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PAX AUS 2014 – Dragon Age: Inquisition Hands-On Impressions
For many Bioware fans, the upcoming release of Dragon Age: Inquisition is something to be treated with trepidation and cautious optimism. Dragon Age 2 left many fans feeling disappointed but the series’ third installment is not only set to deal with the big unresolved narrative threads left by the last game but also technical ones as Bioware takes their expansive RPG formula to an open world for the first time.
I was able to spend some hands-on time with the game at PAX AUS 2014 and came away with some high hopes and strong impressions for the game.
Before loading into the game proper I was given the choice of playing as a male Human warrior or a female Qunari Mage. Though I did have some curiosity about the latter, I ended up choosing to go with the warrior. I’ve gone down that road in past Dragon Age titles and wanted to see how Bioware would be evolving things from the visually-impressive but mechanically-lackluster combat of the series’ second chapter.
I was not disappointed. Along with stripping out the almost-cartoony presentation elements from the last Dragon Age, some of the more over-the-top combat animations have also been removed. Combat feels like it has a lot more weight to it and generally much closer to Dragon Age: Origins than Dragon Age 2. There’s much more of an emphasis on tactics and positioning than spamming abilities between cooldowns – making combat feel much rewarding as a result.
The brief demo threw me into the thick of things. Specifically, it threw me into a section of the Hinterlands surrounding the castle of Redcliffe – a prominent location that fans of the first Dragon Age are sure to recognize and be excited to revisit. As well as helping to avoid any major spoilers, seeing this familiar locale replicated also helped show off the capabilities of the Dragon Age: Inquistion’s Frostbyte engine.
Performance-wise, the game ran incredibly smoothly and environments were delightfully detailed. Though it’s always possible this level of detail could be an outlier exclusive this outdoor area may be an outlier, it did seem like Inquisition was leaning much closer to Origins cinematic visuals over than the more cartoonish-look of Dragon Age 2. There were also a number of small mechanic improvements to the formula here: notably the ability to finally jump, and to walk away from characters mid-conversation.
The demo also gave me a brief taste of some of the Inquisitor’s own powers with one fight against a horde of Fade demons seeing me balance attacking them and the rift they emerged from. This action – channeled over a number of seconds – allowed me to both periodically stun my foes and eventually cut them off from the source of their power, making them much easier to dispatch.
Though my time with it was short, the explorable area in the demo was enormous with my short foray seeing me run headfirst into a half dozen side quests. One saw me intervene in a skirmish between a group of Templars and Apostates while another saw me try to save a pair of farmers from a racket of bandits and thugs. These side-quests felt less like ignorable add-ons and more like welcome expansions to the main story for those who want to spend more time immersing themselves in the series’ rich setting.
The demo also gave me a little look at Dragon Age: Inquisition‘s resource gathering elements. There were lots of different nodes and resources that I came across in my travels and these could be used to invest in various upgrades or requisitions for the Inquisition itself. Bioware have promised an intriguing amount of agency for players when it comes to managing their forces and after this little taste I can’t wait to see how far they are willing to deliver.