After years on top of the fan and game developer community, the past few have been less than kind for BioWare. With The Old Republic failing to reach the goals many had for the Star Wars themed MMO, Dragon Age 2 disappointing some of the developer’s most devoted fan base, and Mass Effect 3 courting even more controversy, the pressure is on to deliver. And that means the team behind Dragon Age: Inquisition is swinging for the fences even more than they had planned.
Even a casual observer of the video game development scene knows that overwhelming pressure is par for the course, but the launch of next-gen consoles has added yet another layer. If claiming to be a ‘next-gen experience,’ developers can’t simply keep up an established standard, but exceed it in one way or another. As the first BioWare game to hit the Xbox One and PS4, Inquisition will not only chart a course for Dragon Age‘s future, but Mass Effect as well.
“Henry Ford has a famous quote. If we asked people what they wanted they’d ask for a faster horse. There’s a certain amount of truth to that… Part of our job is to go out into the wilderness to go farther beyond what the players have seen, what they’ve played and essentially light a torch so they can see what could be and then hopefully they’ll want what we’re presenting. That can be uncomfortable. That can result in concern because obviously what they’re comfortable with, what they’ve played before isn’t completely what we’re delivering.”
While Darrah’s comment might make the task of shaping a new generation of Dragon Age sound like a complete unknown, fans have been able to see BioWare’s DNA in the upcoming adventure for some time. Stunning and varied game environments, an increased emphasis on player choice, and even a completely new take on character relationships are all in store – but fans have reason to remain skeptical.
We have little desire to revisit the issues many fans had with Dragon Age 2: a game criticized by many for featuring a less ‘epic’ storyline, an increased focus on action-based combat, and reduced customization. Darrah has previously spoken about his desire to right those wrongs in the eyes of fans, now confirming that DA2 pushed the team to recapture the studio’s past magic:
“Dragon Age 2, we decided we want to try something, to try to do very different storytelling, something much more personal, something much more tightly constrained. No chosen one, no clear overarching threat. I don’t think it was a perfect success, but that was intentional. A lot of the other changes that are perceived, the overall scope of the game or the perception of the combat getting a lot simpler or waves and things like that… That was supposed to be more evolutionary. I think we just overreached. We pushed too hard.
“Because of Dragon Age 2, Dragon Age: Inquisition is having to be a lot more ambitious, to address those concerns and really try to get back much more to the roots of the franchise. Much more about tactical combat and a higher level of deliberate difficulty. More clear overall story, with the moral choices still in there, but much more in vein of Dragon Age: Origins style storytelling. You’re right to ask. The goal wasn’t to revolutionize the series every single time, but Dragon Age 2 forced our hand to a certain degree.”
There’s no shame in acknowledging past mistakes or flaws, and all things considered, BioWare’s fans are likely to forgive and forget if Inquisition returns to the top form of Origins. The recently released story trailer for Inquisition confirm a new threat and villain, and the team is already promising more authority and influence than ever before. While the team maintains that the tale of DA2 hero Hawke is not necessarily finished, the fact that Inquisition places the game’s entire world on the brink of destruction may have some concerned that the end of the series as we know it is in sight.
According to Darrah, fans have nothing to worry about:
“Dragon Age was never intended to be a trilogy. We’ve always really looked at Dragon Age as the story of a world as opposed to the story of a character. That’s one of the reasons why we change characters between games. So, no, this isn’t the wrap-up of a trilogy. We have an overarching story arc. We are going somewhere with the storytelling. But this game isn’t a conclusion.”
With that question out of the way, the promise of the most ambitious Dragon Age game to date means significant improvements to one of BioWare’s signature story elements: romance. With the story trailer seeming to tease a return appearance of past love interest Leliana, and Alistair confirmed to be returning as well, should fans hope to rekindle an old flame?
“If you’ve had a character in a previous game that was a romance option typically we won’t bring them back because they carry a lot of extra baggage with them… The player might get angry as well. ‘But they’re in love with my previous character forever and ever and ever. How dare you?’ I think there’s validity to that. You can start to cross off a few characters because of that. We often don’t bring back characters, at least not as followers, if they were previously romance options. You might see them. Alistair comes back because we can do cameos and have them have an influence on the story.
“I think we’ve become trapped by that, the word ‘romance.’ I think friendship is… Some of what we would traditionally call romances in Dragon Age: Inquisition are falling more into that camp where… they’re more in that friendship area.”
We’ll let fans process that disappointment in their own time, but are encouraged to hear that building stronger friendships – not just romances – with party members is a higher priority this time around. After all, even the elements of Dragon Age 2 that didn’t upset fans can be improved upon with some time and energy.
What are your hopes for Inquisition? Does it come as a relief to hear that correcting the mistakes of the past is top priority, or did you find Dragon Age 2 to be a step in the right direction? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Dragon Age: Inquisition releases October 7, 2014 for the PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.