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Updated: Hands-On at Gamescom by Stuart AndrewsHere’s the good news about Dragon Age: Inquisition. Even from a quick thirty-minute jaunt at Gamescom 2014 it’s clear that this is a big improvement on the constrained and repetitive Dragon Age 2, and a lot closer to what people really want from a Dragon Age – the depth of a Knights of the Old Republic allied to the looks and action-oriented style of a Mass Effect. This is more than just the old Dragon Age rebuilt in the Frostbite engine. It's a fundamentally better game.
Playing as a female Inquisitor, the Gamescom demo saw us thrown with our party into the Fallow Mire, a vast stretch of misty swampland, where we’re on the search for an inquisition patrol being held by elements of the Avvar tribe. Roaming along pathways and boardwalks, through narrow gulleys and the mire, we tackled undead, monster lizards and demons from the Fade, not to mention hidden villages full of acolytes out for blood.
Everything you want from a Bioware game is here. A party of squabbling allies? Sure. Dialogue choices that define your character and impress or alienate your chums? Check. Large areas to explore and side-quests to pursue? Of course. Journals to read for those obsessed with background lore? Definitely. And those dubious softcore sex scenes which provide the true motivation for half the players? We’re not sure, but we’d guess they’re in here somewhere.
What there definitely is is an awful lot of combat. Our Inquisitor came equipped with a whopper of a two-handed swords, perfect for dropping weaker enemies to ground, but a bit slow and cumbersome in use. Squeezing and holding the right trigger keeps it swinging, while the Y button dishes out a fearsome overhead chop. The right bumper dishes out a quickfire short-range attack, while the left bumper calls up your quickwheel, so you can rapidly use items or set orders.
The left trigger, meanwhile, acts as a shift, giving your face buttons secondary uses like – in the Inquisitor’s case – a whirlwind swipe or knockout blow. And while your party members are smart enough to take car of their own health and targets, you can still take manual control, either pressing the D-pad up and down to switch between them, or pressing the Select button to pause the action and fix orders from a top-down view.
It’s no Dark Souls, but you can’t help wondering if Bioware has been looking at From Software’s dark fantasy and taking notes. There’s a bit more blocking and evading to be done, and we found it surprisingly easy to become overwhelmed by monsters in numbers; a few health vials were wasted here and there. Overall, though, it feels like Bioware has found a good balance between the accessibility of a hack-and-slash action RPG and the demands of more challenge-focused players. After all, some players want the RPG elements and the story, not to be caught in some block-and-counter nightmare.
On our quest to rescue our Inquisition brethren – bad news for them: we ran out of time – we encountered a series of strange monoliths which pierce the veil between the physical world and the scary Fade. These needed activating by a handy mage, resulting in several waves of creeps and demons to be defeated. Ditto for another sub-quest, where a wandering Avvar warrior asks for your help in closing down rifts. It’s safe to say that Inquisition is a pretty combat-heavy game.
Visually, it’s much, much better than Dragon Age 2, with some impressively detailed scenery, some nice mist and weather effects and some fantastic textural detail on the characters and their costumes. The Frostbite engine clearly does ‘wet through’ very well, not to mention soggy, shiny and glistening in the twilight. However, Bioware’s facial animation systems don’t appear to have come on much since Mass Effect 3.
The marshland settings we encountered were suitably creepy, with corpses rising from the waters to attack, though similar areas in From Software’s Bloodborne had Dragon Age beaten on the chilling atmosphere front. In truth, Inquisition isn’t a next-gen benchmark setter, and we wondered if our demo sowed off Inquisition at its best. After all, there’s only so much you can do with a misty marsh.
And that’s not all we don’t know after just half an hour. We have no idea how the storytelling pans out, or whether Bioware has got its characters and relationships in order. The map we played on was huge, with plenty to explore, but we understand now that it’s not a completely free roaming adventure, though each of the zones you’re taken through will offer several different routes and regions to explore. Certainly, we don’t expect to see a repeat of the ‘same old warehouse’ syndrome that blighted Dragon Age 2.
Overall, it’s hard not to feel excited about Inquisition. It has the familiar feel of classic Bioware and some fun combat mechanics. It looks great, plays smoothly and appears to have plenty of depth. You might say that there aren’t many big surprises, but only two other developers do big, meaty, epic, character-driven fantasy like this, and neither has a game coming out n 2014. With the last two Dragon Age game’s Bioware has missed the target. With this one, it might finally hit dead-centre.
Read more: Best Xbox One games
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