Feature Article

Dragon Age: Inquisition, the Baldur's Gate Legacy, and the Value of an Open World

Even dragons have their endings.

"It's required a lot of learning and a lot of trial and error as we've gone through the development in the last three or four years."

I'm talking to Cameron Lee, producer of the upcoming Dragon Age: Inquisition, about the challenges of taking the BioWare story formula and making it work in an open world. After negative reactions to Dragon Age II--more negative than BioWare anticipated--it only makes sense that the studio would strike out in a new direction, and that a new direction would entail so much testing and retesting. Where Dragon Age II's environments felt claustrophobic and repetitive, BioWare wants Inquisition to be big and immersive. Where Dragon Age II's exploration was stunted, Inquisition's is said to be expansive and characterful. As Lee and I chat about the past, present, and future of BioWare fantasy games, I roam about the Hinterlands, one of Inquisition's broader regions. I do so in a third-person view that is tighter than in previous Dragon Age games, and makes the game feel more like an action-RPG than earlier entries, as if Dragon Age and The Elder Scrolls had been melted in a cauldron and a new mold had been formed from the amalgam.

In spite of the fluid character animations and expansive vista before me, I still know this is Dragon Age. That's not just because the races are the same I know from previous games, or because the spells and classes are familiar to me, however. Even looking at the trees, I can see this is Dragon Age. The evergreens are tall and rigid, and their olive-hued needles are duller than those you would see in many other fantasy games. At first glance, it seems Inquisition retains some of the series' visual identity, even though it clearly possesses much larger, far more detailed environments than its predecessors.

I ask Lee to tell me more about the Dragon Age identity. Inquisition allows me to move into a tactical camera view and control my party from overhead, but BioWare prefers to show the game from its third-person view. This makes sense: the game looks lovely, and the drama of its spellcasting is more apparent when you watch from a third-person perspective. But I also suspect that BioWare wants to distance itself from the games of its past--Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights, namely--and be mentioned in the same breath as Elder Scrolls. Lee's words reinforce this notion. "Gaming's moved on from Neverwinter Nights, we've moved on from Baldur's Gate," he says. "Neverwinter Nights, when you think about that is a transition point from Baldur's Gate, being 3D at that point. So that would have had a similar question, just from the change in perspective, and the change in the pacing. So it's more of an evolution in being immersed in the world, and I think that this kind of freeform movement to the world, giving you a massive place to explore, is just an evolution of the world."

This direction isn't wholly surprising. After all, Dragon Age II eschewed a tactical camera entirely, and the combat was more immediate than the original Dragon Age was. Yet that sequel still suffered from the sophomore slump: it wasn't as tactical as Origins, nor was the combat as reactive as in Skyrim. By contrast, Inquisition seems to want it both ways, rather than to stick to a single unsatisfying merger of gameplay styles, though I can't yet say how well the game plays from an overhead view. From a third-person perspective, at least, Inquisition feels fluid during this demo. Tapping buttons and pulling triggers fires off spells and swings axes, depending on what party member you directly control. My party includes a rogue, a couple of mages, and a warrior, and several of its members are of the Qunari race, which is playable for the first time in Inquisition.

Lee assures me that in spite of the series growth that Inquisition still hews close to the fundamentals that make BioWare games unique. "When you think of Baldur's Gate, when you think of Neverwinter Nights, RPG mechanics, staples that make an RPG, like crafting and exploration and character customization, and all the different things that you do, that's all in here as well. A lot of the action RPGS out there don't have that. Some games don't have crafting. Some games don't have character customization and you're given a fixed character. Some games don't have a massive story and something that impacts the world."

The world of Dragon Age still has an air of mystery about it.

An hour doesn't give me much time to see if the game lives up to these statements, especially when I am more concerned with roaming the countryside and picking herbs, even though I know I'll probably never have the chance to do anything with them during the demo. It's the explorer in me. It's the compulsive collector in me. I see something shiny, or something with a name hovering over it, or something that makes a button prompt appear, and I must grab it or interact with it. Lee gently prompts me to push forward so that I can fight a dragon before the demo ends, and it isn't long before a portal appears above me and enemies swarm around me. 'It's one of Oblivion's Oblivion gates, or one of Rift's rifts,' I think, and sure enough, Lee tells me that this opening in the sky is a rift--a dimensional tear resulting from the raging templar/mage conflict. Closing the rift brings stability to the region and earns renown for me and my inquisition.

As I fight off the creatures surrounding me and hold a controller button to close the rift, Lee shares more with me about the challenges of making a BioWare branching story work in a world where a single region is as vast as the entirety of Dragon Age: Origins. "The immediate challenge that we faced was, how do you keep players' engagement with the story in the BioWare way of doing things," Lee says. "You know, progress through a story, and a couple of branching things, and stuff like that, but then do an open world? That was really hard to work out."

But work it out BioWare did. Says Lee, "Eventually we came to this realization that because you had the inquisition, you could use that as the glue. By giving the player choice around the inquisition, we gave them power around how they progress through the story in that open world. It's up to the player about what balance they want to strike between charging through what we call the crit-path [that is, the critical story path - ed.], which is the typical BioWare experience, and then we had to think about ways of bridging the two mechanics. Earning power through the exploration gameplay--exploring this world, doing quests, exploring dungeons, whatever--was a nice way to encourage players to get out into the world as a mechanism through which to progress in the story."

Click above for more Dragon Age: Inquisition images.

Power is important, because with it, you are able to return to your war table and command members of your inquisition to perform vital tasks, such as repairing a bridge that allows you access to a brand new part of the world. I don't get to visit my war table, sadly enough, but I do get to fight a dragon. Lee tells me every dragon in the game is hand-crafted, though at this point, I am more concerned with destroying the beast than I am with admiring it. During the battle, I activate a skill I haven't yet tried--haste--and suddenly the world around me slows to a crawl. It's bullet time, Dragon Age style, and it greatly eases the battle's challenge, though I imagine it helped that BioWare was demonstrating the game on easy difficulty. I leap from one party member's perspective to the next, flinging spells and slashing at the creature's feet, and Lee notes that Inquisition features localized damage, allowing me to target a dragon's limbs, its head, or some other appendage.

In the end, the whole battle is all too simple, though it doesn't seem right to complain that easy mode is, well, easy. I summon a horse with the press of a button and leap upon it, and then ask Lee if Inquisition is the game for me if I long for a tactical challenge. Will Inquisition be as hard as I want it to be if I crank up the difficulty? "It depends on the player," Lee says "Every individual has a different threshold for the pressure they can take. If you like to be more thoughtful, or if you just don't want to be under constant pressure while running around in real-time mode, the tactical mode, the top-down mode, is like a pressure release. On higher difficulties, if you're not using your party, you're gonna get slaughtered. Even on standard difficulty, if you're not using your party, you're gonna get in trouble."

Gaming's moved on from Neverwinter Nights, we've moved on from Baldur's Gate.

Cameron Lee, Producer, Dragon Age: Inquisition

The elements of Dragon Age: Inquisition I am most interested in are those I don't get to experience, but Lee assures me they are there. He says the game's crafting system is the deepest BioWare has ever created. You don't just craft individual items from raw materials, but actually create different parts of the final product and then combine them. For instance, you craft different parts of a magical staff independently and then put them together. In turn, the items you used to create this staff will not just determine its statistics but its appearance as well. Use one kind of leather over another when crafting a sword hilt, and you will see the difference.

So much of Dragon Age: Inquisition seems tailored to what interests the largest number of potential players, which is no bad way to make a product. I wonder aloud to Lee about the lines that BioWare must draw. Can you make the game you want to make, but also make it one that will appeal to the greatest number of people? Does BioWare lose its creative edge when it worries too much about what sells? "Some studios don't really care about commercial success, so much--their priorities are different," Lee responds. "For us, we want to make a game that is exactly what fans want to see, but we also know there's a ton of people out there who haven't played a Dragon Age game. Understanding that you need to strike a balance between being true to what we want to create, with making it more consumable, making the invitation for more people to get into it. That's an interesting challenge."

I ask if approachability comes at the expense of depth and breadth, and Lee assures me that that is not the case. However, the prologue has been created in a way to keep the extensive Dragon Age lore from overwhelming newcomers. I am not one of those newcomers, of course. I am ready for the series to extend itself into new territory, and hopeful that Inquisition represents an evolution that nonetheless reintroduces the specialness that made Dragon Age: Origins so enjoyable. I leave the demo happy with what I played and excited to dig even more deeply. I've played more fantasy games than I can count, but Inquisition has me excited about yet another one.

Written By

GameSpot senior editor Kevin VanOrd has a cat named Ollie who refuses to play Rock Band because he always gets stuck pla

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Discussion

527 comments
Faith256
Faith256

Looking forward to this game, pity release date is after WOD - WOW, though that's prolly Bliz moving their release date up to get in there first. 

Pros

Entertaining

Region control

New content

Great potential

Cons

Release date

Price

Inconsistencies


Price is a bit steep, am sure they could bring in a standard edition for those who just want the basic package, and still sell more, instead people will lose interest and then sell their copies at reduced prices when they get bored with it.

Inconsistencies - they say your party members act for themselves, so why in the dragon combat cut-scene is the bowman/archer not firing arrows?


Hope


If you played dragon age you may remember the basic questing which allowed you to fortify your keep, find pockets of ore/rock/materials while you were exploring, craft items etc. would be nice if there was something like that too.


Zodiac_sign
Zodiac_sign

I want this game. Price is pretty steep though. Definitely next year, after Wasteland 2, and Pillar of Eternity. I've got my gaming schedule in order now:


Wasteland 2

Pillars of Eternity

Dragon Age: Inquisition

Cyberpunk 2077

Torment: Tides of Numenera


Wished I'd purchased Divinity: Original Sin earlier. But I'm sure I can spare some time to play 4 100 hour games before Cyberpunk 2077 as that and Torment: Tides of Numenera is still a long ways away.

l0ngshot
l0ngshot

Moved on from Baldur's Gate (one of the most iconic RPGs)? Way to go Bioware! /shrug

simsumre
simsumre

Divinity just got a 9 on Gamespot and has been the best selling game on Steam for the past 2 week. No, Bioware, we haven't moved on from Baldur's Gate. YOU have, and it shows.

Gjefflin
Gjefflin

I along with millions of other RPG fans) am a HUGE fan of the Baldur's Gate series and Neverwinter Nights series made by Bioware.  To hear that they've "moved on"  is slightly disheartening.  Those are classics that to this day are still enjoyed and "replayed" by millions of fans.  Both the original series as well as the thousands of mods created for them.  DA: Origins I thought touched upon that magic that made those games so great.  The breadth of story, character development, NPC relationships, diverse races, factions lands and locations.  DA: 2 IMHO was a rushed mess.


I don't know what to expect from this game so I am withholding judgement.  That being said, I am praying that Bioware is planning on getting that magic back in the upcoming DA: I.  I hope they're not just creating an average triple AAA action RPG with a bunch of bells and whistles.....but no soul and no heart.  


....p.s.....i'm looking at YOU EA!!!  

Sacraty
Sacraty

Dear Bioware,


Make it simple. Baldures Gate mechanics where theres a party, theres pause like a DND game so you can strategize every move, every single thing like the BG game on a Diablo 3 graphics or better with locked top angled view.


DA 1 is good because its the closest thing at the time to BG before Divine Divinity Original Sins came out. People hated DA 2 because its like playing an MMO game.


Bring back the old days! BG mechanics or even make a sequel of BG or make a new game from scratch on a Diablo 3 or similar graphics. Make it simple. Its a single player game. Dont make it look like an MMO please.


Most of your fans are into Divine Divinity, BG, DA 1 etc. and not Call of Duty or BF4. Know your fans and we'll stick around.


Reminder; BG mechanics on a diablo 3 like or more polished one graphics. Learn from Divine Divinity Original Sins.

Vatec
Vatec

"Gaming's moved on from Neverwinter Nights, we've moved on from Baldur's Gate."

So, Bioware has "moved on" from two of the greatest games ever released for the PC.

Well, when you move on from the top of a mountain (BG2), the only direction left to go is ... down.

ilayoeli
ilayoeli

Dialogue wheel Bioware?

You lose. again.

Firelo
Firelo

They still want to attract a larger number of players.Like Mass Effect.And so many other series (from other companies).If, even this time, they don 't learn, I will think TWICE OR THRICE again before buying another Bioware game.Don 't build five houses in Akapulko, just get some ARTISTS say what they want to say.That 's the problem with gaming companies, they want to make games a greater number or people will play, just for more cash (targeting only younger ages (close to 20 's or 17 's) and ditch us 35ers.AND.I still suspect the rogue class will be as disappointing as in ANY Bioware game (even Baldur 's Gate).You may as well say you rob us from 60 - 70 euros and be done with it.

mecher3k
mecher3k

Well now I know DA:I will suck balls now.


His statement about baldur's gate is like the crap we heard we before DA2 launch "press a button and something awesome happens."

With Divinity: Original Sin still at the number one spot on Steam, they are just wrong. People want that experience, not the dumb down arcadey experience I'm sure DA:I probably secretly is in the end.



porcupine-fur
porcupine-fur

I can understand people being suspicious after DA2 and ME3. I was disappointed by those games too, by the same things most of you were. I liked them, but they definitely lacked a lot. But suspicion is one thing and being self-righteous is another. You have to gather the facts that are on the display out there. Go on their website, check wiki, go on Bioware social, check out many YouTube bloggers and gamers, listen to their impressions, there are so many sources to choose from. When I look back to the time I preordered DA2 and to the content they showed us before the release then, it should have been quite clear to anyone that this game is going to lack a lot. Facts were there, but after playing Origins, who could have expected anything else? I certainly didn't, most of the people didn't so we weren't looking, we were hyped and ready to save the world again - and that's where the disappointment ultimately came from - we weren't looking and we felt tricked. But no one is to blame for that but us - not Bioware, not EA, only us. EA is a company that is looking for profit, and it's as simple as that. Yes, they are greedy, but that is their job - to earn money - and they rely on us not thinking. You don't want them making money that easy? Use your brain - even if you love something do not let yourself be swayed by easy marketing the kinds of which DA2 profited from. And if you don't want to be tricked, check the facts, wait for the review if nothing else when the game comes out, do what you will, you have the liberty, but please stop spreading hate and that "three colors ending" bull*hit everywhere, stop judging people that are excited for this game by spreading lies. Yes, you can state your opinion, but comments listed below aren't opinions, they are just bitter and lazy copy-paste of comments that appeared after ME3 debacle. And to inform you all, Origins lacked a lot too, ME1 and ME2 also, so remember - none of the games are perfect. If you see something you don't like in the demo, you probably won't in the entire game - they can make everything to suit everyone's taste, but you may like and even love everything else the game has to offer. So take a break.

soulstealer138
soulstealer138

The environments look amazing and beautiful. I'm glad they have a tactical view again as soooo many people loved it from PC, never used it myself but look forward to trying it! The female voice sounds good to me, I just wish they had a variety of voices to choose from. Can't wait to play this!

Nefarious13
Nefarious13

A truly depressing article. Is it possible for a game developer to say all the wrong things? Apparently so. I don't care for Skyrim. I loved Dragon Age. Now I'm buying Dragon Age 3 and getting Skyrim?????? Moving on from Baldur's Gate? Appealing to the masses? Wow.

Bhemont
Bhemont

"Some studios don't really care about commercial success, so much--their priorities are different," Lee responds. "For us, we want to make a game that is exactly what fans want to see"


Wow, I really must be in the minority then, because I REALLY enjoy games like Divinity: Original Sin, which is aimed at people that have been craving for old school RPG style gameplay.  Not saying that Dragon Age: Inquisition will be bad, just that I am a little skeptical when it comes to BioWare because they seem to be aiming to mainstream crowd, and that doesn't bode well with me at all, the game may suffer for it.  Let's hope they deliver, game is promising, but from what I've seen so far it may lead to disappointment. 

clownbabby42
clownbabby42

The combat system looks like the same button-mashing mess DA II was; all style, no substance. Glad to see nothing has changed.


I'm afraid poorly written romance that ends with awkward mannequin dry humping won't be enough to rope me into paying full price for your game, BiowEAr. And because it's on the Frostbite 3 engine, there won't even be mods either. 


Yeah, I'll pass on third-person Skyrim with mediocre dating sim.

bongsyas_23
bongsyas_23

they've moved on from Baldur's Gate?  that's unfortunate

jackzor123
jackzor123

Wasn't interested at all at first... but since E3 this has caught my attention, not enough for a preorder because there are games coming out I prefer at the same time but definitely a christmas game

limakokba
limakokba

I am gonna put my trust on bioware one last time and pre-order a collector edition of DA Inquisition if made available where I live!!

tomatpaburk
tomatpaburk

I hope that everyone who ends up playing DA:I on the PC also buys Pillars of Eternity.

There is no doubt in my mind that Pillars of Eternity will be the better game, game companies should realize that good graphics dont make up for bad gameplay.

fbgbdk4
fbgbdk4

I don't get DA:I in 2014 still have worst graphics than Mass Effect 2.

Majd_Abdulqadir
Majd_Abdulqadir

What open world are they talking about? All I saw in the ~30 minutes of gameplay were corridors leading to arenas leading into more corridors. There was no actual sense of freedom in the whole demo. Hope I'm mistaken regarding the rest of the game world.

HipHopBeats
HipHopBeats

I wish devs would release these demos to the public.

HipHopBeats
HipHopBeats

Inquisition is redemption for Bioware. Especially after the ME 3 ending debacle. I see they are going all out with this one, throwing everything but the kitchen sink into this. Color me impressed.

longestsprout
longestsprout

@Majd_Abdulqadir Because it's not like skyrim had dungeons? Look up more footage and you'll find your open spaces, if that's your thing.

EcksTheory
EcksTheory

Don't be silly. If they did that you'd see just how crap the game was before laying down any money.

udubdawgz1
udubdawgz1

@HipHopBeats i truly will never understand people who label a game bad or a "debacle" just because of how it ends.


games aren't movies.  they are about gameplay.


the ending of a game doesn't make it a "debacle."  now, i'm not saying the gameplay and ending weren't a debacle and i might be mis-applying your comment, but, we all know that there are many people who do exactly what i'm describing.


so, you think the ending of me3 was bad.  ok.  but, how was the gameplay?

steveoblabla
steveoblabla

@porcupine-fur 
Oh i forgot to mention :

Please try to not use hardcoded key bindings please !
Since for me , enjoying a game , the most important is :
GOOD CONTROLS :)

For example :

I like to use ARROW KEYS to move with my Char around ...
Not everybody does , but many yes.
I just hate games you can only use WASD to move :/

I like when i can BIND Every key on my KeyBoard & Mouse as i want it to be and if possible Multiple Bindings.


lilflipp
lilflipp

@Darkhol0w @tomatpaburk Just got Divinity Original Sin. That game is epic. Been playing it with a friend.

You know when you play a few games, you kind of end up knowing what to expect, what is possible what isn't in a game. Well this game was difficult because I had the feeling that I knew what was possible so I didn't attempt crazy strategies. It's a really fun game that doesn't hold your hand.

fbgbdk4
fbgbdk4

@porcupine-fur @fbgbdk4


Maybe you could go to a doctor and check your mind. Better engine does not always equals better visuals. And even so this is a subjective matter.


To me the characters are still way cartoony and stylized compared with Mass Effect art style.


If ME4 keeps the same style of ME2&3, you can take it easy on your vision and compare DAI and ME4 on the same engine (Frostbite). It will be easier for you.

1stormbringer77
1stormbringer77

@udubdawgz1 @HipHopBeats Yeah,the ending,even after the DLC to try & fix it was not a good one. But the game play was no doubt great for that game! Now,the whole story was good,minus the child dream putting way too much time in it,the game was great for me.Complain all you want about whatever turned you off about it,but with the endings(Paragon,Renegade,50/50,doing Synthesis or Survival) it was still a great game with good combat and awas a lot of fun to play for me.And here I am playing it AGAIN with my PS3 instead of my XBOX360! I can't help it,I love the trilogy!

tomatpaburk
tomatpaburk

@udubdawgz1 @HipHopBeats Gameplay in ME3 was mediocre at best. AS far as the ending goes, compared to ME2's ending which was great, ME3 was indeed a debacle

porcupine-fur
porcupine-fur

Of course it will have a different style, Dragon age and Mass effect are very different games. And did I mention anywhere that visual are better purely because of the game engine? No, that is your faulty presumption. Even ME3 had more polished visuals than ME2 and still the bodies looked like plastic. ME2 is very dear to me, but you can't deny facts. Go on youtube and check dragon age channel, they uploaded two part e3 demo. Turn on full hd and you will see. And still keep in mind that they are showing alpha version and that youtube always downgrades quality.

lilflipp
lilflipp

@tomatpaburk @udubdawgz1 @HipHopBeats What ME3 was great throughout the game. The end was a disappointing because it was the end of not just a game, but a story, a saga that had been going on for years and people were waiting for the conclusion.


But the gameplay was not mediocre. I replayed that game so many times, had so many different builds. The game was great, the ending was bad.

fbgbdk4
fbgbdk4

@porcupine-fur If you put "objective" and "visuals" together, the only correct presumption is you're talking about more details, shadows, radiosity, etc, which are consequences of the engine. But all this can't help if the characters are still cartoony if compared with common human proportions. Now if you think the first are more important than the second, it's just your opinion. 

1stormbringer77
1stormbringer77

@greenballer @1stormbringer77 @udubdawgz1 @HipHopBeats WRONG! I DID play with the dlcs & the patchwork ending they put out & I'm STILL not exactly happy about it.They did give us some closure but it still didn't end it well for me & many others.But I'm happy for you if you feel it's good enough for you.

greenballer
greenballer

@lilflipp @tomatpaburk @udubdawgz1 @HipHopBeats  ME3 was great until the ending. DA:I gameplay wise looks slighty better then 2. Environment wise looks pretty good. I will say though if this and the witcher 3 came out on the same day and only 1 could get my money id choose the witcher. But that's not the case and this looks decent enough to pick up on launch.

1stormbringer77
1stormbringer77

@greenballer @1stormbringer77 @udubdawgz1 @HipHopBeats 10-4 greenballer! Had they given just a bit more time by extending the release and let them finish it well, it would DEFINITELY have had a much better ending. But I still love the game, even with the way it ended. I'll always consider the Mass Effect Trilogy to be my favorite of all time, even if they put out another great Mass Effect Trilogy (or more,if they put their minds to it).