Hands On with the Multiplayer at PAX
In 2009 Bioware presented us with a high fantasy RPG Dragon Age: Origins which began an epic saga that has consisted of 8 DLCs, an expansion pack and a compilation edition. They followed it up with Dragon Age II in 2011 that had 4 DLCs of its own. It is now three years later and the story continues in their third title Dragon Age: Inquisition. In this saga they added a 4 player co-op dungeon crawling experience to complement the single player adventure you are used to.
I was intrigued and had the opportunity to sit down with Scylla Costa, the Producer of the Multiplayer mode of Dragon Age: Inquisition and learn about how it all came together using the talent of the Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises. Utilizing the Frostbite 3 engine as the basis of development, they were able to blend the dynamics of a first person shooter with a deep story based RPG. In the single player mode you are the Inquisitor on an epic character-driven story. As part of that story you will send specialists out to do tasks while you continue your adventure. The premise of the co-op mode is you are one of those specialists doing those missions that the Inquisitor has sent out to complete. And while the single and multiple player progression are completely separate, having the tie-in adds depth to your adventures.
Missions are designed around a 30 minute play session. Matches will be hosted in three main campaigns at launch: the Elven Ruins, Orlais and Tevinter, with future expansions planned. The campaigns randomly generate a large level with smaller sections that have to be completed prior to continuing which help give you the sense of overall campaign and completion. The look and feel of each area is set to match the single player experience. However the maps will generate routes on each playthrough. Variations like time of day, indoor or outdoor and special events or tasks will provide a different experience each time.
There are 12 characters to choose from, 4 of each class (Warrior, Rogue Mage) when queuing up. Only 3 will be unlocked at the start and you will have to craft armor sets for the rest to unlock them. The campaigns are designed to be brutal against the lone rangers and reward good team work. It is strongly recommended to enter with a balanced group of a Warrior, Mage and Rogue plus one other. In fact, the match-making tool will automatically select this type of composition. Experienced players can break the trinity and start matches with any combination they like, but it will be much more challenging to complete the tasks at hand. With secret rooms only being able to be opened by specific classes, not having them there means you will miss out on some potential loot that run.
The leveling system for each class is very deep with over 200 abilities available across the 12 classes. Keep in mind that you can still only take four abilities at a time into a dungeon even if you have earned 20 of them on the class you are leveling and playing. Your choices affect the outcome and interactions with the other class abilities on your team. Stacking actions between teammates can greatly change the dynamic of the battle. Also, unlike the single player mode, leveling adds very little to your stats and is more about unlocking abilities. This allows for a balanced difficulty regardless of the various levels of your teammates. Being max level at 20 will not mean you are necessarily tougher or can do more damage than your level 1 friend, it just means you have access to more choices. Each class also has two talent trees to choose from to further define how you will progress and play your character. Once one of your characters hits level 20 you can also promote them and start earning prestige for the leader boards.
Discovering hidden treasure rooms gives you a chance to get a card that will reveal a prize at the completion of the campaign. This is a nice system to encourage players to not quit and leave early and forfeit the hard-earned loot you may have received. When breaking jars and chests to get gold drops, what you see is what everyone gets regardless of who picks it up. You use that gold to buy chests which will contain a variety of weapons, weapon mods, potions, runes, armor and so on. There is no trading of items so salvaging is what you do with those not needed by any of your own characters. Salvaged items provide you the resources to craft new weapons and armor. Remember armor sets is how you unlock new classes, so crafting becomes a needed mechanic. With 100s of weapons and weapon customizations available, there be no shortage of ways to make your characters look and be deadly.
In addition to all areas and characters themselves, they added two more features that really stood out to me. The first being the Challenge system aimed at the goal-oriented people which includes individual challenges and community challenges. The community ones are things like kill 10,000 of a specific mob in a single weekend which will take a lot of dedicated players many runs to complete. The other is the Inquisition HQ which is a website that will allow you to access your inventory, craft, change loadouts and manage your characters while not logged into the game. Utilizing the website means that you are ready to match up and go when you finally have time to sit down and play.
While I only had time for one campaign, the action was fast-paced and fun while the areas were very detailed and beautiful. The breadth and scope of the areas allowed you to pick your paths and while there is only one real way to complete the map, the optional content allowed for variations of playing through the content. I played a Reaver, a class that gets bonus damage for living life on the edge and being low on health. It was fun to toe the line between life and death. Swinging a giant axe and doing massive damage was just so much fun. If you love RPG’s or Co-Op dungeon crawlers you are going to want to check out Dragon Age: Inquisition because it gives you both in a very nice package. Let's hope this third entry in the series makes up for the misgivings many had with the sequel. It's certainly starting to look that way.