DJ Arruda ‘16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
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.
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.
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.”