BioWare has devoted a lot of time to explaining what Dragon Age: Inquisition isn't, mostly by separating it from the tainted legacy of Dragon Age 2. Its E3 presentation focused on the much more intriguing proposition of what it is. That more affirmative messaging was effective at showing why this is shaping up to be something special.
In a lengthy demonstration at E3, the studio showed off a mission to close a rift that had been releasing demons into the world. Some citizens have given up hope, assuming the end is nigh, but as the Inquisitor you have the unique ability to close the rifts. Even just in the handful of environments we were shown, the world looked both more open and dense. The level of detail on everything from the trees to the Inquisitor's plate metal helmet was stunningly realized.
The story apparently brings the long-simmering feud between the Templars and the Mages to a head, and that lingering aggression colors many of the interactions. A villager complained of her wedding ring being stolen under the purported suspicion of magical powers. Your party members, as per the norm for Dragon Age, appear to have wildly different opinions on the subject.
The influence of their own personalities makes an impact on how the story plays out as well. The demo showed off a later portion of the mission, after a scout had gone missing during the infiltration of a castle. She had been captured and tortured, and it was the Inquisitor's orders that put her there. This appeared likely to fuel some resentments, but not nearly as much as she felt for the Mages. When the Inquisitor tried to reach a peaceful resolution with the castle's leader, a Mage himself, she murdered his son in cold blood. I couldn't help but wonder how that scenario would have played out if she hadn't come along.
BioWare assured the audience that this kind of scene is an example of how your choices matter. Part of that is because you're a leader among leaders. Each party member is highly accomplished in their own field, and the implication was that gaining their favor would lead to greater influence among different factions. I envisioned this playing out similar to Origins, in which the Grey Warden had to bring together disparate groups to battle the Blight, but of course that wasn't part of the presentation.
The studio also made a point to show off a dragon battle. The series has done these before, but never with this sense of scale. After slaughtering a few dragon babies, the apparent mother began circling and unleashing fireballs that missed the heroes by inches. When the dragon landed (a tactical error if I ever saw one), the heroes began hacking away at individual limbs, changing the dragon's behavior as it got hurt.
This encounter also showcased the hybrid battle system, which can be action-oriented or more tactical as you pause and give individual orders. It's par for the course for Dragon Age, but the tools and prompts look nicely refined and easy to understand.
That refinement was prevalent all throughout our demo. BioWare has been working on Inquisition much longer than the previous Dragon Age game, and it shows. Now that it's finally escaped from under the shadow of DA2, we can start judging it on its own terms. By that metric, it looks like a return to form in some ways, and a marked advancement in others.