The third entry in the Dragon Age franchise saw the departure of two-time composer Inon Zur in favour of film and TV composer Trevor Morris. Although the game is good, in spite of its flaws, the music this time around is a disappointment.

I’m writing this fresh from watching the ending to the game. All in all, I’d say it was a satisfying experience; suitably emotional for a BioWare title, although there were a few qualities I did not expect.

My playthrough

I chose to play as a Dalish mage, Knight-Enchanter specialisation (because I’ve missed the Arcane Warrior subclass since the first game). Nightmare difficulty with friendly fire turned on, although it quickly became clear that the game wasn’t quite designed for it. Lots of abilities were unusable, including all AoE weapons. I had the original group with me throughout almost every excursion (save for a few with Blackwall to try out the Champion subclass).

In terms of challenge, the game became almost trivial after beating In Your Heart Shall Burn, which was admittedly hard to beat. Once I had unlocked some Knight-Enchanter abilities, however, I swiftly discovered that my chosen class was the epitome of the old adage, “the best defence is a good offence.” By enchanting my staff with a guard-per-hit masterwork material (fade-touched silverite), I gained enough barrier and guard on every strike that nothing could kill me.

Should something run away, chase it with the ice rush spell, which is also good for avoiding big attacks, like dragon breaths and fireballs. The fade cloak ability had such a short cooldown that it could be used very frequently, either to escape any attack or to step through a group of mobs to deal egregious damage (excellent synergy with Solas’s vortex). By investing almost exclusively in critical chance and damage, most strikes deal upwards of 1,000 damage, and 5,000 in the case of barriers, rendering them useless and more beneficial to me than the enemy; one hit restores the barrier completely.

Once I hit level 20, I decided it was time to kill the high dragons. Aside from the one in The Hinterlands which I’d killed several levels previously, I took down all the rest of them on my own (i.e. with only the inquisitor), a feat that took more patience than anything else. Whereas the dragon fight in Dragon Age II was a proper challenge on nightmare (not to mention the rock wraith), this seemed a bit silly, although it was fun playing as Jedi Gandalf.

Nevertheless, the final story mission, Doom Upon All the World, reminded me of the ending to Risen 2: Dark Waters, in that all you do is go straight to the boss, vanquish said boss and then celebrate. It was very anticlimactic, to say the least, and it was symptomatic of the larger issue of the game having almost nothing but sandbox content. (Although I’d gladly take such a short ending to the abominable chore that was the ending to Dragon Age: Origins.)

95% of the time is spent doing side quests and other tasks which turn out to have little relevance to the actual story. I think divorcing the story from the explorable areas so much was a mistake. It veers towards the narrative disaster that is an Elder Scrolls title, saved by the fact that it at least makes some sense for the inquisition to gather power and influence by solving people’s problems. The material requisitions stretch the symbolism past what it can handle, however. Don’t tell me the leader of an ostensible empire in the making would personally go around mining ore and picking flowers.

For some reason, I expected this to be the last of the Dragon Age series, but the post-credits sequence is obvious sequel bait. So, does that mean the world will contain four player characters? On that note, Hawke’s appearance was stale and lifeless, and I’m very disappointed that my warden from the first game didn’t show up. The small interaction wasn’t even worth the sixteen hours it took for the damn war table operation to complete.

If there’s one thing in which Dragon Age: Inquisition truly excels the other titles, it is in its cynicism. It’s another big leap towards the sad state of the art portrayed by Ubisoft, where video games are nothing more than products made to be profitable, void of the artistic endeavours that spawned the industry. As it stands, it’s the only way we get to experience Dragon Age. Regrettable, but ultimately worth it.

The soundtrack

I imagine it does not come as a surprise that I was highly disappointed by the announcement that Trevor Morris would replace Inon Zur as the composer for Dragon Age: Inquisition. With those words, all anticipation I had for the music poured out of me like water down the drain. Even though it’s not quite the heresy it would’ve been had they replaced Jeremy Soule for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Zur is still the musical identity of the series. Safe to say, my expectations were low.

Unlike Mass Effect 3, however, in which Clint Mansell’s involvement led to not only one of the best video game tracks ever made, Leaving Earth, but also the strongest tear-jerker in recent memory (the concomitant scene of Shepard doing what the track’s name suggests), Trevor Morris’s contribution to Dragon Age: Inquisition is empty. It’s lifeless, without thematic development. Save for the main theme and its melody, there isn’t a single memorable composition in it.

In a few places, chiefly at the very end, we hear a little bit of Zur’s music, albeit rearranged, and that does nothing if not sharply cement just how much better Zur’s music is compared to that of Morris. The latter is a film and TV composer, one that is evidently lacking understanding of what video game music is. It’s a damn shame to go from the live orchestral scores with so much identity of the previous two games to the poorly sequenced and unimaginative soundtrack of Dragon Age: Inquisition.

As a final criticism, I’ve got to chide whoever was in charge of recording the bard vocals. The microphone is much too close to the singer, so close that we can hear their little breaths and mouth noises even as we’re on the other side of the room. Come on, guys, it’s not that hard to use multiple microphone positions and crossfades tied to a spherical trigger zone.

The group singing after In Your Heart Shall Burn also suffers from being recorded in an entirely inappropriate space. They were meant to be outside, not in a recording hall. Don’t tell me you couldn’t rig a few condenser microphones in a nearby park.

In closing

My hope that Inon Zur will return for the next game in the series will likely be in vain. I don’t even expect they’ll replace Morris, considering he has been praised for the soundtrack (thankfully, amidst a lot of other highly critical and displeased voices). It saddens me, because Dragon Age has had not only great but also educational music. You can learn a lot from how Zur crafted the scores of the last two entries in the series. It was proper work, with a real orchestra, themes, singers and collaborators.

No more of that, evidently. Perhaps the music budget was a victim of BioWare’s newfound cynicism.

All the best,
Dan

My music, elsewhere:

© Raniel Dan MMXX.