Dragon Age: Inquisition Interview With BioWare’s Cameron Lee – Combat, Reaction to Gay Characters and More

September 25, 2014 Written by Mark Labbe

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PlayStation LifeStyle recently had the pleasure of talking to BioWare Producer Cameron Lee on a few things regarding Dragon Age: Inquisition. In the chat below, we quiz Lee on gay characters, the AI being up to snuff, using the “tactical view” in-game and lots more. 

PlayStation LifeStyle: In the first Dragon Age, I feel like the combat was a little bit strategic almost, while I feel like in the second one it was a little a bit more fast paced. So, for this third one, will it more strategic where we can sort of like pause and get into the mechanics of it or is it going to be more fast paced like an action game?

Cameron Lee: Yeah, good question…. The combat is very much a mix between Dragon Age Origins and Dragon Age 2, so we wanted to have the tactical mode back in Dragon Age: Inquisition, we wanted to slow the combat down from Dragon Age 2. So, we added in the Tactical Mode back, we put a lot more weight behind the combat abilities and attacks, so it feels like you’re swinging a big sword – if that is the character you’ve built. And we wanted it to feel more tactical – so not just tactics in terms of yes, there is a top down tactical pause-and-play mode, which players can use in Dragon Age 1, but even real time combat should feel tactical; in the sense of enemies will be intelligent, they’ll be smart, they’ll move behind cover – they might move up in elevation. As a player, I could hold particular spots and the enemy AI will try to funnel around and try and get through. So, you’ll find enemy AI will try their own strategy and then they’ll also try and counter your strategies, and that’s all in real time as well. So, it’s really a mix of the two and trying to bring the best of the both together.

PSLS: With the AI for you own team, will that be more… well, I know in the second one and in the first one, sometimes they, well sometimes they were a bit stupid, and sometimes they would get themselves killed, so will they be a little bit smarter? Will they be making better choices? Or is the player still going to have to micro-manage everyone?

CL: I don’t know that you have to micro-manage people in Inquisition, you can if you want to, but the AI is pretty intelligent. So, they will do things like, for example, if you have Cassandra in your party – she’s a warrior, and if you’ve built her to be kind of like a tank warrior, an offensive warrior, she’s going to try and draw aggro across everyone, all the enemies around her. In particular try and draw the agrro from enemies you’ve got targeted as well. So, they’ll be quite intelligent in how they react. And of course from there you can customize how those companions behave and what sort of abilities they use more often than others and how they use their own resources in terms of health, and stamina, and mana, and stuff like that as well.

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PSLS: And then, so with the tactical view, is it sort of like games like Baldur’s Gate, where you can control your party is going to go and have it paused and all that?

CL: Yeah, that’s exactly right. So, its top-down view, you can… well actually, what it actually is is a completely player-controlled camera. So, you can halt it, you go into the tactical view, we pull the camera all the way up, but from there you’ve got complete control of the camera. So, you can actually zoom back down or you can pan around and move the camera around in different directions. So, you can actually get some really good battlefield information with that camera, so you can find out if anyone is hiding behind bushes and things like that. We’ve got complete control of the camera. So, you’ve got that, and obviously you can issue commands to your followers – not just combat commands, but also “hey, move to this spot here,” or “defend this spot,” or there is a variety of things you can do. And then, from there the player can advance time again with the controls and see that strategy – all those movements and commands- play out. It can either go stay in pause mode again, or issue more commands, or you can just flip back down into action combat and see that the tactics play out and the commands play out in front of you. So, what we’ve actually found is that the more players got their hands on the game, the more we see them go in and out of real time and tactical views…where it felt like, I think in Origins, you kind of either play one or the other, and when you’re in one then you’re sort of like “well, this is a (boss one), I’m going to stay mostly in this tactical view for this fight. In Inquisition, we’re definitely finding players go in and out a lot more often, which is great to see, because those two are meshed really well.

PSLS: If someone was a little bit more, say, action oriented, could they actually get through the game without having to go too much into the tactical view, or is that necessary?

It’s not necessary. It really depends on individual players, I know. This is quite a complex answer, but when you look at…. Say you were playing on normal difficulty, and all difficulty in Inquisition means tougher than Origins, definitely tougher than Dragon Age 2. So, each different player has different thresholds of how much pressure they can handle separately. So, the way we look at the tactical view – it’s almost like a pressure release valve. So, if you’re in real-time view and you’re battling away, and there’s just too much going on, you know, there’s too many enemies or they’re too tough or something’s gone wrong, maybe, as you were fighting, a pack of wolves came along at the same time and decided to get involved in this three-way fight. You could, that could be too much pressure for me, so I might want to go to the tactical cameras, but for you, you might be quite comfortable to keep banging away in real time. It really depends on the player, but we would expect from the majority of players playing on normal mode.. that they would definitely find some of the more challenging fights easier if they use tactical combat – tactical view. But if they want to persevere, they can certainly do so.

PSLS: You mentioned wolves kind of joining into a fight, so, in terms of that, will all enemies attack you. Or like, I know in Skyrim enemies would fight each other – is that going to be happening at all in Inquisition?

CL: Yeah, it definitely happens. I’ve actually seen, giants battling a dragon, which was kind of funny. And that was probably about a year ago, or something – we were putting a demo together and I there were some giants up on this particular hill, so I was kind of running up there to show people the giants, and there was a dragon kind of nearby, and it just flies around, and in this case it was battling the giant. So, yeah, you’ll see things like that. You’ll see wolves attacking bandits or bandits attacking merchants or something. It kind of depends what area you’re in once the content is essentially spawning in, because we have what we call a “World Master” system. It’s kind of like a dungeon master, if you want to think about it like that. It kind of dynamically populates the world with a lot of different types of content, and that content is impacted by some of the choices and decisions and actions you’ve made over the course of the game. So it knows what world state and what decisions you’ve made and will spawn in content appropriately, and then that content has opportunities to interact with each other as well. So, that’s why you see things like fights happening.

PSLS: In terms of all that, really, I know that game is going to be open world, so it is going to be more Elder Scrolls open world or like Destiny open world?

CL: So, basically, it’s just best if I describe it. So, you have this master world  which spans different countries. And that’s a huge area to cover. So, what we’re doing is that because the story spans such a large area, we’re creating these huge, open areas in different parts of these countries. So, you could go to like a desert open area, or you could go to Snow Cap Mountains, or you could go to a bog sort of area – there’s a variety of different types of them. And so each of those areas is in of in itself an open world experience, like the type of experience you might get inside of Morrowind. And the advantage that we have with that is that you’ll get all of the open world experience, like freedom of movement and all that sort of stuff, but you get a more diverse set of environments to go and explore, and each of those environments has  different types of creatures, and different sorts of minerals or crafting materials, has different sort of story elements, factions and all these things, because we wanted players to feel like when they’re in a desert, it really feels like a desert, like it should feel like a sun-scorched desert. Then when you go to the top of the Snow Cap Mountains, it should feel very different. And for us it doesn’t make sense that you can walk from one to the other in five minutes, you know? So that’s the reason we went with these multiple open regions.

PSLS: So, on a totally different topic, one of the best things of the first two Dragon Age games were the ridiculous injuries you could get, like a hole in the head or what not. Are you still getting these crazy injuries in the new one?

CL: What do you mean by injuries? Like, in terms of all the blood that spill everywhere?

PSLS: Like, I know some of your party members, it would say like, they have a torn something…

CL: Oh… okay. I don’t know actually, I don’t think so. But, there is a hell of a lot of blood that gets splattered around. It’s pretty neat with the… when you see like the Inquisitor or one of your warrior kind of characters and they’ve been using a shield or what and they’ve been running around and the shield is completely covered in blood, but because they’re holding the shield in front of them, they have no blood on their front except for their helmets, so its kind of like these waves of blood. So, you know, one of the characters, Iron Bull,  is a big Qunari (SP) guy, so he’s got these big horns, so there’s a couple of cut-scenes I saw the other day where he had blood all over his shield and just on the tops of his horns? That’s pretty cool.

PSLS: In terms of multiplayer, that’s obviously a huge addition to the game. I guess I am wondering if the multiplayer will be more story-based or more sort of arena, where you have to do more of a task without a story behind it, or how is that going to work?

CL: Yeah, so, the multiplayer doesn’t connect to the single-player in anyway, in terms of like… it’s not like Mass Effect. It is connected in terms of the battles. The magic behind multiplayer is that the characters in multiplayer are agents of the Inquisition. In single-player, you will obviously be an Inquisitor, so you have a whole bunch of agents which you order out around the world for various agents. So, all of the players are sort of like those agents doing missions. So, when you go into mutliplayer matches, there is some light story in the beginning of it, so… like “hey guys, here’s your objective, here’s what you are trying to do and why.” It is narrated by voice actors, by the specialists that are part of the single-player, so it is the same sort of voice, the same characters sort of giving you information and story. And then, as you go through the multiplayer experience, it is more like a dungeon-delve. It is not like an arena, it’s like King of the Hill or like Horde mode or anything like that, you sort of have to progress through a dungeon, essentially, and as you progress through it you experience different sorts of… essentially mini-game modes as you move through it. And, then you might find a boss at the end or something like that. There are a couple of other cool little things, like there are treasure rooms and stuff like that. Yeah, it is pretty cool — fun.

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PSLS: One of the other huge things is the addition of being able to romance gay characters and what not. How has the public reacted to that and how has maybe the public shaped that change?

CL: So, the reactions are always interesting – generally, they are mostly positive. Some people don’t like it, that’s fine, they can… think that way. But the vast majority of people, they think that’s a good thing. We’ve tried to represent a variety of different people, and different sexualities and gender as well. You can be a male, you can be a female, you know, you can change the way that you look, you can have different hairs, different skin tones. So, you know, you give all that type of control to a player that they are… it would seem silly to not also give a choice about their sexual orientation. But yeah, general reception has been good.

PSLS: I do want to ask some PlayStation-specific questions. One of which is the touchpad on the (DualShock 4) controller – is that going to be used at all in any unique way?

CL: I don’t know, I don’t think it is right now, but I could be wrong. I haven’t checked in with the PlayStation team for a little while. So I’m not too sure, but it does look good, I can tell you that. It looks really fun now, so I’m very happy with how the PlayStation is in terms of its strength.

PSLS: In terms of frame-rate and stuff, how does it compare to Xbox One and such? If you can answer that.

CL: I’ll give you a roundabout answer, which basically means I can’t answer it, but the truth is that although we are only a few weeks away from starting to put our first candidates up for certification, we still don’t really know where we’re going to land..,and that’s true across all platforms, really. Everything from the resolution to the frames and all that sort of stuff, you just work on that all the way until the very end. But we will certainly be aiming for as absolute high as the PlayStation can go in terms of resolution…at least that. So we’ll see where we go.

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PSLS: One of the last questions I want to ask is I know their is sort of that “soft level cap,” and I was kind of wondering how that would work, and I know that there isn’t really a level cap…I’m very confused about that, so how will that work?

CL: Well, the level… I’m not sure about a “soft level cap,” I haven’t heard about that, actually.

PSLS: Oh, I saw that in a quote from someone on the Dragon Age team.

CL: Oh, right! I don’t know (laughing)! Such a big team. The leveling is really interesting. So you have three main classes – your warrior, your mage, and your rogue, and then you’ve got within those classes three specialization options you can pick from, as you play through each. So, you can really customize the type of characters that you want as you level up. We also have the Inquisition, which can also level up, it also has Paragon you can earn as you go through the game. Then you have Inquisition perks, which are kind of like talents for the Inquisition, to customize the Inquisition a little bit. And that has campaign pacts on your characters and your party, too. So, there is a lot of progression through leveling up, for you characters and your Inquisition. Loot, obviously has a progression and customization – so crafting has a progression as well, so, you’ll be able to craft really cool weapons and powerful armor and enchantments and stuff. So, that’s all there, too. We certainly think that it’s going to take people a long time to get through it all. We’ve even made so content that is so high level that most players are going to struggle are going to fight their way through that content, or complete that content, even up after they’ve finished the main story campaign, because you can keep playing the word after you’ve finished the game. So we don’t “auto-level” or auto-scale our enemies to the player, so that means there are different challenging areas in the game which you might want to struggle through and if you’re low level try and get through it if you want to and if you can, then great. But if not, then maybe come back later on. So, like I said, some of those really high levels, really high areas, can be really challenging later on, no matter what the level cap is.

PSLS: The very last question I want to ask is what is in store for the future of Dragon Age, or is it way too soon to tell?

CL: Way too soon. Everyone is so busy on this right now and the whole team is crunching…you do all those things that you do when you try and ship a game this big. Who knows, right? We hope that it does really well and we hope that everyone loves it. We’re sending a lot of time after the ship of the game; through multiplayer and other DLC, with stuff like that. You know, even with those, we don’t really know right now. It’s all hands on deck to get the game out of the door.


Dragon Age: Inquisition is set for release on November 18 for the PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3 and PS4.