There have been several new bits of information about the upcoming Dragon Age Inquisition shared by Bioware in recent weeks. We’ve seen new gameplay videos, gotten a look at the box art, learned the release date, and gotten bits of other info regarding the story, design, and gameplay. All the footage and info that has been revealed thus far presents a great case to be optimistic, but fans are still wary. Dragon Age II was unquestionably a huge disappointment after the first game was so fantastic, so it’s understandable why many are skeptical of the series’ third installment. Ever since the game was first announced several years back, Bioware has been saying all the right things, but one has too wonder if Inquisition has any chance of redeeming the series after Dragon Age II.
There is a wide variety of opinions about Dragon Age II, but few would argue it could have been much better. There are of course those that feel the game was an undisputed abomination, a terrible game through and through. There are even those that genuinely loved the game, in some cases even more than the first. I however, fall into a middle ground, appreciating the game for what it did well but also recognizing it had many missteps. If Dragon Age Inquisition is to redeem the series it has to be more than just a better game, it needs to succeed in the specific areas that Dragon Age II failed.
Among the many failings of Dragon Age II, the one most often pointed to as the game’s most significant problem was the lack of unique environments. The entirety of the game takes place in a single city and its outlying areas. Not only was there just the one major hub location, but the individual areas within it were ridiculously small. As bad as that is, it doesn’t end there. The game featured only a single dungeon environment, which was re-used ad nauseam throughout the course of the game. This all came together to create a feeling of repetition and monotony for the entirety of the 30+ hour game.
It goes without saying that Dragon Age Inquisition will need to go far beyond Dragon Age II both in the number and size of environments. Luckily this is something Bioware seemed to be keenly aware of since the size of the world has been a major talking point for as long Dragon Age Inquisition has been a game the public was aware of. According to the developers, even just one of the game’s many explorable regions will be larger than the entirety of either the first or second game. It remains to be seen how much variety and opportunity for exploration there is across these regions, but if the environment trailer is any indication there isn’t anything to worry about.
In addition to the size and variety of the world, another of Dragon Age II’s major shortcomings was in its vastly less strategic combat. The combat wasn’t all bad, with a nice quickening of the pace, more immediate feeling to the action, and expanded party tendency controls, but the move away from the tactical and strategic combat of Origins was disappointing. Even if the combat wasn’t the worst part of the game, it symbolized a move in a direction many fans didn’t want the series to go. Dragon Age Origins was a throwback to classic tactical RPGs of the late ’90s and early 2000s like Baldur’s Gate and Planescape Torment at a time when the genre was moving more heavily towards action. By downplaying the tactics and focusing more on action in the sequel, Bioware was indicating that the series was no longer targeted at people that loved those classic tactical RPGs.
It’s no secret that the push towards more action was a move meant to expand the game’s audience and achieve higher sales numbers. Fortunately for fans this was not the case, as Dragon Age II sold noticeably worse than its predecessor and received a near universal recognition of being a lesser game. This is one of those cases of fans voting with their wallets and those responsible taking clear notice. As a result, Dragon Age Inquisition seems to be taking the things about Dragon Age II’s combat that worked and combining them with the more tactical gameplay of the original game. Tactical view is confirmed to be making a return and gameplay videos we’ve seen thus have made a point to emphasize the need for strategy. It remains to be seen how the combat will work in practice, but the notion of combining the visceral action and party control options of Dragon Age II with the more high level tactics and strategy of Dragon Age Origins is an exciting proposition.
The environment and combat are the two main areas the game needs to improve over DA II, but there are numerous smaller elements that could stand to be improved as well. The lack of customization in DA II was another indication that the game was going more casual. The phoned in side quests and uninteresting loot only made repeated dungeons that much more boring. Finally, the story taking place over the course of ten years, while certainly having its interesting aspects, made the game feel like a disjointed mess with its random jumps in time and lack of change to world. These things aren’t the most important areas to be improved for Dragon Age Inquisition, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.
The most disappointing thing about Dragon Age II was that almost all of its many problems could be traced directly back to the ridiculously short development cycle. Dragon Age Origins was released on November 3, 2009 and Dragon Age II was released on March 8, 2011. That puts the development time for Dragon Age II at a mere 16 months, far less than what most grand and expansive role playing games take in development. This is a lesson that certainly seems to have been learned, with Dragon Age Inquisition set for a October 2014 release date which puts the development time at three and a half years. With a clear stance from the development team that they are taking all the Dragon Age II feedback to heart and enough time in development to give the game the care it deserves, I find myself very optimistic about Dragon Age Inquisition. I am trying to remain cautious after Dragon Age II, but everything that has been shown so far makes me think this game will in fact redeem the series.