Open World of Thedas: Bioware Base Panel Breakdown (PAX East 2014)

"If we do our job, you’ll tell us in 6 months. Probably on a forum somewhere."

The Panel

  • Andrew Farrell, Senior Artist
  • Dean Roskell, Senior Level Designer
  • Jason Barlow, Development Manager
  • Leah Shinkewski, Associate Producer (DA Keep)
  • Mike Laidlaw, Creative Director
  • David Hulegaard, Community Manager (and panel’s Moderator)

"[Bioware] spent a long time in pre-production," as Frostbite originally was used for first-person shooters like Battlefield 4. Everything was hacked by the level designers to prepare for dialogue, communication, and other Dragon Age elements. 


The Frostbite engine allows Dragon Age: Inquisition to implement and use big spaces. Players will travel through multiple regions, similarly to Origins of a fast-travel across the nation. The developers have kept three goals in mind:

  1. Area Variety. Keep the environments fresh and organic for the player to explore.
  2. Make the areas significant. “Why is the Inquisitor here?” Each place has purpose.
  3. Re-discover discovery. Allowing players to traverse the world in any direction they want to go.

The Inquisitor will experience and shape the world through directly influencing the world. With the antagonist hidden and an environment clouded in conspiracy, soldiers are uprooting evildoers at your command and the Inquisition is gaining prestige and power. Your party is the “vanguard” that heads change. By sending troops to fix towers and gain extra areas, your power rises. You, as the Inquisitor, have very unique abilities, involved with closing the rifts, that no other man or woman can do. It’s up to you how to handle the chaos in the world.

Because of multiple regions, every level offers its own challenge. Enemies are unique to the ecosystem, while environmental elements like desert ruins or the coastline with steep hills offer different conflict. 


A snowy area where “something goes wrong” and may force conflict with the Red Templars (templars influenced by red, raw lyrium). The location is not simply a small camp - it’s a territory strongly owned and enforced by the Red Templars. The Inquisition’s job, if the player chooses to engage this area at all, is to keep the front moving into this entrenched area by slowly pushing up the mountain.

The main base of operations is protected in the back. War camps protect the front. Red crystals scatter across the snowy fields.  It’s impossible to freely roam this area, as the soldiers litter across the war camps, until the Inquisitor and armies complete certain tasks to alleviate the Red Templar command. 

Highlands is a Tier-2 encounter, scripted like a puzzle. They are not simple highwaymen walking down some path; it’s an army. The Red Templar faction is a full force, dabbling in powerful lyrium and gaining new powers. However, it’s hard to leave them alone, as their base is a big supply position and its continued presence will only help the Red Templars thrive.

Beyond the Red Templars, the Behemoth will be a challenging opponent. A great creature of raw, red power that influences the environment around it. As it will stand firm, with the help of other templars to distract, it’s up to the Inquisitor’s judgement how to handle such a strong opponent. 

The quest line is a terrible risk, but the prize… “You may have gone somewhere else entirely. Like not going to this area at all, but still progressing in this part of the game.” You can drive the story without needing to stop to help at every turn, though it may help the Inquisition for better purposes. Gold is the most immediate treasure, but influence and a new location of a good supply position will help. Your choice.

(Small note: A character from The Masked Empire will appear in the Highlands. It apparently makes sense that they are present.)

Hunting and Gathering

If you want to go dragon hunting, you can. If you want to pick herbs, you can. If you want to hunt deer or nugs (HOW DARE YOU), you can. 

Keep in mind that ecosystems deplete over time, if you hastily wipe out an area. Sometimes you will have to wait for certain areas to repopulate. The developers are not encouraging grinding/farming in these systems, but to make sure that the ecosystem is organic to how an area would naturally feel. 

Kill a few wolves. Let them live. Come back a few times every now and then, and you get a new coat. Maybe down the line, you’ll make a pair of shoes. 

But, kill them all at the same time and you might wait be out of luck the next time you need fancy armor.

Short Things

  • Elfroot is rare
  • Specific kills against a creature faction will benefit combat against that faction in the future
  • "Big *** creepy spiders" are in caves. And possibly in crates. Do not open. (You’ve been warned)
  • Time to crate, a term to describe “how long does your game manage until you have to break a crate”

A Moment for Combat

Traps, stealth, and abilities were improved to help preemptively plan for battle. Walls of ice (edit: magically made ice walls) and blockades will force archers to move into line of sight. 


Dragons are designed to rip your head off. Good luck getting in direct contact enough to swing a blade, as they are terrifyingly difficult encounters. In most cases, you will target the limbs enough to attack the head. Dragons have dynamic flight patterns, where it adjusts to certain details: your health, your in-combat/out-of-combat status, and your location. However, dragons are not simply generating out of the sky; each dragon is an individually scripted encounter. It exists for its environment.

Preparing to kill a dragon is your first step. Gearing and preparing your party is second. Dragon hunting alone is giving yourself quests, as many prerequisites exist to not get utterly torched by one.


Ah, well. Not really. Just a tip that dragons can scorch the earth and its fire can damage an Inquisitor’s pretty feet.

DA Keep

The free, web-based experience Keep will “allow you to shape and share your experiences”. The best part of Keep is its ability to help discover and illustrate new areas that the player may have not seen before. Developers are happy with using Keep, as it builds confidence in making sure it’s not detrimental whether the player has or has not played Origins or 2. Going into the future, the Keep will be an effective tool in helping players import worlds and share stories with others. 

Quick Answers

Happenings outside the DA games franchise (i.e books, movies) will relate in the timeline of all events. - Mike Laidlaw, said right before The Masked Empire being referenced in Inquisition

Day and Night cycles? No, as it is driven by story. Not on a dynamic system, as a stylistic choice. This way, different environments can have very strong atmosphere and mood in sync with the crafted music and script. On a long term basis, however, it is something the developers may look into.

Weather changes? Yes, as demonstrated by the rain in the Dragon Age: World of Thedas environmental trailer.

Overworld travel map is currently instant-fast travel between nations. Random encounters experienced in between fast-travel, like Origin’s system, is still being investigated and nailed down by the developers. The issue is that entering an area involves scripted encounters for your base. The context of the game has changed so much that it feels unnecessary, but is still being evaluated for Inquisition.

Elements from the novel Asunder will, at the very least, be explored. At least one character from Asunder will appear.

No MMO planned, as of now. While they do have gameplay fundamentals mirroring MMO-mechanics, they want to concentrate on building story. Experience is for “one player coordinating actions of the party”.

Scouts are sent out to show possible places to overtake, like old keeps or outposts. They will tell you the initial storyline and purpose/advantage for the Inquisitor to venture out. These bases captured will be safe harbors for that regional area, once claimed.