There's no question that BioWare would need to change up their formula with regards to the Dragon Age franchise; although the most recent sequel was not a failure by any means, there was no denying that fans of the original Dragon Age: Origins had complaints, and wasted no time in letting them be heard.
But with Dragon Age: Inquisition, the studio isn't just trying to address the departures from the franchise's roots, but use the jump to next-gen to make a game world that is bigger, better, and more customizable than ever before. Thanks to some new details, potential players can judge for themselves if BioWare is headed in the right direction.
The increase in scale begins with the story: casting players as the leader of the titular Inquisition, an army formed to unite all of Thedas against a coming threat from beyond their realm. With the barriers between the real world and the ghostly home of spirits known as 'the Fade' being torn apart, the Inquisitor must seek out allies before the mysterious cause of the tear is revealed.
While that kind of story makes sense for both the franchise's fiction and an open world, quest-driven RPG, it also sounds an awful lot like the premise of the most recent BioWare game - similarly famous for outraging fans - Mass Effect 3. And while swords and armor may be different enough from space marines for casual fans, the most devoted fans of the company are sure to have their misgivings.
Speaking with OXM, producer Cameron Lee dealt with those questions head on, explaining that the similarities are limited to the surface:
"We have this event that occurs and the world is in chaos, sure, but in Mass Effect, you always knew what the threat was, you always knew that the reapers were there. In Dragon Age: Inquisition, whilst there is a humongous tear in the sky, and all these powerful factions and nations are in chaos - all this is happening at once, and that's a little too strange to just suddenly occur and be coincidence.
"And it's not necessarily about uncover some truths and get this person on side in order to deal with the thing at the end, it's a lot more complex than that... So in Mass Effect you formed factions but it was mostly on a personal scale, whereas in Inquisition you're talking about having a personal impact, but mostly through these big crunchy, meaty decisions and impacts that the Inquisition can have on the world. It's kind of like the difference between being a Jedi, and founding the Jedi Order."
It's certainly too soon to tell if BioWare has learned from fan feedback to both of their top-tier RPGs, but if Inquisition is a step in the right direction, there's more reason than ever to think Mass Effect could be as well. First things first, though: it sounds like the chance to run an entire army, not merely a ragtag group of outcasts will be used to distinguish Inquisition from the games that preceded it. And as always, the emphasis on differing personalities in companions, romantic partners, or simply NPC's is being highlighted as one area that the team is prioritizing.
In a preview of the game from OPM, characters, writing, and other gameplay concepts have been alluded to with more specifics. For instance, the return of multiple playable races is good news for fans, but the developers warn that the human kingdoms of Thedas may be less likely to answer the call for unity if it comes from an Elf, or Qunari. How much that will shape the overall game is anyone's guess, but is nevertheless something fans want to hear.
But without question, the most intriguing revelation comes from the newest details on the game's Keeps, and how they'll be shaping exploration and attached systems. Spread throughout the game's many realms in various states of disrepair, it falls upon the Inquisitor to capture Keeps, which unlocks additional quests, depending on how many troops are assigned to each (to be clear, these are different from the previously detailed 'Dragon Age Keep' system which will allow players to customize their own story by choosing plot events and branches from previous games and DLC).
The criticism of Dragon Age 2 appears to be heard, with the addition of Keeps adding lower-level tactics, and the previewed gameplay footage showing that a classic top-down view is returning as well. But according to Lee, that depth may have more to do with the new Frostbite Engine powering the game than that hardware of home consoles:
"I think we've reached a point now where we have the technology on the gen 4 platforms, the higher platforms, and even on gen 3 when you downgrade some of the graphics... that, combined with the new engine which we've rebuilt the entire Dragon Age game in, it gives us the opportunity to bring some of these more interesting gameplay experiences in, so strategy, keeps, tactics... to have that really strong story, along with open world kind of experiences and bring in that sense of leadership over a keep and armies and stuff like that. It's pretty cool, I'm keen for it."
Fans demanding that an upcoming sequel stay true to a franchise's roots, or slamming an update for straying too far can usually be attributed to a sense of nostalgia, not flawed game design. But in the case of Dragon Age, it is fair to say that while Origins and its sequel may look the same at a glance, the gameplay itself was radically different. And rather than shying away from that fact, Lee seems to imply that the return to Origins' formula is accepted among the team:
"It's interesting, when you think about Dragon Age: Origins, it's a very similar situation to what we have in Inquisition, because there's an overarching narrative and story that takes place. In Origins you could pick your race, it's the same in Inquisition, you pick your classes, the sorts of decisions that you make across the board are very similar in terms of scope - in Inquisition it's probably a lot larger actually.
"And there's much more customisation in Inquisition than there was in Origins, in terms of what you can craft, how you look, how you can look after your followers and all that sort of stuff... Whereas DA2 was more like pick this character kind of thing. We see it as more of an Origins experience in that sense."
What do you make of BioWare's promises? Are you willing to accept that Inquisition will be more along the lines of Origins, or do you still have your doubts? 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.