The game that was once Dragon Age III now has a release date: October 7, 2014. That's the date when we will see if Bioware has learned from what part of the fandom has deemed a past mistake. Dragon Age II was a different game than the series' genesis, Dragon Age: Origins. While the storytelling core remained the same, combat moved from being a RPG/strategy hybrid like Bioware's earlier Baldur's Gate to something a bit more action-oriented. Real-time control, waves of enemies, explosions of blood, and repeating environments led to unsatisfying play experience, though I admit I felt the story and characterization was more nuanced than its predecessor.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is a chance to make things right, or at least a chance to execute better on the things Dragon Age II did wrong. The tactical camera, which was PC-exclusive in DA2, is now available on all platforms. Inquisition will feature a hand-crafted world powered by DICE's Frostbite 3 engine. And the combat, while still action-oriented, is supposed to be a bit deeper than it was before.
"There are people who aren't happy with the Mass Effect 3 ending, and people who aren't happy with DA2 for a variety of reasons. We've recognized things that we didn't do well, and various areas that we did do well," Inquisition producer Cameron Lee told CVG.
"Obviously the tactical cam is one of those things we're bringing back. But even when you're not using the tactical camera, it's still going to feel like a challenge you need to overcome. You've got to be thinking about how to use your party. And we spent a lot of time on making the party's abilities and synergy more important to combat. The party needs to work together to overcome the challenge of the combat."
Bioware acknowledges where it went off the beaten path, but that doesn't mean the studio isn't going to try new things.
"Part of our job is to go out into the wilderness to go farther beyond what the players have seen, what they've played and essentially light a torch so they can see what could be and then hopefully they'll want what we're presenting. That can be uncomfortable. That can result in concern because obviously what they're comfortable with, what they've played before isn't completely what we're delivering," Inquisition executive producer Mark Darrah explained to PCGamer.
"In the case of Dragon Age: Inquisition I think there is a core there. I think there is a core Dragon Age game at its center. I think that comfort still remains, but we will be pushing you, we're challenging you with some new things."
Old Places, New Faces
Dragon Age: Inquisition places you in the malleable shoes of the Inquisitor. Unlike Hawke, who was narrowly defined as a human, the Inquisitor is able to be a number of races. You will stand before the world of Thedas as the only survivor of a cataclysmic event, branded by something otherworldly; the brand itself gives you the power to close rifts around the world related to a larger inter-dimensional crack called the The Breach. The Breach grows as you continue your quest and if it is not stopped, it will destroy the world.
The Inquisitor is a fresh face that has nothing to do with Origins' Grey Warden or Dragon Age II's Hawke. While you'll be able to import some of your Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II choices into Inquisition with Bioware's new Dragon Age Keep feature, don't expect to see too many old faces in a playable capacity. According to Inquisition's executive producer, those characters and many of their romance options aren't returning because they have too much baggage.
"With the warden from Dragon Age: Origins he carries a lot of very divergent baggage. Anything from he could be dead to maybe there's a kid in the picture, maybe he's actually ruling Ferelden with Anora," said Darrah. "He's a very difficult character to proceed with because the universe is in very different places based on the events of the Dragon Age: Origins. Just reflecting those changes in the future games is a big challenge. To actually have him as a playable character is just-it would tie our hands too much. It would require us to make a story that was too constrained."
"When we started this franchise, what we really wanted to always be doing was telling the story of the world, as opposed to the story of a single character. When we have a character, these events are big and world-shaking. We basically are trying to tell the story in the best way possible, rather than trying to have an arc for a single character."
Change The World
Your power puts you in a unique place in Thedas. While you're trying to keep the world alive, you and your new organization will have to navigate the political landscape as well.
"One of the fun themes we're exploring is, how do people react when someone new steps onto that political stage," Dragon Age: Inquisition creative director Mike Laidlaw told Kotaku. "How do other organizations, nations, respond? Are they threatened? Are they too busy dealing with their own stuff? How do you kind of shoulder your way onto the table?"
"In Dragon Age: Inquisition there's essentially two axes of what's happening. There's the steps you need to take to deal with the breach in the sky, to uncover who's behind it and ultimately to stop them. The steps to do that are relatively clear. You can do them in different orders, but they're relatively clear," added Darrah. "The second axis is that in order to do some of those things you need your inquisition to be strong enough to demand attention. If you're going to go and try to get the Templars on your side, for example, they're not listening. You need the Inquisition to be strong enough to force that meeting."
Bioware also wants to add some more exploration this time around. Inquisition presents a larger overworld with more caves and crypts to wander into. The world reacts to your choices, who you side with, who you free, and who you crush in the Inquisition's iron grasp.
"There is emergent behavior in the world. So if I came into the forest area of the game and started slaughtering all the bandits in that area, other factions can start to come into place. Then if you kill all of those a different faction comes in, and you can have different relations with those and take different sides," explained Lee. "There's a lot of dynamism in the life of the world as well as the meta-story and factions."
"That's also the kind of dynamism you can create, and that's in the player's control. There's a variety of those aspects and areas in the game. We don't want a static world. We see part of the future of RPGs being about making your world not just a stage any more. It's about a world that can shift and change and be modified by you as a player rather than a static world. That's one of the things we're aiming for with this game."
"The introduction of exploration, of being able to go to places where there's real, earnest, wonder-the same feeling you get when you headed off the east side of a map on Baldur's Gate 1, and you ended up on the west side of the next map-that was cool! We want to make sure we get that back as well," said Laidlaw.
Tell Me A Story
The story will have you leading the Inquisition out into the world to create order and peace, or chaos and strife. Either way, you'll stand at the head of the order. Your choices will change the world in a real concrete way and that's a result of some of the design chances Bioware took in Dragon Age 2.
"The game is very much a mixture of overworld exploration and critical path stories, the directed narrative. So ordering the Inquisition and controlling the Inquisition is how we allow the player to decide where they want to spend their time on that, " said Lee. "There are lots of small not just decisions but actions, physical actions that the player can take, that have small impacts throughout the world. There will be hundreds and hundreds of those. Then there are the big, epic, sweeping changes, like if you decide to bring the mages in rather than the Templars. That has dramatic consequences to the world and your Inquisition."
"Dragon Age 2, we decided we want to try something, to try to do very different storytelling, something much more personal, something much more tightly constrained. No chosen one, no clear overarching threat. I don't think it was a perfect success, but that was intentional. I think we just overreached. We pushed too hard," said executive producer Darrah.
"Because of Dragon Age 2, Dragon Age: Inquisition is having to be a lot more ambitious, to address those concerns and really try to get back much more to the roots of the franchise. Much more about tactical combat and a higher level of deliberate difficulty. More clear overall story, with the moral choices still in there, but much more in vein of Dragon Age: Origins style storytelling. You're right to ask. The goal wasn't to revolutionize the series every single time, but Dragon Age 2 forced our hand to a certain degree."
One thing that Bioware wants to make perfectly clear is that Inquisition isn't the end of a trilogy like Mass Effect 3. The story of Dragon Age is continuing on.
"Dragon Age was never intended to be a trilogy," Darrah told Gamespot. "We've always really looked at Dragon Age as the story of a world as opposed to the story of a character. That's one of the reasons why we change characters between games. So, no, this isn't the wrap-up of a trilogy. We have an overarching story arc. We are going somewhere with the storytelling. But this game isn't a conclusion."
Dragon Age: Inquisition will be released on October 7, 2014 for PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. What Bioware has shown so far has been pretty top-notch and the studio is saying all the right words, but we have yet to pick up a controller and play our own Inquisitor. Hopefully, Bioware sticks the landing.