PREVIEW: Dragon Age: Inquisition [PC/PS4/XOne]

Dragon Age, and I say this at the risk of being skewered by a ‘Precise Shot’ arrow, has always struck me as the Billy Baldwin in the Bioware family. Sure, he may not be as charismatic, charming and innovative as Alec (who’s totally Mass Effect, if you’re indulging me with this analogy) and, sure, he may have stumbled pretty hardcore whilst trying to reinvent himself mid-career but the fact remains that he still has star potential, damn it! Star potential!

Having scored some hands on time with the new look Billy Baldw- I mean, Dragon Age: Inquisition at PAX AUS earlier this month, it truly seems like third time is the charm for this franchise of high adventure!

DA: I (as the cool kids on the internet will undoubtedly call it) starts off with your protagonist waking up after what I can only describe as a medieval acid nightmare, only to find themselves restrained by shackles and accused of murdering the high lords of the realm. After some obligatory exposition, it turns out you are “the one” and only you can stop the onslaught of darkness- blah, blah, insert usual fantasy tropes here. Hold on though, because here’s where we’re going to take a Colin McRae extreme hard left- who the fuck cares? After playing this game for about three hours, the main story was already so far off my radar that it didn’t matter. What I took away from my time with DA: I was that this was MY story, which I could play MY way and that was pretty darn cool.

DA: I wastes no time becoming personal, laying it on thick as soon as you boot that sucker up and start creating your Jesus allegory. I have one word to describe character customisation in this game: Mind-blowing! (Hyphenating makes it count as one word). Every possible aesthetic option has been boosted to overwhelming levels of manipulation, allowing you to edit from the minutest to major of details. There’s the usual options like hairstyles, scars and nose bridge angle (with about 20 alteration sliders each) but then it goes and rolls up its sleeves, allowing you to edit things like the inner and outer iris colours AND then even bends the in-between to work! Who does that!? DA: I does!

That freedom of character customisation isn’t limited only to aesthetics, flowing over into your character’s build type as well. No ‘class’ is closed off to you from picking certain race or gender (so you can finally be that Dwarven mage you’ve always dreamed of) and even classes lack a certain rigidity, allowing you to mix and match abilities from multiple skill trees. I went ahead and rebuilt my heroine from DA: Origins, the Valkyrie-esque Templar Cassandra, albeit more bad-arse and scarred up, since I had that option now!

Cassandra always favoured the sword and shield approach, which I picked again, with all that really just dictating my starting abilities. Soon I had a charging rush from the two-handed tank tree, a precision strike from the rogue tree and shield buffs from my starting class. I (well, Cassandra) was the Frankenstein’s monster of combat and it was liberating!

Half of that liberation, without a doubt, came from the new overhauled combat system. If I was Franky’s monster, combat was easily my bride. The system behaves like a strange amalgamation between the tabletop RPG system of DA: Origins and the watered-down, fluid combat from DA: 2 but with a way higher air of accessibility on both sides. Movement is keyed to WASD, general weapon swinging is mapped to the left click and your abilities sit waiting to be unleashed in a hotbar. Sure, it’s nothing revolutionary but it doesn’t need to be, it just needs to work well and feel intuitive, which it totally does. The other major key you’ll be hitting a lot, and I mean a lot, is the space bar, which allows you to freeze time.

This is an old school mechanic, dating back to games like KOTOR, which allows you to better judge the battlefield and tactfully command your party. This is essential to victory, without it you might as well fall on your own sword! Each party member has a role to play, with their own specific weaknesses and strengths. Knowing when and how to use them will make or break even the smallest of skirmishes and leave you feeling like you have the combat knowledge and power of command to bitch slap even Sun Tzu!

[img_big]center,11405,2014-04-23/daprintfeb_3.jpg,Dragon Age: Inquisition[/img_big]

In between your glorious campaigns of cutting down Darkspawn, DA: I asks you to explore its sprawling world and this is not something to be taken lightly. The world is huge and full of things to discover. Employing that Skyrim mentality of picking a point on the horizon and sauntering off towards it, not knowing what you’ll discover, is the apex of adventure and it’s implemented wonderfully here. It’s during these random jaunts that you truly notice how gorgeous DA: I is, with Bioware milking the Frostbite engine for all its worth.

During combat, the fireworks and ensuing particle effects of spells and abilities are alluringly captivating, but its true beauty manifests in moments of downtime. Each new area comes with its own distinct feel, asking you to explore every glade, thicket and pile of rocks. Whilst plodding through a forest (which is par for the course in fantasy RPGs), I had to stop and take in what was around me. The trees were swaying in the wind, leaves gingerly spiralling towards the ground where mist lay, slowly rolling. The sunlight gleamed up ahead, radiating my path towards an open vista, which sat adjacent to a grand, foreboding mountain. It was pure serenity. The world was mine to discover as quickly or (more likely) as snail paced as I wished, and no amount of NPC nagging to hurry up could alter that- well, except for the lake looking like a great place for them to have an ‘accident’.

Dragon Age: Inquisition is the kind of game I can see eating into many hours… weeks, hell, months of my life when it hits PC (and both next gen consoles) on the 20th of this month. The captivatingly gorgeous world, charm-ridden writing, overhauled combat and focus on YOUR adventure makes it stand out, beating its chest, from many other fantasy RPG’s from the past or present. If you’ve even got a little love in you for fantasy, adventure, or guys with tipped ears, this could easily be your game of the year!

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