Last week, I was invited to play a nearly finished PlayStation 4 build of Dragon Age: Inquisition at an exclusive Electronic Arts media event. My reaction when I played the game for the first time?
Wow, it’s huge.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is the third title in BioWare’s fantasy action RPG series (they aren’t calling it Dragon Age 3), and it’s a much more expansive and ambitious game than those that came before it. Part of this is explained because the game is launching on ‘next-gen’ consoles, and clearly lessons have also been learned from the previous two Dragon Age games. Another factor is simply that BioWare and Inquisition’s Creative Director, Mike Laidlaw, wanted this game to finally realise the vision for Dragon Age.
Laidlaw told us that any good fantasy RPG worth its salt always allow its players to explore, and they wanted to do that right with Inquisition. “Dragon Age: Origins has a little bit of exploration, and it was different in Dragon Age 2, but we probably have to go all the way back to, I think, Baldur’s Gate 2 to find a big explorable game from BioWare,” he added.
So one of the results of this push for more exploration in Inquisition is that players can now wander around massive zones to find portals with their characters. Characaters that you control can now jump too. This surprising mechanical change opens up a ton of options as you explore, from tiny platforming puzzles to sneaking your way up a mountainside that may have been impossible to scale without vertical movement.
Your first task upon firing up Inquisition is to make a character, who, after a short time into the game, becomes an Inquisitor. The protagonist this time isn’t the Warden or Champion of Kirkwall, but a new character woven into Dragon Age lore if you will, though familiar faces and characters from past games that scatter throughout the game will undoubtedly please fans (Morrigan, for one, returns as an NPC this time). You’re then put through a prologue sequence that brings you up to speed on what’s going on in the fictional world of Thedas, and how you come to be part of the Inquisition.
Inquisition’s story then begins with your character existing as the only survivor of an expedition into The Breach, a massive rift portal that is releasing demons into the world. Since your character has been imbued with the power (not spoiling it for you folks here) to close these portals wreaking havoc across the world, it has fallen onto you to lead the Inquisition, search for answers, resolve the ongoing war between the Templars and Mages (the consequences from the end of Dragon Age 2)…and pretty much save Thedas from destruction.
BioWare has listened to fans disappointed by Dragon Age 2 and implemented a revised system that’s more reminiscent of Origins. Inquisition features a combination of third-person hack-and-slash-style combat with a Tactical View option, the latter of which pauses the game and allows you to assign commands to members of your party. Tactical View was an option exclusive to PC versions of Origins and Dragon Age II, but will be featured across all of Inquisition’s console platforms – Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. With multiple ways to control the game it can be tricky to immediately master at first, but players with a love for tactical play will appreciate this feature.
The beauty of Inquisition’s combat system is that you have so much control over how battles play out. You can start by attacking enemies with your unique skill set in third-person mode, switch to Tactical View to plan how your allies should efficiently tackle the situation, and then regain control of your character of choice to participate in some hack-and-slash play. Combined with special moves, potions, looted items, and the ability to switch between members of your party during combat to harness their abilities, in real-time no less, Inquisition impressed me with its rich combat system.
It’s not just the combat system that feels rich and well-designed: the game world is so deep that three hours of gameplay is not even close to being enough to explore what’s on offer. There’s quests left, right and center, NPCs everywhere to meet and greet, and romantic relationships to foster. There’s crafting, there’s skill trees, there’s a massive list of attributes, and a world chocked full with lore.
The size of the map has been increased significantly, but it’s not completely open world. Thedas is split up into multiple expansive areas, each with a set of things to explore, people to meet, and quests to undertake. The idea is to condense the world into areas that are rich, detailed and entertaining, removing boring and lengthy sections of interconnecting roads with a fast travel system. To put the scale of Inquisiton into perspective, the area that I was playing in – the Hinterlands – is nearly the size of the entirety of Dragon Age: Origins. And imagine that the Hinterlands is, but one of many small condensed areas explorable in Inquisition.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is undoubtedly the first true epic-scaled RPG of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 era.
If there’s one key take-away that I can share from the three hours spent on Inquisition, it’s that there’s so much to do in Inquisition. And I say that with affection. While I’ve always been impressed by the Dragon Age lore, Origins didn’t felt like it fulfilled its potential as Baldur’s Gate 2 spiritual successor. Dragon Age 2 has been criticised by many quarters for being too much of an action game rather than a traditional RPG, and that’s fair too.
But with Dragon Age Inquisition, I found myself getting absolutely wrapped up in exploring and just immersing myself into the many side-quests and activities in the game. And I’ve not even managed to experience crafting and multi-player (sorry readers, I only had three hours!), which will add another dimension to Inquisition’s gameplay. That’s true, good old fashioned role-playing for you.
November 18th can’t come soon enough.