The coming months are filled with more than a few heavyweights, but few are as intriguing as Dragon Age Inquisition. It would be a stretch to say that any BioWare property is a long shot at this point, but there's no underestimating the unique pressure being faced by the successor to not just Dragon Age II, but Dragon Age: Origins as well.
Most studios would be happy challenging themselves to tackle either a brand new game engine on a new platform, a greater emphasis on rounding out supporting characters, a stronger commitment to character creation, the addition of a multiplayer component, and a sweeping world-altering story some felt lacking from the last in the series. Apparently, attempting all of them isn't enough for BioWare, since modern RPGs require more work than ever.
In an interview with GamesIndustry.biz, executive producer Mark Darrah explained that while the franchise may only be hitting its third entry, the connection to BioWare's roots - and the investment by their core fans - makes Dragon Age Inquisition a unique creature. But whatever a studio's experience (even BioWare's with the Baldur's Gate series) with fantasy RPGs, there's no ignoring that the world has changed since the release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim; and their team has acted accordingly:
It's a fresh start a certain degree, I mean this is a franchise with a long pedigree, even though it's only the third game, and draws upon Bioware's history much more deeply than the Mass Effect series does. So that always comes with certain expectations, you can only push that so far.Skyrim changed the landscape for role-playing games completely. I mean Oblivion probably sold six million units, basically that range, Skyrim sold 20 million. So that, to some degree, changes everything.
Now the expectations of your other fans, they're changing too. People age, they typically have less time for games, so it changes their expectations in terms of gameplay segments. It also results in some nostalgia. so they may become even more firm in their attachment to previous features. Now suddenly you have 15 million people that have basically had the first RPG they've ever played as Skyrim. They have totally different expectations of what storytelling is, what exploration is, and I think exploration is really where we've seen the biggest change.
Pleasing the hardcore while keeping the masses engaged is never easy, especially since the game world itself does much of the work in appeasing both. The emphasis on using the sprawling game world and immersive environment to add to the story extends to the sounds of Thedas as well, not just the sights. With the release of Inquisition's official theme, audio director Michael Kent explained that the music, too, will be learning from Dragon Age II and Origins. And yet again, show players just how much impact their actions are having on the world around them:
Early on in the project we set out to redefine the audio for the Dragon Age series. We started by reviewing the last two games and came up with a top 10 “do’s and don’ts” list. We also spent some time figuring out what sets Inquisition apart from the other two games. We decided that we wanted the game to sound very dynamic, where the audio was always moving and changing, lots of highs and lows, loud and quiet moments.
The goal was to inform the player of the impact and worth of their actions through aural feedback when interacting with the world. By making the world believable and captivating through audio, this will help completely immerse the player as they explore the Dragon Age world.
The developer clearly has a weight on its shoulders, but they pursue this launch with the knowledge that they are charting a course for the company as a whole. Engine issues aside, the studio's solution to bringing new players (and forgettable ones) up to speed on story - known as Dragon Age Keep' - is expected to be used by future BioWare games as well. In fact, curious fans can try it out right now.
If the idea of Inquisition addressing prior complaints was in doubt, Darrah states it plainly by explaining that Mass Effect followed a formula of expanding and evolving certain gameplay elements and philosophies from the start of their trilogy to the end. But the fan reactions and feedback regarding Dragon Age II mean a different course for the fantasy series altogether - news sure to be well-received by many:
It's much more trying to recapture some of the elements of Dragon Age: Origins. It's bigger. Bigger than Dragon Age: Origins and certainly bigger than Dragon Age II, with more deliberate combat: the combat is trying to fall between the two games. It's different in a lot of ways, if anything I think it should probably make Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II feel more cohesive. It almost completes the set and makes the set make sense.
Dragon Age II had a lot of experiments in it, some of which I'm glad we did but some of which were very big mistakes. Dragon Age II had some very experimental storytelling in terms of the very personal story, not a big, threatening overarching villain. I'm glad we did that but those are all very challenging from a storytelling perspective.
The wait is almost over for Inquisition, so fans and critics alike will soon learn how well BioWare has managed their gargantuan task. Will you be picking up a copy to find out for yourselves?
Dragon Age: Inquisition releases November 18, 2014 for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.