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Dragon Age In A World of Skyrim

/ Jan 2nd, 2013 4 Comments

Dragon Age 3
Dragon Age 3

Dragon Age 3: Inquisition

Bioware‘s ex-CEO Ray Muzyka has gone on the record stating that the developer has been looking long and hard at The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for inspiration in the upcoming Dragon Age III: Inquisition. For good reason too, as Skyrim is an absolute blockbuster game and a tremendous accomplishment. In order to take the best of what made Skyrim what it is, Bioware should get down to the very foundation of the Dragon Age series. They need to infuse the world of Thedras with the same amount of grandeur, attention to detail and almost low fantasy feeling that Bethesda put into Skyrim. (For another take on DA III read, Dear Bioware…Lessons for Dragon Age 3).

Skyrim is an imposing landscape and each area of the map represents and highlights features of its inhabitants. Whether it be the open, bustling canal lake city of Riften or the cold and imposing winter fortress of Windhelm, each city were lovingly designed and integrated into Skyrim. The land is the most important character in the game and its denizens are just there for the ride. From one edge of the continent to the other, the player gets to experience the lives of the people as told by the province of Skyrim.

Dragon Age does not evoke the feeling that the world is alive as Skyrim does. During Dragon Age: Origins, the player would travel from one place to another but it felt more like a stage select than an actual world, which diminished the experience. Meanwhile, the majority of Dragon Age II is set in the city of Kirkwall. As such, it would seem natural that the city itself would feel alive and as much a character to the story as the protagonist Hawke. However, Bioware’s missteps in this execution are self-evident as the city was rendered almost comical, since different characters and their respective stories all took place in the same exact areas. To take an example from Bioware’s own Mass Effect 3, the relationship between the Krogan and the planet Tuchanka was perfectly matched. Exploring the desert planet very much illustrated the feel of a ravaged, war hungry, and desperate tribal culture.

Bioware should really focus on creating a land and culture out of necessity. Take the example of the upcoming war between the Magi and the Templars, which may be the backbone of the story in Inquisition. It would be wise for Bioware to show the aftermath of the events in Kirkwall and the lifestyles of both factions. Imagine the Magi living as wandering vagabonds in deserted watch towers, dusty labyrinths and decrepit underground passages. Books would be strewn about in every direction as the Magi would constantly be on the move and be carrying what ever spells and tomes they could grab after breaking free from the Chantry. It would seem logical to view them as outsiders of society akin to mutants in the Marvel comic book universe. The image of a roaming and baseless peoples adapting to a completely new way of living in an unknown land would be a magnificent direction to follow.

On the flip side, there is the design and implementation of the Templars post DA II, as a group that has escalated its fight in the war against the Magi. The Templars seem to be an order that would inhabit previously grand and extravagant structures. Aesthetically speaking, their halls and homes would be built into the typical castled religious design. However, since they thrive on order and are singular in their purpose, the rest of the land they inhabit would vary wildly since they would not be the type to cultivate the land. So the Templar would live in or create grand chapels in towns while being completely segregated from the commoners. The land would be mostly untamed except for the patches of land the surrounding peoples would attempt to cultivate.

Executing this kind of atmosphere is what would really make the game stand out. While playing through Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II, the land really had that “I’ve been here before” kind of feeling. There was no true sense of world; it felt like any other fantasy type setting players have been accustomed to and playing since forever. So the first step would be for Bioware to increase the size and scope of the land. Get rid of the painfully linear and rehashed tiny landscapes of Dragon Age II, open up the cities and key supporting areas with more exploration. Then take lessons from Skyrim by really illustrating how the lives of Thedas’ inhabitants are influenced by the world through reinforcing the idea that everything was designed by necessity.

However, there is a caveat to this as Bioware games are character and story-driven. As such, the world should not be nearly as open as a game like Skyrim since players do not want the main story or characters to be overshadowed. Bioware is at its best when they focus on character history, story and interaction. Take Mass Effect as an example once again; the maps are not open and are definitely linear. But the scope and design of the Asari home world Thessia, even though briefly visited, definitely left a lasting impression of the beauty and architecture that the Asari culture has developed over their history.

With the mixed reactions and overwhelming criticism Bioware faced with the original ending of Mass Effect 3, in addition to the departure of key Bioware figures Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka, the developer is embroiled in controversy and doubt. But if Bioware can get back to their roots and do what they do best, focus on the story and dialogue of their characters, then by taking lessons from Skyrim, infuse the land of Thedas with the same loving care and attention, Dragon Age: Inquisition has the chance to bolster the defenses of a developer rocked by criticism and set the course right for the Dragon Age franchise.

Mark Gonzales

Mark Gonzales

Contributor at Gaming Illustrated
Mark is a contributor to Gaming Illustrated and part of the editorial team. He always has had an intense love for gaming and of the spoken word. During conversations, he is known to create elaborate anecdotal references to popular 90's phrases with varying levels of success.
Mark Gonzales
Mark Gonzales

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  • RedoDA2

    Why can’t they just look at Dragon Age: Origins for inspiration. It has gone down as one of the greatest rpg in history. Create your own character is a must for the next game, and get back to the Warden’s story with killing darkspawn.

  • TheDevian

    Dragon Age’s ‘world’ might not seem as alive as Skyrim, but the people did, where skyrim’s people feel like broken tools that can’t hold a conversation to save their lives.
    The only things that they should take from it, aside from the big pretty world would be
    1) the ability to make whatever kind of character we want (again).
    2) The Silent Protagonist and dialogue trees.
    3) Crafting system.
    4) The ability to do pretty much whatever we want, when we want (well Skyrim got pretty close to this anyway, I mean you can just stand around and catch butterflies if you choose, I enchanted a knife and fork and can kill dragons with them), maybe a house and decorating too might be fun, but not that important…

    Each company has strengths and weaknesses, Bethesda can’t make people or write story, or make a good combat system, but they make pretty open worlds with lots of trivial things you can do, that make the world seem more alive, Bio Ware used to be the opposite, they used to make pretty maps, but their strength was in their characters that feel almost alive with (mostly) good voice acting, the story, the role play mechanics, and combat system. (guess I can include music too, I will take Leliana singing over the Skyrim bards any day!)

    As big as Skyrim is, think about this, if I can cross the entire country on foot in a matter of minuets/hours (rather than weeks/months), it’s still pretty small, just not for a game (not that I would really want one I have to take 3 weeks to cross, maybe if the horses or other transit were significantly faster than I could run…). Because of that the Dragon Age map/world traveling system, makes it so it can feel (to me) to be a bigger world, even if you see less of it (Ignoring the Kirkwall fiasco). I would like to see something in between the two styles. Big, more open maps, with travel time (and possible random encounters) in between them.

    And a quick ‘for the record’, it will be hard for BioWare to ‘get back to their roots’ when most of those roots have quit… Especially with people like Laidlow in charge who doesn’t like RPG mechanics, he is clearly on the wrong team, working on the wrong IP. He clearly needs to be in charge of an action game, not an rpg. Take his ‘Button, Awesome’ business where it belongs.

    • Black_Trace

      I love how everyone points there finger at Laidlaw.Ateam made DA2. If you actually read about his involvement in DA3 you will see he is the one working for the biggest RPG features; he wanted to be able to choice your race again and he was the one pushing for more customization, etc.
      Lastly as much as I love DAO its cobat needed an overhaul. It was awful clicking and watching your characters shuffle into place and just stand there when they could/should be attacking. DA2′s combat was more dynamic and the game needs that. Like everything else it just was not implemented well. The “awesome” button was not an excuse to lose the tactical feel. However it looks like combat overall will be implemented better and they keep saying it is a mix of both games so hopefully we can keep the dynamic feel with the more tactical approach.
      Also the map will be approached in a way you want or that whhat it seems. They said we will still have the point to point tavel ala DAO however the levels themselves will be more immersive and bigger which hopefully means better. The way the art director keeps talking its got me excited. He says DA3 artists never could reach their full realization in the other two games but with DA3 they are and its amazing stuff.
      Lastly just to add in LAidlaw’s favor I would rather have him working on DA3 then another project because he loves DA. I would rather have someone who loves the series and worked on both games than some random person who knows nothing about it. Thats my opinion.

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