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Dragon Age: Inquisition

Dragon Age: Inquisition

"This game is your game", BioWare Edmonton emphasise ten minutes into their first live gameplay presentation of the third Dragon Age title.

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It's sentiment not alien to the series, but twenty minutes later, as they bring their demo to a dragon-roaring close, you appreciate the deeper embellishment they're trying to sear into this massive, war-torn, open world.

Inquisition is set after the first two titles ("we didn't want players to feel like there was so many barriers between them picking up the game and playing it; Dragon Age games are never meant to be a series, they're these distinct experiences you have. It tells the story of a world, but not a particular character, " explains producer Cameron Lee post-presentation about the lack of a "III" in the title) and sees you questing over far more expansive areas as the Inquisitor, tightening your hold gradually over the four corners of the world. You do so by combination of your combat skills, and by taking over the many keeps dotted throughout the map and converting them to your needs.

Dragon Age: Inquisition

The three-act demo takes in a trio of "mid-sized" areas, each bigger than the entirety of Dragon Age II's locations. (A map's flipped on screen briefly to show the distance the team have fast-travelled for the sake of the demo). They tour summer glades, water-logged dungeons, moon-lit deserts, a dragon's valley of death. As such mounts will now be available to ride - unless you favour the fifteen minute slog to get from one end of an area to another.

Everything's running on a PC, and the visual sweep is impressive, heavily detailed yet emphasising more the vivid colour to paint its fantasy setting. As with Witcher, as with Skyrim, it's a unique look to a well-worn premise. Your player character moves realistically when walking along angled inclines, or wading through mud on a shore. There's little flat in the environment; hills and steep mountains ripple across the immediate landscape. Cresting a rise allows the team to pull off those extravagant sweeps to showcase the draw distance and multiple points of interest; enemy keeps, caves, deep valleys. The option's there to strike off where you want. What you do there is up to you.

Because player choice is still king. Focus on the demo's opening is on a side-mission story beat that sees you decide to pull back your troops to a nearby stronghold, leaving the wounded and the nearby village of Crestwood to fend for themselves. Your companions don't share your sentiments, and as a closing scene plays out as you and your companions look over the resultant carnage - the charred remains of Crestwood residents - BioWare Edmonton intone that "actions (even in-action) speak louder than words", and there'll be consequences to everything. Given this is the company that gave us Mass Effect, you know it's not an empty threat - or promise.

Dragon Age: InquisitionDragon Age: Inquisition

But talk is light, the demo favouring combat. The team escalate the action over the course of the demo. They start with one-on-one clashes, camera pulled in to the Inquisitor taking out foes in turn. Next engagement, they flip to another character of the foursome to detail teamwork-focused combat, camera pulled out slightly to take in everyone. They finish by showcasing the Tactical Mode, which is making a return from Dragon Age: Origins, the camera now flicking to overhead and being freely panned round the battlefield.

The Inquisitor is hulking a huge broadsword (though BioWare switch to a flaming variant later on) and a chain hook to unbalance foes. Your companions balance things with crossbow, magic attacks and lighter sword and shield. The team pause the game as battle commences, sweeping the camera around the area to spot potential problems (shielded mages, enemy squads) and solutions (natural terrain cover, destructible structures such as weakened bridge support pillar). You can scan enemies to check their stats before deciding your move.

Dragon Age: InquisitionDragon Age: Inquisition

They stack up their strategy, running a list of commands for each character. Pin-pointing move points, areas to launch ice spells at... then they let time flow once more. Moves run their course,  and the lion's share of the fights are over fairly swiftly. They switch back to the Inquisitor to mop up the leftover stragglers.

Conquered Keeps can be customised to your advantage, decking them out as either military strongholds, forts dedicated to espionage, or build connections. The team don't touch on the wider implications of these choices, nor the Agent system we spot when they flick through a number of static screens come the presentation's conclusion. There's still over a year to go, and much more to say.

As such, they simply tease the presence of the winged colossi that'll make your life hell. Twice during the demo a dragon suddenly plunges into view, destroying structures before flinging off into the skies above. Each dragon will have a unique look ("I have no idea! One of the earlier iterations it was similar, but had a warble to it, like a dinosaur off Jurassic Park." Cameron laughs as we ask him over the unearthly roar the demo's winged foe gives off) and offer unique challenges. The idea is you'll need to run from this titanic beasts until you've levelled enough to survive an encounter. The team conclude the demo with a charge at the beast as it reappears for the third time. It blazes fire across the ground and lands, ready for a scrap. Cue cut to game logo and the end of the demo.

Dragon Age: Inquisition

When the game releases in fall next year, it'll be across both generations of console, as well as PC. While the company have offered console transfers for saves, we ask why BioWare didn't just cut the ties with this generation. "We have such a large fan base that we wouldn't want to cut those people out," Cameron says, perhaps all too aware of how vocal the fan base is. "They're not going to be seeing a different experience [between different generation versions]. You'll see a far greater amount of immersion and detail, richness, in Gen 4. But the story is not going to be different. It's not going to feel like we've cut out half the game - it's too important for us everyone gets to take part in what we create."

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REVIEW. Written by Suzanne Berget

"It seems as if Bioware have taken a lot of the criticism directed at Dragon Age 2 to heart and done all in their power to right the wrongs."

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