E3 2014: Dragon Age: Inquisition Overcomes the Many Problems of Its Predecessor

Between a dragon and a hard place.

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Dragon Age: Inquisition makes me question my own judgment. I was so taken by BioWare's half-hour presentation that I would have pre-ordered the game without a second thought, and yet there's a nagging feeling of doubt nestled in the back of my mind. Dragon Age 2 was a massive disappointment. Is it possible that BioWare has learned its lesson so completely that it can regain the trust it lost? Or is it going to pull the rug out from under us once again? Well, I'm going to throw caution to the wind. Inquisition is exactly what I want in an expansive role-playing game. An inviting world populated by a diverse cast of characters, tactical combat that melds action with strategy, and gorgeous visual design that leaves the dull days of Origins far behind us. If it turns out to be another dud, then there's no shame in being fooled by the master.

Bears are a finite resource. As you venture through the inviting world in Inquisition, the wildlife rebels against your presence. To you and I, a bear would be a formidable enemy. If you're a rogue accompanied by a mage, an archer, and a warrior, though, that poor bear is going to see his furry parents is ursine heaven. Of course, successfully felling that cuddly beast nets you a pelt, which make for great clothes if you don't mind the smell of death wafting around you. However, your mark is felt in Inquisition. Go hunting too often and the animal population will dwindle. Introducing environmental conservation in this mystical world gives permanence to your actions. What kind of inquisitor will you be? And how will you sleep at night?

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Permanence is a major theme in Inquisition. Your choices matter in ways that make the world seem lived in, that things would continue onward even if you weren't sticking your fingers in the pot. The inquisition that you're a part of move in to territories you've conquered, erecting flags and making their presence felt. Your companions are affected not just by what you say, but what you do as well. If you treat people like garbage, you're going to wind up one stinky jerk. Life lessons from a video game, who knew? Of course, I didn't get to see that permanence take form in the presentation. But considering BioWare's history of creating believable relationships between characters, I have little doubt that will remain true in Inquisition as well. It's other elements that make me a little more wary.

Take, for instance, how amazing the world looks. Call it cliche if you must, but the scene where a woman walks through a wheat field dragging her hand across the crops? That's just breathtaking. And every place that the developer ventured down had a similarly enticing style. In one area, rogue mages had set fire to a village, and though I should have been considering with the welfare of the people, I instead marveled at the flaming, crumbling walls all around. Later on, inside a torture chamber (don't ask), there was such detail on the walls and surfaces that it looked as though it had been lived in, or at least dirty business was conducted there. Inquisition is one of those games that makes me happy that I'm currently upgrading my computer as I want nothing more than to stare at its sights. Still, the thought of fighting through so many similar-looking places in Dragon Age 2 is hard to forget. It seems like Inquisition has solved that problem, but I won't know for a couple more months.

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And then there's the combat. This has always been a weak spot for me in Western RPGs. I must have strange tastes, because while others were enamored by "fus ro dah"ing in Skyrim, unleashing bionic hell in Mass Effect, or meditating like a madman in Witcher 2, I would finish as quickly as possible so I could get back to the parts I cared about. But Dragon Age: Origins was one of the few outliers. More tactics game than RPG, it required careful planning to overcome every foe you encountered. This kept me riveted in each new showdown, although its high difficulty could be frustrating when I wanted to know the next story point. This was a far cry from its sequel in which mashing A was enough to progress. There has to be a happy medium.

Well, Inquisition may have struck that balance. For those who love destructive chaos, throwing your weight around looks to be a viable strategy against weaker enemies. And once the medieval poop hits the wind-powered fan, you need to use a top-down camera to plan your attacks with precision. Not only can you direct where your mage stands or what tactics your rogue should take, but you can inhabit each member of your party midfight. So pound away at a dragon's leg from up close, and than switch to your archer to finish it with an arrow strike. I hope the combat isn't too button mashy, but from what little I saw, it looks to be strategic enough so you can't just tap away without any thought.

Dragon Age: Inquisition is in an interesting position. I so want to believe that what I saw was real, but I can't throw all my doubt away. Why did everything look so scripted? And how come it wasn't playable? I don't know the answer to those questions, but I can fully endorse what I saw. I know that I'm now looking forward to its release in October, and though there's a chance I'm going to get your hopes up for nothing, I don't think I will. Inquisition looks like a game worthy of its Dragon Age heritage, and might kill the lingering stench of the second entry completely.

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