A lot of work is needed to make Dragon Age 3: Inquisition a success among the core fans, and BioWare knows it. Since Dragon Age 2 disappointed many who felt the game moved away from the original in the name of ‘streamlined’ gameplay, and the developers aren’t eager to make the same mistake twice. The team opened up abut their goals and direction this weekend at the Edmonton Comics & Entertainment Expo, answering questions and providing a few bold claims.
Bigger environments and deeper customization are set to return with Dragon Age 3, and new concept artwork has been released giving a sense of the unique style and much grander vision Bioware is bringing this time around.
BioWare hasn’t shied away from acknowledging that their fans were unhappy with Dragon Age 2, and as a result, have made every effort possible to convince them that DA3 will right all their past wrongs. The studio has a long habit of seeking community feedback, but the amount of player input and criticism being not just accepted, but actively requested for this series is unprecendented. If the details from Edmonton this weekend are a sign of things to come, then this new approach holds serious promise.
The Dragon Age 3 panel was live-tweeted by BioWare Producer Cameron Lee, capturing a few choice quotes dropped by the lead designers. First off: character customization. Creative Director Mike Laidlaw claimed that player customization will play an even bigger role than it did in Origins, once again confirming that squad customization will be expanded as well. DA2 cast aside the wide range of races and classes available to the player upon starting, and that’s one change DA3 will be keeping.
Laidlaw explained that the hero character will once again be a human (as was the case with DA2‘s Hawke), presumably with gender left up to the player. Lead writer David Gaider emphasized that this restriction isn’t necessarily a sign of reduced impact or choice, as the character’s particular background – origin story, social rank, character class – will have “significant impact on the story.”
Inquisition‘s leaked plot synopsis outlined a story of political intrigue and war, so it’s not hard to see what Gaider’s words could mean. With the fate of the world in the balance, the stage is set for players to be faced with some of those “decisions that matter” that BioWare keeps insisting will be central to the plot. Leading the charge against the forces of evil as The Inquisitor, countering civil war in a neighboring nation, and leading a people in unrest is a tall order. It’s also one that implies far larger maps and areas than players have seen.
Exact size of in-game environments is always hard to gauge, especially given how many dungeons were recycled throughout DA2. The concept artwork sets the bar fairly high for the size and scope of the many distinct environments being crafted, but Cinematic Designer Jon Perry claims that one level in Dragon Age 3 is going to be bigger than all of DA2‘s locations. That may be a tough pill to swallow for fans this far out from release, but there’s no way for that statement to be even remotely accurate without marking a distinct improvement over their last game.
A piece of concept art was also shown to the crowd of the mountaintop castle seen below, with Laidlaw playing coy, telling those in attendance that players “may or may not take control of it.” It’s strange to think of that feature not being included with DA3, since the idea was first seen in the Origins expansion Awakening. The ability to upgrade defenses, an armory, housing and more added a new dimension to the campaign, but at the time still felt like the first step towards something greater.
The concept of micro-managing a home base and resources is one that fans of in-depth RPGs would almost always approve of – if done competently – yet is a perfect example of the type of gameplay that was removed for Dragon Age 2. If BioWare has indeed learned their lesson and is returning to what role-playing experiences are built on, while still seeking more satisfying and ‘visceral’ combat, then perhaps all players stand to be pleased.
Beyond that, few details were provided. Besides a vague confirmation that players may see what happened to some characters from DA2, a brief reference to Flemeth, and that the developers are working on integrating imported save files, BioWare is keeping the larger questions under wraps. But the admission that the team is also trying to build a narrative for those without a previous save shows that they are still intent on attracting larger audiences.
Trying to cater to both the mainstream audience and niche fans is always a dangerous proposal, and one that results in failure as often as success. But if BioWare focuses on making a bigger world, with a better story, and deeper customization, then fans may let bygones be bygones. The last thing BioWare needs is another game to be seen as a disappointment in any sense. Especially without its two founders to right the ship.
Dragon Age 3: Inquisition releases for the fall 2013 for what we expect to be the PC, PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii U.
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