Bioware’s Dragon Age series had a humble beginning with Origins. The developer wanted you to have a personalized campaign for each race. It wanted to instill purpose in everything you did, hence providing companions that you faced very real danger in losing depending on the decisions you made. It didn’t quite feel like the revolution that Mass Effect’s dialogue and morality choices brought on, but this spiritual successor to the Baldur’s Gate series began to feel like something more organic. It felt strategic on both a tactical and emotional level; it instilled a sense of loss and investment in your party members; and by offering several different Origins stories, it allowed you to explore the world’s cultures in the best way possible. It was an understated success and a worthy addition to Bioware’s vaunted collection of classics.
Then Dragon Age 2 came along and screwed everything up.
It’s hard to say where the game went wrong. It wasn’t as big as the original. It felt more restricted. It had little to no connection to the first game. The customization felt off. The character development was drawl and more than a little boring. The tactical planning of the first game gave way to much hacking and slashing in the second game. The lack of any other playable characters, which made sense since this wasn’t “Origins” story, was further highlighted by the absolutely useless inclusion of Hawke. You can have a hundred characters or you can have one but if none of them are engaging for the player, the numbers simply don’t matter.
So you could forgive Bioware for taking a more measured stance with Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s directly connecting it to the more popular title in the series with the return of Morrigan and even appears to be employing some of the same mechanics. You cull together an Inquisition formed of various races, recruited by scouring the lands, in order to face off against evil that threatens the world. Original? Maybe not, but at least there’s the hope that things aren’t what they seem from the outset – the same feeling which persisted in Dragon Age II and served to remind us that some things are exactly as they seem. Sometimes even less.
The gameplay once again employs a more hack and slash, combo-heavy style but strategy hasn’t been sacrificed altogether. There seems to be only one playable character yet again but Bioware is now incorporating a faux open world to the mechanics. Your choices will now fully drive you and decide the state of the world.
You can pretty much hook up with any one you so choose this time around, and it seems that every relationship within the game will go beyond the usual game-spanning courting. There will be flings, engaging with heated rivals and much more. It would seem that Bioware is incorporating the best of both titles – or at the very least, the highlights of the first games and revamped mechanics from the second game. It wants to be big but different. It wants to be personal but epic.
But in effect, is it really Dragon Age?
Did Dragon Age appear to have to struggle with such dualities? It was an RPG – from the third person perspective, sure – but still an RPG. It wasn’t about instant satisfaction. It was about story-telling and yes, about an epic conflict. It didn’t try to do anything new or revolutionary. It was just a very, very good game.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is making the effort to be a bigger game than the second purely on the basis of criticisms and to appeal to the more open world-demanding crowd. This can be completely justified if it aids the experience and knowing Bioware, it will indeed find a way to do so. In a way, Mass Effect was a kind-of-open-world experience. You couldn’t quite go anywhere and had to complete select story missions to open up new planets and missions. So it won’t harm Inquisition if it takes a similar path as long as the gameplay justifies it.
Which brings us back to the crux of the argument: Does said gameplay make Inquisition a better game? At this point it’s hard to tell, with Bioware playing it close to the chest. We know just enough about the combat to skeptical but not enough to outright hate it. In fact, there may be tons of mechanics we’ve yet to know about that could very well make these basic slashing controls a blast.
The point is that for a few scant details, there isn’t anything in Dragon Age: Inquisition that’s caught my fancy as of yet. And I was immediately sold on the first game when the player party engaged in a fight which saw the protagonist leap up and critically murder the boss enemy in the brain.
It may be a debate about bigger vs. better. It certainly seems possible for Dragon Age: Inquisition to do both. But it’s also about doing what’s right and making a game that’s fun in the process. Origins is Origins. Inquisition is Inquisition. The second game is forgettable. If Inquisition seeks to be a slightly remixed version of the two games set in the same franchise but with better graphics, it’s all the more worrisome regardless of how many relationship choices, open world elements and stylish combat rolls you insert.
But if Dragon Age: Inquisition manages to be its own game and justify the choices it makes to become fun to play – maintaining the spirit of the franchise at the same time is just asking a lot at this point – then it’ll be worth looking out for. We need a hook. We need something to convince us that it’s just not the same old trek across Middle Earth 2. We need that critical brain murder.
Is it a bigger risk, especially considering that Dragon Age II tried something different and failed? Of course but there’s a difference between being different and being unique – and that’s standing out in the process.