Why previewing the Final Hours of Dragon Age: Inquisition has me anticipating other people’s reviews

Dragon-Age-Inquisition-A week ago, Electronic Arts invited a handful of press to play Dragon Age: Inquisition. It goes without saying that Gaming Age was there, with about five hours of playtime in the opening of its campaign available to myself and other press. I am not, however, a person who has any understanding of the Dragon Age games outside of the fact that they’re made by the same company who developed the Mass Effect games — of which I played the first two.

Scratch that, actually, as I did play about 15 minutes of Dragon Age: Origins, which I quickly tabled to return to at some undecided point in the future. I forget what came up. It was a busy day. I had to wash my cat. I didn’t like the game. I did, however, like a different fantasy game made with Bioware’s Aurora engine, by the name of The Witcher. Maybe it was unfair of life to deal me that card before Dragon Age, considering that I feel spoiled on it. After all, it left me cold for Dragon Age 2 when that game released — cementing a reality that I’m a person who chooses sides between the two instead of enjoying both.

So anyway, I sat down at a PC around about 9AM to play this new Dragon Age game. Maybe with its new engine and the experience of two AAA games under the team’s belt, there were some refinements to make the series worth revisiting. Maybe I’d like the writing more, or find the gameplay engaging. It certainly has a facelift, at the very least, over the prior games. Maybe this would be a turning point, or more specifically, an entry point for someone standing on the sidelines while a massive audience awaits the next entry in their Western RPG franchise.


After about 10 minutes in the character creation system, which has a decent amount of options, I decided to move on. The amount of flexibility in character faces is restrained, preventing monstrosities and likely supporting the game’s ability to animate custom faces. I wouldn’t have a frame of reference for how crazy things had gotten before, but I’m sure players will be able to achieve some satisfaction in creating their person in DA: Inquisition.

Then again, I don’t have a frame of reference for much at all as to what I should expect. I’m okay with not doing my homework, with having a unique experience in previewing the third game in a series, with being largely ignorant to the lore and prior stories. I’m okay with this because the game should be expecting exactly that from a portion of players, and I may be one of the few people with extensive time on this game with that perspective. If you want impressions from the guy who sunk 200 hours into each Dragon Age game before this, you’ll want to go somewhere else if you haven’t already.

Once I made my cool devil person, it was time to kick off the story — this time centered around rifts being opened, allowing evil demons to be generally unpleasant and wreck up the place. Your character will naturally have the ability to close these rifts and save the day, which isn’t a gripping scenario for me. I’m not sure what to expect with game writing, but for the game to be as committed as it was to this typical plot has me a little stunned that it could remain this way throughout its entirety. That could be the Dragon Age way, though, to have the most basic good vs. evil plot featuring you, the chosen hero, as a highly flexible backdrop for any main and side quests that give reason to kill monsters or seek out lost journals. I don’t know how deep the main plot intends to get, but it wasn’t winning me over in its first few hours. Rather, I cared more about leveling up my character and getting to see cool magic attacks.

Part of me suspects that Dragon Age is supposed to be a game about role playing. Not just sarcastically, but in a true sense of creating not only your own character, but choosing sidequests and story missions that define and identify who that character is supposed to be. I think my impression has always been that Dragon Age games are appealing based on the amount of care that a player can invest into their save file, in order to forge their own version of the game. My hope is that the main campaign’s boring story is merely the groundwork for constructing the personality which a player injects simply by playing and making their own decisions.


Five hours doesn’t ever give me any hints that this could happen in Dragon Age: Inquisition. I’m told that players could easily rack up 150+ hours by scouring the game for sidequests and trinkets, but that the main campaign clocks in at (the fastest clear) of about 13 hours by folks on the QA team. That will probably round up to 15-18+ hours by my estimation, but the campaign made me feel claustrophobic, as if I may as well be playing a linear game. I know that at times it asked me whether I wanted to go up a ladder or through a keep or something, but I have no idea what those consequences will reveal later in the game, if they present an outcome at all. No part of what I played left me with an impression that I was establishing myself in the world, and for that I’m unclear on what I should be looking forward to if the writing isn’t improved by the game being shaped around me.

This may be a consequence of not knowing things like who Cassandra is, or whether the rifts opening are a new aspect of the Dragon Age universe. Maybe with some perspective, I’d be weighing my expectations for how the game could potentially play out.

Without a story I care about, the resulting appeal is in the gameplay, which feels like an odd mix of MMO and third person action. Granted, I played on PC and had a more flexible suite of play styles to use, but ultimately I felt overwhelmed with trying to use the strategic combat in parallel to running around in third person, and then couldn’t decide on one or the other. I’ve always read that Dragon Age: Origins was better on PC because it could be played with this tactical view, but it wasn’t working for me in the least. Finally, after nothing felt totally comfortable, I found myself with an Xbox One controller to sort out if that was more or less appropriate for what Bioware is trying to pull off.

It was what I settled on in the end. Controls handled as a third person game would be expected, with a twist in how spells are mapped to the face buttons. Where the keyboard and mouse layout finds spells on numbered keys, the Xbox One controller allows a rotation between a subset of spells by holding down a trigger to access 8 abilities. The accessibility is well translated between control schemes, along with the strategic play being available on a controller.


Even now, I know I didn’t necessarily have a handle on combat, in part due to the overwhelming option of being able to switch between any party member. Should I be sticking to the main character in this game, or play the dwarf and watch from afar? Is that part of the flexible nature of Dragon Age?

Switching between characters only becomes truly relevant when they go down and you’ll need to manually revive those party members with whoever’s left over. Besides that, I was still busy enough with wrapping my head around the combat and mastering the few skills on hand for my own character to be bothered with using another party member’s shields at the right time.

What did stick out, and still remains with me at this time, is the flexibility of Dragon Age: Inquisition as a game. There are options for almost everything. Nothing is forced on players, and it’s likely possible that you’ll get as much out of this game as you put into it. People like me can stick with their main character with a controller, probably never trying another class in the whole playthrough, whereas a veteran to the series can micromanage every aspect of upgrading and combat. Me, I’ll just press X to automatically distribute skills to the party members I’m not paying attention to. They’ll be replaced later by someone else, I expect.

But that’s just how I intend to spend my time with this game. After all, five hours is only a little bit of time in a really large game. There’s still a lot to talk about, and plenty of it has nothing to do with my personal history with Dragon Age. There’s a new engine, for instance, as the game is powered by Frostbite 3. I’m not sure I like it, but overall Dragon Age: Inquisition is a mixed bag for looks. Some of the environments are gorgeous, and then the characters somehow look like they’ve retained Aurora engine attributes. Hair, for instance, looks really out of place, but then a sunset will pop with shadows falling onto grassy knolls and rocky cliff faces.

Conversation trees seem to have found themselves somewhere between Mass Effect’s dialog wheel and the desire to be more than that. I don’t envy the folks in charge of an accessible fantasy series, as every decision has to be made towards balancing a game on the fine line of drawing in new customers without alienating fans of the series. The conversation trees seem to stuggle most with the battle of reflecting player identify without being oover complicated This rounds back to the writing, which for me comes off as safe, in order to accommodate all types. Just as the character creation system is limited in ways that benefit the game on a grand scale, interactions with NPCs left me with the impression that this is a game defined by combat rather than consequence, as that was the most immediate feedback I was registering. Adding an ability to my character feels important, and it’s immediate. Whether I helped a woman recover her dead husband’s wedding ring doesn’t hint as to what impact I’m having on the world.


It’s tough to figure out what else Dragon Age: Inquisition holds for players, even based on five hours of gameplay. If the campaign is roughly three to four times that length on a first playthrough, then there could be a lot more going on for core story. Combat felt good, once I acclimated to a control scheme, although I’m not sure if it will ever branch out from the flow of using rifts as context-sensitive traps to weaken and halt enemy spawns. I found most of my time spent in Dragon Age was finding rifts to close while occasionally establishing camps for quick travel. It felt less like an RPG in the beginning, but I’d really like to know if that changes for folks. I’d really like to see how the series’ faithful respond to this game, since it came across as an above average third-parson action game modeled a bit like an offline MMORPG.

The amount of Dragon Age: Inquisition that reviewers and players alike will experience is equal to the time and effort they put into it. After a morning with it, I wasn’t wowed. Should a game as potentially big as this be wowing me within five hours? Is that too much to ask? Did it wow others who may be more familiar with the games? It could be a slow burn, or it could be a turn off. Considering that there are more or less 200 hours of game to wrench out of this, those who stick to the main campaign are doing as much as someone who buys, say Call of Duty, for the single player portion and never submerse themselves into it’s multiplayer side.

For crying out loud, there’s multiplayer in Dragon Age: Inquisition, as well. As if they couldn’t give players more reasons to let it consume them as a massive title. Due to the infrastructure at the event, we were denied an opportunity to play any multiplayer, but the fact is that it’s there on the disc. Is more content a recipe for success. though? Who knows? After talking with some of the dev team, they seem hopeful that past mistakes are under correction, and that new decisions are a hopeful slam dunk.

I’m glad not to be reviewing Dragon Age: Inquisition, as I passed it on to someone better suited on our staff. I wouldn’t know what to invest for an accurate sampling of what it has to offer. If it was up to me, I’d be spending months scouring the game just to be sure I hadn’t missed anything. Instead, I’m interested in seeing what others think. I want to know how it stands up to its predecessors, and what differences separate it from them besides the obvious leap in technology. I’m interested in whether reviewers give it a minimum of 20 or so hours for the story, or if they try and eat the whole buffet.

For me, I was left neither impressed nor disappointed, but left in almost the same state I arrive: mostly curious as to what the appeal is. Sure, I’m disappointed with the writing, and don’t care for the art style, but the potential for customizing my party and character for combat hold some hope for the series. I’m not sure if that’s the correct way to look at Dragon Age, but it’s the best light I could cast on it for myself. I guess I’m a little wiser with having previewed it, but if there’s one thing I did learn, it’s that I can’t wait to see what I’m supposed to be missing out on once reviews start to hit.