The Dragon Age series is one that has stayed true to its roots despite its willingness to evolve continuously. Our hopes for Dragon Age 4 involve it staying true to this trend as it enters the next-generation of consoles. However, reflecting upon the series’ past, there have been missteps and casualties along the way. From unrealized potential to the abandonment of beloved mechanics, the franchise has space to improve. In this article, we shall evaluate the potential steps that could lead the Bioware property to new heights.
1. A New Setting
If there is one thing that the next Dragon Age desperately needs, it’s a new setting to capture our imaginations. This is not to suggest there was anything wrong with the previous settings; they are simply dried up of intrigue. Despite the games occurring in the larger territory of Thedas, they have primarily taken place in Ferelden. Dragon Age: Inquisition introduced the country of Orlais, a frequently referenced location in prior entries. By contrast, the second game was almost entirely stuck in the city of Kirkwall, a city in the Free Marches. To re-emphasize, these were all very well realized locations and were rich with exploration opportunities. However, prior entries in the series have picked these areas clean, reducing the mysteries they harbor. Returning to Redcliff for the third time would likely be tedious, rather than an exciting call-back.
If the ending of Dragon Age: Inquisition: Trespasser is to be believed, there’s a strong probability of a new location. The most likely candidate is the Tevinter Imperium, a nation frequently referenced in previous games, playing a politically influential role. This would best serve a new game because it is a drastic cultural departure from the world explored so far. The religion and politics of Tevinter are a stark contrast to the Chantry we are used to. Mages are at the top of the hierarchy, rather than being subservient to the Templars. Elves often find themselves forced into slavery, and the Qunari are at war with the Imperium. Our hopes for Dragon Age 4 include a fresh perspective, something Tevinter can provide. Thankfully, Tevinter is still close enough to the original game’s settings geographically that there could be some overlap.
2. A Continued Story
One of the core appeals to the franchise is a continued story that has interwoven various intersecting narratives. First, we played as the Hero of Ferelden, seeking to end the Fifth Blight caused by the Darkspawn. The blight was the inciting incident that drove Hawke to Kirkwall in Dragon Age II. Finally, Hawke’s encounter with Corypheus led to him being freed to become the antagonist of Inquisition. As is quite apparent, each story is a consequence of its predecessor to some extent. This is made all the more appealing to players when their saves are transferable. Thanks to Bioware’s Dragon Age Keep, you can map out your save file online and use it to carry over your decisions. This has resulted in various reoccurring characters or consequences to previous games appearing in the sequels.
Needless to say, our hopes for Dragon Age 4 include maintaining this narrative flow. The online website already has the decisions for the latest game available, so things are set to be transferred. Whilst we want a fresh new world to explore, we do not wish for a total reboot. The Inquisitor and various other characters still have things to contribute to the fate of Thedas, even as supporting characters. At present, we can’t be certain what elements will carry over into the next game. However, it seems very likely that we already know one of the major antagonists we will be facing. Inquisition set up Solas as a future villain, despite being a companion in that game. Tevinter’s connections to Elven’s enslavement and the Old Gods could explain why his ambitions reside there.
3. The Return of Origin Stories
A core pillar of the first game, Dragon Age: Origins, was fazed out by the arrival of the sequel. In the first entry, players could choose their custom character’s race and background. These resulted in playable tutorial sections that were unique to your backstory. A human noble began in their family estate, whilst a Dalish elf began with their forest clan. These opening sections of the game allowed players to form a firm understanding of their character for role-playing. It also helped to create a unique personal narrative to follow, as the choices in those openings followed you. This meant that you did not feel like a hollow character, leading a party much more interesting than yourself.
Unfortunately, this feature didn’t return in the immediate sequel, as in that game, your only choices were gender and class. Hawke was always a human; their story only varying slightly depending on whether or not they were a mage. Thankfully, more customization options were available in Inquisition, returning the original races and the addition of the Qunari. However, the only hint of your backstory is presented via a block of text. The tutorial of the game is the same, and ultimately it is hard to define your character’s origin. Our hopes for Dragon Age 4 include a return to the unique backstory openings of the first game. It will help players to be more invested in their protagonist from the start and allow for more call-backs as they proceed.
4. Advanced Dialogue
Another aspect that has gradually been watered down in subsequent entries is the depth of the dialogue system. Introducing a voiced protagonist in the second game, the age-old dilemma of non-silent protagonists begins to arise. When a character has a voice, there is often a disconnect between what they say and what the player meant. Due to the size of the dialogue wheel in the sequels, the text is often a poor reflection of what will be said. In addition to this, it seems many of the more unique choices have been gradually removed. Whilst race-specific dialogue is still present; it’s less frequent and varied compared to the original. Furthermore, the stat-based dialogue seems to have been erased entirely. In the first game, your stats, such as “cunning,” could give you special speech options. It was a clever way of having your character’s strengths appear in the dialogue system.
Ultimately, it seems the dialogue in recent games has fallen into the habit of three basic choices. Either you respond positively, negatively, or with a joke. Alternatively, there are often inquisitive questions you can ask that don’t actually move the conversation along. Our hopes for Dragon Age 4 involve a more personalized branching-dialogue, with more chances for your character’s personality to shine through. This will require more than just one extra remark you can make according to your race. How you have built your character, from races, stats, classes and backgrounds, should all contribute to your presence in conversations. Needless to say, this would add some significant and much-needed replay value.
5. More Gameplay, Less Waiting
Perhaps a more controversial feature from Dragon Age: Inquisition is the war table. Whilst it certainly makes sense on paper, it is not the most engaging mechanic. As the leader of the Inquisition, naturally, you will be expected to command your forces. The war table allowed players to select various missions and leave it in the hands of one of the three advisors. Your choice of an advisor could affect the result and the subsequent reward. It added a sense of scale to your operation, as well as enhancing the sensation of being a commander. However, in terms of gameplay, it was somewhat lacking. Simply put, it was not really a gameplay feature, so much as a background task. When you assign an advisor, you then simply wait a set amount of real-time for it to be completed and a report handed back.
Whilst patience is undoubtedly a virtue; gameplay should never lack engagement. Given that most of the intrigue to these missions is within huge blocks of text, they might go unappreciated by some. What’s worse, some rather crucial companion-missions were locked behind war table quests. Failing to engage with them will prevent you from enhancing your relationship with your allies. Whilst some of these lead into more interesting gameplay, some of them simply occur and cease off-screen. It certainly doesn’t create the most memorable experiences. Our hopes for Dragon Age 4 are to keep these elements to a minimum, focusing on providing engaging experiences. As was the case in Origins, players should be able to follow narrative threads at their leisure. Being told to wait three hours before engaging with a story arc is an easy way for players to lose interest.
A Memorable Adventure
Whilst none of the previous games were perfect, they offered memorable and engaging stories at their core. All of the above-mentioned hopes are things that will improve the overall experience. However, the heart of the game must be what the series is known for. Dragon Age 4 must be a gripping epic that invests us once more in the world and the characters we have come to cherish.