With Dragon Age 2, BioWare opted for a constricted city instead of diverse locales, political intrigue rather than ancient evil, and simplified RPG elements over complexity and customization. There are many among us who were not thrilled with the direction BioWare went with its Dragon Age franchise after the first installment.
With Dragon Age 3: Inquisition, which was announced earlier this week, BioWare has indicated that it will once again be revisiting core tenets of the franchise. In fact, the situation is rather reminiscent of BioWares other major franchise, Mass Effect. Heres a few lessons we hope BioWare learned from its epic sci-fi franchise that we hope the developer will apply to its next Dragon Age game.
Make one continuous story and connect all the dots
Compared to the Mass Effect series, the Dragon Age storyline has been a bit...detached. Mass Effect's entire trilogy follows one thing: Commander Shepard's crusade against the Reapers. You watch the relationships between the characters grow, see alliances (and rivalries) forge, and eventually see all your decisions culminate into a nicely wrapped conclusion. On the other hand, 10 years separate the events of Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2, and the stories of the Warden and Hawke have very little to do with one another. The impact of the players decisions just wasn't there, and we don't see the Dragon Age franchise reaching the depths Mass Effect was able to reach without tying the stories together.
Bioware needs to establish its world as one interconnected entity that either faces a singular threat, follows a persistent character (or group of characters), or follows an overarching theme. Flemeth has shown up in both games. Shes established herself as an advocate for saving the population of Thedas from apocalyptic events--like Darkspawn invasions. Why not make her the central character the stories could revolve around? Or, perhaps Morrigan can return with the god baby (a storyline that began at the end of Origins) and become the series main villain. These story threads would unite every character behind one cause, push subsequent conflicts to the side, and connect the world, its characters, and existing stories together in one tightly woven narrative.
Give us something worth dying for
Mage segregation, political intrigue, and mysterious armies of religious zealots made for a good, one-off story in Dragon Age 2, but to really connect the Dragon Age series, its world needs to face a common threat that the characters would be willing lay their lives down to defeat. Mass Effect's life-eradicating Reapers were the glue that held all of the side stories, characters, and missions together. So, when you left the main path to explore a companion's backstory, or went off to scan some planets, you'd always have to find a way to defeat the Reapers at the end of the day.
Likewise, Dragon Age would benefit from its own Reaper threat--which it kind of already has. The Darkspawn are a danger to the entire world, so much that a group of the worlds best warriors--the Grey Wardens--must join together to hold back the tide. A global threat like the grotesque, underground horde of Darkspawn, the Archdemon, or perhaps powerful, demonic blood mages would bring enough gravity to push the characters to extreme lengths, and provide that ultimate enemy that everyone in the world must join together to defeat.
Focus on the characters
The Mass Effect story revolved around the characters and their struggle against a seemingly unbeatable enemy. From one game to the next, we were able to develop stronger relationships with our crew mates because they stuck around for the entire story. Dragon Age, on the other hand, completely switched the characters from the first to the second, and only gave mention to the previous heroes through short cameos and name drops in the dialogue. We lost connection with some characters, which isolates one story from the other and makes the series weaker as a whole.
It's fine that Bioware wants to tell a story about the world of Thedas, but it doesn't make sense not to flesh out the characters we've already established connections with--especially if we carry those relationship choices and development over from the previous title. The player needs to be grounded in this world if the events of any given game are going to have weight. Dragon Age 3 should bring back the companions we made connections with, elaborate on characters from both games like Morrigan, Hawke, Flemeth, and Sten, and have them all work towards a common goal.
Have the choices matter (from now on)
Remember when you killed Wrex in Mass Effect, and he didn't show up in Mass Effect 2, making Krogan relations a less pleasant experience for the rest of the trilogy? Well, those types of decisions don't have as much of an impact in Dragon Age. You can seriously poison Leliana with the ashes of Andraste in DA:O, and shell just come waltzing into a room in DA 2, saying she was miraculously saved by the Maker. It defeats the point of making that choice in the first place.
With Dragon Age 3, choices need to matter within the game as well as for the franchise at large. However, BioWares got a bit of a problem here when it comes to incorporating the events from the first two games. For one, the two titles were stand-alone stories separated by a decade within the world, and then also, Dragon Age 2 alienated many fans, to the point of having them give up on completing it entirely.
The solution would be to treat these two titles as canonical prequels, but start anew with Dragon Age 3. From here, BioWare could plan the franchise from the get-go as a trilogy--just as it did with Mass Effect--and bring cohesion and consequence to the storyline. Easy enough, right?
Choose a combat system and go all out with it
Mass Effect started with RPG-fused shooter mechanics, then quickly transitioned to full-on cover-based shooting that you were more likely to see in games like Gears of War or Uncharted. It worked out well, and the decision to change made the series better. On the other hand, Dragon Age started with a largely traditional (and difficult) RPG combat system for Origins, then changed to a slightly awkward (and less challenging) hybrid of strategy, button-mashing action combat in DA 2.
BioWare needs to fully commit to a combat style--either traditional RPG or full-blown action-based combat for Dragon Age 3. Wed prefer the developers revert back to the tactical RPG system, but if they decided to go through with an action-based combat system, as long as it's bloody, fun, and it works, well be happy.
Do you have any ideas on how the Dragon Age series can improve? What do you think should change, or stay the same? What lessons do you think Dragon Age can learn from Mass Effect? We're all ears. Let us know what you think in the comments below.
For more information on the announcement of Dragon Age 3: Inquisition, be sure to check out our game page and have a look at these articles.