Preview: Dragon Age: Inquisition

Full disclosure: Press Start was invited to a preview event hosted by Bioware and EA Australia, which was based in Melbourne. Free food and drink was offered. I of course had some fruit because fruit is awesome. The build I played was on the PC.

“We wanted to deliver the experience we were aiming for since the birth of Dragon Age”

-Mike Laidlow, Creative Director of Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Dragon Age: Inquisition looked like the Bioware child to save them from the uproar that had been put upon them in recent times. Mass Effect 3 endings, Dragon Age 2 controversies, Inquisition had been in development for 3-4 years, and with it’s release coming very soon, Press Start went hands on with the latest build of Inquisition. This was NOT the gold build, but it was a near complete one. We spent 3 hours playing through the prologue, and then being set free in the first major area of the game, the Hinterlands. There was co-op available, but I didn’t get a chance to demo it.

10754258_10152400313327274_698428810_oAs was the case in Dragon Age: Origins, players will be able to choose from several playable races for the Inquisitor, and the game will recognize race flags, class flags, or a combination of the two depending on the situation. Races can be any class except for dwarves, who cannot become mages, something that is very familiar to Dragon Age players. The Qunari class was brand new as a playable race, so I decided to choose a two-handed brute Qunari as my character.

The plot set ups as a standard ‘end of the world’ scenario, where your character is bound to a breach in the Fade, which subsequently has leaked into the real world and is causing chaos around the world. The theme of the game is much like Mass Effect 3, with a focus on building an ‘Inquisition’ that consists of people, places and allies to fight the subsequent war that threatens to destroy the world. The Mage-Templar war also has a direct influence on the main plot. The prologue does a fantastic job of setting up the plot, and feels like a direct nod to The Elder Scrolls and Witcher 2, with your character starting as a prisoner of people you already know and love from previous games. It’s a mainly linear affair, but when it opens up, the world-building is jaw dropping.

10804849_10152400313367274_316388262_oThe game is set in Thedas, covering parts of Orlais and Ferelden. It’s stated that the world will cover more geographic territory than its predecessors, with one map being described as four to five times the size of Ferelden. Spending three hours in just ONE map (Hinterlands) wasn’t enough, as there were so many side quests, so many things to explore, I could easily see people spending hundreds of hours within the game. Whilst following a tracker to a sidequest I stumbled upon an area that was FAR too difficult for such an early character build, culminating in a fiery death from an impressively intimidating dragon. I feel that Inquisition actually built these dragons to be seriously tough and scary foes, and unlike Skyrim’s (unmodded) roster of pathetically easy dragons, Dragon Age will really showcase some tough battles.

It feels a bit like Fallout: New Vegas in terms of the world building. Easily one of my favourite games of all time, like F:NV, Inquisition has carefully built areas that require characters to level up to safely beat, yet it’s still OPEN to be tackled at any point in time. It’d be suicide to tackle a dragon in Inquisition at level 5, but the fact that it’s all open for you to try, that there are no hand holding segments that tell you to turn back, is a fantastic gameplay choice that we see too little of these days.

I played a brute force build, so I cannot comment on mage/archer/rogue builds, but it should be mentioned that tactical combat has been overhauled. Unlike 2, health doesn’t regenerate, and spells cannot be spammed. The tactical camera is back, but you can play via third person as well, but honestly, even playing on hard I was getting absolutely smashed with some encounters. Like the theme of the game, the combat really focuses on being a leader and managing your party of four via the tactical camera, assigning different roles and actions. It’s best to play a mix in your party, rather than everyone playing one role. It’s less about mashing skill buttons and attacks and more about preparing, position and successfully manage the team. Players will be able to gain influence in areas of the world by capturing keeps or forts. This is achieved by defeating the occupants of the keep or fort. Once the Inquisition has a base in the area, new areas, if applicable, will open up and become available to the player.

If tactical management is too boring for you, there’s always the action-RPG style like Dragon Age 2 had, with a emphasis on action, singular characters and a third person camera focus. The companion focus is great, with emphasis on gaining favour and eventually leading to romance options. You can trade and customize character armour and weapons, and going out with your party of four feels really special. Crafting returns, and it honestly feels like a fully fleshed out system, with possibilities of hundreds of combinations. In addition to crafting items from raw materials, players can create different parts of the final product and then combine them and create a completely new item.

In terms of graphics, facial animations in particular look spectacular. Inquisition runs on the Frostbite 3 engine and looks downright fantastic. Animations are smooth, the Hinterlands map was gorgeous, with lush green areas, and enemies are creatively done. Dialogue feels less awkward but stilted animations during conversations still remain. Otherwise, it looks like an absolute stunner.

The dialogue wheel still suffers from that Mass Effect “says one thing on dialogue wheel but final result was completely different”, but generally it controls better, and each option comes with an illustration of what path it would take you on: light, dark, neutral, question etc etc. It’s a great touch and really livens up the dialogue. Character portraits are similarly illustrated, and it’s just elegant touches like these that really liven up the game.

With regards to the PC edition of Inquisition, Laidlaw revealed that the tactical quickbar will be locked at 8 slots, because “32 abilities (along with passives/upgrades) across the party provides a broad spectrum of tactical options.” I played the demo exclusively on PC, and honestly I cannot comment on specs or technical performance since they supplied us with top of the range builds. The game ran well at a steady 60fps on max settings, but I cannot imagine this will be the case for low-mid range builds. Keyboard controls were ok, but picking up loot felt very sloppy. I imagine this would be fixed by release as I wasn’t playing a gold build. Otherwise it felt like it needed to be played via KB+M especially with the focus on tactical combat.

My time with Dragon Age: Inquisition was brief, but wonderful. Whilst I enjoyed the first but never got into the second game, what I experienced with Inquisition was pure joy. Amazing world building, tough and intelligent combat, great character and facial animations and a general fixing of the dialogue options, I sincerely hope the final product can live up to what I played.