Dragon Age Inquisition fights back on PS4? Bioware’s RPG has more responsibility than ever
Dragon Age Inquisition‘s titular beast greets our arrival the old-fashioned way, with an operatic aerial bombardment of fire. As our character gets up, scraping together the remains of his health bar, we see the beast arc past a crag and begin its return sweep. Ahead lies a dusky temple – probably the kind that’s full of Darkspawn, but any port will do in a storm.
Demo Guy sprints for it. The dragon gets there first. Its feet crash straight through the building in a blur of suddenly gaseous stone. There’s nowhere to run. The dragon turns, absent-mindedly thwacking a pillar in half with its serrated tail, and treats us to the ultimate thousand-yard stare. “Where’s your Dragonborn now?” it seems to be asking. “Where’s your precious, precious Dragonborn now?”
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Dragon Age 2 was a misstep for Bioware, a fun but over-economical role-player let down by a shortage of areas and some weak-kneed ‘player choices’. The developer’s had plenty on its plate since then, between Mass Effect 3 and the departure of co-founders Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, meaning the likes of Dragon’s Dogma and The Witcher 3 have stolen the limelight. Inquisition now wants to get even. It does it by taking things from the top.
This is actually a baby dragon. Wildlife plays a big part in this instalment.
The original Dragon Age put you in charge of the Grey Wardens, a spec ops-style band of heroic ragamuffins, answerable to nobody. Inquisition returns to that idea and enhances it – now you’re the head of what’s effectively a juiced-up MI6, able to overpower disagreeable nations, build mines, spy on troublesome barons, poison rivers and, of course, dispatch minions to get eaten by rampaging dragons. The Inquisition exists to work out the origins of a massive Fade tear (aka, portal to Hell), and persuade the realm to buddy up before the demons invade. The payoff from the player’s perspective is you can choose your destiny – providing you’re happy to live by the consequences.
That commitment to player power extends to a choice of playable races – Human, Elf, Dwarf or Qunari (the latter a series first). Pick an Elf or Qunari Inquisitor and you may find it especially tough at the top, as the human rulers of Ferelden and Orlais won’t take kindly to being ordered around by some pious bipedal buffalo or simpering Legolas stand-in. Choice of race may also affect your rapport with other main characters. We’ve bumped into three so far: Varric Tethras, the twinkly Dwarf rogue who appears to be romantically involved with his own crossbow; Cassandra Pentaghast, the Chantry agent who spent much of Dragon Age 2 punching Varric in the face; and newcomer Vivienne, a bookish Orlesian Enchanter with unnaturally wide headgear.
Captured Keeps can be customised to suit needs. Set up a trade hub to earn cash.
How these personalities hit it off remains to be seen, but there’s some great chemistry between Cassandra and Vivienne. “To us, my dear, they’re all expendable,” the former neighs, clattering her sword and shield together, as we stomp into an enemy keep. It’s nice that the play of personalities is so forthright at this stage, because Inquisition’s broader mechanics can sound dry on paper. Keeps form the centre of the game’s multiple, vast regions, and play a role similar to synchronisation points in Assassin’s Creed – capture one, and you’ll unlock quests. The more Inquisition agents dedicated to a keep, the more you can do. Fifty agents might rebuild a fallen colossus, for instance, boosting troop morale in the event of an invasion. Or you could send 10 agents to build a mine on top of a sulphur pit to shore up revenues.
A new management system sees you running captured keeps, controlling facets like trade, mining and protection.
Last but very much not least, there’s the revamped combat. It dances to broadly the same beat as prior instalments – you give orders in freeze-time, hack away for a few seconds, then pause again to tweak your strategy – but the Tactics view floats a bit further from the action, while the melee perspective is punishingly zoomed-in. The battles seem less dependent on length of health bar, more on choice of secondary ability and positioning – at one point in our demo, Vivienne drops an ice wall to separate a mage from his minions, then wizards away the mage’s defences so the Inquisitor can cut him down.
Dragons won’t be so easy to nobble, presumably. We aren’t shown the conclusion to that introductory, incendiary spat, but the message is fairly clear: Dragon Age is back in business, and it’s none too chuffed about all these pretenders to the throne. Whether Inquisition sees off the competition or not, this is shaping up to be the game Dragon Age 2 should have been.