Is Dragon Age: Inquisition's trial edition a fantastic new take on demos?

More games need to follow Dragon Age: Inquistion's example and offer a trial demo.

Dragon Age: Inquisition blew a lot of gamers and critics away back when it released in 2014. It took everything everyone liked about the past two, highly divisive Dragon Age games, and blended them to perfection. Not only was the game a massive open-world experience, it had real choices that mattered. It also introduced a very well received multiplayer component to the Dragon Age universe, mimicing Mass Effect 3's multiplayer success.

So you can imagine the surprise a lot of us had when EA revealed that they would not only be offering a trial version of the experience on the Xbox One's EA Access service, but also on PC via Origin. Even better, the PC Trial version, while only available a limited time, is allowing players unlimited access to the game's multiplayer and all the free multiplayer expansoins, permanently.

If you get the trial version, you can slay Dark Spawn with your friends so long as the game's servers remain active, without paying a dollar. The trial version will also let you play with those who already own Inquisition, so instead of dividing the multiplayer community, this will help it thrive even more.

You also get to play the single-player for six hours. For a game this size, that will only get you a little while into the first act, but it is enough time to figure out if you like Inquisition's new take on the Dragon Age combat and moral choice systems. It also will only count those hours as you play, so if you have to stop, the timer won't count down in your absence.

Clearly EA is learning from their previous experiments with its Game Time initiative.

For those who don't know, Game Time is an attempt by EA to offer full games for limited timeslots. So, to start, they offered Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning for 48 hours. You could play it as much as you wanted, but after 48 hours from when you first booted up the game, it would become locked again and require a purchase to play further. You got to keep all of your progress as well, so you could pick up right where you left off once you bought the game in question. They've subsequently done this for several games, including Garden Warfare, Titanfall, and Battlefield 4.

While old school demos still work for some games, they are generally viewed as antiquated, and more trouble than they are worth for developers.

Game Time was a great idea in concept, but in practice, there are a lot of gamers who could just charge through a single-player campaign or unlock a ton of gear in multiplayer. Since there was also only a time limit on acquiring the Game Time games, you could snag them and then use them whenever. This let players set themselves up to chug through the games quickly enough to not need to pay a dime.

This is unfortunate, because Game Time is a far better way to try a game than with a conventional standalone demo. While old school demos still work for some games, they are generally viewed as antiquated, and more trouble than they are worth for developers. A game's sales are actually more likely to be hurt by releasing a demo, as ironic as that may be.

There's an area highlighted by this problem that EA has been experimenting with for over half a decade. Way before Game Time, EA was already exploring options to make demos available. Gaikai, before it was bought by Sony for the PS Now service, worked with EA to offer multiple playable demos on PC that you could play just through streaming.

These demos were either the same demos said games got on consoles, or were forty or so minute playthroughs from the start of the game. It was almost entirely limited to EA games though, back when Origin was getting tons of hate, so there was limited positive interest. The idea wasn't terrible but the Sony acquisition, combined with the downfall of OnLive and similar game streaming services, made the entire concept fall apart.

Their most recent attempt at solving this problem was with EA Access, a new PS Plus-style subscription service for the Xbox One. While the free games included are availble in full so long as you are subscribed, they also tied in special trials for the rest of their games.

So, instead of just getting free access to Titanfall, Garden Warfare, and all the yearly spots titles, you also could try games like Dragon Age: Inquisition and Battlefield: Hardline for a few hours. There would also be early access to games up to five days in advance before launch. The main hook being that you could try each game before everyone else. This mutated out of the EA Sports Access, which offered the five day trial for all of their sports games.

Now, after having EA Access out in the wild, it seems EA is taking note of what has and hasn't worked in their previous attempts to redefine game demos. Speaking frankly, I have to say that this new Trial system works the best. There's no need for a subscription to try Dragon Age: Inquisition, you just need to redeem the download before it runs out.

What's particularly great about this is that it supports the multiplayer without undercutting the single-player. Fans who want to play through the story but are short on cash can get a quick test run and then play with their friends online, getting a firm handle on the combat mechanics while also unlocking tons of loot. The player base for the multiplayer gets boosted significantly and permanently, unlike how Game Time's boosts to Titanfall and Garden Warfare only gave temporary activity spikes.

It effectively looks the Steam Free Weekend in the eye, and says that it can do better. In fact, what the trial has most in common with is Starcraft II's free to play demo, which allows you to play part of its campaign, fully experience the unranked multiplayer lobbies, and even try out any of the game's numerous mods. If all you want is the free content, then you're satisfied, but most will be lefting wanting more because there's just the right ratio of tease-to-content that so many demos fail at.

I know it's popular to hate on EA, but this could be a great alternative to demos.

Considering that less than 60% of the games released on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are even offering a demo at this point, we need some solution to actually try our games before we buy them. It seems EA might actually have the answer. I guess we'll see how well it works out after the trial closes on the 21st.

If you want to give it a whirl, just head right here.

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Published Jul. 15th 2015

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