OpinionPreviewVideo Games

Old Ends and New Beginnings: What ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition’ Means for BioWare

DJ Arruda ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Photo Credit: Electronic Arts Inc.
Photo Credit: Electronic Arts Inc.

Come the 18th of next month, barring any further delays, the long awaited sequel to BioWare’s fantasy franchise Dragon Age will be released. Originally slated to release last fall, then October 7th, the studio was able to secure an extra year, then month, of development time in order to make Inquisition the best game it can be. As it stands now, the sequel looks to be living up to its promise as the most ambitious game the studio has ever made, promising hundreds of hours of single player content as well as a cooperative multiplayer mode. Putting players at the helm of the Inquisition, an organization re-formed to answer a magical Breach threatening all of Thedas, they will be able to craft their Inquisitor in terms of gender/race, class, and story choices soon enough. So much is riding on this sequel, given the controversies the studio has suffered over the past few years, and if it hits the mark, the mistakes of the past will be forgiven.

The most notable complaints against the studio were the lackluster sequel Dragon Age II, and the ending to their other immensely popular series, Mass Effect. Perhaps owing to its original goal as being an expansion to Dragon Age: Origins, the vastly acclaimed first game in the series putting players in control of the Hero of Ferelden to end the Fifth Blight, entitled Exodus, instead of a full-fledged sequel, the game fell short in many ways to the legacy of its predecessor. Recycled environments, lack of depth in story, and all around a rushed, half-baked product incensed many fans expecting a worthy sequel to Origin’s scope as they traced Hawke’s journey from refugee to Champion. Though the combat was improved, the characters engaging, and some necessary lore expanded upon, the amount of plot covered in the sequel could have easily been covered in an expansion, as intended, similar to Awakening; the well liked expansion to Origins which was also generally well received, continuing the story of the Warden and offering new gameplay features.

Photo Credit: Electronic Arts Inc.
Photo Credit: Electronic Arts Inc.

In essence, Origins, Awakening and Dragon Age II combined form the first part of the story, and Inquisition is being held as the true sequel to the story that fans wanted in II. It is understandable, then, that many gamers are wary of trusting BioWare after the disappointment of a sequel, which even scrapped plans for an expansion of its own entitled Exalted March in favor of working on Inquisition and rolling the content into it instead. What the controversy of Dragon Age II means, then, is that the studio cannot afford to miss the mark this time. Longtime fans were able to forgive many of the flaws of II because it still at its core held onto what the series was. But for the larger audience in the industry, the consensus was clear.

In a similar vein, the ending of Mass Effect 3, the final act in the story of Commander Shepard, generated much controversy itself. Though at the end of the day, it’s the artist’s choice as to how they end their story, and to complain about that presumes entitlement to how that story ends, there were still some validity to the complaints. In a series built on choices defining a single character, the ending twisted the expectation of choice in a way that was jarring to many players. Though the ending itself was still satisfying for some, it was made quite clear that given more time the ending could have been even better. The studio then released an Extended Cut DLC which added more cutscenes to the endings, and in many ways addressed a lot of the concerns players had with the original ending. Perhaps given the extra development time, as Inquisition has received, the ending may have been better received, been more meaningful. The rest of the game, however, was appropriately well done for the end of the trilogy, though more time would have made it as a whole better as well. BioWare prides itself as a leader in storytelling and world building, a reputation rightly deserved, but to have such uproar produced over their artistic choices is disheartening to both the game makers and the fans.

Photo Credit: Electronic Arts Inc.
Photo Credit: Electronic Arts Inc.

Thus, Inquisition must land the end, tie together all the choices the players have made and will make, and deliver a more significant result. Whereas Mass Effect is built on playing as the same character in three games, Dragon Age focuses on different heroes in each game, each shaping the world of Thedas as opposed to one character arc being continued in the sequels. Dragon Age II included some responses to choices made in the first game, but nothing that truly changed the plot besides a few cameos and mentions of world events via side quests. In introducing the Dragon Age Keep, a revolutionary cloud based service which allows players to recreate the world states of the first two games, the studio is clearly showing a renewed commitment to making player choice stand out. This aspect of their philosophy makes them unique from other studios, yet if Inquisition drops the ball on these choices like its predecessor, then the damage will be apparent.

All of which comes to say that despite the wariness of the industry towards the studio in lieu of these previous controversies, all that has been shown of the game seems to be hopeful. The marketing for the sequel has been exquisitely handled, with everything from Q&As from the writers about the companions and gameplay features, to numerous Twitch live streams and trailers showcasing both gameplay and narrative alike. And the addition of multiplayer, which was also a controversial point for Mass Effect 3 until players played it and found it a pleasant surprise, continues in that same vein as a cooperative four player dungeon crawl. Yes, Inquisition bears a lot of responsibility in cleaning up some of the past controversies, but it appears as if the studio has learned from these previous incidents.Dragon Age II and Mass Effect 3 are by no means bad games, and in fact remain solid despite the criticism thrown their way. But by building up Inquisition as the sequel of all sequels, BioWare must deliver and show what they are made of, buy back the faith of the industry and prove that they are committed to making some of the best games in the industry.

If done right this game will redefine the genre and send waves through the industry. All the evidence points to this result being the case, and the alternative is not desirable by anyone. As the tagline of the game states, BioWare must “lead them, or fall.”

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2 Comments

  1. The reason people were so irate about Mass Effect 3’s ending was we felt lied to. Mass Effect even with the bad ending is my favorite series of all time. I’ve already preordered DA:I and when ME 4 comes out I’ll be there to get it.
    (Hoping they don’t copout and make a prequel because I see it as they destroyed the universe so they need to put it back together. Prequels are just not as good because they are constrained by the past/future already. And when tech is better in what are supposed to be earlier games it just feels wrong. Star Wars*cough* But I’m straying from my point.)
    While the artist does and should get final say its more than that in a series like this. They created a game where choices were supposed to matter. Where they would effect the game. Heck if everyone died in the 2nd game then no one would even be in the 3rd game. So when you say choice matters you better back that up with your ending. They had “3” endings. But everyone felt the same because they were. Then add the fact that none of the endings were happy? Three bad endings after hundreds boarding 1000’s of hours spent playing for some players trying to make every route possible to play in the 3rd game? At that point its not just about the Artist. Couldn’t one ending be his view? Then 2 of the other be different? I have no problem if you have 20 different ending and 19 of them end badly. But when you play that many hours making all the right choices and not get one ending that leads to you being alive and happy? That’s not acceptable. At that point yes the fans have just as much of a say as the creator.

    If you don’t want that responsibility then don’t sell me a game saying choice matters. Make games where there is only one ending like others do. I won’t be as willing to buy those games but that’s an option for them.

    BioWare has made amazing and my personal favorite games in ME and DA. I love that they push the boundaries and explore relationships in ways not normally done. And I will continue to support them as they hopefully continue doing that. I’m not trying to bash them as I’ve seen others do. But after that much time and money invested it was painful to see them end a series like that.

  2. I couldn’t give many a hoot about the game ending.

    Give me a good Game. You know, the stuff that you do before the ending.

    So far I’ve seen the heros mop the floor with everything, even the dragons. Being vulnerable and not a superpower from the very start used to be what made this type of game fun.

    The “make the player feel powerful” approach is only fun long enough to secure a game sale. Then the novelty wears off, because there’s no real challenge or risk and therefore no real point.

    We are also at risk of some full scale overpromises from marketing, carefully crafting every screenshot and statement of this upcoming product. It’s insane how much they are social marketing this title, and it’s highly unlikely it can live up to some of the promises I’ve read.

    I am fearful for this one.

    It will sell millions regardless, and that’s the saddest thing about these anticipated titles.

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