I have a history with Dragon Age. I still maintain that Dragon Age: Origins is a great, clever, well-designed tactical CRPG, which turned up in an era when AAA CRPG games just didn’t happen anymore. Then there was Dragon Age 2, which was badly-written Dragon Age fan-fiction clumsily slapped onto a slightly ropey hack-and-slash combat engine, and failed quite exquisitely at providing either a good RPG or a good hack-and-slash game. Also, it had one slightly different level for each type of dungeon, which is insane.
But BioWare have been making all the right noises about Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’ll have a tactical camera, they say; it’s being designed primarily for PC, they say. Considering the ludicrous Kickstarter and post-Kickstarter success of several other tactical CRPGs (Project Eternity/Pillars of Eternity, Divinity: Original Sin, Wasteland 2, Torment: Tides of Numenera…) it’s not entirely impossible that EA has actually taken notice of this and said “oh, go on then, make a proper CRPG.”
I will not use the word CRPG again in this article, I promise.
So now, three days after the US PC launch, I have access to Dragon Age: Inquisition. As per usual I haven’t bothered reading anything else about it before playing, because I don’t want to taint my perspective. As per usual, this article is focused primarily on the quality of the port rather than the quality of the game, though I’ll throw in some impressions later anyway.
First things first: I’m running this on an i7-3820 with 16GB of RAM, and an Nvidia GTX 670. Hopefully that’ll give you the ability to compare your own system and get a vague idea as to how Dragon Age: Inquisition will run on your silicon beastie.
Second things second: graphics options. There are quite a lot, which I like; there’s everything from the vague “Graphics Quality” setting which changes everything to fit, through to manually defining the mesh quality, vegetation quality, ambient occlusion, etc. I am slightly bemused by the “Fade Touched” option in “texture quality”, though, which is above Ultra. I have no idea if that’s actually a specific and super-lovely setting, or a joke (because the Fade is a Thing in Dragon Age), or if it’s a filter, or what. I may experiment at some point, but…
…that. I wouldn’t so much if it didn’t pop up on changing every single option that requires a restart, but it does. Yes, I know! I changed a setting so I have to restart! You don’t have to remind me again when I change another setting! Go away and stop making me click on small boxes!
Ahem. It’s a minor thing, but it’s sort of worrying when a game is going out of its way to annoy me when I’m going through the options.
I do, however, like that the game offers a benchmarking tool, albeit one with a very loud noise at the end that will make you shit yourself if you’ve got the volume up high and weren’t paying a great deal of attention while the game ran through various scenarios to test your system. Apparently even benchmarks do jump-scares now.
I ran these with quite a lot of memory-hogging stuff open, including Firefox, so the actual figures when my computer is doing nothing else will probably be slightly here. Nonetheless, here are the results from my system running the game on High:
And here are the results from Ultra:
In short, High is perfectly playable, and Ultra is mostly playable. I only saw it dip down to that 25 FPS once (and yes, I was watching the Ultra benchmark, mostly to figure out what the hell that loud noise was) so I don’t think I’d have too much trouble with it, but High looks nice enough that I’d rather have the higher framerate.
Graphics aside, there are a number of other options. There are subtitles for both ambient dialogue and full conversations, and there are separate options for text and speech language (although in my version the only available language is English, so that’s kinda superfluous to me). There’s even a Friendly Fire option for that full Dragon Age: Origins experience, but as it’s turned off by default, I’m not touching it. While I miss having to very carefully aim my abilities, if Dragon Age: Inquisition wasn’t designed around friendly fire then I suspect turning it on would make me very sad, very quickly.
Next up, we click to start a NEW GAME and head into character creation, and omigod there are so many options.
This is the sort of character creation tool I like. It has lots of sliders and tweaks and I can adjust the height of the nose bridge and attempt to create a horrifying freak of nature. Like the human mage, below, who is fittingly named Dapper Steve.
I will not be playing with Dapper Steve when I actually review Dragon Age: Inquisition, but for the purposes of a test run, he’ll do. I can’t say anyone’ll miss him if he dies a painful and horrific death, after all. I couldn’t actually find an option to change gender and create a Dapper Stephanie, but I’m assuming that’s because it’s 5am and I missed a really obvious prompt. It’s either that or it’s tied to your race/class choices, but that would be hilariously stupid.
Immediately after creating Dapper Steve he’s thrown into a sort of horrible nightmare world where he’s running up some stairs while giant demon spiders scuttle after him. He reaches a giant glowing lady with a geometric shape for a head (alas, I did not see the option to have a geometric shape for a head in the character creation tools) and then he appears in the real world, where he’s promptly thrown in jail. In fairness, if there’d just been an atrocity resulting in demons appearing everywhere and someone looking like Dapper Steve was the only living person at the scene, I’d throw him in jail too. As an aside, if it turns out that giant demon spiders are actually the primary antagonists of this game, I am going to cry.
I’d like to point out that the cutscenes are hard-locked at 30 FPS while the game itself is happy to chug along at… well, at an average of 48.3 FPS, according to the benchmark above. I have no idea why games with in-engine cutscenes sometimes do this, but there you go.
This cutscene then leads onto Tutorial Land. Dapper Steve is apparently marked by whatever the hell opened up the giant demon-spewing hole in reality, and so he might be able to close that hole. He’s escorted to a small breach to test this out by exactly one person, because if he was escorted by an entire battalion we’d never get a chance to find out how the fighting works.
The actual wandering-and-exploring controls pretty much like your average MMO. You view the character from behind, hold down the mouse button to rotate the camera, and run around with WASD. It’s not exactly what I expected from a proper RPG, but it’s comfortable and familiar.
Also, everything looks lovely. The opening snowy environment is really, really pretty; you can’t see it in the screenshots, but there are loads of bewitching little effects, like shimmering colours and reflections in the ice as you move along. Top marks for that.
Then monsters appear and I have to fight. It doesn’t seem keen on letting me try out the tactical camera yet, so instead I get to play something that is eerily similar to Dragon Age 2. “Hold down either R or the left mouse button to attack the targeted enemy”, the game cheerily tells me. I do this, and Dapper Steve whirls his staff around like a majorette and unleashes blasts of magic cold stuff at the shades and spectres. They die. I move on.
Dragon Age: Inquisition then teaches me how to lock onto enemies (click on them or press Tab to cycle through targets), and lets me know that I can use skills by clicking on them in my hotbar, or pressing the associated number on my keyboard. Chain Lightning fries multiple enemies and is bound to 1, for instance. That’s very Dragon Age: Origins, although it’s also very MMO.
Then I found a hat. At a glance, the inventory seems like it might be a bit cumbersome to navigate with mouse/keyboard – the character creation tools certainly were, which doesn’t bode well for other menu-based interactions – but I manage to equip the hat with little trouble, and it even visually appears on my character, making him look even more ridiculous than before! So that’s good. I am hopeful that the inventory will not become a veritable nightmare to navigate when I have more than one thing in there.
Before I go on, I want to reiterate that these are just my early impressions based on half an hour of the game, and things are subject to change. I’ll also point out that it’s very late, and I might’ve missed a number of menu options that will immeasurably improve my experience. Now, with that disclaimer out of the way:
I fucking hate the tactical camera.
It is incredibly, absurdly, stupendously useless. The tactical combat itself might be fine – it’s got auto-pauses, and I can select skills and click on enemies, and I can even see which other characters I’ve assigned to attacking that enemy and what skill they’re going to use. That’s pretty great. I still can’t shake off the MMO feeling for some reason, and I’ve still got worries that the game was designed to be played in the third-person view and the tactical combat was slapped on afterwards, but there’s clearly been at least some thought given to battling in this way.
I do not believe any thought has been given to the tactical camera. First, look at the screen below.
That’s as far as the camera zooms out. You will note that I am completely incapable of looking at my ranged characters and the enemies they’re hitting at the same time, which is a bit rubbish, because it means it’s completely impossible to actually get a tactical overview of the situation. Which is what you really want to do with a tactical camera. It’s in the name! When you’ve built a basic prototype of a tactical camera, the very first thing to do is to look at it and go “can I get a tactical overview of the situation with this camera?” If the answer is “no” then go and try something else!
I’ve just realised I didn’t actually try clicking on the compass in the bottom-left to move the screen around, but I’m pretty certain that won’t work because it’s a compass rather than a minimap. If it was a minimap, that might alleviate the first problem somewhat. And even if it does let me move the camera around, it still doesn’t change the fact that selecting a new character (to give them orders, say) immediately centres the tiny, tiny viewing area on them.
I will admit that this is something which might prove very useful in the middle of a pitched battle, but at the start of a fight when I’m trying to sort out all of my orders, having to slowly drag the camera back to the group of enemies is a pain in the arse – not least because the camera is so zoomed-in I simply cannot get my bearings in the environment from this top-down perspective. I mean, my characters are in a sort of white snowy area with some rocks around, and the enemies are… oh.
While I’m at it: I’m not sure who decided that holding down one mouse button should rotate/zoom the camera and holding down two mouse buttons should let you move the camera, but they should probably be shot. That is a terrible piece of UI design for a game where the view is completely top-down, but so zoomed-in that you have to continually move the bloody camera around – and no, you can’t just move the mouse cursor to the edge of the screen to scroll and pan. Holding down both mouse buttons brings up a sort of “second cursor” – an indication of your camera’s focal point, which I assume is the cursor on console – which is what moves the camera around. (You can see this as a crosshair in the screen above.) Now, this might make sense on a console where you presumably aren’t using an actual mouse cursor, but I can’t see any reason for this on PC.
Also, while holding down either mouse button lets you zoom and rotate the camera, it’s seemingly fixed on a sort of vertical rotation, which means that you’re probably going to get a view that’s even more zoomed in than if you were just playing in third-person. Which is ridiculous.
And that’s about where I finished, because it was very late and my first two battles involving the tactical camera nearly gave me a rage-induced aneurysm. I will investigate the camera further when I properly play the game for review, and I’ll perhaps get used to it. Maybe there’s a very specific and practical reason for this and it’ll all make sense when I play a bit further, and I’ll even come to appreciate it. Maybe I’m missing something crucial. Who knows? I don’t; I’ve only played for half an hour.
Right now, Dragon Age: Inquisition seems to run fine and look fine (and establishing that sort of thing is, let’s not forget, the main purpose of these articles) but 30 minutes hasn’t yet convinced me of the tactical combat or of the game’s PC-ness. We’ll have a full review up as soon as is humanly possible, and hopefully I’ll be able to address this stuff properly then.