As a self-proclaimed fanboy of the Dragon Age franchise, I have ridden the rollercoaster of the franchise through its ups and downs. I’ll do a brief recap of the successes and failures of the previous installments and then look at what I would want from an inevitable third installment.
Dragon Age: Origins
Pros: As discussed in my morality vs. choice article posted on Spawn Camp, this game has a staggering amount of choice built in, giving you over 30 unique endings to the game. This game also had an easy combat system that truly utilized the other characters in your party with a “tactics” system which you could edit to fit your playstyle. The game had some amazing voice-acting and a deep and fulfilling story.
Cons: The graphics for this game were a major deterrent for a lot of players, as it looked quite outdated, especially on consoles. The combat system, although easy to use, seemed a little stilted and boring to watch, as combat animations were repeated and characters didn’t seem dynamic to each other.
Dragon Age 2
Pros: More complex skill trees, unique skills for party members (making them less generic), and drastically improved battle system. Better character models and generally better graphics across the board. More backstory missions for each of your companions.
Cons: Much smaller scope of the game, taking place in one city throughout its entirety. Reused environments made the game feel redundant. Choice options were superficial and barely affected the end of the game.
Now… Dragon Age 3. What do we want?
Ability to Select Race. In Dragon Age 2, the developers confined your character to being a human. This was a drastic change from Origins, which allowed for three races with six unique “origin” stories. I didn’t mind, but the ability to select a starting race (and have the game treat you differently based on that race) would be a boost to the replayability of the game. Standards such as dwarves and elves could be included, as well as possibly more fringe races such as the quanari. They could look to tabletop RPGs and even series such as the Elder Scrolls and give attribute bonuses based on race (ie, elves might receive a bonus to stealth abilities, quanari might gain bonuses to strength abilities, etc).
Larger Scope of Game. Origins worked so well because you traveled a whole continent essentially and you were able to see the effects of the story in many different locales. When you traveled to the dwarven city of Orzammar, you saw how the story was affecting them, even though they were so far removed. They’ve already said that the game will cover a pretty significant distance, hopefully we’re treated to some unique and new locations. We’ve read about (and heard about) some of these places, but it’d be cool to actually see them.
Unique Party Members. I vastly preferred the party members from Dragon Age 2 over those of Origins. In Origins, I chose people based on whether I wanted to be good or bad. I knew that Wynne would agree with my good decisions, while Morrigan would agree with my slightly less ethical decisions. But they both functioned nearly identical in the game. I could train Morrigan to be a healer and I could train Wynne to deal some damage. In Dragon Age 2, they gave us characters that each had unique skill trees, meaning that only Varric could rain down arrows on a whole room full of enemies. It made us choose characters that could do different things. To help give us that freedom, the game also introduced a two-way relationship scale. In Origins, you only got perks if they loved you. In DA2, they enabled a feature where you got different perks if they loved or hated you. This means I could make some horrible decisions and make Aveline my rival, giving her some boosted stats. It gave more freedom to choose your party, as opposed to the Origins system of penalizing you. I also appreciated the unique stories of the characters in DA2, such as Fenris (the elf who was a slave to mages and imbued with magical powers) and Anders (the mage who was possessed by a demon). The most interesting character in Origins (to me) was Shale, the living stone golem. Everyone else was pretty archtypal (hi, I’m a rogue or hi, I’m a mage).
Living Environments. One thing that the Elder Scrolls series has shown us is that games can have a semi-realistic environment, such as animals that move on their own or characters that actually move around throughout the day. In both Dragon Ages, you could visit a location and the same character will always be standing in the same place. Not very realistic. It’d be amazing if you could actually follow a pack of wolves through the forest or if you could wait for someone to leave their house before you pick the lock and break in. This kind of detail is possible but may be a ways off in this franchise. A compromise might be more moving features in the environments, such as trees that sway or water that moves, at least to a higher degree than we’ve seen.
Choice and Consequence. The first thing I’d love to see (and is probably a given) is that the players’ actions in Origins and Dragon Age 2 have an effect on how the Dragon Age 3 storyline goes. In Dragon Age 2, it was minimal but enough to make a difference. If Alistair wasn’t chosen as King, you would meet him in the bar as he drowned his sorrows. If he was King, then he would visit as such. Tiny little nods to your journey in Origins. We want the story of Dragon Age 3 to reflect the choices in both Origins and Dragon Age 2, so it feels like a culmination of sorts. And outside of these prior choices, we want opportunities to shape the game. As I said in the pros and cons, Origins did this exceptionally well. Each faction you visited gave you several options. Will you crown Harrowmont or Bhelen to become the King of Orzammar? Will you kill a possessed child, ask the mages to cure him, or kill his mother and use “blood magic” to fight off the demon? Each option (and your choice) drastically effects the game. The final battle allowed you to call upon different forces to aid you. If you choose the assist the Dalish elves and slay all the werewolves that had been attacking their village, the elves will aid you with bows. But if you side with the werewolves and help to finish off the elves, you’ll now have a pack of rabid werewolves by your side in the final battle. It adds up to an experience that truly feels like everything you’ve done and every choice you made had an impact on how the story plays out. That is why I played through Origins six times (at roughly 50 hours a playthrough). Yes, I do (kind of) have a social life.
More Equipment. In both Dragon Ages so far, all of the equipment has been basically a ladder from one to the next. Why would you ever choose a worse armor to wear? You wouldn’t. I would like a system where there are many varieties of armor and weapons that are equal but have different aestetics, so I can choose how I want my characters to look. Maybe I want my warrior to look like a barbarian instead of a knight. Maybe I want my rogue to look like a pirate moreso than a Robin Hood clone. In both games though, the game essentially forced you to use the better equipment because there wasn’t a choice. Make axes, mauls, and swords that have equivalent or relatively equivalent stats, so I can choose how to play it.
Engaging Story. I appreciated both storylines leading up to this point. Origins was a grander storyline, covering a whole continent and offering you a “save the world” situation, which is relatively cliche in fantasy. Dragon Age 2 offered a more complex political story, told in a more intimate setting. It wasn’t for everyone. I believe there’s a middleground that can definitely appease the masses. We’ve already saved the world. And we’ve already seen the conflict rise between mages and the church-controlled Templars. And now the world is divided. As we traverse the country, I’d love to see the fallout of the last games’ events, with some added complications. Give us some tried and true scenarios of high fantasy battles, but continue to show us the political side. Have us decide if the ruler for a certain land will be a friend of the mages or of the Templars. Give us new characters in our party that are heavily invested in this story, not casual observers.
Dynamic Combat. Dragon Age 2 definitely improved on the pacing of combat, but there was a lot of criticism that it was moving towards button-mashing, as opposed to tactics. Dragon Age 3 should keep the dynamic nature of 2’s combat (it actually felt like blows were being exchanged) but keep the preparation and tactical side of Origins.
Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2 were both fantastic games (in my opinion). Drastically different, but both fantastic. For a successful Dragon Age 3, Bioware needs to reel in some of the action elements and reinstill that sense of fantasy. The ability for unique stories is important, as is the impact of a player’s choices. By bridging the gap between both games and adding in some new enhancements to already successful features, Dragon Age 3 can rally the fans together and offer up a fun, exciting, and unique roleplaying adventure.