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Dear BioWare… Lessons for Dragon Age 3

/ Nov 30th, 2012 16 Comments

Dragon Age 3: Inquisition

[This editorial was written by Kathrine Bryan.]

Details have recently begun to emerge about Dragon Age 3: Inquisition, which is set to be released in late 2013. Dragon Age 3 will be powered with a new engine, Frostbite 2. Players will assume control as a human, just like in Dragon Age II. Back-stories will be available, though they will not be playable. Customization is supposedly going to be much more extensive than in Dragon Age: Origins. The developers have said the next game will be more French, which leads one to believe it will take place in a region gamers have not explored yet: Orlais. For fans of the series, they will be able to see what happened to some of their Dragon Age II followers, implying that they’ll learn the fates of several characters. The game will allegedly have more variety and space, similar to open-world games such as Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The developers have also promised not to recycle environments, and decisions will have more impact than in the first two games. The few screenshots that have been released are stunning. Overall, with the limited information that is available, Dragon Age 3 looks promising. The game is facing fervid anticipation and high expectations. In order not to let the fans down, BioWare must deal with some issues that have plagued the series.


Dragon Age: Origins reeled in gamers with well-developed characters, tons of personalization options, great voice acting, and an interesting combat system. The game also has solid storytelling, which has become the hallmark of BioWare games. Origins offers a variety of options on how to complete the main Warden’s storyline. Gamers can play as a human, elf, or dwarf, and choose from several back-stories that affect the game and determine their first quest. It’s the type of game that players can play over and over again, and the story’s conclusion is enough to make the game a great stand-alone tale.  Dragon Age: Origins, however, is not perfect. The graphics leave something to be desired. The Warden is silent, and dialogue options are chosen from a box with lines of text than can be a pain to read. The game also had plenty of bugs that could be utterly frustrating at times.

Dragon Age II tried to smooth over the few bumps present in the original game, but instead it introduced more problems into the series. Dragon Age II presents faster combat, and the AI is a little smarter. BioWare’s signature dialogue wheel was introduced into the game, and the main character, Hawke, has a voice. The graphics are also an improvement. The framed narrative of Varric telling the history of the Champion is an interesting approach to storytelling within a game, as was the choice to depict Kirkwall over many years. However, these positive changes are marred by new faults. The dungeons are excruciatingly repetitive because of the recycled environments. Many of the personalization choices were removed. No longer can the player tinker with the party’s armor, and the gamer is stuck within the confines of Hawke’s linear origin story. The player has to play as a human, and skill trees are fixed. In addition, the game’s difficulty levels are off-balance. Beloved characters from Dragon Age: Origins only appear briefly, and the game concludes with a huge question to add to the many unanswered ones fans already had before. The game feels like it was rushed and simplified as if to release the game as soon possible while targeting the broadest audience it could.

In order to redeem the Dragon Age series, BioWare must look at the mistakes with the last two games and fix them. As inspiration, they should examine the Mass Effect series. Mass Effect 3 answers questions from the previous games, and it brings characters like Liara and the Virmire survivor back into the loop after cameos in Mass Effect 2. The gameplay and graphics are sharper. The developers learned from previous errors, and they took away the hilariously hard-to-control vehicles and tedious methods of obtaining minerals. Each mission feels like something important is at stake. Though some may complain about the ending, the reality is that Mass Effect 3 is by the far the most polished and satisfying game of the trilogy.

So what can Dragon Age learn from Mass Effects path? Bring back the favorites. Welcome Alistair, Zevran, Leilana, Morrigan, Isabela, Fenris, Anders, and others back into the party. Dragon Age could also learn from the romance options offered in Mass Effect 3. Dragon Age II, without any DLC, offered four characters that could be romanced by any gender Hawke. While it is a nice idea to allow everyone to romance who they want, it feels less authentic than the multitude of unique options in Mass Effect 3. The biggest lesson of all that Dragon Age 3: Inquisition needs to absorb is that the game must be well-rounded and satisfying. Questions must be answered. How does the war between the templars and mages progress? What happened to the heroes of the past two games? And just what have those pesky darkspawn been up to during all of these years?

BioWare should take their time developing Dragon Age 3. If the originally designated release time doesn’t work, push it back. It’s for the best. Both Dragon Age games have their fair share of bugs and other flaws that could have been polished over. Fans have been waiting anxiously, and to serve up a sloppy game would be ill-advised. It’s the first game to be made by BioWare after the departure of its founders, and it would be a bad omen to step off on the wrong foot. Some gamers are already irked about how Mass Effect 3 ended, and nearly everyone was disappointed by Dragon Age II. However, the fans should have faith. BioWare has said that they would be open to their comments and ideas, and it seems like they are on track to make a game that addresses everyone’s concerns. Hopefully, Dragon Age 3 will satisfy the fans’ hunger and redeem BioWare in the eyes of their detractors.

[This editorial was written by Kathrine Byran, sorry for any confusion.]

Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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16 responses to “Dear BioWare… Lessons for Dragon Age 3”

  1. JncEsp says:

    I Agree with the things that they could fix from the second one.
    I reallt did enjoy Dragon age two more then the first one(at least overall).
    I dont agree at All that the romances in mass effect 3 were done better(or even done well enough to be called romance) and the options in Da2 were better (least from my small veiw)
    Another thing i hope they dont do like mass effect three is how tied to the story the character is. almost wasnt a point of having your own character.
    when it came down to it the first two games were more like a backstory for who your shepard is in the third. even though i loved my hawke Im glad there not having her come from the second and step into somthing else. Im pretty sure its just the world thats affected inbetween games

    As long as they dont Over think it, Or Under look things, then i have allot of faith that i am going to enjoy Dragon age three Tons whenver it comes to be. 🙂

  2. Al says:

    I disagree with the graphics being improved in Dragon age 2. I feel they simply went in a different artistic direction but the graphics overall were not “better” The dialogue system in one was also preferred in my opinion as well. I think they should keep dragon age and mass effect separate as mass effect is about a single main character and dragon age is more about the world as a whole. The relationships each PC has should be exclusive to his/her characters and party members. For example bringing Alistair back to get re-romanced would be a bad call, the characters story is tied to the warden in one way or another and to get them involved in another PCs story would be a violation. This goes for all the party members. The could make cameos but nothing more. The main things bioware has to keep in mind is what makes Dragon age unique from mass effect and why was origins as big of hit as it was.

    • Paladin says:

      The graphics were a bit better, which is to be expected; sequels always get upped graphics, as technology improves- or is better understood. The art direction however… I will say I did like how 2 didn’t have brown in everything like 1 appeared to have had. The character models, I will say I was in the middle with. When I think back at it, there were times where they looked a bit cartoon-like to me at times- but mostly I definitely agree that 2 felt rushed.

      HOWEVER, and I’m praying… Since DA3 will most likely be on 720/PS4, with the tech in those machines shared so far; and the engines a lot of developers are using, or building… Its highly possible for the entire game to look closer to what we saw in the Sacred Ashes trailer, or Destiny trailer, which would be quite beautiful-graphically and art direction wise.

  3. fitzginger says:

    *SPOILERS*(Although you should have played both DAO and DA2 by now) The best part of Dragon Age Origins was the variety of origin stories. The different races lent some good diversity to the background of each story, but it wasn’t really crucial. I think it’s ok if human is again the only specie option; however, they need to reintroduce the unique origin stories. DA2 was way too linear, there’s little to no replay value. The Hawke story was interesting and fun, but the player’s individual decisions had minimal effect on the storyline. In origins, the human noble storyline made the most sense in respect to the rest of the game; you were out for revenge on Arl Howe, as well as fulfilling your Grey Warden obligations. With the other storylines, you resolved your individual grudges too quickly; you could just go do those quests first. In fact, in the city elf origin story, you pretty much resolved your grudge immediately if you killed the rapist (and why would you not?), and after that I guess you could kill the slavers to resolve your racial angst, but who likes slavers? Unless you were deliberately playing as a racist? I dunno. Dwarven noble and commoner were both pretty interesting, but the Dalish origin story was pretty boring. My point is that the origin stories in DA3 should be equally dynamic and interesting in regards to how they affect the rest of the story, regardless of how many race options are offered.

  4. TheDevian says:

    The game has been pushed back to 2014, assuming the rumors are true, something about the new console release dates.

    I have to disagree that the silent protagonist and the lines of text were a detractor, if you don’t want to read, play an action game, RPGs require reading, as a ‘writer’ you should be promoting it, it’s good for you. Aside from the human only aspect of 2 the ME Dialogue Wheel and Voiced Player were among the worst of the changes (to me). Not only do I want as many lines of dialogue as possible, I also want to know exactly what it is I am going to say when I choose that line of dialogue. What I do not want, is what we had in 2, 1 thing to say with 3 ways to say it. Not to mention all of that money, space, time, etc. that were dedicated to those two voice actors for Hawke could have been better used to add more actual content, like conversations with your party members, and conversations with branches. 2 was so dumbed down you could completely ignore/skip over all dialogue, just hitting the same button over and over and just run around following markers and going from one fight to the next and get through the game. I want a game I have to think about.

    The combat speed and bugs (and a few plot holes) were about the only detractors for origins for me (there were at least as many, if not more, big bugs in 2 as in Origins, especially as a % of the game). The most notable improvement in the graphics in 2 for me was the lip syncing. And don’t get me started on the elves, and the no longer golden skinned invaders.

    I do not care for the idea of playing an “Inquisitor”, the implications of that are just horrifying (especially considering I never liked the Templars and that is who used to be and now becomes this group once again). And I like it less every time I think about it.

    The idea of being shoved into playing a human again (in a world of many races) I like just a bit less than the idea that an Inquisitor could be the “Hero”.

    Considering how poorly the ‘call back’ characters were done in 2, I would prefer they not bring anyone back who has had a big role before. Isabela, totally different appearance, though I am on the side who thought that was an improvement, and her voice/accent changed a bit, but personality stayed about the same. Merril, love her or hate her, she was drastically changed in appearance, and personality and voice/accent (as were most the elves). Anders, IMO, ruined. Leliana, also IMO, ruined. Zev, FUBAR, other than his voice, that they got right, at least. Alistair, I thought mediocre, most of the fan girls seemed to disapprove though.
    Not all bad, but it’s not a good track record over all.

    Even before the Dr’s left much of the talent had already gone. As long as Mr. “Awesome Button” is in charge of the project I have little to no hope that they can make another game that is worthy to being called the “Spiritual Successor to Baldur’s Gate” as Origins was, and the more I hear about it, the more it reinforces that idea. EA bought them about a year or so before Origins came out (in a 5 or so year dev cycle) and it’s been steadily downhill for all of their games ever since, …funny how that seems to always work, huh? You strip out the core elements of the genre to appeal to a ‘broader audience’ and you make it unappealing to a large part of the core audience. Once the rep is gone with the core base then EA moves on to ruin the next big thing.

  5. DrSnakes says:

    There were many things that I liked about Origins, and many things I didn’t like. Dragon Age: 2 didn’t really *improve* as a whole, in my opinion. It was rushed, and it felt unfinished. The graphics were different, which isn’t a bad thing, and I love that Hawke had a voice.

    But that was really the only thing I liked about it. It’s a game you can finish in less than a week. Maybe for some that’s fine, but I’m not a big gamer, and DA and Skyrim are pretty much the only games I’ve been able to stand.

    I do really like that they want to do more open-world stuff, though. I think that would be really fun.

    I’m pretty upset that you STILL can only play as a human. At least there will be different back-stories, though, and at least certain options have an effect on the game. Still, it would have been a lot more fun if there were different races. I would be willing to wait five more years for a good, quality game, and I know many others would also be willing to wait.

    Personally, graphics are important, but gameplay and storylines are even more so. It’s the same with books. I’ve read some stories with terrible grammar, but the general storyline and plot were good enough that I could look past that.

  6. GuyHawkesErFawkes says:

    The real lesson that Bioware should learn is to shut their mouths. I used to be a fan of Bioware, but here’s what happened:

    – Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening: utterly shameful expansion that managed to be even buggier than Origins, incompatible with Origins’ official DLCs, and never received a single patch.

    – Dragon Age 2: Bioware promised the political state of Kirkwall would be affected by imported savegames (it didn’t), that Hawkes’ every decision would shape the world (they didn’t), and improved combat (enemies spawning in a circle around you is not “dynamic”, nor is it “tactical”).

    – Mass Effect 3: they spent five years promising every decision counted (red, green, blue only), that there would be no magic Reaper Off Switch (whoops, Crucible), and that certain decisions that seemed correct at the time will turn out to be dead ends (only decision that can possibly cause that is if you skip every side mission and wind up short on points). Five minutes of nonsensical monologue destroyed five years of promised player agency.

    They should just shut up, make a game, and let the players judge it for its merits. Any promises they make at this point will just be ammunition against them when they inevitably fail to deliver.

  7. Fredward says:

    Are you… high? Bringing back “beloved old characters” worked in ME because it had a FIXED protag. Dragon Age will ALWAYS have a new protag so bringing old companions, whose backstories have ALREADY been dealt with, is not only incredibly contrived it is a HORRIBLE idea.

    Also screenshots have not been released CONCEPT ART has been.

    And it’s cute how you think Bioware can just “push back” a release date, they’re owned by Evil Arts who really likes money so if you’re hoping for a four year development cycle you’ll be waiting for a while. Also ME3 was released 2 years after ME2, clearly these two years (and however long pre-production was, for DA3 this has apparently been two years already) were more than enough to make a very good and well polished game.

  8. El Terrible says:

    They already followed the path of Mass effect, it was called Dragon Age 2. Simplified gameplay, dysnasty warriors like button mashing combat system, linear plot, illusion of choice, every confrontation leads to a fight. It was a mess, I have little hope for DA:3, Origins was Biowares modern pinnacle and one which they won’t surpass.

  9. PASSSS says:

    Simply thinking that the addition of a voice actor to DA2 was a good idea proves how little you understand about the spiritual successor of balders gate. The voice acting was horrible. You had three ways to say the exact same statement, the only difference was you could do it bluntly, make a snark remark or just be the goody two shoes but it was still THE EXACT SAME STATEMENT. Dragon age 1 had actual decisions to make, actual ROLES to play. Funny how that is important in ROLE playing game. For all of the time and money they spent making their combat system faster (read: flashier, and lacking in substance) they could have easily sped up the system from DA (the majority of complaints) not changed a thing to it and increased time spent into story line and not recycling backgrounds and people would have been extremely happy.

    Bioware had so much to work with in kirkwall, so many political, social, racial and religious topics to work with and they went with the most hackneyed knee jerk story change ever. Yet, they seem to be professionals at ruining good story it seems. Mass Effect 3 was a perfect example of the new bioware. More action, less content. Farrrrr less content.

  10. b003 says:

    I liked DA2, I couldn’t play 1 anymore it’s tooo slow. As lonng as they keep the graphics and gameplay I’ll buy 3 if something better doesn’t come along.
    2014 is a loong way off.

    • TheDevian says:

      If Origins is too slow, then there is a simple fix, get mods. If you have the PC version, mods can fix most of the problems with the game. I actually have to slow my characters down or I can’t control them, get stuck on everything.

    • Fyriaan says:

      DA1 is a RPG, DA2 is more an action game. I actually like if a rpg game goes slow (slow in more dialogs) so that you can spent more time in it and get more info.

  11. Anthony Buccaroni says:

    I’m not sure I would prefer Dragon Age 3 over Skyrim. I love Skyrim for many reason, but my favorite oart about it is the ability to choose from multiple races, even anthro races such as the Khajiit and my personal favorotie, the Argonians. I’ve always considered playing Dragon Age 3. However, I find playing as humans all the time in video games to be very boring. I like having other options, and I don’t mean immediately switching to elves, cause I’m slightly sick of them as well. I donmt think there’s enough anthropomorphism in RPG’s when ot comes to player characters. So far, Skyrim’s done the best job of it (I like playing as a lizard). If Dragon Age 3 can’t somehow match or top that for me, then I doubt I would really find enough interest in it, sorry to say.

  12. Fyriaan says:

    Dragon Age: Origins was (still) 1 of the best games I played so far.

    Dragon Age 2 was a mistake because;
    – Interactions with companions was 0. You didn’t had a relationship with them, they were just fighting buddys.
    – No Races is bad… when I play a RPG I never want to be human because I am already a human.
    – Was there any graphic improve…?
    – The story was to short or it just went to fast,
    – At the end of DAO I choosed to go on adventure together with Leliana, yet in DA2 Leliana went hunting on Hawke.
    – The only companion I liked was Isabell because of her Morrigan behavior.
    – Where is Morrigans baby?!?
    – You had a party camp in DAO where I always love to go.
    – “Enchanting”
    – I hate that you can see what kind a choice you make in a dialog, that symbols of good, bad, love etc. Come on in reallife we don’t have that either and it made it more easy.
    – Why couldn’t the warrior use bow?
    – Same dungeon, different people…
    – Being a Grey Warden in DAO was great, but in DA2 you weren’t even a Grey Warden! (You sister could be one but still)

    What they should do in DA3;
    – More customization
    – More option with choices in matter with quests
    – Bring back the Grey Wardens or even a Blight
    – Get rid of that “help to make my choice” icons in a dialog.
    – More interaction with you companions and something like the party tent.
    – More variant dungeons.
    – I want to see more things back from the story of DAO
    – More result of you chosen actions.
    – More open world (although I didn’t mind how DAO was with those bordered area’s).
    – More variant armors and weapons
    – Random events…
    – If you only can be a human make more starter area’s like in DAO you had City and Dealish elf (my favorite race to play).
    – maybe able to jump will be nice…

  13. Tom says:

    With the exception of the repetitive environments, there isn’t anything fundamentally wrong with DA2. It’s just a completely different type of game than DA:O was. DA2 is an action adventure. DA:O is a classic RPG. Few will enjoy both. The majority will prefer one over the other. With the exception of the repetitive environments in DA2, marketing it as the sequel to DA:O was the only other major mistake.

    I’m also one of those players that don’t mind reading, and I also want a game that makes me think. IMO the changes made to DA2’s combat mechanics turned it into a mentally unchallenging and boring button masher. I suspect DA2’s conversation wheel is great for teenagers with ADD, but I was hoping for a more grown up experience like the one DA:O offered. The thing is, this devastating opinion of DA2 actually says more about the kinds of games I prefer, then about how good of a game DA2 objectively is. And that is the problem.

    Bioware needs to decide what type of game they are making and be honest about it. Honest to themselves and to their potential customers. IMHO, the action adventure crowd already has more than enough companies catering towards their preferences. The Elder Scrolls franchise is one of them. I’m hoping Bioware can return DA to it’s more sophisticated roots. Just because I’m over 30, doesn’t mean I want to stop playing video games, and it would be nice if some of the companies making those games would grow up with its customers.

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