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.
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.