Character creation is a fairly elaborate affair allowing for a fairly broad range of customization options, everything from forehead slope to nostril flare is able to be controlled but the body shape is not. Your height, weight and all the rest of your character are controlled in game but this still gives you a lot of free agency on the look of your character so if you want a no-chin inbred noble, well that can happen. A returning option (which was missing from Dragon Age II) is the ability to select different races! Back are the dwarf, city elf and country elf options but also for the first time we get a chance to play a Qunari, the horned race of giants from the north! For this test I decided to create a female Qunari mage. Given the nature of the treatment of mages in Qunari society this was a tal’vahsoth (an exile from the Qun) and the backstory to your character makes that clear. The amount of control you have in creating your character is delightful since you’ll be spending the next upwards of two hundred hours playing with them! (You did not read that wrong reviewers who got their hands on the full game are reporting experiences of up to 200 hours or more of game play BEFORE DLC hits the market hence there will probably be a bit of a delay before our full review.)
Established in the new hierarchy of the Inquisition you need to go about setting up supply chains, building your power base and establishing your order as an alternative to the fractured Chantry, the renegade Templars and the rogue and rebel Mages (two distinct groups). The fade has burst through the veil and it is up to you to close it again. Combat itself is fast and free, there are two modes of combat both equally usable on the Xbox One. The first is a third person tactical mode. Think of it like Skyrim’s pulled back a little from the character letting you target and run powers fairly easily. You can have two sets of four active powers at a time. Left trigger will swap between your two power sets and your face and shoulder buttons trigger them. Atop of this you have a “Tactical” view which will stop time, pull back to a top down view and let you map out your character actions. This will be familiar to old school players. You can then run time forward by holding the trigger thus allowing a more tactical experience many were complaining about missing from Dragon Age: Origins.
After about an hour I was able to unlock the first region and begin exploring with my party establishing forward operation bases and winning the “hearts and minds” of the people, this game takes a big page from modern military doctrine. You are not just a force sweeping across Ferelden conquering those in your path, you are the leader of a vast military organization. From your war table you will see more familiar faces including Lilliana (the head of the spy network for the Chantry and now the Inquisition… good to see her move up in the world) and Cullen from Dragon Age II trying to make up for being so misguided in the past. From your war table you can use “power” to send your agents on mini-missions. These will unlock resources, decrease the difficulty of operating in regions and bring back tools that can be useful to your success.
Alongside this I was able to converse with people using the now familiar Bioware Dialogue wheel and go out in to the forest and gather resources including herbs, magical reagents and special materials to upgrade weapons, brew potions, and forge new and unique weapons based on schematics found on my adventures or recovered by my agents completing missions. Much of the content was still hidden behind a lock but in my six hours there was still plenty to do when I ran out of time. The starting area was an area near Redcliffe (the setting of a major plot point from Dragon Age: Origins) that is besieged by Templar run amok and Magi who have used the opportunity presented by the rebellion to simply turn apostate. You are tasked with bringing both groups in line but at the same time also dealing with cultists who have set to worshiping the rifts that are now appearing, regular bandits who are stalking the roads as well as mysterious other forces and demons from the fade. In six hours I barely scratched the starting area let alone completed it!
Your progress as a character is measured using experience; each character has their own unique XP track and set of skills. Modeled after the leveling system of Dragon Age II this is greatly streamlined and refined allowing you to pick unique abilities for your characters and allowing them to building to specific roles. Additionally, you now have full control over the equipment used by your characters (this disappeared from Dragon Age II so it’s nice to see it back). Alongside controlling your characters advancement you also advance the Inquisition. By completing tasks you gain power and control. Power are points you can spend in your war room while Control is the range of influence the Inquisition has allowing it to extend across the globe. This allows the Inquisition perks for your characters in their mission.
By the time my clock ran out I had already established a firm foothold on a region gained some allies and increased my power but I had only made it to level 4 by the time I quit. You’d think after six hours that I’d have been frustrated but I never felt like my progress was not fun. I was moving along and growing my characters at a pace that was very satisfying, we were facing enemies that were challenging and exploring a map that was VAST! Compared to the last two games you are working in far larger areas. The addition of the ability to jump (even though it’s a sort of scrabbling bunny hop) lends an air of believability and while you are loaded in to regions to explore these are vast and the world on a whole is gigantic with all of the world open to you by the end of the game!
Bioware and Electronic Arts faced harsh criticism after the release of Mass Effect 3 and Dragon Age II, many of the big complaints were they over promised, under delivered and ignored the fans. This has been more than remedied and in many ways this game feels like a direct response to those concerns, the fans voices were heard and they were given a game that truly seems to appreciate their feedback. Look forward to playing it tomorrow (or midnight tonight if you’re so inclined) because there’s a lot of fun locked up in this game.