I sat down in the Paramount theater packed to the brim, questioning should I even be wasting my precious time at PAX with this. Well Bioware made sure that it was well worth my time at PAX.
The demo began with technical difficulties. A soft crash at the main screen, lack of audio, lead to Bioware restarting multiple times, before the code decided to work. Usually this would seem unprofessional, but after the fiasco with the Xbox One, Bioware decided to save face by showing the imperfections. Bioware even went as far as explaining that the live demo was being show on top-end hardware PCs.
Once the game was finally cooperating, Bioware began announcing things. Dragon Age: Inquisition was going to be Bioware Edmonton’s largest game to date, Qunari as playable race (both male and female), and that they wanted choices to actually impact your world. The last bit I made a grimace. That line is one of the gaming industry’s favorite lines to spin, but rarely delivers.
The World and You
The game loaded with our Inquisitor (A two-handed sword warrior), Cassandra and Varric from Dragon Age 2, and Vivienne a circle mage and the first major black character in the dragon age franchise as Bioware continues their reputation for diversity. The group does quick banter, as they enter the area of Crestwood. Crestwood, according to Bioware, is larger than all of Dragon Age 2 put together, but not the largest area in Dragon Age Inquisition. During the panel Bioware described other areas, such as there being more than just “the cave” (Dragon Age 2 was notorious for re-using maps), as well as hinting at a partially underwater area. Towards the end of their discussion about the geography, the Inquisitor had their first decision.
Apparently an Inquisition keep, a base the player uses often, was under attack, as well as the surrounding village. The player had the choice of defending the keep, staying with the wounded, or protecting the village. Each choice on the conversation wheel showed the plan of action for each choice. Bioware chose to defend the keep, then quickly loaded another save file after the events of defending the keep. We returned to see Crestwood’s village burned to the ground, no complaining NPCs, just dead bodies. Varric usually, a light-hearted jokester, said snide and cold remarks to the choice of letting the people die. The village was gone. No re-building, no survivors, just gone. At this point I now understood what Bioware was saying about Inquisition. We would impact this world. Our decision will have visible consequences that impact the game.
Combat in the Dragon Age series has always been tactical. Clean execution was rewarded, while with one unchecked enemy could spell disaster, but there is always room for improvement. The biggest announcement about combat to me was that there would not be health restored after encounters. In addition to this we will be limited to the number of potions we’ll be able to hold on us at a time.
With this in mind Bioware is changing how encounters work. No longer will enemies jump up to our level, some will just be weaker, and some much stronger. The basics elements of tabletop RGPs are back with a vengeance. In one encounter a warrior with a tower shield appeared, deflecting Varric’s crossbow and Vivienne’s spells, the player had to coordinate his team to flank just to deal damage to the enemy, which was no easy task. Bioware then asked the question, “What if you were to fight a coordinated group of enemies just like that?” I had to catch myself from drooling as the next battle began with Vivienne in a duel with another mage, arrows raining down on the Inquisitor and Cassandra, while Varric attempted to give some covering fire.
While the new combat formula seems great, Bioware has not left us without some new tricks. The most important in my opinion is the introduction of the frostbite engine to Dragon Age Inquisition. Frostbite is the same engine that runs Battlefield 3 and allows for destructible environments. Players now have the ability to heavily alter the environment, be it creating ice walls to cut off enemies from their team, or smashing a rickety bridge that arches are sniping on. Dragon Age Inquisition will give players a new way to think about combat strategies.
Another new tool Bioware has given players is the utility of having various companions in your party. Cassandra, ex-Seeker of the chantry, is a master of military knowledge. She quickly pointed out enemies as they entered the keep and what their formations would look like. Bioware explained that companions would be providing useful knowledge like this in and out of combat.
My favorite change to the combat system simple yet elegant is the free roaming camera. Players can place the camera in a top down view, over the shoulder third person view, or however the player sees fit. This allows the player an easier view of the battlefield giving us more time to allowing us to command the party.
While the combat system is changing so are the classes. In the demo we see the Inquisitor throw out a chain and pull an enemy towards them, ala Scorpion from Mortal Kombat. We see Vivienne strip enchantments of enemies and create massive impassable walls of ice. Of course iconic abilities such as Firestorm and Reaving Storm will be returning to Dragon Age Inquisition.
With the name “Dragon Age” we’ve seen some dragons, but in all honesty only a few have actually created problems or been challenges to players. Dragons have been re-vamped. Each one is a unique encounter and are long term goals as Bioware has stated. Unfortunately, the Inquisitor will not be taking on dragons as easily as the Dovahkiin did in Skyrim.
Addressing some player concerns
Depending on who you asked Dragon Age 2 was either a great game, or awful one. Many fans of Dragon Age: Origins don’t even see Dragon Age 2 as a sequel to their beloved franchise. With Inquisition, Bioware seems to have addressed with many issues brought up by the fan base.
In previous Dragon Age games, one of my largest qualms was the lack of out of combat utility of the classes, unless you were playing a rogue. Outside of combat rogues could pick locks, stealth around, but nothing was really given to Mages or Warriors. With Dragon Age Inquisition Bioware is looking to fix that. During the demo Bioware showed us burning boats with an item called Antivan fire, which could also be replicated by a mage’s fireball spell. In another part of the demo a warrior “knocks” on a keep door by breaking the gate down with a few well-placed shield slams.
The crafting system has been revamped to make it the most in depth it’s ever been. The ability to adjust your companion’s armor and weapons has returned, as well as different playable races.
Bioware seems to be putting their best foot forward with Inquisition, to say I’m excited for its release in Fall 2014 is an understatement. I guess Blade will just have to wait a wee bit longer.