I killed a dragon. It wasn’t easy, even with the Dragon Age: Inquisition demo set to “Nope. We won’t kill you.” I’m sure if I could perish, I would have died from the burns, or the claws, or getting thrown by the giant beast’s wing sweep. None of that matters right now though, because I killed a dragon.

In preparation for my preview yesterday, I spent most of my recent vacation playing Dragon Age II (after a quick refresher of the combat and basic mechanics of Dragon Age: Origins). Like many of you, I am finding the sequel to be a full pendulum swing away from what shone brightest in Origins. 

It’s with that understanding that I am happy to report that BioWare seems to have found a smart middle ground. Dragon Age: Inquisition’s combat blends the tactical mastery required in Dragon Age: Origins with the tactile and responsive action introduced in Dragon Age II. 

This thread of balance carries through most of what I played along with smart improvements to the series throughout. I had the opportunity to speak with creative director Mike Laidlaw (whom you heard in the Hinterlands post-E3 video) as I was playing, and got an inside look at some of the design decisions you’ll experience on October 7.

On Combat
The controls have been overhauled to fit the blended approach with this third installment. The tactical camera is handled with a toggle of the back button (on the Xbox 360 controller we were using for our PC demo). From there, I was able to freely move around the area (in three dimensions - the camera isn’t fixed to a specific altitude), cycle through each of the characters to move them or choose from one of eight different quick abilities (up from six in the previous two games), and plan for the fight ahead.

Unlike previous BioWare games, which require you to either queue abilities or play in real time, Inquisition offers a third option. By pressing the right trigger in tactical view, you enter what Laidlaw calls “engage mode.” This slowly winds the action ahead and can be immediately stopped by letting go of the trigger.

The benefit is more precise timing of abilities to maximize synergistic effects. For example, triggering Blizzard (a spell that swirls biting snow across an area as menacing clouds gather above) has a chance of freezing enemies in place. Slowly progressing the action will let you know if a fellow mage should use Stone Fist or a warrior should strike with a Heavy Blow, both of which will “shatter” a frozen enemy for additional damage.

I found myself entering tactical mode more than any other BioWare game I’ve played, largely because of the combined flexibility of the camera and engage mode. That’s not to say that playing things out in real-time isn’t fun or useful. Rather, using both at the appropriate time is far more intuitive in Inquisition. 

Encountering two Templars might not require much tactical maneuvering, but stumbling into a fight between them and mages (and drawing the ire of both factions) might convince you to take a breather and think things through. And should one of your party members fall on the battlefield mid-skirmish, any character will be able to help the teammate up.

On Crafting
While combat is the most obvious of changes in Inquisition, other systems see overhaul also. Crafting has been revamped and reinforced. Resource management is another balance between Origins and its immediate sequel. 

Each plant you pick, ore you mine, or hide you skin from a hunt counts as one unit (unlike Dragon Age II’s infinite resources). The plants will grow back over time, and even if you hunt an animal until its population in the region is low, they’ll come back. Like in Dragon Age II, you won’t be mixing potions mid-battle. You order them from merchants, as you did on your last trip to Thedas.

For the first time, you can craft armor for you and your companions (who can be fully outfitted once again). Each recipe you find can be used multiple times with better materials. For instance, a leather version of a cuirass might look similar to one made of drakeskin, but the latter will be significantly more durable. Laidlaw tells us that the recipe results will be improved by a multiplier determined by the material.

(Read on to find out how you'll move the plot forward and what happens after the E3 demo.)