Filed under: Adventure, Blog, Console, EA, PC

An Open Letter to BioWare: Bigger Can Be Better, But Don’t Forget Your Roots

Dragon Age Inquisition is one of the season’s most hyped games and with good reason. Revealed earlier this year, Inquisition looks to be the biggest entry yet in the Dragon Age series. With a new emphasis placed on sheer size, scale, immersion, and new levels of creation and customization, Inquisition looks to bring the best elements of former Dragon Age games (character development and relationships) and combine them with the bigger, more theatrical elements of some of their other renowned series, namely Mass Effect, Jade Empire, and the original Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. To oversimplify it, what Inquisition seems to be going for is “Skyrim-lite meets KotOR”; a massive open world fantasy adventure game with the rich character development and in depth world that truly captures the player’s focus and immerses them into an experience that the player won’t soon forget.

See that? That was a half-hour long video describing how deep and in-depth the character building and customization system. That is a perfect example of what developer BioWare wanted to achieve with this new Dragon Age game. I’ve played both Dragon Age games that have been released up to this point. I didn’t much care for the first game, honestly. I thought that the quests weren’t rewarding enough and there wasn’t enough direction. I understand that some degree of a lack of direction is somewhat imperative in an open world game, but it felt frustrating when trying to achieve goals to have no idea of how to do so. Despite my lukewarm experience with Origins, I enjoyed it enough to try out Dragon Age II. Dragon Age II was, in my opinion, a much more streamlined and playable game that featured the same elements that made Origins (at least somewhat) enjoyable, while removing or reshaping the negative elements for a much more accessible and enjoyable experience. These previous Dragon Age games possessed wonderful character interaction, but the games themselves were not huge. Dragon Age II even committed the cardinal sin of reusing cave layouts for numerous missions. So many times I’d find myself trudging through the same exact cave I had been in just a few hours ago doing a completely different mission.

BioWare looks to attempt to even further streamline their franchise while adding tons of new layers to the game. Character creation is at an unparalleled level of customizability, even allowing players to now play as the all-too menacing race of Qunari. Crafting and building have been focused on as areas of improvement, as the previous games crafting systems were seemingly superficial. BioWare has also promised that player choices will have a larger effect on the way the game plays out for your characters. The romance system has also been touched up, offering “tasteful” sex scenes as reward for wooing the characters of your choice. Capturing and maintaining forts is a new element that allows you to gain or lose influence in the world of Inquisition. As per request of the apparently uncountable masses of nerds who don’t know what the phrase “action-rpg” means, we’ll also see the return of the tactical combat system, which we last saw in Origins. Truly, Inquisition is shaping up to be a huge game with countless new layers waiting to be dug into by eager fans.

All of these new levels of immersion have me concerned however. Let’s not forget who is developing this game: BioWare. BioWare is a company known for its absolutely splendid way of grandiose storytelling. The original KotOR measures up as arguably the greatest gaming story in the last twenty years. Mass Effect spanned 2.9 games worth of incredibly well told story, until the very end. Stories are the gaming element that BioWare should be focused on, because it’s the element that they know how to do best. The Dragon Age franchise, however, has been BioWare’s red-headed stepchild in the story-telling department.

I mentioned earlier that I very much enjoyed Dragon Age II, and I did. I also absolutely hated the fact that there was no over-arching story throughout the game. The game was simply a series of missions through three acts of gameplay, with the acts possessing no measure of connectedness or continuity. It was simply “ok you beat those bad guys, now here’s some more bad guys who are completely unrelated to those other bad guys.” There was no significance in the story being told in Dragon Age II. Inquisition is BioWare’s chance to remedy this, to prove that the Dragon Age franchise is capable of delivering a truly great tale on par with the likes of its space dwelling brothers, Shepard and Revan. And when I see all the emphasis being placed on these elements of gameplay in all of Inquisition’s trailers and coverage, it makes me feel like BioWare might be putting the cart before the horse. Adding all these spiffy new gameplay elements is all well and good, but please BioWare, take care of that only if you’re sure that the story that you’re going to deliver to us is worthy of your name, the way KotOR and Mass Effect were. You’re BioWare. You tell better stories than anyone in the gaming industry. Don’t get distracted by trying to make sure our new character’s eyes can be placed so far apart that he or she will resemble a hammerhead shark. Dance with the girl that brought you BioWare, and make sure that you’re delivering a grade-A story with the rich and detailed interpersonal character development we’ve come to expect from you. Then you can focus on your bells and whistles.