BioWare's next Dragon Age game appears to borrow the better of the series first two games, Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2, bringing with it the return of multiple playable races, the return of Tactical View mode in combat situations and updated combat that aims to strike a balance with weighty and physical, but also very responsive battles.
And for the first time, in Dragon Age: Inquisition, the series' Qunari race — both male and female — will be playable, joining humans, elves and dwarves. Players will be able to assume direct control of their followers and have a wealth of combat options available to them.
BioWare calls Inquisition its biggest Dragon Age game to date. That's a common video game sequel claim, but at PAX Prime, the developer showed off a section of the game set in an area called Crestwood, a location that executive producer Mark Darrah said is bigger than the entirety of Dragon Age 2. As a result, BioWare has added mounts that helps speed up the travel across Inquisition's vast land. While not quite an open world, the areas of Dragon Age: Inquisition are massive and sprawling, and, based on the demo of Crestwood that BioWare showed at PAX, offer memorable moments of cresting a vista and seeing the vastness of Dragon Age's fantasy land.
Creative director Mike Laidlaw said that BioWare is attempting to bring back the size and scope that "maybe we were missing from Dragon Age 2." That will manifest in the game's encounters with dragons, which the developer says will be "very present" in Inquisition and part of the game's long-term gameplay.
"We rebuilt them from the ground up," Laidlaw said. "They are part of the world and... each is designed to be a unique encounter. They fly, breathe fire, smash through the terrain... they're massive beasts."
Players will assume the role of an Inquisitor in the next Dragon Age, leading the Inquisition against the invasion of demons that pour through an aurora-like tear in the sky. This catastrophe plays out as the empire finds itself embroiled in a civil war and templars and mages battle for supremacy.
"What starts to become apparent is there's too much chaos for it to be coincidental," Laidlaw said, and players are tasked with restoring order while everyone else is too busy fighting their own personal battles.
Combat in Inquisition, BioWare says, has been designed to strike a balance between Origins and Dragon Age 2, blending action with tactical strategy. The Tactical View option, introduced in the PC version of Origins, will return with Inquisition, giving players a top-down view of the action so inquisitors can plan out their attacks. Players will be able to switch between characters in real-time while paused, planning magic attacks with an Enchanter, for example, then swapping to their inquisitor for hand-to-hand combat.
The combat gameplay we saw looked fast-paced but weighty. The inquisitor in our demo was outfitted with a grappling hook chain that pulled distant enemies close to him, then followed up with a flurry of attacks with a great sword. The inquisitor's melee attacks were complemented by magic attacks from followers. In one instance, she stripped an enemy of his magical shielding, leaving him open to physical attacks. In another, she rained down fireballs on a group of cultists.
Inquisitors will have other tactical options available to them in combat, including the option to use the environment against enemies. In a raid on a cultist-occupied keep, the group attack a group of infantry and archers, freezing the former then destroying the wooden bridge the latter were firing from.
Combat may be made more difficult by limitations placed on the number of consumables players will have access to and the fact that your party won't have their health automatically restored at the conclusion of a combat encounter. Darrah said players will players will have to manage their resources wisely and think longer term, not just about the next encounter.
Another tactical component of Inquisition players will have to consider is the occupation of keeps. Players will be able to conquer and reclaim occupied keeps that serve as strongholds and help to expand the influence of the inquisition. Expanding your keeps will make new regions of the world available to you, and inquisitors will be able to customize the function of each keep, choosing to focus on commerce, military strength, intelligence gathering and more.
Inquisition will also include a few tweaks to the dialogue system. While selecting dialogue options, players will be able to see a clear explanation of action what a dialogue choice may result in. Players won't have to rely just on the paraphrasing of spoken dialogue between their inquisitor and a follower or non-player character. Players can also back out of conversations they don't feel like engaging in, should they errantly interact with an NPC.
BioWare looks like it's finding the right footing with Dragon Age: Inquisition, plucking from the better aspects of its forebears and making welcome changes to familiar systems. The developer still has a long way to go — even though the game is already looking strong in its early state — as the game is slated for a release in fall 2014 on current and next-generation consoles and PC.