Hands-Off Preview: Dragon Age: Inquisition – Dragons are Big and Scary

Hands-Off Preview: Dragon Age: Inquisition – Dragons are Big and Scary

It’s no secret that I LOVE the Dragon Age series. Its dark fantasy setting, complex characters and multi-faceted storyline have made it one of my favorite franchises. I lost my mind when I saw the trailer for it during EA’s press event and had a hard time containing my excitement while waiting in line to see this demonstration of it at the EA booth. What I got to see just confirmed my belief that this will be my personal game of the year.

The demo took place somewhere around the middle of the game. The main character was a female Qunari Mage who was joined by three others. By this point in time, the Inquisitor (you) has built up a reputation and has been tasked with restoring order to Thedas. The world is slowly being ripped apart because of a tear between it and the dimension known as the Fade. While this cataclysm is happening, humans are doing what they usually do: bickering and warring. The Inquisitor’s job is to help fix “The Rift” and to settle disputes between the major factions in the game. For this particular demo the Inquisitor had to deal with the conflict between the Templars and the Mages.

What is immediately evident from this demo is how vast and expansive the world is. Previous Dragon Age games could only hint at how large the world was but this one actually shows it. As the characters started to move toward their objective, you could see animals scurrying along and a wide variety of plantlife. In background you could see the signs of war. There were black fields and burning buildings not too far from the characters. In the distance there was an eerie green aura in the sky. This was one of the Rifts that the Inquisitor has to fix in the demo.

As the Mage and her companions walked the countryside, a villager came up to them and told them of how they lost their home because of the battle between the Templars and Mages. This is how a lot of the sidequests of the game will work and it’s up to you if you want to complete them or not. These sidequests will be good not only for getting items and money but for painting a broader picture of the world and to make it feel more alive.

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Every deed counts in this game and your actions can have a positive or negative influence in whatever region you’re in. During the demo, the group fought against a giant bear. We were told that animals can be hunted to extinction and that other animals will then fill the void left by them. For example, if you kill all of the predators in one area then their prey will multiply.

This game is called Dragon Age for a reason and halfway through the demo we got to see an encounter with a huge dragon. Before the actual battle began, you could hear the creature’s massive wings flapping. These sounds were really unnerving which is probably the exact response that the developers wanted. I felt tension knowing that an encounter with a huge fire breathing monster was imminent and I was just an audience member watching.

The dragon circled above for a while and flung some fireballs at the party. The characters threw some spells at it but it was to no avail. Once the monster landed, the battle truly began. I wasn’t even playing the game and I was terrified of this huge dragon. The fact that I couldn’t figure out where its eyes were really disturbed me. The dragon also seemed to be toying with the characters, its jawline resembled a sick smirk which made me feel that it was thinking “Just what the hell can you do to me?”

The battle was fierce. The dragon used a combination of melee and fire attacks. It would swoop its massive tail across the ground, swipe with its forearms and even bite. In between the physical attacks, it would spray fire everywhere, dealing fire damage. The dragon wasn’t invincible though and the group slowly pecked away at its health. Creatures of all types have weak points and the dragon’s were its legs. Once the party took down one leg, the dragon fell over and the party was able to attack its head. This only lasted for so long. The dragon, seeing that it was about to be defeated, got up and flew away.

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Combat in the game is more like it was in Dragon Age: Origins than it was in Dragon Age II. You can’t just button mash your way to victory and you’ll need to be strategic during battles. The positions of enemies is something that you’ll need to be aware of and you’ll have to position your party to take advantage of their weaknesses. Like the PC version of the game, now you can zoom the camera out in order to see the entire battlefield. The environment can be used as a weapon and you can use it to set up traps. The same works in reverse and enemies can also use their surroundings to get the drop on you.

Battles play out in real time but can be paused to give you more options and time to think. You can switch between party members on the fly and this is a good way to set up combos. For example, one character can freeze enemies while another one shatters them. Spells can be queued up so that they can be cast consecutively. Even with the ability to pause the battles, encounters felt intense and immediate.

After the dragon battle, the demo moved forward to another part of the game. In this, the party entered a long abandoned castle to confront a mage and to close the local Rift. The Inquisitor sent a scout to scope the place out but she was captured so the first order of business was to rescue her. It turned out to be none other than Leliana who is a fan favorite of the series. Sending Leliana to scout is a choice that changed events later on when we confronted the mage. This part of the game felt more like DAII since it had a lot of corridors and small rooms. The creatures here were from the Fade and some of them needed to be disposed of with magic since melee attacks didn’t always cut it.

Once the party encountered the Mage, the earlier action of sending Leliana to scout alone came back to bite them. The Inquisitor tried to negotiate with the mage using the series’ signature conversation wheel but since Leliana was tortured by him, she made negotiation impossible and a battle quickly ensued. The mage wrapped himself in a protective shield while he summoned demons to attack. This fight was extremely spell heavy and a lot of cool special effects were seen on screen as various spells were tossed out. After the mage was defeated, the Inquisitor closed the Rift and conversed with his companions about what transpired.

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I want to point out how customizable the game will be. As the party wandered through the lands, they were able to pick up plants and items which could be used in crafting. Crafting allows players to create unique armor, weapons and items. Leveling up is also pretty involved and the spell and skill trees allow players to create the type of characters that suit them best. The last Dragon Age game had limited options when it came to customizing skills and equipment so it’s nice to see that it’s been opened up considerable for this game.

The game is huge and you will have the ability to fast travel to and from regions that you have previously explored. As I said earlier, your actions have influence and you can see how far reaching they are via the game’s central hub called The War Table. From this area, you will not only be able to see what areas you have helped but you’ll also be able to send out your forces to take over territories or to send allies to gather information. This is also a good way to explore the map as areas are inaccessible to fast travel to until they are explored.

The modified Frostbite engine has made a huge difference in terms of the graphics and it’s satisfying to actually see the grandeur of Thedas instead of imagining it. I also really enjoyed how battles work out. Even Origins’ combat was a bit on the wonky side but it seems that this game will have the best aspect of both previous games.

This was just a small taste of things to come but I was thoroughly satisfied with what was presented. Bioware has been working on this game for several years and this demo shows that they have created something great. Dragon Age: Inquisition is a title that everyone should keep an eye on for sure. It will be released on the PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One on October 7th.