Note: My capture equipment was damaged in transit and thus I don’t have any sexy, super high-res images/video from the demo to show you. Some of the images you see within this blog post were taken with my iPhone off-screen. Needless to say they don’t do Inquisition’s gorgeous visuals justice, but at the very least they provide some visual aspect. Also, I’m not going to discuss the story material that unraveled during my playthrough as to save some from minor spoilers.
I want to pound feverously on the keyboard (in all caps, I might add) and produce a frantic assortment of excited numbers, letters and symbols. What can I say? Six hours of Dragon Age: Inquisition will do that to you.
Full disclaimer: I’m a massive Dragon Age fan. Between Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II, I own eight copies. I have a Dragon Age shrine in my office. I wear my “I [dragon] Alistair” shirt with pride. I study Dragon Age lore just for shits.
Knowing this, you can imagine the sheer glee I felt when I was invited to San Francisco for the sole purpose of playing Dragon Age: Inquisition. Now, as intense of a fan I am, I can’t pretend the series is without flaw. Lackluster, repetitive locations, lack of free-range exploring and shallow character/party relationships are, in my mind, the top three things that have prevented Dragon Age titles from achieving their full potential. Going into the demo, I hoped to uncover evidence that these issues had been addressed, just like BioWare has promised.
While I can’t definitively say those issues have been addressed, as I’ve only spent six hours with a game that can take over 200 to complete, I can say what I have seen leads me to believe they were left behind when Dragon Age: Inquisition made its leap into next-gen.
I sat down at my (PC) station and was prompted to create my future Inquisitor. I succumbed to normalcy and stuck with what I’ve always known: a female human warrior specializing in shield and sword. While I was tinkering with the character customization screen that age-old joke of RPG players spending more time creating their characters than playing the game itself came to mind. You may think you know how you want your Inquisitor to look, but have you thought about how the eyelashes should be styled and colored? What about the eye spacing and rotation? Where do you want the tip of the nose to go, and how large or small do you want it? What about the nose bridge and ITS location? Don’t forget the size of each nostril, either. If you want to add jowls, a broken nose, a double chin or Adam’s Apple you can tweak all those as well.
Those are but a mere fraction of what customizable options are available. My personal favorite, though, was the makeup tab.
With my warrior created, it was time to jump into Dragon Age: Inquisition.
I’ve always thought the Dragon Age games were beautiful (graphically speaking), but Inquisition takes it to an all-new level of eye-pleasingly gorgeous. I hate to admit it, but I spent too much time, seeing as this was a timed demo, marveling at, gawking at and admiring all of the itty-bitty details. From patterned fabric used to make an NPC’s clothing to the glistening ripples of the sea, BioWare has truly created a stunning world.
At one point I was engaged in important dialogue with a Chantry sister but I didn’t process a word she said as, and I shit you not, my attention was focused on the textured fabric on her headpiece. Guys, I don’t know one piece of fabric from another, but without touching the headpiece I knew how it would feel if I could reach through the monitor and run my finger across it. The same could be said for, and this may sound a bit gross, the skin of the characters. Porous skin, old skin, oily skin, damaged skin, healthy skin, uneven skin – it’s all there, and in superb detail.
I mean, geez, look at Varric:
Sure, combining Frostbite 3 and the dynamic geography of Thedas seems like a no-brainer, but what good is it really if players can’t freely uncover and explore the land for themselves? If you recall, traversable locations in Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II were mostly linear, which was a major letdown for fans who felt limited in an otherwise expansive world. BioWare has heard feedback loud and clear and have created ten large “open world” areas for players to roam in Inquisition.
But with areas so large I couldn’t help but have doubts that these “free-roam lands” would be much more than empty space. I’m pleased to say those doubts have since been blown out of the water and deep into the Fade. The land around my Inquisitor, the land I was standing on, it was alive. The infamous linear, repetitive locations that plagued past Dragon Age titles are but a thing of the past.
There were numerous occasions I found myself distracted by my surroundings. I knew my current mission was due north, but to the east of me was a camp I wanted to unlock (used for fast travelling purposes), the west contained a small settlement of people and I knew I had missed a chest somewhere to the south. I had just seen a group of animals run past the trees a little ahead — their meat was needed for an additional mission — and a treasure chart I found on a corpse earlier indicated the loot should have been right under my feet.
Combat is a little different this time around. To attack, you can click the left mouse button or strike the R key. For repeated attacks (which you’ll want!) you simply hold down the respective button. I tried finding a rhythm that worked for me, and I found myself most efficient while running with the W key and attacking with the mouse.
I half-expected to mow down every enemy I came across since I was playing on casual difficulty. As I thought, random bouts of enemies I encountered while wandering were taken down with ease – I found no need to use the tactical camera other than to feel cool about myself – but I found a fight with a Pride Demon surprisingly challenging and needed to consume five of the eight health potions provided. Remember, health does not regenerate in Dragon Age: Inquisition and, take it from me, you’ll need to be resourceful with what limited healing potions you have.
What’s Dragon Age without an ample amount of sidequests? At the end of my six hour jaunt I had filled my queue with over 30 different tasks. Some required that I close rifts, others required that I help villagers with this issue or that problem, etc. Besides completing these sidequests for experience points and coin, you need them to gain influence and power for your inquisition.
Think of power as a currency that allows you to initiate missions and unlock certain regions. Here’s an example: As part of the main story, I needed to go to Val Royeaux and speak with a Chantry sister. But in order to unlock Val Royeaux I needed 4 Power. Seeing as I just began the game and had zero Power I turned my focus toward completing sidequests, and through those quests, I accumulated 5 Power. I was then able to unlock Val Royeaux, but it ended up costing me 4 of my 5 Power to get there.
After my business in Val Royeaux was finished another mission within the main story presented itself. This one, however, required 15 Power to activate.
Influence, on the other hand, is measured by points that are earned from completing quests. By earning enough influence you’ll earn new ranks, which bestows perks to your Inquisition. You’ll start at Rank 1, but as your rank progresses, more perks will be made available. I reached Rank 2 during my demo and with that I was able to unlock perks that increased the amount of XP received for finding codex entries. The perk also promised additional dialogue options in future conversations with companions and other characters.
Sure, beautiful graphics are nice to look at and sidequests add meat to the experience, but ask any Dragon Age fan and they’ll likely tell you one of the main drawing points of the franchise are the characters. After all, what’s a true-blue RPG without dynamic, evolving companions accompanying you on your journey?
While BioWare has done a remarkable job of creating wonderful characters in Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II, things fell a bit short when it came to character interaction and relationships. For instance, once you’ve maxed out the approval meter with a character in Dragon Age: Origins, trivial conversation opportunities are practically non-existent going forward. This poses a problem if you’re a player who tries to raise character approval as quickly as possible, as you’ll find yourself with stagnant character relationships before you’re halfway through the game. Dragon Age II did something that sounded neat on paper with character “home bases”, but in the end, there wasn’t much significance to them. It was fun to visit them in their home once in a while, but if you visited the character without a reason (meaning you didn’t have a side-quest to do so) you’d be given the same, neutral one liner such as “Let’s go,” or “We should move on,” even after a story-altering decision and/or event had taken place. Not hearing my companions’ thoughts and feedback over a decision I mentally went through Hell and back to make helped remind me I was in a video game, that these were fictional characters, and it really did a number on the fourth wall.
During my six hour playthrough of Dragon Age: Inquisition I encountered six companions — Iron Bull, Cassandra, Cullen, Varric, Leliana and Solas. Sadly, six companions spread across six hours of gameplay didn’t give me much time to feel ‘em out as thoroughly as I would have liked. So, while I can’t conclusively say these beautiful AI beings (oh, do they look gorgeous) will quench my lingering thirst for vibrant, lifelike companions, I can tell you this: If the few interactions I experienced with these characters are a sign of what’s to come we won’t be disappointed.
It’s not just the jaw-dropping graphics that make these moments with my companions so moving. There’s something there – perhaps it’s in the fluid body movement, the stellar voice acting, the animated facial expressions, the way they seamlessly interact with the world around them…whatever it is, these characters are truly alive and I couldn’t help but be mesmerized while conversing with them. Long gone are the stagnant, awkward, one-on-one “let’s just stare at each other” conversations we’ve come to know.
Also gone is the easily accessible visual meter that conveniently informs you where you stand amongst your party. That’s right; the friendship/rival bar and indicator is no more. At first I wasn’t sure how to feel about that, seeing as I like to ensure I’m kissing as much ass as possible, but I found not having that meter ads an intense level of realism that was previously nonexistent. This means that now on you’ll have to gauge how someone feels about you and your actions by the tone of their voice, their facial expressions and, of course, their conversation. With that said, there were a few times I saw “Cassandra approves” or “Cassandra disapproves” text pop up on the side of my screen. I’m not sure what prompted that, as it didn’t show after every conversation.
At one point I attempted to flirt with Cullen and I think he liked it…I think. But I didn’t know for sure and it made me nervous. I found myself analyzing every brow furrow, every eye twitch…it was like, “Did you like my pick-up line or not?!”
I can see this leading to some very entertaining conversations much further into the game. Can you imagine the disappointment folks are going to feel when it turns out their so-called “romantic interest” hasn’t been into them all along? It’s going to be CLASSIC.
As the demo was nearing its end, executive producer Mark Darrah approached me as a courtesy check-in. I removed my headphones, stared at him straight in the eyes and simply said, “I never want to stop playing.” Later that night as I exited my flight back to Seattle I felt a pang I know all too well – the pang of game withdrawal. From the short amount of time I had with Inquisition, I was hooked. When I left my demo I left behind numerous unread codex entries, dialogues, sidequests, undiscovered lands and more – and all I wanted to do was turn around and run back to San Francisco and dive into them all.
Because I only spent six hours in Thedas I know I cannot logically claim that Dragon Age: Inquisition is the game we’ve been waiting for, but I’m telling you, I think we’re in for something pretty freakin’ incredible.