The once strong Dragon Age IP has had its name sullied in recent years. Despite obvious technical shortcomings, Dragon Age: Origins was a bit of a smash when it debuted back in 2009. The quality dipped slightly in the sizeable expansion pack Awakening, before it really took the critical plunge* with the undercooked Dragon Age II two years later. Admittedly, the rise to power of Bioware’s other RPG giant didn’t help matters either. First child syndrome, anyone?
*Like, it scored 7s. The horror…
Well, with Mass Effect nowhere to be seen and thus unable to steal its thunder, Bioware are taking another whack at it with Dragon Age: Inquisition. Not a reboot, less a reimagining but a decided reinvigoration of the brand, Inquisition is overhauling policies for the new console generation. Out go the repeated environs, in come expansive open areas and interconnecting hubs. You’ll now be able to capture forts and keeps to spread the influence of the titular inquisition across the map for greater resource benefits. Customization will no longer be the laughing stock of the (admittedly niche) fantasy RPG realm and romance will no longer devolve into buying your paramour’s affections with gifts and trinkets. Bioware, it seems, have finally come round to the notion that treating your lovers like cheap hookers isn’t the best way to build a stable relationship.
But sod all that noise, you want to know about the combat!
And I don’t blame you – a game not 100% committed to the virtuous act of putting boot to ass is no game at all! He said, reducing a beloved 80 billion dollar medium to its basest value.
In truth, Inquisition looks much the same as its predecessors in terms of combat gameplay. You can play it as a B grade Hack/Slash, or as a tactical real time strategy, pausing time to issue specific orders. Dragon Ages Origins and II offered this choice also, but some subtle UI refinements here will make the difference between a sleek and dynamic system and an unnecessarily complex and clunky interface.
For the record, I almost never used the top down, order issuing Tactical View which turned Dragon Age II into a value brand Tolkien flavoured XCOM. Coz it was kinda balls. Inquisition’s revamp seems a sleeker affair with commands like attack, defend, hold, move, heal, buff, trap and splash damage easily doled out across party members. It also boasts at-a-glance data on enemy weaknesses and strengths so you can better gauge which spells, techniques or tactics to employ between heartbeats.
Perhaps though, it is your preference to wade in with a greatsword, stripping away plate, mail and flesh with meaty swings. And personally, I admire your go-get-em attitude, kid. You’ll go far.
Bioware certainly echo this sentiment, mapping abilities to hotkeys for quicker carnage and retaining the ability to switch between party members on the fly. I look forward to tearing it up with that hefty lout, Iron Bull, during my excessively brutal close quarters playthrough.
However the drawback of this method as ever been getting your party to pull their weight/heads-out-of-their-asses. While you may be cutting a bloody swath through your foes, mashing face buttons for a more diverse beatdown, it often feels your party will mill in like mindless drones spamming the attack command despite the fact their “Whirling Maelstrom of SuperDeath” is charged and ready to make with the XP.
Tactics has ever been Bioware’s clunky answer to this behavioural dilemma. But if the gameplay videos are anything to go by, they too have seen refinement this time around. Tactics enable players to embed specific behaviours into their followers and rank them in ascending priority. You may want your archer to spam her attack by default. But once a player drops below 25% health, a healing spell may take priority. Even more crucially, you can set it that your archer’s TOP PRIORITY is to launch her grandest ability, POINTY DEATHARROW OF DEATH, if charged, whenever an enemy is classified as brittle and thus most susceptible to damage. Long story short, your follower IQs may burst into the lofty realm of double digits this November.
For all their faults, real and imaginary, Bioware are no fools. They know they cannot match Skyrim’s (or even ESO’s) breadth of interactivity nor can they stand toe to toe with The Witcher’s grit and ferocity. So they’re making sure Dragon Age: Inquisition is known as the TACTICAL high fantasy RPG of the new generation.
And you know what, it’ll stand to them.
But what do I know, I quite enjoyed Dragon Age II, heretic that I am.
Dragon Age: Inquisition launches for PC, Xbone, 360, PS3 and PS4 on November 21st 2014.