There are few elements of game design for which BioWare has been praised more than story, with both the Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises being founded on vast, rich, and complicated mythology - more story than a single game could tell, in many cases. And while the company may have strayed from the tenets of customization and player choice from Dragon Age: Origins to Dragon Age 2, they're looking to right the ship.
As Dragon Age: Inquisition takes the series (and studio) onto next-gen hardware, BioWare is looking to convince their core audience that with a bigger, better, and richer world than was possible in the past, mythology is once again a top priority. So it's no surprise that the latest locations teased are steeped in the franchise's lore.
The pieces of concept artwork were released through BioWare's social media accounts, with each image teased by a separate cryptic quote. We've compiled them here, and hopefully the most devoted fans can see what lies in store, other than some stunning environments.
The first image will pique the interest of any diehard fan of Dragon Age mythology - a universe in which both Elves and the Tevinter Imperium once held power and influence over all of Thedas. Take a look:
"And thus was mighty Arlathan cast down, its people swallowed by darkness–never to rise again... Here lies the abyss, the well of all souls. From these emerald waters doth life begin anew."
That's right, this piece of artwork depicts no other gathering than Arlathas, the ancient capital city of Elvhenan in the far northern forests of Thedas. A center of culture, peace and learning, the elven capital became increasingly isolated and defended as the Tevinter Imperium gained both territory and ego, eventually attacking Arlathas in an attempt to weed out elves once and for all.
The series' fiction says that the city was swallowed whole under a storm of magic, demons and dragons, scattering elves to the wind until they managed to found strongholds and cities seen in both Origins and Dragon Age 2. Given that, it seems unlikely that players will get to walk the city's streets once more, but as the image shows, there may be chance to explore the ruins that remain.
But even the Imperium which displaced the elves could not keep their empire of wealth and decadence running for long.
"Beneath their feet, the footprints of the Maker, and all around them echoed a vast silence... And their bones shall spread across the land, the remains of an empire lost to folly."
Which brings us to the next piece of artwork released, unfortunately somewhat harder to identify. The Imperial Highway is visible in a state of disrepair, but the widespread ruins across all of Thedas following the fall of the Imperium make it hard to pin down.
Fans online have claimed that the wording accompanying the image point to Andraste, the most revered figure in the Chantry, but it could be anywhere.
And if exploration is as key to Inqusition's gameplay as the developers claim, then players may need to travel farther off the beaten path to find these landmarks. That seems especially the case with the next piece of artwork:
"In the Arbor Wilds shall we find them, a land unclaimed by all save harsh and unforgiving natures... In places untouched by the feet of Man, in shadows unspoiled by the fires of Right."
The Arbor Wilds are a thick forest bordering The elvish Dales to the South, but have been little explored in the series so far. As the image shows, the Wilds are not for the faint of heart, although exactly what the quotes are referring to is also unclear. We can only assume that something or someone residing in the Wilds will be key to the Inquisitor's mission, but it's too early to guess exactly what.
It is also too early to tell if these locations are merely meant to show the variety of landscapes and environments that Inquisition will include, or may actually be explored by players. Whether they will be affected by past player decisions, or whether navigating them or their inhabitants will be more or less difficult depending on the race selected by the player also remains to be seen.
All they do confirm is that the development team's artists are capable of churning out some truly impressive artwork. But for the fans who crave deeper mythology, this kind of campaign is a wise move on BioWare's part.
What do you make of the images? Are you just anxious to explore them on next-gen systems, or do you need some other evidence to prove Inquisition is a next-gen title worth watching out for? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is expected to release in 2014 for the Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4 and PC.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.