Can Bioware get it right with Dragon Age: Inquisition?

A lot of people hated Dragon Age II for its action-oriented approach and diluted RPG elements, and most of all, for its completely forgettable protagonist, Hawke. The game did have its fans (myself included), who enjoyed the fast combat, sleek new interface and streamlined mechanics. Strangely, however, both its fans and haters are likely to have a very similar wish-list of features and changes for its sequel, Dragon Age: Inquisition.

We’d like to see a story of epic proportions, please. The feudal, operational and logistical issues of the municipality of Kirkwall were well addressed in Dragon Age II, and despite featuring corrupt priests and genocidal Templars were not quite as interesting as the Darkspawn and empire-in-peril direction taken by its predecessor’s story. Head to www.dragonage.com and you’ll see that Bioware has already figured this out. Here’s an excerpt from the game’s description: “A cataclysmic event has plunged the land of Thedas into turmoil. Dragons now darken the sky.” The developer had me at “cataclysmic” and “dragons”.

Real role-playing. Let’s face it. Hawke wasn’t going to be Shepard (of Mass Effect fame), and Bioware’s attempts at mirroring their fantasy and science fiction universes didn’t yield expected results. The solution for Dragon Age: Inquisition is simple. Since it’s quite probable that the player will play a major role as the Inquisitor, go back to what was done with Origins and give the player the option of creating his own character and choosing his path to get there. And don’t give him a name.

Bring back some of the complexity, but not all of it. A lot of the core gameplay elements of Dragon Age: Origins were simplified for Dragon Age II — the combat, inventory management, skill trees and attributes. Again, the action-heavy Mass Effect 2 benefited from compromises made to core role-playing elements, but players and critics both felt that this didn’t work with Dragon Age II. I personally enjoyed the combat in the game, but bringing back abandoned, more complex elements, and adding some new ones would probably have a positive effect on Inquisition: the RPG. Other mechanics, which were standard in older RPGs — strict adherence to D&D rules and spell memorisation, for instance, need not make the final cut.

Leverage the rich fiction. The Dragon Age series’ most appealing aspect to me is its incredibly rich lore — its expanded universe extends to comics, novels and animated movies which have made great use of the interesting world and characters. Inquisition’s story should take the player to as many wonderful places as possible, and not just for a ten-hour picnic to The Deep Roads.

Exploration is good. One particularly frustrating aspect of Dragon Age II was the infinitely repeating dungeon. Take on any side-quest and you’ll find yourself traversing one of several identical dungeon layouts — almost as if the bad guys all had the same architect designing their hideouts. With Dragon Age: Inquisition, we’re not expecting Skyrim, but we’d like some unique areas to explore. It would also be great if the party members could climb over small objects in addition to stairs — pebbles and wooden planks would be a start.

Evolve the combat, but don’t make it real-time. Real-time party based combat is probably not going to work, and here’s to really hoping that we’re not taken down the Mass Effect route again (imagine button mashing, switching characters, and continue said button mashing). There’s always room for improvement with the combat system — Bioware can probably take a page out of Cyanide Studios’ Game of Thrones RPG (the combat system was flawed, but had a few interesting ideas), The Witcher 2, which merged number-crunching and real-time combat effectively, or even X-COM: Enemy Unknown.

Don’t dumb down the dialogue system. We’ve been promised more morally ambiguous choices — let’s hope that the decisions we make in Inquisition will be true tests of our character. There’s also word on Bioware taking a fresh look at the dialogue system, factoring in the negative feedback Mass Effect got with auto responses, as well as problems in Dragon Age II, where Hawke’s dialogue wasn’t really indicative of a choice made by the player. But, most importantly, Bioware, please don’t explain, expand or rewrite the ending.

On second thought, we’ll take the free DLC, thanks. Dragon Age: Inquisition is set for release in the third quarter of 2014.