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Dragon Age: Inquisition Previews: Continuing the Saga

By Gareth Harmer on August 18, 2014

In just a few short months, Dragon Age: Inquisition will hit shelves, arriving on a multitude of console platforms as well as the venerable PC. At Gamescom, EA gave the title center stage, showing off the high fantasy RPG. But, if you’re worried that BioWare might be wrapping up the series after this latest adventure, I have some good news: assistant producer Blair Brown confirmed that this wasn’t the end of a trilogy. In a wide-ranging interview, we also talked about the challenges involved with switching to a new engine, and just how much content will ship with the game.

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“Dragon Age has always been about stories within the world of Thedas. The first one’s about the Warden, the second one’s about Hawk and Kirkwall, so it’s about time and places. Mass Effect, it was about the Shepherd story, this is not. So it’s not completing a trilogy, it’s continuing on with what’s happening now in this world that we’ve created.”

Just as with earlier games in the series, Inquisition will feature a large cast of characters, some who may even join your party. “Especially with this one, we want you to bond with legends. The Inquisitor’s a powerful person, and we want you to feel empowered like that. But also, the people that you bring with you in your party should also feel powerful and strong. Characters like Varric, or the new one Iron Bull, who’s a captain of his own mercenary company, so they’re also super powerful people. It’s not just about the one character moving though, it’s about this world, and so you’re not always just the strongest person. Morrigan, she’s in this game, but not as a party member, she’s powerful and important, and so she has a story.”

One of the biggest changes between Inquisition and the previous installment is the change from Eclipse to Frostbite 3. Built by EA studio DICE for the Battlefield series, this first-person shooter engine required substantial work in order to build the perfect RPG system. “We had to build crafting – that whole system, that backend had to be built in the Frostbite engine. It’s great working with Frostbite, because we talk with DICE a lot, they talk with us, we send ideas back and forth, so they give us a lot of help.”

“So we developed the RPG system, the conversation system, the save system – there was no save loading in Battlefield, so we had to make all these. They’ve all been difficult but, because we got to make them, they’ve all been what we want them to be, so they’re easier for us to use in the game and improve upon. Building something from the ground up is easier than if we were just modifying theirs. It was hard, but I think it’s well worth it for how it looks and how it plays.”

Switching engine certainly hasn’t harmed the look and feel of the game – it’s still undeniably Dragon Age, even if the visuals have been brought up a few notches. It’s something that Brown puts down to consistent art direction throughout the series. “It’s mostly the same people. The art director’s the same person, the art leads are all the same people, so they carried over that vision of what we want Dragon Age to be, which is these hard angled lines and contrasting colors, into the new engine. The art director was very much ‘Yes, improve the graphics, but keep it very much in the tone of what we want.’ It was his direction that really kept it that way.”

BioWare’s also taken the opportunity to tighten up several aspects of Inquisition over the previous iteration, most noticeably with the action-pausing Tactical Camera. It’s a system that I’ve struggled with before, but the latest version is smoother and more useful. Brown explained to me that he didn’t use the new system at first because of his own action preference, but quickly grew to like it. “For certain fights I’ll pull up the Tac Cam and maybe get some more information – oh these guys are immune to electricity – and then go back to real-time. But for some of the harder fights I need to make sure Solas is here, Cole’s doing this, and I’ll issue them all commands, then go back to real-time fighting.”

What else has been updated? “Little things, like, from DA2, the combat we felt was a bit fast, it felt light. In the Action mode in DA: Inquisition, we added more weight to the weapons. The conversation system: we still have our big BioWare conversations with lots of options, but we also have something called Simple conversations where you can walk up to certain people, choose to talk to them or not – it doesn’t pull you into a conversation – and at any moment you don’t have to go ‘Goodbye’, you can just walk away, so there’s all these little improvements. But yes, the big one is the Tactical camera, iterating on that, making it really smooth, and all the options you can choose.”

During the EA Press Briefing at Gamescom, the studio shared that a completionist playthrough by one of their QA team clocked in at a whopping 150 hours. Brown added that from his own experience, a BioWare game takes about 30 to 50 hours just to finish the critical path, and expects roughly the same with Inquisition. If you’re the type of player that tries out different choices to experience all the branching content, expect that to grow significantly.

There will be DLC that extends the experience further, although Brown wouldn’t be drawn on any of the details or when we can expect it to arrive. Then again, finishing the story doesn’t end the game. “When you complete the story, there’s still more to do – dragon fights and all kinds of things, so it’s not done when you finish the story. If you want to revisit certain areas, there might be challenges and so on.”

Like a lap of honor? “Exactly! And like ‘now I’m going to kill all the dragons.’”

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