I used to be quite worried about Dragon Age: Inquisition - right up until around about, oh, two weeks ago. With naught but a handful of concept artworks, some oddly hazy, dreary screens and an enigmatic trailer to its name, BioWare's latest effort seemed rather lacking in oomph alongside the ruggedly handsome Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in particular.
I'm still a bit worried about Inquisition, it must be said. That gameplay reveal has laid a fair few unquiet spectres to rest, but the visuals can't hold a candle to CD Projekt's efforts. Still, what I've seen suggests that the new Dragon Age has what it takes to banish the divisive Dragon Age 2 from memory, at the very least. You've hopefully read our first look preview - here are five highlights I feel deserve a little more, er, highlighting.
1. The combat is more about positioning and ability usage
Ah, Dragon Age 2. That game where you hewed the arms from armies of archers, only for a dozen more of the fey, grasping runts to ninja-pop out of mid-air. That game that allowed its rich, straggly tactical DNA to be ground beneath the foot of rinse-repeat scenario design. Thankfully, Inquisition seems to have brighter ideas. The pace of combat has been slowed a tad, enemy spawning appears to be a thing of the past, and the result, I'm told, is that fights reward positioning and the selective, efficient usage of abilities over the spamming of health potions and attack buttons.
At one point in our demo, I was shown a simple clash with three gate guards. Our party's mage Vivienne (in the running to become First Enchanter of Orlais, don't you know) threw down an ice trap, halting the attackers as they closed the distance, which gave dwarf rogue Varric time to amble down the right flank. The Inquisitor and erstwhile Chantry seeker Cassandra then engaged head-on, obliging the thawed-out guards to face them rather than angling their shields to deflect Varric's bolts. A modest little gambit, yes, but one that's hopefully illustrative of grander scenarios.
Speaking of which, later in the demo the party took on a conjurer and his warrior escort. Vivienne again resorted to ice magic, walling the enemy mage off from the melee types so that the Inquisitor and Cassandra could attack him. When he teleported away from the ice wall, our First Enchanter gave chase; the party's melee troupe, meanwhile, switched their attention to the grunts.
By dint of much pausing and manual targeting, the demo handler was able to keep a lid on the ensuing chaos - casting dispels to strip the other side's warriors of various magical buffs, and manoeuvring Varric away from fireballs thrown by the wizard. Vivienne polished off with a little incendiary action of her own, calling down a bombardment of meteorites. It was a spectacular fight, but it also felt clean, surgical in a way BioWare's more recent titles haven't quite managed.
2. The world seems to go on without you
Set off down a random hillside in Dragon Age: Inquisition, and you may see a stag running through the undergrowth, individually animated ferns parting before its hooves. You can hunt that stag, if you like, for a smattering of XP and some crafting materials. Further off in the distance, you might notice a fleet of longboats gliding across the surface of a lake; head to the shore, and you may be able to intercept those ships before they disgorge their cargo of Templar besiegers.