With great power comes great responsibility, especially when said power is a direct result of support received from thousands of loyal video game fans. In the case of BioWare, the development studio's current place among the industry's top companies didn't happen by accident, but by releasing quality RPG properties on a regular basis.
But with the team's latest Dragon Age 2, fan reaction was both heated and polarized. Serious accusations have been thrown around in the weeks since release, and the heads of BioWare have now given their two cents on the debate, and taken the opportunity to assure their fans that they have not been forgotten.
The follow-up to the smash hit Dragon Age: Origins released last month to impressive sales, breaking the million-copy threshold within two weeks. But while Origins found an immediate home with BioWare's long-time fans who had been craving a sequel to the classic RPG Baldur's Gate, Dragon Age 2 wasn't so lucky.
The game was by all means a massive success, earning several perfect ratings from various gaming publications, but to say that fan reactions were mixed would be a monumental understatement.
It wasn't the game's story or combat that so enraged many fans, but the same streamlining and simplification as Mass Effect that took the original title's throwbacks to classic role-playing and exchanged them for what some might deem 'button-mashing.' The story continued the BioWare tradition of offering stronger narratives than most modern action titles, but for every newcomer or fan who saw the changes as improvements, there were just as many die-hard players who instead felt betrayed.
The studio has brought some of the most memorable Western RPGs to realization over the past years, but with Dragon Age 2 managed to split their fan base down the middle, earning just as many five-star reviews as flat out zeros. The phenomenon isn't lost on the founders of BioWare, Dr. Greg Zeschuk and Dr. Ray Muzyka, and the pair took the chance to set the record straight in a recent interview with Game Informer.
Fans of the developer should pay close attention, since the Doctors want to emphasize just how important the company's army of loyal gamers is to their continued success. In the eyes of Muzyka, nothing is more important to the studio:
"It’s been polarizing to see the feedback, frankly. There’s been a lot of people that have been really delighted about what we’ve provided in Dragon Age II. People rating it 90 to 100 and really being happy with all the features and the focus on action intensity and the voiced protagonist and the way the story unfolds with the framed narrative and a lot of the things that are quite innovative and different.
"There are other people that were expecting more Dragon Age Origins and more of the spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate. Some of them have expressed disappointment. It’s something we really take seriously. We’re taking that feedback to heart and we’re seeing what we can do to continue to surprise and delight our fans in the future.
"We’ve actually attracted a lot of new people to the franchise. Dragon Age II is selling faster than Dragon Age Origins. It’s probably part because it’s drawing a lot of new fans in. And that’s exciting to us. But our core fans are really important to us. I can’t emphasize that enough. They helped get us to where we are today. They’re the core of what we do, and we want to make sure we’re making games that satisfy them."
Hopefully the next installment in the Dragon Age series will be able to right the various wrongs the jilted fans feel they have endured, if it's already too late to affect Mass Effect 3. While it's nice to hear that the heads of the company value fan criticism just as much as corporate advice, these statements are unlikely to appease the most outraged critics of Dragon Age 2.
The biggest problem about the changes made from Origins to DA2 is how sure they were to upset hardcore fans of the RPG genre. Were they massive changes? Debatable. Were they game-breaking or all-out disastrous? Hardly. But could fan reaction to their removal have been predicted? Absolutely.
We would love nothing more than to think that the developers of Dragon Age 2 made some bold choices to modify their past formula - some of which were interesting improvements we hope to see more of - but it isn't that simple. The changes made to the series took a classic fantasy RPG and made it vastly more marketable, and more attractive to the third-person-action audience. And it's that fact that likely stung fans so badly: not that BioWare made changes that many fans ended up hating, but that the studio knew they could get away with it.
The game had an even more impressive launch than the previous title, and worked its way onto nearly the same level of exposure as the Mass Effect franchise. We're not fans of conspiracy theories, and the truth of the matter is the BioWare's main goal is to make money. The video game industry is a business, after all.
Doubts are valid, but we'll still give BioWare the benefit of the doubt going forward. The Doctors reiterated just how important their loyal community is to them, and the outrage expressed over Dragon Age 2 can't sit well with them.
Do you think BioWare will go about developing future titles differently based on the mixed reception of Dragon Age 2 among many of the hardcore fans? If you were disappointed by some of the changes made to DA2, do these latest comments help you let bygones be bygones? Let us know in the comments.
Dragon Age 2 is available now for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Pick up a copy by the end of April and you'll also be eligible to download a free copy of Mass Effect 2 for the PC.
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