The Dragon Age series got off to an exceptional start in 2009 with Origins, a title that captured the attentions of RPG gamers the world over. Things lost a little momentum with a competent sequel, but one that leaned more heavily on action than on the tactical and role-playing elements that had won so many over in the original. This year, Dragon Age: Inquisition wants it both ways, and judging by what BioWare has to show so far, it looks like it’s on course to achieve it.
The world of Dragon Age: Inquisition is huge. The entirety of Dragon Age: Origins is able to fit into just one of its wilderness environments, says BioWare creative director Mike Laidlaw.
“Every location in Inquisition, a massive, mutli-regioned world, is part of a larger story,” explains Laidlaw. “You will be able to affect those regions with your actions. Rather than just tell you about the Mages and Templars, we want you to be a part of that conflict.”
Above that world is a huge rift into a dimension teeming with demons. The world of Dragon Age is tearing itself apart, but this is no unfortunate accident: someone has deliberately opened the portal and you have been charged with building an Inquisition and to discover who is behind it, and to end their nefarious plan. In addition to its scale, this new world will react dynamically to how players interact with it. “In Inquisition we wanted to get away from random encounters and get into something more purposeful, so we’ve introduced the World Master system which ensures that an area’s population is directly influenced by you,” says Laidlaw. If you hunt all the wildlife in a region, their numbers will decrease over time. More importantly, if you increase your influence in an area, your troops will begin to partrol the countryside, and your banners will appear on structures. The world of Dragon Age: Inquisition is the most dynamic players will have ever experienced in an RPG, believes Laidlaw.
“If nothing else, the Inquisition is about restoring order, restoring balance to an area. In Inquisition, you are also the leader of leaders,” he continues. The cast is the largest ensemble of characters BioWare has created to date, and it includes a number of returning favourites.
“In addition to giving you a living world with lots of characters talking and interacting, Inquisition continues our tradition of having the characters you bring with you interact and banter as you explore.”
Those characters can also be customised in ways not seen before in the Dragon Age series. Inquisition introduces a new crafting system that allows players to build custom weapons and armour with the appearance and statistics they want for each character in their party.
“Members of your team can be outfitted for different roles and to do that you have a choice of over 200 different talents and spells across all the classes with which to build a custom strategy using custom teamwork,” says Laidlaw.
Crafting isn’t the only new addition. A new focus resource is built up through teamwork in combat and can only be used very rarely to give the group a massive edge in a fight. Using focus, for example, a warrior can hamstring a dragon, crimping its maneuverability and effectiveness late in a fight.
How the player moves through the world and story of Dragon Age: Inquisition is determined on another new feature, the War Table. On the War Table, players will assign their troops, their forces and their ambassadors. These are deployed to pursue objectives, uncover new regions to adventure in, or gather rare resources. But most importantly the War Table is the means by which players decide where the story goes next.
In the demo piloted by Laidlaw, these decisions have led us to Redcliffe castle, now a seat of power for the Mage order and a base of operations in its ongoing war against the Templars.
“Inquisition focuses on leadership, and that means we need characters that are believable and sophisticated, ones that react not just to things that you say but the actions that you take,” explains Laidlaw. “We sent Leliana in here but there are consequences: she was captured, she was tortured, and this has a damaging impact on our relationship.”
The tactical combat view, controversially absent from Dragon Age II, returns now in Inquisition. Using it, players are once again able to issue commands to party members, and maximise their effectiveness by creating choke points and killzones. Of all the features demonstrated by Laidlaw, the return of the tactical view is the most welcome. Using it, a skilled player’s highly customised party once again becomes a ruthlessly efficient killing machine.
When considered altogether with the game’s other new additions and scale, Dragon Age: Inquisition becomes a very compelling proposition: the most exciting RPG coming to consoles this year.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is releasing on October 10 for PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3.