Dragon Age: Inquisition – Vast World, Story Details, Playable Qunari
The idea of choice-based outcomes remains something of a sore point for longtime fans of BioWare games.
After the linearity of Dragon Age 2 and the, shall we say <controversial ending of Mass Effect 3, it’s hard to hear BioWare talking about how choices you’ll make will effect your game. But based on what we saw, it at least looks like BioWare’s ambitions are firmly within its capabilities with the latest Dragon Age game.
First, the developer confirmed the endgame will have more to do with the building up of the Inquisition than who you romance.
“We didn’t want to make something like ‘This is five games in one!’,” one BioWare rep said during the demo. Instead, so we were told, “The fact that you’re in the Inquisition” matters more, ultimately, than your race or gender.
This doesn’t mean the decisions you make are meaningless. We were told there are numerous chances to dummy out content simply because of even minor decisions you make early in the game. This includes the selection of race, which BioWare says will open or close later-game content depending on who you choose to be. Further, the choices you make in game will impact your reputation, how the Inquisition is perceived, and how you can build it.
“We didn’t want to make something like ‘This is five games in one!’,” one BioWare rep said during the demo.
In the demo, we saw the player character’s party choose to ignore a village under attack by entities from beyond The Veil in order to explore a nearby cave. When they returned to the village, it was destroyed and its citizens all dead. One of the party members even chastised the player a bit for the decision that allowed this to happen.
Speaking of that, Inquisition adds a new system for analyzing the choices you make. When deciding how to assign your agents to specific tasks, the options presented in the dialogue wheel will include descriptions. You’ll know that by telling someone to defend a wall, for instance, that character will be unable to offer any support to citizens under attack.
This won’t tell you everything you need to know, however. Long-term consequences of your decisions will be experienced organically, and you’ll just have to choose and hope for the best. Further, by interacting with your party, you’ll get a sense of their dispositions and thus know, for instance, that Varric will not be happy with you if you choose the mission over compassion.
Added to all this is a far greater degree of customization — not only with (possibly) voice actors, but the ability to actually craft new armor and give it whatever name you want. Finally, the recently-announced Dragon Age Keep web app will allow you to set up your Dragon Age: Inquisition world based on the choices you made in the previous iterations of the series, similar to the motion comic included with the Playstation 3 version of Mass Effect 2. All in all, it looks like players are going to have a lot of things to grapple with as they seek to restore order to an unbalanced world.
The first thing noticeable when BioWare fired up its demo is that Dragon Age: Inquisition is stunning. The screenshots included in this preview are essentially an accurate representation of what we saw in the demo (click for larger versions).
Unlike the recycled dungeons and drab castles of Dragon Age 2 or the (let’s be honest) somewhat makeshift graphics of Origins, Inquisition looks positively sparkling. Grass looks wet and green, desert is grainy, rocky and dusty, water ripples with realism that just barely skirts the uncanny valley. Armor looks heavy, blood has a viscosity bordering on “salsa,” and characters interact with the terrain in very realistic fashion (including leaning into a hill to keep from sliding down it).
Inquisition is apparently absolutely huge. One region of the game, so we were told, will be bigger than all of Dragon Age 2 put together. Not a particularly difficult task to manage, to be fair, but considering there are multiple regions as you play through the game, it indicates you’ll spend many, many hours in Inquisition. Regions will be modular, however — instead of wandering all over the map, you’ll move from region to region in a similar to, say, Borderlands 2. (And yes, I know that’s an awkward comparison to make.) Once in a region, the game will be seamless, with no loading screens when entering buildings or caves.
For the first time, I get why Electronic Arts is constantly bragging about the Frostbite engine.
In addition, there will be a wide variance in the types of missions you’ll be able to take on and in how you manage your world as it grows. No more attack-of-the-giant-spiders: now you’ll fight enemy armies, infiltrate fortresses, save villages, investigate bad things, and so on. You’ll also be able to fight dragons (obviously, this is Dragon Age), but instead of doing so in order to advance the plot, these encounters will be optional battles very similar to raid bosses. Once you know where a dragon has camped out, you can choose to take it on at any time, and by doing so, you’ll enhance your reputation as an Inquisitor, and the reputation of the Inquisition itself.
Other changes have been made to the Dragon Age series that mainly appear to be for the better. “The idea of pressing a to do everything is something we’re trying to avoid,” BioWare said, showing off how players can micromanage every aspect of a battle, instead of the mixed menu/hack-n-slash of previous games. This includes the restoration of a feature originally available only on the PC version of Origins: an RTS mode that allows you to pause, then zoom to a bird’s eye view of a battlefield and take in the situation tactically.
This ability, included in all versions of Dragon Age: Inquisition, will then allow you to choose to play in either the normal, third-person perspective with your party controlled by AI, or stay in bird’s eye mode and control every aspect of your attack.
“No more stacks of a thousand potions,” BioWare said. “… You’ll now need to think about the adventure overall, more than about a single encounter at a time.”
Your strategic choices will also be far more affected by resources and party makeup. You will, for instance, no longer automatically restore to full health when a battle ends. Instead, you’ll have to expend health potions or travel to a safe space. (By the way, there’s no fast travel system in the game, so this could likely put you at risk.) “No more stacks of a thousand potions,” BioWare also said, suggesting you’ll actually have to carefully manage your resources to a far greater degree than previously seen in the series. The idea, as BioWare puts it, is that “You’ll now need to think about the adventure overall, more than about a single encounter at a time.”
Combat also doesn’t scale based on how powerful you’ve become. While there will be many parts of the game for which you’ll need to sufficiently beef before attempting to tackle them, if you return to an area you’ve already been to, the enemies will be as powerful as they were the first time you visited. This will make things much easier and, if you’re a sadist like me, more fun.
The (Initial) Final Word
It’s hard to get a sense of how Inquisition will actually be from a non-playable demo. But based on what was shown, things look very, very promising. BioWare didn’t say so, but one can’t help but feel this game has been designed from the ground up to satisfy loyal fans and win back those who have been angry since the unpleasantness of 2012. I certainly find myself actually enthused about Inquisition for the first time.
At minimum, it doesn’t have the ominous feel of a game that has been focus-tested to be all things to all gamers. No “Galaxy at War” nonsense, no long-time characters replaced with a suspiciously similar substitute voiced by a popular media personality, and no severe drawing-down of role-playing aspects. Instead, it’s looking like a highly refined, fan-focused fantasy RPG that will require you to love the genre and its time-consuming trappings.
Consider Inquisition a warning shot across Skyrim’s bow. Or consider it a giant bouquet of flowers to BioWare’s longtime customers. Either way, at this early point, it looks like BioWare may have a very good chance of bouncing back.
Don’t miss the rest of our PAX Prime 2013 coverage all weekend and next week!