Dragon Age: Inquisition Preview – Playing For Keeps
Written Saturday, August 31, 2013 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
Have you ever dreamt of owning your very own moss-covered medieval castle, complete with banners, turrets and trebuchets? Well, consider Dragon Age: Inquisition the answer to your prayers, because keeps play a pivotal role in the game, helping you as The Inquisitor to spread the influence and power of the Inquisition across the land of Thedas, all in an effort to save the world from evil demons pouring in through a huge Fade rift in the sky. Capturing and taking over keeps is a new core gameplay component that's just the beginning of what BioWare is attempting for the next Dragon Age.
So far, so conventional though, right? Wrong. It seems that there's a lot more going on in Dragon Age: Inquisition than meets the eye. It all seems a little too convenient that Fade tears have happened to appear all over Thedas at the very same time that the entire realm is in chaos. At the moment the big green rift opens, Thedas is torn asunder by war, and as leader of the Inquisition, you'll need to close the tears and uncover the truth behind what appears to be an elaborate conspiracy.
Inquisition promises to be the biggest Dragon Age yet, taking into account a whole array of choices, as you journey across the vast expanses of Thedas from the Tevinter Imperium to Ferelden and the Orlesian Empire. “A single action can change everything,” Producer Cameron Lee states, before showing us “very, very pre-alpha” gameplay for the first time. Right off the bat, Inquisition presents you with the usual customisation options for your character, meaning you can choose their gender, race – elf, human, dwarf and for the first time, Qunari – class and so on. The gameplay section we're shown forms part of an optional quest that can have five possible outcomes, and takes us to Crestwood in Ferelden.
What strikes us immediately is the size – you can now call upon a mount to help you traverse the sprawling expanses of Thedas - scope and detail packed into this single area, from the moss on the rocks, the gently waving fronds of grass, the mountain ranges looming on the horizon and the rippling reflective surface of a nearby lake. It's on this lake that we catch the first glimpse of a swirling green Fade tear, and its these that you'll need to seal to prevent more demons and creatures from pouring into the world.
The Inquisitor's party is made up of Vivienne, a powerful former Circle mage, Varric the roguish raconteur from Dragon Age II, and Cassandra Pentaghast, the no-nonsense warrior from the Seekers of Truth, but there'll be more new followers and returning cast members to recruit. The four band together through driving rain, as Red Templars mount an ambush on the outskirts of Crestwood Village. Dispatching the armoured antagonists, the four approach the village itself where chaos reigns and Red Templars burn and pillage. You're presented with a choice here, using the game's improved dialogue wheel.
Do you have your followers tend to the wounded or do you take action and intervene? Or do you regroup reinforcements at your keep to ensure it doesn't fall into Templar hands? Your decision will not only shape how the story and the realm changes, but it'll also factor in to the relationship you have with your party. Fall back to the keep, and Varric will voice his disapproval, while Cassandra will be more supportive. Running along a high ridge, you can see the village burning below, and if the destruction playing out in front of you is enough to make you change your mind about your decision, you can still race to the villagers' aid and save the day.
Sticking to your guns will save the precious keep however, and retain your tactical edge and influence across Thedas. There are other more minor actions like sabotaging the Templar boats on the muddy shores by hurling firebombs at them, that ensure you won't have to deal with enemy reinforcements down the line. Skipping ahead, the action moves into a dark and atmospheric catacomb, where we find mysterious markings on one of the walls. Illuminated by veil fire, these markings will lead to something that BioWare is remaining tight-lipped about for now. The veil fire torch lights the way into a more open area where more Templar soldiers await. These are easily dispatched, before an angry behemoth comes out to play.
Like previous Dragon Age titles, Inquisition's combat utilises the same radial menu, pausing the action while you dole out orders among your party. Resources are far more limited this time around however, and once you complete a battle, there's none of the instantly regenerated health to fall back upon. Managing a handful of health potions and other items is part of an increased challenge then, and an indication that BioWare is placing more of an emphasis on carefully though-out strategy, rather than hammering buttons and hoping for the best; a tactic that we have to admit resorting to in the previous games.
Skipping forward once again, the Crestwood invaders repelled, the gameplay shifts to the Western Approach, a location just west of Orlais. A barren marshland boasting a gassy canyon, the Western Approach offers a host of opportunities, such as capping off the gas vents to tap into the sulphur supply for crafting better potions, rebuilding shattered colossus statues to raise morale, lighting false signal fires to draw soldiers away from the keep on the hill, which you can capture to add to your network of keeps across Thedas. It's all about keeps, baby.
Despite being barren and desolate, the Western Approach is an area full of buried secrets, which means taking over Griffon Wing Keep is the next obvious move to make. The fellas from BioWare show us how to take a keep, resorting to the good old tactical viewpoint from Dragon Age: Origins, which makes a comeback in an advanced and improved form for Inquisition. Switching to this overhead perspective, you can send Varric around to flank the guards outside the keep, have Vivienne place traps, and send Cassandra storming forward to intercept while you provide support. Setting up an attack this way enables you to decimate the enemy in double-quick time, rewarding thoughtful, tactical play.
Speaking of which, there's more scope for using your grey matter once you're inside the keep, with various ways to breach the stronghold and clear out its inhabitants. You could use Varric's talents in subterfuge and sabotage to infiltrate – and don't forget you can switch to controlling any character in your party at any time – or you could go for a more direct approach, like letting Cassandra smash the front gate down with sheer brute force. There are more tactics at work thanks to the Frostbite 3 engine too, enabling you to hit destructible structures and bring them toppling to the ground. Freeze enemies in place beneath a wooden bridge for instance, and you can cut the structure down, taking out the archers stationed on top and the soldiers underneath in one fell swoop. Clever.
Dispensing with the Venatori soldiers in the keep, the leader – a Venatori Conjurer - needs to be dispatched before you're able to raise the flag and stake your claim on the castle. With the Griffon Wing Keep in your hands, you can then customise it to your own ends. “We want this game to be your game,” says Lee, which means whether you want your keep – and by extension your Inquisition - to be tailored towards military might, espionage or to adopt a more political tack with a keep that invites connection and commerce, the choice is yours. Certain choices unlock new content within the world, such as Tevinter Gates that lead to new areas, for instance. Whatever the case, your choices will have an impact upon the fate of nations and an influence upon the ongoing war between the Templars and Mages.
As well as being able to customise your keep, you can tailor the look of The Inquisitor too, crafting new armours and weapons as you progress. And this being Dragon Age, there'll be dragons to fight too, meaning you'll need to obtain bigger and better swords along with tougher armour. Dragons also play a more significant role this time around, destroying the terrain, scorching the earth and blighting the land in general. Each dragon poses its own individual challenge and can only be faced once you've gained the requisite power. It's yet another component to Dragon Age: Inquisition that promises to bring action-packed thrills coupled with careful, tactical thinking.
Taking in marshes, wastes, deserts, mountains, caves, ruins, deep roads and a multitude of jaw-dropping vistas, Dragon Age: Inquisition looks truly stunning, even at this relatively early stage. “This is the biggest game BioWare Edmonton has ever made,” says Cinematic Designer Jonathan Perry, and based upon our first look at the game in action, we can't help but think that Dragon Age: Inquisition might just be the prettiest and most ambitious game the developer has ever created too.
Dragon Age: Inquisition will be taking over your keep for current and next-gen consoles in fall 2014. Check out more new screens in the gallery.