Dragon Age 3 First Screenshot

When BioWare first announced Dragon Age 3: Inquistion this September, it hardly came as a surprise to hear that Frostbite 2 was attached to the project. Built by DICE and debuting in 2011’s Battlefield 3, the engine has quickly become Electronic Arts’ pixel panacea for games companywide: Need for Speed: The Run, Medal of Honor: Warfighter, Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel, Command & Conquer: Generals 2 and even the next Mass Effect. It was the logical next step for a series that , with its last outing in Dragon Age II, had noticeably lost a few.

And now, BioWare is ready show how well it’s taking to the new resources. The potential for Frostbite 2 in Dragon Age 3: Inquisition has only grown in recent months with the developer detailing the game’s massive open-world, Skyrim-inspired environments — by far the biggest in the series. At this week’s Bradford Animation Festival, animation director Neil Thompson gave attendees a first glimpse at the actual game in pre-production and, of course, explained why Frostbite 2 has proven such an invaluable asset.

Dragon Age 3 First Screenshot BioWare

Above is the screenshot revealed during Thompson’s talk, which was presented for a few brief seconds on a projector slide, furtively snapped on an attendee’s cell-phone camera, and eventually posted on the BioWare forums.

In other words, it doesn’t tell us much. And someone needs to upgrade their cell phone. But even through a blurred statue overlooking a bed of lush, rocky outcroppings, the one thing that is clear — the one thing BioWare continues to push to the forefront of DA3 discussion — is Dragon Age 3’s potential to exist in a rich, vibrant, expansive new world that not only doesn’t recycle old set pieces, as ex-BioWare head Ray Muzyka confirmed it wouldn’t, but also doesn’t recycle old frustrations, of which fans of the original hit Dragon Age: Origins have many.

According to Eurogamer, Thompson channeled that ambition as he segued into the role of Frostbite 2, and the profound advantages it has over Dragon Age II’s engine, Eclipse.

“Mass Effect was done on Unreal of course; Dragon Age was done on the proprietary engine Eclipse. I think anyone who played Dragon Age 2 would agree that engine was starting to creak a little bit by the time that was released.

“Obviously Frostbite is the Battlefield engine built by DICE. It’s a beautiful, beautiful engine. And what we’ve found is an improvement with DA3, is the artists who were really battling with the Eclipse engine have just embraced Frostbite. The work they’re doing now is stunning. I think the screenshot I showed earlier is pretty stunning. That’s unusual for pre-production. Usually you don’t get to that kind of quality until a week before gold master.

“It makes my job easier because then it’s all about discussing the aesthetic and what you want to achieve. When you’re a character artist or an environment artist you’re focusing on a small aspect of the greater whole of the game. As an art director you’re concerned about the whole, the frame and everything it contains and how everything sits and the consistency. An engine like Frostbite allows you to focus more on that rather than the technological challenges of just getting the damn thing to run.”

The way Thompson raves about Frostbite 2 as if it transformed the entire culture of the Dragon Age 3 development team also seems a bit… peculiar. It definitely furthers speculation that Inquisition is indeed the next-gen project BioWare was confirmed to be working on in September. The game isn’t slated for a release until late 2013 — also the current forecast for Microsoft and Sony’s next-gen consoles — and if a project whose predecessor was admonished for shaky visuals is now churning out  “pretty stunning” screens in pre-production less than two years later, when only one level would allegedly constitute the largest Dragon Age yet… well, it raises a few eyebrows.

Dragon Age 3 Frostbite 2 Screenshot

In case you missed them, be sure to check out the Dragon Age 3 details revealed earlier this summer, including insight on the RPG’s new setting and protagonist.  Dragon Age 3: Inquisition is slated for a fall 2013 release — almost assuredly for the PC, and at least one of  Microsoft and Sony’s console platforms.

Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Sipple.

Sources: BioWare forums, Eurogamer