19 September 2012

What Dragon Age 3 Can Take From The First Mass Effect

When BioWare announced Dragon Age 3: Inquisition it was, and is, met with a degree of suspicion given what some would see as the 'failures' of Dragon Age 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic and Mass Effect 3. Many viewed Dragon Age 2 unfavorably citing repeated environments, the obviousness with which enemies re-spawned and a plot that many saw as lackluster.

Personally, I enjoyed Dragon Age 2 and while it may not be popular to say it I know I'm not alone. For Inquisition BioWare can draw from many sources but I think their own sci-fi opera, Mass Effect, is perhaps the most obvious direction in which to look.

Mass Effect 2 is my favourite game in that particular series but for Inquisition its predecessor may have more to offer the developers.

Like Dragon Age: Origins Mass Effect was the most 'pure' RPG in the franchise and while attempts to broaden appeal should be lauded BioWare needs to remember that its core fan-base are those gamers who consider 'hardcore' RPGs their bread and butter.

In that respect the developer's promise to allow customisation of companions and their equipment is welcome as it was a feature sorely lacking in Dragon Age 2, however  Mass Effect can also act as a guide for what not to do here, some were overblown by the array of options available. The developers need to make the options clear while similarly mindful of not going too far - squadmates in Mass Effect could be equipped with weapons they were not - and could not be - trained to use for instance.
There were a lot of customisation options in Mass Effect, some would say too many.
In an ideal situation Inquisition will offer players the best of both traditional immersive role player like Origins with an accessible game like Skyrim (Skyrim is perhaps daunting in scale but it is relatively accessible regardless).

While I did enjoy Dragon Age 2 immensely and plan to play through both it and Origins again before Inquisition is released I have two criticisms of the script. This is where Mass Effect comes in, while the Reapers were established at the principal threat early on Saren was Shepard's immediate nemesis. He was the obvious threat and the one Shepard understood, even if he was working for powers beyond anyone's understanding in 2183, when Shepard's story begins.

Saren filled the role of Darth Vader in Star Wars which is to say he became the face of the enemy despite not being the principal foe. And where would Luke Skywalker be without Vader? (Okay, he wouldn't exist but you know what I mean.)

Dragon Age 2 was missing that antagonist to drive Hawke on, there was no clear enemy as such. You could argue that the Templars or the Mages are the enemy based on how you play but as is often the case a solid narrative gave way to player choice in this regard (don't read this to mean player choice is wrong, of course it isn't, however it is difficult to construct a compelling story when the narrative is based on you choosing which team to ally with - just look at Skyrim's civil war quests as an another example).

To do it well, you would need both sides to have had a story about as long as Dragon Age 2 in its entirety, a daunting task for any developer.

Of course there is Knight Commander Meredith but Hawke met the Templar leader late in the Act II, both Saren and Vader were introduced at the earliest stage of their respective series and it wasn't really clear to what degree she was a threat until the very last stages of the game.
Knight Commander Meredith was no Saren.
The other primary complaint I have of Dragon Age 2's story is that as a prequel to future events, i.e those of Inquisition, it never felt quite as tense as Origins. Keep in mind that the dark spawn were introduced to Origins at Ostagar - some of the origin stories introduced them even earlier, this obvious threat was absent in Dragon Age 2.

A problem compounded by the fact that when you played a mage other characters, and often Templars, didn't seem to realise you'd just used magic right in front of them. So Inquisition needs a Saren, it needs a character the protagonist can chafe against and eventually overcome. I don't think it's a stretch to say Shepard came to respect Saren and even understand him before the end, ideally Inquistion's hero should have someone he or she can relate to and perhaps admire, even if they are on opposite sides.

The final aspect of Mass Effect Inquisition can take is a sense of scale and a clear direction. By changing characters, settings and enemies between Origins and Dragon Age 2 I'd argue they showed they didn't have a game plan. Sure BioWare didn't know how the Mass Effect trilogy would end when they started and they've admitted that they were unaware of how Cerberus would evolve from a rogue Alliance special-ops to a terrorist organisation with massive resources.

But by keeping Shepard and the same cast of core characters (there were, obviously, additions to the squad)   as well as a universe with certain threads running throughout (the Citadel plays a prominent role in all three games) Mass Effect feels more consistent than Dragon Age has to date.
Shepard and crew visited the Citadel in each Mass Effect.
Shepard is yet another facet of Mass Effect BioWare can take inspiration from for Dragon Age 3. As the only hero of the entire trilogy players got to know him/her and of course carried 'our' Shepard's decisions forward and saw for ourselves how the character reacted to the effects of player's decisions across the entire series.

By changing from the Warden to Hawke and to yet another hero in Inquisition we've less time to know our characters. BioWare can forge a hero for the Dragon Age franchise from the same template that they drew on to create Shepard.

BioWare have created wonderful characters in their franchises, and hopefully they'll continue to do so, let's also hope they give us the time time we need to truly get to know the personas they've already created in the Dragon Age universe.
Will she be back? We don't know. 
I principally romanced Morrigan in Origins, she didn't even appear in Dragon Age 2. Many fans have become disenchanted by BioWare, Inquisition can change this, and if it does it might just be to more than that, it might give us a road-map - or at least a rough idea - for the series and while not everyone will be happy it would at least be no bad thing to know that the studio has a plan for the franchise.

BioWare, I hope, will take the opportunity with Inquisition to create the type of RPG that made the studio's name, even without their founders Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka who departed last year, and I also hope they look to Mass Effect and set about to make Inquisition not only the third game in the Dragon Age franchise but also the first game in a 'new' series that will be consistent - even if BioWare don't quite know where it's going - and one where we'll have a character and supporting cast we can rely on to be there in future games.

I want to build relationships that will last, romances, friendships and most of all a relationship with a series I know will be there for years to come. There's plenty of games BioWare can look to for Inquisition but there are far worse places to start than Mass Effect.

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