Dragon Age: Inquisition E3 Preview – Generic Fantasy Game
Dragon Age: Inquisition may turn out to be a great RPG, but if its buzzword-filled E3 presentation is any indicator, it’s trying too hard to be like everything else
This E3 was very buzzy with its terminology, with certain terms being repeated ad nauseum. This seemed to be the most co-op E3 I can remember, but thankfully that one doesn’t seem to be affecting Dragon Age: Inquisition, at least not yet. But as I sat in one of millions of dark theaters set up in the Los Angeles Convention Center last week, watching a Bioware employee play some Dragon Age, producer Mark Darrah did his best to emphasize the same sorts of things so many other folks had emphasized about their games: it’s a truly next-gen experience, not hampered by the need to be built for old consoles, and if you can see it you can walk to it, and everything is so dynamic, and the world is bigger than blah blah blah. You get the picture.
Inquisition may end up being great, but you wouldn’t know it from what I saw at E3 because the entire point seemed to be to reassure us that Dragon Age is going to try to be more like what’s currently popular, rather than a deviation from the norm like Dragon Age 2 was. This was perturbing to me, as in April I wrote this feature extolling the virtues of Dragon Age 2, an oft-maligned title that I’ve grown to appreciate because of how it’s not like other games. Instead of taking what worked in DA2 and fixing its problems, Inquisition appears to be Bioware going as mainstream and generic as possible, with some Bioware flashes here and there.
In Dragon Age: Inquisition, somebody has torn open rifts into the Fade (spirit world), and demons are pouring out and destroying Thedas. Your job is to ride around closing those rifts, sometimes climbing into them. Hurray, that’s the plot of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Great.
The reason you can close these rifts is because you, aka the Inquisitor, are special, marked with a tattoo of some sort that ties you to the Fade or something something. You have a destiny, and only you can fix this problem we seem to have. This in particular is in stark contrast to the previous Dragon Age games, which were never about characters who were special. The Warden in Origins and the Champion from Dragon Age 2 were never “destined” for great things; they did what they did because they did it, basically.
The Inquisitor has another purpose, as well: to end the war between mages and templars, and get folks around the world to like him/her. This means, then, that you personally must roll around the continent doing fetch quests and such. You are literally the most important person alive, the only one who can keep the world from falling apart — yes, this is another apocalypse scenario — but you and your posse must handle all business personally. Despite, you know, having an army at your disposal, and your death meaning the end of the world.
What we saw of Inquisition was mostly a dungeon crawl in the guise of an open world. Combat speed is between the sluggishness of Origins and quickness of DA2, and Darrah inexplicably made a point of telling us you can directly control any companion during battle, saying it in that “feature-touting tone” E3 presenters have even though that’s how Dragon Age has always worked.
Now you can also pause the game and issue specific orders to everyone. Cool, yeah. There will be lots of combat and probably it will be passably enjoyable at worst, as “decent combat” is one of Bioware’s hallmarks. They also showed a battle with a dragon, which I have to say was probably a bad idea given the extreme scarcity of dragons in previous games. Showing a dragon battle in a Dragon Age preview is like showing the end boss fight in a preview of most other games.
That said, there are dashes here and there of Bioware things. Darrah promised “emergent” world thingies, like how as people in an area start to like you because you’ve done quests for them, there will be fewer bandits and your Inquisitors will start patrolling the roads. (This is a “living, breathing world.” Take a drink.) Also, at some point Leliana was captured and tortured offscreen because of something the Inquisitor did (also offscreen), and so now she’s mad at you or something. It’s hard to really get into concrete examples of how branching mechanics work in a demo, especially when only like two minutes of the demo are dedicated to them.
So, in short, I’m not happy about what I was shown of Dragon Age: Inquisition. The demo was so generic and not very BioWare-ish at all — CD Projekt RED showed a gameplay demo of The Witcher 3 of similar length at E3 and it featured approximately 800 times more dialogue scenes than the Dragon Age demo did. So maybe Inquisition will end up being thoroughly BioWare and unique, but what I got most from the demo was “We are trying really hard to be just like other games you like.”
Suffice to say that I think most Bioware fans are not looking for what its games have in common with everything else, but rather what they do not. But since Darrah and company mostly went the generic route with this E3 presentation, I’m left with a bad taste in my mouth, while I assume, or hope, that the Inquisition experience will actually be very different from what I was shown.
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