Yesterday when I strolled onto the show floor of PAX Prime 2014 and picked up an Xbox One controller to play Dragon Age: Inquisition's new multiplayer mode, I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. I knew this was BioWare's attempt to take some of the co-op ideas it toyed around with on Mass Effect 3 and build on them in the fantasy setting of the company's other popular role-playing franchise.
The big difference, of course, is that there are no single-player ramifications for what you achieve in multiplayer, no galactic readiness or anything like that. Multiplayer in Dragon Age: Inquisition, I knew, was its own separate adventure. A bit of four-player questing through dungeons filled with enemies where loot and class-based co-operating is very much a focus.
Here's what else I found out after actually playing the thing.
It's pretty fast-paced
The multiplayer campaigns in Dragon Age: Inquisition are made up of levels where the actual rooms you explore are all hand-made by level designers, but the larger sequencing of these areas is randomized. But no matter how those arrangements shake out, one thing seems pretty consistent: you encounter a lot of baddies in a lot of places.
It leads to a quick sense of pacing, where you know there's always something waiting for you around the next corner. You can take a little time to breathe and collect yourself after you clear out a room, and there are some hidden areas that you can find by exploiting cracks in the walls, but generally speaking you aren't doing a lot of sightseeing here. It's definitely something that encourages you and your team to keep it moving and go to town on as many enemies as you can.
It's tough to be a complete jerk
When one player smashes a vase filled with gold or opens up a glimmering treasure chest, every other player on the team will instantly receive their share of the loot. So don't go thinking that you can just plow through each level expecting to bogart all the gold from your teammates. Not that I would ever do that. No, sir. Never!
I hope every class is as interesting as the Reaver
I didn't get to pick my class before playing, but that might have been for the best. I ended up going with a tough lady wielding a massive battle axe known as the Reaver. What makes her fun is that the lower her health is, the more damage she's capable of dishing out. So it creates this very high-risk, high-reward situation where you're encouraged to dance along the razor's edge, just on the brink of death without completely going over.
Her abilities give her some flexibility in these situations, of course. One of those is called devour, and it essentially lets her syphon health from nearby enemies when things get a little too dangerous. That comes in handy considering that each player only gets two health potions to start out with, but of course it comes with the drawback of lower attack stats. Add in her massive, sweeping heavy attack that lands with a devastating thud and this class offers a nice balance of rewarding moment-to-combat combat and enough strategy to make it feel like you're not engaged in a fantasy turkey shoot.
It's just plain fun
I don't know how much longevity Dragon Age: Inquisition's multiplayer will have, or how rewarding the crafting and loot systems will be, or whether playing through its various environments will eventually feel repetitive. But one thing I can say after a little bit of hands-on time is that it's just fun. The combat feels good, the visual effects add a nice sense of atmosphere, and the pacing keeps things flowing. Will there be enough to the multiplayer to pull me away from the allure of exploring a big open world with all its storytelling and characters? Maybe, maybe not. But it certainly makes a good first impression.See more coverage of PAX 2014