Crestwood is under attack – and the player is to blame. Cast as the Inquisitor, head of an order dedicated to uncovering the cause of a fresh batch of trouble in Ferelden, we have established a keep in the beautiful rolling countryside around the small, rural village. This has attracted the attention of the puritanical Red Templars, one of two warring factions (the other being the Mages) whose differences provide the polarised moral and philosophical positions from which, we imagine, many of Inquisition’s major decisions will emerge.
For now, though, starker, more immediate choices have been forced upon us. The Red Templars have only attacked Crestwood to divert the Inquisition’s forces from the keep, and have already cut down a scout team sent out to aid the hamlet. So, do you send more men to protect Crestwood? Recall everyone to the keep, leaving the wounded behind? Or do you leave some men to defend your wounded soldiers? “What we’re asking you,” producer Cameron Lee explains, “is what kind of leader do you want to be?”
Meanwhile, BioWare has been asking itself what kind of game it wants to make. Inquisition might be a sequel, but not to the game you’d expect. The budget-constricted, single-character-focused misfire that was Dragon Age 2 has been forgotten, it seems, and BioWare is instead crafting a game that – right down to that subtitle – serves more as a sequel to Dragon Age: Origins than its immediate predecessor.
You can choose between character races once again (as well the standard Human, Elf, Dwarf triumvirate, Dragon Age’s horned Qunari are playable for the first time) and the top-down, PC-friendly tactical view has been restored to combat, allowing you to freeze time, queue instructions and plan complex manoeuvres from a bird’s-eye view of the battlefield. Whatever you made of Dragon Age 2’s more focused story, it restricted choices in a series built around them.
In this first look at BioWare’s next-gen RPG, we choose to leave both the wounded soldiers and the village behind, much to the consternation of our party members. It’s a pragmatic decision, motivated by a desire to defend the keep and maintain control of the region, but as we crest a hillside and see Templars razing Crestwood to the ground, you could hardly call it the right one.
We can’t stop to aid Crestwood because we’re in a hurry: Inquisition’s maps are sprawling and expansive, thanks to DICE’s Frostbite engine, and the “medium-sized” area we’re currently viewing takes at least 15 minutes to cross on foot. Along the way we see another advantage of using Frostbite: destructibility. We spy some of the longboats the Templars have been using to cut short their journey to the keep and, with the aid of a few firebombs, torch the lot.
Fantasy worlds can often feel like static, sterile (if gaudily themed) arenas for numbers-based contact, so this physicality is intriguing, and should dovetail effectively with the tactical view, which gives players time to properly scrutinise the battlefield.
At one point a battle is swiftly ended when the player orders a party member to send a jolt of icy magic into the foundations of the rickety structure some archers are perched on.
It’s a return to the potential of the first game, then, with the tech to realise it, a strong theme of leadership, and a commitment to showing the consequences of choices. With the battle done, and the Inquisition keep saved, we head wearily back to the village of Crestwood, only to find nothing but corpses and scorched earth when we get there.