I dare inquire.
At E3 2014, I attended the same Dragon Age: Inquisition that forged the preview from our fellow writer Jessica Vazquez, and as we watched the female Qunari mage on screen fire magical blasts at swooping dragons (swooping is still bad), we both had the same thought: Why isn't this hands-on? All the 30-minute presentation accomplished was whetting our collective appetite for cleansing the continent of Thedas of overzealous templars and sacrilegious blood mages. Luckily, I wouldn't have to wait too long, as BioWare graciously allowed for a hands-on opportunity of the exact E3 demo behind closed doors.
Without a doubt, if the words emblazoned on the top-left corner of the screen weren't clear enough, the demo was clearly an alpha build. I was encouraged to explore the Hinterlands as the female human warrior, which was randomly selected for me, but was told right from the beginning not to venture west. Most of the NPCs had no interaction prompt, the amount of experience from eradicating foes was negligible on purpose, and jumping repeatedly was much faster than walking (I mentioned that speedruns would be littered with jumping, which prompted the developer to say that it would be fixed).
Traipsing about the valley, my party of four—including Ironbull the Qunari mercenary tank, Sera the elven archer, and Vivienne the Orlesian mage—scoured the majesty of the countryside, filled with foliage, brooks, and craggy pathways. Leading the party as the Inquisitor, I peered behind every nook and cranny to gather spindleweed, embrium, and elfroot for crafting potions, used by selecting them by popping up the radial menu. The left shoulder button can also be given a tap for a quick heal, but this function might be disabled in the final build.
Adventuring with a healthy stock of healing potions is important since party members don't heal in between battles like usual (or at least in this build), so you'll need to decide how long your party can venture into the wilds before retreating to a safe location. We'll see, though, whether a wizard can specialize as a healer to lengthen the time before restocking on potions. Either way, being a completionist and explorer will give you enough ingredients to fabricate enough reserves for the boss fight and the battles leading up to it.
Beyond that, players can gather minerals, metals, and schematics for weapons crafting, which unfortunately wasn't shown in great detail. But from what the developer described, a schematic will leave the player a wide amount of options; for instance, making a sword hilt or blade can be done by combining any number of metals together. Melding the same metals or a specific combination of metals will make the weapon stronger, so there looks to be a tier system at play.
In between the numerous dialogue options and resource gathering, your party must contend with the ongoing battle between the templars and mages, which will likely drop by the wayside early in the game. The more pressing issue is the manifestation of multiple rifts from the Fade which have appeared across the land spawning demons that must be closed. As usual, you can pause combat at any time to issue orders for each party member, outside of the user-set automated tactics, like maneuvering your team around glyphs and knocking out the healers first.
Everything from skill usage and unit positioning needs consideration—ordering Ironbull to hold a position near chokepoints, Vivienne to blast ice and freeze heavy soldiers with metal tower shields, and Sera to pin foes in their place. As a warrior with templar-like abilities, I called down Maker's Wrath multiple times to stun and damage nearby enemies much like Holy Smite from Origins. I didn't have much time to explore the multiple sets of abilities pre-assigned to my character, but suffice to say that there are plenty to mix and match.
Clearing threats and exploring an area thoroughly will reveal spots for the inquisition to claim as its own. Not only will this expand the influence of your order from Skyhold, but allow for the reconstruction of infrastructure like bridges so long as you have accumulated enough resources. Setting up camps and outposts will provide stations for potion refills and crafting that will increase the mobility of your party and help re-establish order and fill out the remainder of the extremely vast map.
Dragon Age: Inquisition will release for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One on October 7, 2014.