The entire village has shown up to greet me, the closer of the rift, the saviour who slept in their very own town. They stand to attention, armoured men and women forming an honour guard leading me to my next destination. The grandeur is almost overwhelming, a transformative experience from how I was being treated just an hour ago. That's the power of storytelling in videogames -- you can go from prisoner to messiah in no time at all.
Starting the game as a prisoner is probably no accident. The connection to The Elder Scrolls, Bethesda's seminal open-world RPG, is deliberate, because after you get through this early trial Dragon Age: Inquisition becomes an open-world RPG. So you start the game as a prisoner in the hands of characters fans will already know and love, and it's not long before you prove yourself to those characters.
Almost immediately I get the feeling like Dragon Age: Inquisition is made to be played with a controller in hand. Attacking demons doesn't take any real precision -- as long as you're pointing in the general direction of your enemy when you click attack or fire off a spell you'll auto-lock on and kill them. When you switch to tactical view, time pauses and you move the view about as if you're placing a marker on the map, not pointing and clicking on enemies. So while you move with WASD and you can jump with the spacebar, the mouse feels semi-superfluous -- more viewing device than aiming system.
Of course, Dragon Age: Inquisition isn't really about quick reflexes or pinpoint accurate clicking -- there are no headshots here -- so it's not exactly a deal breaker. As PC Gamers use long HDMI cords or programs like Steam's In Home Streaming (which will work with Origin games, after some effort) to move to their couches, the keyboard and mouse control system can be relegated behind other options. I don't unplug my wired Xbox 360 controller any more -- it's a permanent peripheral now, just like the keyboard and mouse.
The combat is mildly challenging, with some aggro and priority management elements involved. The enemies we were fighting were the very first things you fight in the game, however, so I wasn't expecting a lot. On harder difficulties in later areas the tactical party screen will become a necessity, but for what we were playing it provided convenience more than anything else.
Dragon Age: Inquisition isn't supposed to be challenging in that manner, anyway. It's not Dark Souls, you're not testing your might against the hollows and Great Souls. Dragon Age: Inquisition is about the story -- one you can manipulate as you move along. During the prologue the characters you encounter are invariably hostile towards you, but they warm to you as conversations progress. It's a feeling out period for the game, and once you stabilise the great rift -- the sequence which ends the prologue -- they'll be almost entirely on your side as they declare you "The Inquisitor". That doesn't mean you can't piss them off -- the dialogue wheel BioWare games are known for returns, and I wasted no time annoying some companions to please others.
Eventually I made it to the Great Rift, stabilised it and I woke in a small hut. Now that the world knows I can close rifts, I'm heralded as something special, and I'm about to become the leader of the mighty Inquisition. No wonder people line the streets, no wonder they whisper as I approach.
I wonder what they must think then when I jump/hop my way down their procession, find a gap in the magnificent honour guard and then I jump over a fence and run off into the hills. I didn't think about it at the time, but later I couldn't help but imagine the diary entries. "The marked one woke today, and we all went out to see her. She never stopped jumping. She jumped out of her home, hopped her way over to Benjen's house, opened the door -- everyone was just sort of standing there and waiting, mind you -- and jumped her way through it. Then like some sort of Jiangshi she hopped her way down through our guards -- and they'd clearly put on their dress armour for the event -- hopped over a fence and just sort of left? Nobody knew what to do. She's jump back near the town intermittently, so we just sort of stood there until she made her way to the bloody church. Why can't we ever have a saviour who isn't a lunatic?"
The Creative Director of the game, Mike Laidlaw, seemed only moderately amused at my Gummi Bears impression, and I asked him what he thought,
"We put that in the game knowing that if it was there, someone would do that. If that's how you have fun, that's cool. You know, like, I'm not the guy who stacks cabbages in Skyrim, but if that's what you do that's what you do. So I tend to look at it as -- sure, it's maybe undercutting some of the gravitas, but for some people that gravitas would be off putting unless they could release it. So it's like the dude with the bright blue eyeshadow or whatever weird thing, it's just... hey man, that's your character, if you're comfortable with it rock on.
I think as an RPG developer you get comfortable with that, because there's always a guy sending you emails saying 'Hey so I'm having trouble playing the game with noone in my party and no armour?' and you react with 'yeah, yeah, well you're going to, but you're doing it so carry on, sir!' I think that's part of it, you get a thick skin. You can't be too precious about moments that are demonstrating that a player is engaged in a different way [with your game]. If you were really, really, really bothered with it I guess you could take jumping away, but what do you lose there?"
After enough time had passed I made my way to my actual destination, but not before I'd explored everything. Even though I'm not supposed to drift off out of the village, and despite the fact that they walled in the area surrounding said village using mountains, there is still loot to find if you're inquisitive and you explore the world. I was worried that years of creating very tightly scripted, linear RPGs would hurt Dragon Age: Inquisition's transition to open world, but it seems like they know what they're doing. After I become the Inquisitor this is even more apparent. The open world segment of the game finally begins, and I immediately ignore my destination to see what else is on offer. After exploring a cave and getting some treasure, I collide with some level 10 demons and I get thoroughly destroyed. It's embarrassing, but it feels awesome to know that those demons are waiting there for me to return to when I'm ready.
And so ended my hands-on with Dragon Age: Inquisition. In BioWare games the story you tell is related to the choices you make in the dialogue, while in The Elder Scrolls games the stories you tell are about the choices you make in the game -- it looks like Dragon Age: Inquisition will have a lot of the first, and a little bit of the second.
Joab "Joaby" Gilroy is a huge fan of sports games, racing games, first-person shooters and 4X strategy games. He's awful at fighting and real-time strategy games although he'd love to get better. He thinks the Halo universe is hollow and that Arkham City was the real game of the year in 2011 and that AusGamers' managing editor Stephen Farrelly only gave Skyrim the nod because he is a filthy Marvel fan. His top three games of all time are (in no particular order) Deus Ex, GTA: Vice City and DayZ.
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