Finally, we’ve tracked our missing Inquisition soldiers to the Fallow Mire, a plague-infested bog picketed with dead, spindly trunks and canopied by heavy storm clouds. A mud-slicked and hoof-pocked path picks through the swamp towards a likely ruin, but before we make our assault and daring rescue, we’re going to explore the surrounding area.
Turning off the path and disturbing the oily bog water rouses the undead – presumably victims of the plague whose corpses were quickly disposed of marshes – and the party springs into action.
The group is composed of myself, a two-handed melee warrior; Blackwall, a heavily armoured tank who draws focused fire; Cole, a rogue with a comically oversized hat and a deadly assortment of blades; and Solus, a mage with a particular gift for crowd-control spells.
While numerous, the undead are no real threat to this party of world-shaping heroes and we run through them with ease using preset algorithms. More challenging foes and more dynamic combat areas will require the use of the tactical cam, which makes a welcome return to the series.
Using it, party members can be given specific orders such as holding a passageway, or focus firing on a particularly dangerous but feeble target hidden behind lumbering hulks of plate and muscle.
Dragon Age: Inquisition’s tactical party combat is one important way in which the game separates itself from other games in the crowded fantasy RPG genre. It has allowed BioWare to create more challenging battle scenarios safe in the knowledge that gamers have the tools they need to combat them.
Producer Cameron Lee also believes that BioWare’s ownership of the Dragon Age universe and its destiny gives the developer an advantage that the studio is well equipped to utilise.
“There’s a strength in that and a freedom in that in terms of what we can give players, and the stories we can tell in it,” says Lee.
“It’s kind of a twisted version of the fantasy RPG. What I mean is everything is slightly different. It’s similar but there are little twists on it.
“That’s cool to me: the shades of grey when it comes to things like the Chantry, the religious order of the Dragon Age world. We never say, ‘This is the truth, this is what happened’, we say, ‘The Chantry teaches that – whatever.’
“There’s always room for the player to interpret and look at things from their own perspective.
Customisation is Dragon Age’s third pillar, says Lee. Players will be able to customise everything they’d expect about their character’s appearance, skills, and class. They’re also able craft items, and determine both how they’ll appear, and what they’ll be called.
“We want to give players the freedom to have a different fantasy fulfillment than someone else,” says Lee. He and the studio believe Inquisition’s customisation systems are the keys to that goal.
Back in the Fallow Mire, the party is now far off the beaten path, exploring the ramshackle ruins of a town, and piecing together the terrible fate of the its inhabitants. The Fallow Mire is one of the smaller zones in Inquisition, while another, called The Hinterlands, has already been revealed to be bigger than all of Dragon Age: Origins combined.
But there’s far more content in this eerie optional zone than we can hope to delve into with our limited hands-on time.
Like all games with a focus on scale and exploration, Dragon Age: Inquisition risks losing its narrative pace. Through structuring areas into massive zones rather than creating an entirely open world, Lee says BioWare can tell more compelling self-contained stories, and demonstrate the player’s impact on the world more precisely.
“Even though you can go to many areas in the world across these two countries and run around – get distracted – each area has its unique, original purpose as to why you as the leader of the Inquisition would want to travel there.
“There are thematic connections back into the main plot, and then seeing the reaction between the two. The player is always going into these worlds with the context of the main plot.”
“Everything you’re seeing is reminding you of that. You can get distracted, but the plot will still be waving at you, saying, ‘Hey, I’m here.’”
BioWare’s main aim is to tell a massive story in a vast open world, and merge those two things successfully. It also wants players to be a leader in that world, and for things to wrap up in satisfying fashion.
“The world state at the end of the game is really what you’re looking at when you have so many branching avenues and decisions that go various ways,” says Lee.
“Where do you end up? That could be in a variety of states. I think we’ll wrap it up pretty well.”
Dragon Age: Inquisition is coming to PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on November 18.