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Dragon Age: Inquisition E3 2014 Preview

June 15, 2014 | Posted by Liana Kerzner

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Dragon Age: Inquisition has a lot of history behind it, and a huge number of expectations tied to that history. The much-maligned Dragon Age II has its fans, at least, based on the number of Hawke and Fenris cosplayers I’ve seen. Meanwhile, the excellence of Dragon Age: Origins was the main reason Dragon Age II was seen as a disappointment. Then there are the Baldur’s Gate games, of which the Dragon Age franchise is a so-called spiritual sequel. The Baldur’s Gate games are some of the most beloved PC RPGs of all time, and there are some gamers who still miss those games, despite the surge in Western RPGs of late.

But the Dragon Age franchise still needs to attract new players to get their sales up to E3’s blanket targets. Bioware needs to somehow find about five million players to pay for an extremely long, story-driven RPG, especially after the huge numbers Skyrim managed. Bioware’s approach to doing this seems to be a variation of “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks”.

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One of the things that Dragon Age: Origins had that Dragon Age II lacked was an existential threat. That sort of threat is back in Inquisition, in the formof holes in the Veil between the mortal world and the dream world of the Fade. So demons are pouring in through these holes, because that’s a Dragon Age demon’s equivalent of going to Disney World. Anyone want to place bets on whether the maker’s blackened golden city makes an appearance this time around?

For DA:O fans, there are four playable races, including, finally, the Qunari, and three classes to choose from. I’m assuming those classes are fighter, mage, and rogue, based on the demo. The behind-closed-door demo featured a female Qunari mage, which immediately raised the question for me of why said mage didn’t have her lips sewn shut like the Saarebas from previous games. There seem to be numerous changes to the depiction of the Qunari, because the supporting Qunari party character, Iron Bull, seemed pretty darned happy and friendly, including suggesting that he chuck an elf companion across the next battlefield fastball-special-style. Of course, the EA press site has no pictures of these characters, so have another picture of a dragon.

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According to creative director Mark Darrah, Dragon Age: Inquisition boasts the largest cast of characters to date, including returning favorites Morrigan, Leliana, and Varric. That roguish dwarf is, of course, from Dragon Age II. Another returning element from DAII are the dialogue wheel – much to my chagrin – but we knew that going in. Red lyrium made an appearance in the demo too, and if you finished Dragon Age II, you know that spells doom.

The biggest surprise for me was how much two characters featured in the demo reminded me of Baldur’s Gate characters. One of the mages looked an awful lot like Dynaheir, regal bearing and all. Another mage reminded me a great deal of Anomen. So far, no hamster sightings, however. Perhaps there’ll be a nug named Boo.

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The exploration, although presented from an early build, looked like Skyrim if the sun came out. And of course the demo featured an “apex predator” dragon battle. Defeating the dragon, however, required more tactical skill on the part of the player than the beasties from Skyrim. Combat was heavily stressed in the demo, both in real time and tactical play styles. The tactical pauses now allow the player to control party pathfinding more precisely, which will be handy in battle.

I was relieved, however, to hear that the story is still a focal point in Dragon Age: Inquisition. The demo showed a branching path option involving Leliana that I won’t describe in case people are trying to avoid spoilers. It did, however, potentially answer some questions about Leliana’s true motivations that were left unanswered in Dragon Age: Origins… and she was pretty badass too.

And this has nothing to do with the game, but I had the accidental opportunity to watch the demo session right in front of Felicia Day.

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I don’t know how she enjoyed it, though, because after the demo ended, I was too busy peppering creative director Mark Darrah with questions. Will characters from the Dragon Age: Asunder novel appear in Inquisition? Yes. Fiona is one of them. Ooooooooooh!

Futhermore, the required PC power for keyboard and mouse players like me will be pretty reasonable. Dragon Age: Inquisition runs on the Frostbite 3 engine, and will require system specs comparable to the resources required for Mass Effect 3 and Battlefield 3. So I’ve lost my excuse to upgrade my gaming PC.

There is first access content available for Xbox players, but I don’t think that incentive will overrule save file loyalty. One of the coolest things about Dragon Age is that your choices from the very beginning of the series affect the ongoing game world, and the game promises to be the biggest one yet, so it’s probably safe to wait for the premium content on PlayStation or PC, if you’ve started the series on those platforms.

If you’re new to the Dragon Age franchise, however, and are thinking of starting on Dragon Age 3 because of the improved combat mechanics, then the next gen leap is probably worth it: Thedas has never looked better.

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So now the big question: will new players be lost by jumping in on the third game? There is no equivalent to Mass Effect’s Commander Shepherd in Dragon Age, so the third game will feature a brand new protagonist called “The Inquisitor”. Titles are chosen very deliberately in Dragon Age: DA:II’s playable character was the Champion of Kirkwall instead of the Hero of Ferelden, because Kirkwall wasn’t a place for heroes. So the Inquisitor title implies that there will be quite a few morally ambivalent choices awaiting players in their search for answers.

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Liana Kerzner