For many fans of Canadian-based developer BioWare, the words "role-playing games" have become synonymous with the studio - after showing their pedigree with hit titles Baldur's Gate, Jade Empire, and Mass Effect. With their last project Dragon Age: Origins the team focused their attention on the fantasy/medieval genre to great financial and critical success.
In a recent interview, the heads of the company explained that, with the upcoming Dragon Age II, the focus is on creating an entire world rather than a single storyline.
It came as a surprise to some when BioWare announced that the customizable hero system used for Origins had been dropped in favor of a single protagonist. Players will still have the opportunity to select gender, but we already have a look at our new lead character, Hawke. Since their other major series Mass Effect is based on importing your character from game to game, it's clear that the team is going in a different direction with Dragon Age II.
The game won't completely ignore the events of DA:O, since decisions and choices made by your former Warden wil be imported to shape Ferelden. In an interview with Eurogamer, BioWare founders Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka - collectively known as 'The Doctors' - explained their plans for the Dragon Age universe. Muzyka cleared the air on what fans should expect from the series going forward:
"We haven't announced other products in the franchise yet, but we are working on some other ideas in the Dragon Age universe already.
"It's more of a universe view as opposed to a chronological story view. We've always seen it as a world and there are many stories being told throughout this world.
"We're bringing it to a new area, like Free Marches in Dragon Age II and some other areas, Kirkwall and so on. Dragon Age: Origins had some different areas in Ferelden. Other products in the Dragon Age universe will probably bring it to other places, still.
"So it's more of a world view, and there are lots of cool areas we haven't explored yet. So we're excited to show fans those."
Apparently The Doctors have quite a lot more in mind than just a single storyline or game, which is good news for fans of the series. Since the other major title coming out of the studio (at least, for the moment) is Mass Effect, comparisons are going to be made. Zeschuk says the differences aren't massive, but they are important:
"It's probably fair to say it's less precise than the Mass Effect trilogy concept, because Mass Effect had a real distinct trilogy. But a similar amount of thinking went into it.
"Dragon Age: Origins, there's an enormous amount of back story. When we create a property like that, you think about major world events. It's fun then to make the games around the major world events."
For those hoping for a cohesive storyline, this will obviously be bad news. Given the recent success of another game that departed from the franchise's heroes and main characters, Halo: Reach, perhaps it's possible that releasing different games in the same world could be beneficial. The connections between stories will be visible, and Ray Muzyka explained how this approach will be able to offer a deep and rich experience - surrounding the life of Hawke:
"There's a whole timeline written out, a story arc that goes before and after the Dragon Age: Origins events or the Dragon Age II events. It's neat to see this roadmap of history. We're just showing a snap shot of time in this universe. There's all this other cool stuff on both sides and all this other stuff that's there and gives the world a place.
You might run into characters from other parts of the world. It's not just a random character running around. The two games overlap — geographic and timeline overlaps. The last part of Dragon Age II occurs during the tail end of the Blight, when you're fleeing Lothering. You see some flames and you're a refugee at that point and you ascend to greater heights as a champion."
It would seem that there are more than a few titles in the oven over at BioWare, so now would be a good time to experience the original chapter. If a casual Facebook game isn't enough to get your Dragon Age fix, then hopefully knowing that there are plenty of chances to step into Ferelden on the way will suffice.
Regardless of how the RPG elements will play out in the upcoming sequel, the game looks like something special. You can pick up some bonuses with your pre-order, or wait for Dragon Age II to be released on March 8, 2011 on the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.