way to remind you of what had gone before, and set up a level of anticipation for the game - how many of these decisions, many from years ago, would appear to haunt you in DA:I?
Player choice is at the heart of the experience. Bioware's hugely customisable character system allows you to side with Mage or Templar, and tweak almost infinite elements of your character's appearance, backstory and voice. Play as a kick-ass version of yourself or be somebody totally different - it's up to you. As you progress through the game you meet and recruit many different companion characters, building a roster to choose from on missions, and they all have different options in terms of who you're playing them with and the decisions you make in the game. As you help your band of brothers (and sisters) through both your own and each of their life-changing moments, so they change, and the world and game change around you. The level of control is what's important; it makes you feel like a storyteller, not just a passive recipient of content.
The personalisation of this game doesn't end at hair colour and ear shape - this game is so expansive and offers so many options that the gameplay experience is up to you too. Like fighting? Stick it on a hard and take down dragons, giants, Templar mages and horribly twisted enemy hordes. Pacifist? Cloaking spells at the ready, sneak and loot and live to fight another day. Button bash, or delve into the tactical combat system. Feeling creative? Alchemy, potions, weapons and armour are your playground. Not a people-person? Avoid the many romances and personal interactions available to you and focus on the main quest. Your game, your play-through, your choice. That's how so much time disappears into this game - some nights you need to stick it to an ice dragon, other times you want to spend some time in the quiet of Skyhold choosing curtains. It's a game that goes with you.
We loved all of the new characters. They were intricate. Clever. Bioware are brilliant at writing them. We felt emotionally connected, they felt like real people. It was really interesting to meet and explore in-depth races we had had a passing acquaintance with in the first two games - the Qunari's intricate religious devotion married to Iron Bull's bawdy humour, finally meeting the Avvar tribe, and the vain and powerful Tevinter majisters. You try to out-drink a band of mercenaries, meet a beautifully written trans character, spend time playing tricks. These personal nuances are what make the morality decisions so challenging - sacrificing a small troupe for the greater good has been an easy decision in other games. When you've spent an hour knocking back Qunari falling-down-water with them, it's not so clear cut. Several moments had us almost in tears, or sitting for a moment with controller resting, just letting the consequences sink in. That's the difference between this and Skyrim: they've got the same elements - the magic, the swords, the crafting, the monsters - but in Inquisition we feel connected to the characters, we care about these nuanced personalities. It's a much more emotionally intelligent experience.
It's not all tears and heavy sighs, though. This game has a great sense of humour. Your companions banter, tease each other, and flirt as you wander the varied and gorgeous landscapes. DA:I's expansive map and creatively executed worlds offer a huge experience, but Bioware offers entertainment as you wander a frozen landscape or search a desert for a pinpoint of light. And remember; don't challenge Josephine to a game of Wicked Grace if you're fond of your trousers...
There was three significant DLC campaigns which further expanded the experience. Jaws of Hakkon and The Descent took us to new corners of the fantasy world. The Descent has us battling an old enemy, the darkspawn, down in the Deep Roads, but also brings back the dwarves in a welcome return. Very much a content drop of two halves, the first has you battling through multiple floors filled with demons, the second taking things in a very different direction. Jaws of Hakkon, on the other hand, gave us a new perspective on a minor faction that we'd been fighting throughout the campaign. These spiritual nomads are the backdrop for a quest that had us searching out evidence of the first Inquisition. The last DLC, Trespasser, takes place two years after the defeat of the (slightly underwhelming, if we're being frank) Corephyeus, and sees you deciding what will become of an Inquisition you spent so much time building.
When it finished we were genuinely gutted. It truly is a title that caters for all, its inclusiveness a real high point and a direction that we hope more developers will follow. Bioware crafted an adventure to appeal to all types of people: you can fight, do magic, negotiate, craft, solve puzzles, you can fall in love with whoever you want. It's completely immersive for girls, guys, and everyone in-between. It's beautifully drawn, wonderfully written, respectful to everyone and full of hidden depth - and our Game of The Year in 2014. Now, where do we find another 200 hours for a second play-through?