Dark or Light

An Action RPG for a New Generation

Som Pourfarzaneh Posted:
Previews 0

Dragon Age: Inquisition is a beast of a game.  When we first took an extended hands-off look at Bioware’s upcoming action RPG at E3 this year, I was given the impression that its scope could far surpass the previous titles in the series, and that it could provide for a single-player experience heretofore unavailable on previous-gen systems.  Having now played several hours of the game, I can say that it does a little bit of both.

The general experience in the early hours of Inquisition can be summed up in the words refined familiarity.  Thematically, Bioware’s newest effort looks and feels very much like a Dragon Age game, with all of the improvements and accoutrements that you’d expect from a current-generation blockbuster title.  The world is as dark and gritty as ever, with a spectacular use of lighting and splashes of bright colors that allow for contrast.  Production values are through the roof, and the voice acting, at least in the early stages, is outstanding.  The music is epic, with background NPC chatter adding to the ambience, and Inquisition has one of the best and patiently presented title drops I’ve seen in a video game.

In the interest of avoiding any spoilers (and embargoes regarding the same), I won’t be discussing any story beats here, but I can tell you all kinds of stuff about Inquisition’s gameplay.  I chose to play a dual-wield spec elven rogue (of course), and spent some time in the game’s immensely robust character generator changing hair colors, rotating eyes, and shaping chins.  After a bit of a railroad tutorial, the game opens up into a vastness that seems, even from a glimpse, to rival that of RPGs like Skyrim and The Witcher 2 (I’ve been told that Inquisition is larger than Dragon Age and Dragon Age 2 put together).  Inquisition’s minimalist, uncluttered user interface will allow you to take in more of the game’s gorgeous environs and vistas, and the set design demonstrates a spectacular amount of variety.

Combat feels like an upgraded version of what we’ve come to expect from the Dragon Age series, which may say something about Inquisition’s approach as a whole, at least in the early game.  Using an Xbox One controller, you’ll hold the right trigger for a continuous basic attack, and use X, Y, B, and the right shoulder button for slottable special attacks.  Holding the left trigger will open up four more slots for special attacks, and you can hit the left shoulder button for quickslot items and party member instructions.  Pressing in on the right thumbstick will lock you onto targets, and you can use the D-pad to easily switch between your other party members.  Additionally, you can click the < button to enter Tactical Camera Mode, which is basically a 3D isometric game mode that freezes time and allows you to micromanage your battles and advance time with the right trigger.

The early abilities for my character were very familiar to my memory of how rogues played in the previous games (I really need to mix up my class selection a bit more).  Over the course of the preview, I unlocked Stealth (30 second duration with a 50% damage bonus), Twin Fangs (jumping double strike with 200% weapon damage), Poisoned Weapons (25% weapon DPS for eight seconds), Evasion (5% chance to take no damage from an attack), Flank Attack (two hits for 200% weapon damage and teleports you behind your opponent), and Evade (your basic dodge roll).  Level-up trees are also straightforward and familiar, giving you four trees per class (Double Daggers, Archery, Sabotage, and Subterfuge for rogues) and points to spend among active and passive abilities and their upgrades.

Your party members play as big of a role in Inquisition as they have done in previous Bioware titles, and the game offers a compelling cast of characters while weaving its narrative through existing lore and the events of Dragon Age and Dragon Age 2.  Something I’ve always liked about these games is the ambient chatter between party members as you’re traipsing around the world, and that’s very much present here, along with the potential to piss off or get closer to your comrades based on your actions and dialogue choices.  In Inquisition, the Bioware dialogue wheel is in full effect, and the user interface lets you know with no uncertainty when your party members approve or disapprove of your choices.  Also, I must admit that I freaked out the first time a saw a known character from a previous game.  No spoilers!

Inquisition offers a mix of story and open world activities, with a range of different gameplay systems that tie into a larger metagame of which I’m not at liberty to speak just yet.  A lot of these systems involve gathering resources that you can use to craft arms, armor, and upgrades, or to engage in alchemy and create potions (to restore health or enhance magic), tonics (to enhance resistances or augment combat), or AoE grenades.  You can use these resources to fulfill special crafting requisitions, which more directly tie into the metagame.  You can also pick up special research items from mobs and turn them in to learn more about monsters and obtain bonuses against them.  As you rove the open world doing quests and other activities, you can set up camps that allow you to rest, refill potions, regenerate health, change out your party members, fulfill requisitions, and fast travel.  Moreover, you’ll run into fade rifts, which comprise an essential component of the game’s story and mechanics, and will have to fight off demons to close them.

There are a lot of little things about Inquisition that may go unnoticed in comparison to the larger gameplay experience, but I was impressed enough with a handful of them in our preview that they bear mentioning here.  The inventory, journal, and lore codex are streamlined and easy enough to use, and when giving you a path choice in the story, the UI will give you more contextual information about how that approach will work and what will be the consequences.  You can revive party members in battle simply by standing near them and pressing the A button (normally reserved for jumping), and you can delve as deep as you like into setting up Inquisition’s complex party AI behaviors.  There are also a lot of subtle nods to the previous games for long-time players, and the tried and true factions and conflicts that make up the Dragon Age setting, which lend to Inquisition’s gravitas and atmosphere.

Inquisition’s subtleties also extend to its visuals and tech.  The game’s gorgeous environments, character models, and lighting are accentuated by things like how the weapons sheathed on your back will reflect distance light sources.  You’ll find your character moseying near an object that has a different elevation, like a bench, and automatically lift one foot to lean on it in a very natural way.  Additionally, and this is a tiny thing, I really like the stylized 2D party member portraits on the user interface, and how the game will use them to indicate which one of your companions is chatting at you while adventuring.  The PC version I played seemed to run pretty smoothly on ultra for the most part, with some framerate issues during cutscenes, and not insignificant load times, although those were few and far between.

As you can probably tell, my extended hands-on experience with Inquisition was excellent, although I’ll have to play much more of it to see how the narrative unfolds and systems fit together.  It certainly retains the same feeling and themes from the previous games, with a lot of new characters and zones that lend to a very new experience.  Inquisition also has a staggering amount of things to do, and while the core gameplay experience feels as a whole like familiar territory, it’s clear that Bioware has gone all in to create a current-gen Dragon Age game.

Dragon Age: Inquisition releases on November 18.


Som Pourfarzaneh

Som has been hanging out with the MMORPG.com crew since 2011, and is an Associate Director & Lecturer in Media, Anthropology, and Religious Studies. He’s a former Community Manager for Neverwinter, the free-to-play Dungeons & Dragons MMORPG from Cryptic Studios and Perfect World Entertainment, and is unreasonably good at Maze Craze for the Atari 2600. You can exchange puns and chat (European) football with him on Twitter @sominator.