This past weekend at PAX Prime 2011 was a dream come true for RPG fans, with a veritable feast of new properties and highly-anticipated sequels. Now it seems that several new details have been released for Dragon Age 3, even though the game has yet to be officially confirmed. So while Dragon Age 3 may still be in the planning stages and not officially greenlit, the new direction that the development team at BioWare is taking is sure to be good news for fans of the original game.

BioWare has already started to get some enthusiasm for the next game stirred up, promising that what they’ve got in store will both ‘surprise and delight’ their fans. We don’t know too much about the potential story, but where the armor and character design are concerned, we may have received our first lead.

While Dragon Age 2, the sequel to the hit RPG Dragon Age: Origins streamlined many of the game’s extensive inventory systems by removing the player’s ability to select their companion characters’ armor, it seems that change isn’t for good. The feature may not seem like a game-breaking change or one that could seriously impact the gameplay. But for hardcore fans of role-playing, it did represent a commitment to cinematic presentation and storytelling over complete customization.

The developers of Dragon Age 2 haven’t shied away from the fact that plenty of fans weren’t pleased with the changes they’d made. The game’s lead designer Mike Laidlaw has personally addressed those jilted fans, promising that their complaints were being heard loud and clear by the development team. Now Laidlaw has taken to the Bioware forums to give fans a small idea of one design direction that is being taken with DA3.

Laidlaw isn’t budging on the importance of giving companion characters a preset appearance, but revealed that at this time, they are planning to give at least some customization abilities to the player:

“Followers will continue to have iconic appearances. Similar to DAII, their outfits will be more “full body” rather than parts-based (like Hawke or the DAO followers), and these armors will be unique to the followers. This decision allows us to give the followers appearances that “break the rules,” such as isabela’s boots coming over the knee, or Merril’s gloves coming seamlessly up her arms. Ultimately, we believe that the strong visual identity given to characters by iconic appearances is an important part of their identity.

“Followers will have more than one appearance. Whether they be unlocked by advancing the core story, plot reward, some crazy ass crafting quest, romance or completing a personal plot, we would like the followers to have more than one appearance over the course of the game. To do show allows them to progress, grow and react to changing circumstances, all of which help us tell a visual story with the followers.”

It’s hard to argue with the development team’s reasons for keeping the changes intact, but if each companion is given at least a few different outfits to choose from, it would go a long way in at least giving some sense of player choice. It’s certainly more similar to Mass Effect 2 than Origins, but it’s better than nothing. Still, seeing a follower’s armor progress from light, to heavy and up to the baddest of the bad could be satisfying, even if they are preset outfits.

Dragon Age Companion Armor

It should be pointed out that character appearance won’t be merely superficial, since the armor will first and foremost determine the damage they can take. Upgrades and item slots will be returning, but if those sound like areas of role-playing that you’d rather stay away from, then Laidlaw says you’ve got nothing to worry about:

“Followers will have their equipment slots restored and armor you equip in those slots will have the expected statistical impact on the follower, including enchantments, bonuses and base armor stats, along with requirements to wear the armor applying. As per above, adding armor pieces to these slots will not impact the follower’s appearance directly, only their statistics.

“Followers who have no armor equipped by the player will be automatically equipped with a “basic” suit of armor that progresses automatically with them as they level, similar to the “basic” weapons that equip if you remove your real weapons in DAII. For those players uninterested in fiddling with their follower armors, these basic suits will be serviceable, and loosely equivalent to an run-of-the-mill suit of armor with no bonuses or enchantments for their current level. Hardly optimal, but serviceable enough for the lower difficulties.”

So while the team may not be returning to the original structure as much as some of you had hoped, it’s clear that they’re at least aware of the importance of giving players control over the appearance of their team. They are artists above all, so being committed to having a singular vision for a character isn’t something they’re likely to budge on.

While these are just general design ideas at this point, Laidlaw did say that it was safe for fans to assume that any changes to the plan would be in favor of even more customization. Whether these changes will be enough to bring back displeased fans remains to be seen.

What’s your opinion on this shift in design philosophy? Are these going to solve your problems with companion customization, or do these statements miss the point entirely? Leave us your thoughts in the comments.

Dragon Age 3 is still just a theory at this point, but we’ll keep you posted when an official announcement is made.

Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.

Source: BioWare

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