Fountain of great RPGs
Over the years, Bioware has grown into the very embodiment of good cRPGs. Those who have played more than a couple of the titles know that they all share many of the same basic ingredients, such as pausable combat, party-based gameplay, banter between characters, interactive cut-scenes between ‘chapters’ etc. One might imagine that using the same basic formula would give the games a stale taste, but thus far that has not happened. And the simple reason for that is the story. Every Bioware title has been built first and foremost around a strong story. Unlike in some other cRPGs, you rarely feel that you are merely working through a shopping list of missions and side missions – rather, every mission is designed to give more strength to the main storyline and shed more light into the world in general.
This year, Bioware intends to bring us more games than ever, as Mass Effect 3 and Star Wars: The Old Republic are both on the agenda in addition to the topic of this preview: Dragon Age II. The question on everyone’s lips is whether Bioware can keep the quality up while they accelerate their development schedule this much? Will they still have strong stories to tell, or will the franchises start to feel stale?
Story and continuum
In our previous preview, we took a close look at the new intriguing approach to storytelling in Dragon Age II, which views the events of the game retrospectively from the point of view of a future storyteller. Basically, the story is a 10 year long “rise to power” tale of the main hero, Hawke, and – during the game – the player is given a free hand in choosing what kind of a champion Hawke is going to be seen as, and whose champion he will actually be.
What we also discussed previously was the fact that while Dragon Age II will be set in a different country than the original was, some of the events and player choices will still affect the storyline in Dragon Age II. However, rather surprisingly, the developers have stated that none of the endings of Dragon Age: Origins is actually considered canon. From a storytelling perspective, this sounds pretty shady, since the choice of the Dark Ritual at the end of DA:O was one of the defining moments in the game and one would expect it to have some sort of repercussions in the future. Of course, this decision is also understandable, since the defining quality of the choice would require the developers to create two separate continua in their future titles – one where the ritual was committed and one where the main hero died. In the case of Dragon Age II, however, this problem is not yet topical so we can probably ignore it until Dragon Age III comes out.
The story of Dragon Age II is more clearly cut into separate chapters, as it tells a tale that spans an entire decade. This means that some side quests are only available during one chapter of the story while others may adapt to the change in circumstances (perfectly understandable decision, just imagine bringing that kidnapped daughter back home 5 years after the parents asked for your help). As strong as the main story is planned to be, there will also be some “Chanter’s Board”-style sidequests which are less connected to the main story.
The main method of progressing through the story is naturally the dialogue between the protagonist and his/her companions and the people of the Dragon Age world. While in the original you had to use your brains to decide which response would best fit the situation and your own aims, Dragon Age II will offer more “simplified” and “easily approachable” type of dialogue. That is, dialogue is reduced to Mass Effect like dialogue wheel choices and “good” and “evil” responses will be handily colour-coded for the benefit of those gamers less likely to be able to use their brain cells. Ok, I’m being a bit nasty here, but this is one of the simplifying changes that bothers me personally.