Dragon Age Inquisition wishlist: what BioWare needs to win back the series deserters

Thursday, 1 May 2014 11:06 GMT By Dave Cook

Dragon Age: Inquisition’s latest trailer set out a grand stall for BioWare’s latest, but can it win over those disillusioned by the second game? Dave Cook reckons that it can, and then some.


I was one of those folk who really liked Dragon Age 2.

For sure, it suffered horribly from repeating the same dungeon areas and removing that sense of grand exploration and kingdom-hopping adventure brought by Origins, but then again I’m a big scrolling beat-em-up fan who’s used to corridor-like progression and repetitive combat. It just sort of ‘worked’ for me.

Was it innovative or genre-defining? No, definitely not, but it held my interest all the way to the end and kept me entertained just enough that I could sweep a few shortcomings under the rug. I wasn’t blind to the problems though, and I’m guessing they soured a few people on the brand, such as Flemeth’s fleeting appearance at the start then complete non-existence later on. That was a bit weird, and I’m certain Morrigan’s no-show pissed plenty of people off as well.

But let’s forget about negativity and all that grey shit for a moment, because we’re now staring into the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition, a game that actually looks rather good. The project has always sounded intriguing to me, but with the release of BioWare’s latest trailer I’m now firmly residing within the hype zone, in a bungalow wallpapered with dreams and carpeted in hope.

It was this trailer, right here. Watch it:

Nice eh? If anything it’s a well-crafted video that sets up the game’s key theme of solidarity against seemingly unstoppable forces, which is something of a game-changer for the series. Consider that many races and factions across both titles have been at each others throats for some time now, and suddenly the idea of heroes putting old scores to bed and teaming up like some sort of fantasy RPG Avengers actually seems quite appealing.

You had The Chantry exerting its religious message across Thedas, much to the distaste of those opposed to their order, while magic-wielders were being rendered Tranquil and unable to use their gift by the Templars. Many Qunari under the guidance of The Arishok clearly had no love for humanity by the end of Dragon Age 2, while Elves like Fenris shared the Templar’s distrust of mages based on his former slavery, so it seems the people of BioWare’s world have a lot of beef to sort out before they can all work together.

It’ll be interesting to see all of that unfold, and while this peacekeeping process sounds quite similar to Commander Shepard’s rallying call throughout Mass Effect 3 – and according to BioWare’s Cameron Lee, it’s not – I don’t think we’ll be seeing another retread of that story as some have suggested. No, I think the studio knows that some people didn’t get along with Dragon Age 2, so a simple rehash of previous plot mechanics and designs simply wouldn’t cut it. That’s why I’m optimistic for something special come October.

So let’s have a look at all of that, shall we?


Orlais. ORLY?

While Dragon Age: Inquisition is still set in Thedas, it’ll shift focus to the region of Orlais, along with some of Ferelden, The Free Marches, Nevarra and The Dales thrown in for good measure. After its E3 2013 reveal, BioWare quickly clarified that the setting wouldn’t be open world, but a network of vast regions that when combined are said to dwarf the environments of Origins and Dragon Age 2. That’s certainly a solid start, and in our latest preview, Stace Harman noted that those locations are full of diversions begging to be explored, rather than placed conveniently to funnel progression.

”I like that Inquisition is re-rolling its narrative stats to go for something bigger and world-consuming, while placing the player as a lone champion who must help form a dream team of badasses to challenge The Veil head-on.”

That’s what you want in a good fantasy RPG. There’s no fun in being signposted every step of the way compared to, say, stumbling across a new hidden area or loot chest off the beaten track, and that’s something The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim did with great effect. What’s more, Thedas is firmly in the grip of the Templar-Mage war triggered at the end of the second game, and early impressions suggest that players will be able to see a perpetual state of conflict around them.

As if that wasn’t enough, I like the fact that while Templars, Mages and lord knows who else are fighting their war on the ground, a cataclysmic tear into the Fade known as The Veil has torn through the fabric of reality, and is allowing demonic creatures and dragons free passage into Thedas. The idea that old rivalries are keeping the people’s heads down in conflict when, if they could only look up to see the doom raining down from above, they’d realise that there are more important things to be worrying about. Yeah, I’m digging that plot device a lot.

It’s a war story that effects the game’s entire world, which is more than could be said for the events of the second game. While it’s been a good few years since I played Dragon Age 2, I’m fairly certain that for a large portion of the plot I was unsure as to where all of those rote quests were leading me. By the end a big war broke out, Hawke went bye-bye and both Varric and Cassandra seemed to make peace without too much fanfare. I’m sure I’ll be corrected if wrong, but I just didn’t feel that the finale had much of an impact. It was damp, like a piece of soggy cardboard lying in the rain.

So yes, I like that Inquisition is re-rolling its narrative stats to go for something bigger and world-consuming, while placing the player as a lone champion who must help form a dream team of badasses to challenge The Veil head-on. It’ll likely take us to the far reaches of Thedas and give us a round-trip of BioWare’s many races and factions like some kind of fantasy gap-year spent travelling, and give players a refresher course in the who’s-who of Dragon Age. It’s all in the scope, and that scope is sounding mighty grand right about now.


Black Hawke Down

I get why BioWare introduced the Hawke character in Dragon Age 2 to try and ‘pull a Shepard.’ I’m guessing that the idea was to deliver a stronger lead character with a backstory, modus operandi and voice that was already established, rather than give us another mute, blank-slate avatar with little vocal input into the story. Again, I didn’t mind that so much because you could tweak Hawke’s design, but when it comes to fantasy RPGs it seems that giving players a strong suite of create-a-character options, as well as narrative freedom is the only way to fly.

In Dragon Age: Inquisition, it sounds like we’ll be getting just that. We reported on BioWare’s list of player-classes in early April, and although it’s not the most extensive list – warrior, mage and champion – these roles are broken down further into sub-classes, and then you have actual avatar creation on top of that. BioWare has also stated that players will be able to swap-out their companion’s weapons and armour to make them look different.

”This being a game about conflict and union, it makes sense for players to see the impact of choice and consequence much clearer than before.”

Beyond influencing the aesthetic design of characters, there will also be those staple BioWare moral choices, bonds between characters and reportedly more ‘tasteful’ romance options to help the plot split off as the player sees fit. It was rumoured at one point that all of these variables will lead gamers to one of 40 endings. Christ on a mount!

However, a character’s influence and identity aren’t just dictated by how they look or the things that they say, it also comes as a result of their raw actions throughout the tale. This being a game about conflict and union, it makes sense for players to see the impact of choice and consequence much clearer than before. Plot aside, the world itself is sounding more organic and reactive with each new announcement out of BioWare, including this little rumour about creature extinction.

Yes, it seems that players will be able to wipe out species through hunting them out in the field, which in turn could have serious knock-on effects. It’s said that this system was created to keep areas feeling fresh on repeat visits, and is said to play into the concept of establishing trade routes through regions, as well as capturing portions of the map and other activities.

All of this fits snugly within the the studio’s template of giving players real control over its world, and I’d love it if this made each choice – be they micro or macro – a lot harder to make and increasingly profound as a result. Make it happen BioWare!


Hitting things

I mentioned earlier that I didn’t mind the combat in Dragon Age 2, given my fondness for straight-forward scrolling brawlers, but then again, I can’t say no to a good tactical battle mechanic either. I’m just not picky like that. It’s probably fair to say that a lot of you out there want to see Inquisition go back to the Origins mind-set and beyond, with new layers of tactical consideration and options to help gain total control of each skirmish. If that sounds like you, then rest assured I agree.

So lastly, I thought I’d riff on combat because let’s be honest here, we’re all likely to spend most of our time with this game battering things with swords, staffs or spells. Back in January I wrote a story about BioWare’s new Keep-building mechanic that ties into combat to produce interesting results. It’s possible for the player and their companions to contest control of an enemy keep by – how else? – slaughtering everyone inside before claiming it as their own.

”Combat, like everything else in mentioned in this article, seems to have been given a clever and significant re-tooling in response to fan feedback after the release of Dragon Age 2.”

Once a keep is yours, the Inquisition will unlock new quests in the surrounding area, and open up a new selection of strategic options such as designating troops to specific tasks with their own subsequent effects.

Station a group of workers to a mine and you’ll see your warband’s income grow, or perhaps you’d rather construct some new defences to keep your stronghold safe from retaliatory attacks? My mind starts to run amok when I consider the possibilities of this system, and for all intents and purposes it probably doesn’t go that deep, but hey, I like to dream big.

Either way, acquiring control of keeps is a direct, tangible outcome of your battles, and gives players more of a reason to grind and level up than ever before. More Keeps means more map control, and in turn that means more quests, plot progression and reactive feedback from the world. BioWare’s thought hard about this one, that much is clear, and this increase in depth seems to have made its way into the smaller fights themselves.

Some interesting slivers of information came from the pages of OXM’s May issue, largely concerning the way your Inquisitor and companion can combine skills to produce a variety of effects. An example given would see a mage character creating a wall of ice that could be used as cover, or to seal off a portion of the battleground, while their comrades suppress other enemies in the field. However, certain enemies may react by melting the wall, which should kep gamers on their toes.

It’s also been suggested that your party’s health won’t regenerate automatically at the end of each fight, while healing items can only be carried in limited quantities. Mages are also said to have a slower cool-down rate when using healing spells, so it seems like players will have to think smarter when wading into fights. If I remember correctly, I was pretty bad for spamming the hell out of Isabela’s stun moves in Dragon Age 2, and while I like hack-and-slash titles, that sort of button wankery didn’t really feel at home in a Dragon Age title.

But combat, like everything else in mentioned in this article, seems to have been given a clever and significant re-tooling in response to fan feedback after the release of Dragon Age 2. I’m yet to play the game myself, so consider this a wishlist of sorts. I’m hoping BioWare makes good on them all.

Dragon Age: Inquisition releases this August on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.