TIME Video Games

Let’s Hope Dragon Age: Inquisition Finally Has Dragon Age Figured Out

With any luck, BioWare's third-in-series action roleplaying game will remedy the last installment's over-simplistic combat and drab, recycled locations.

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I’ve liked none of the Dragon Age games. Not even the first. But I’d have to say I enjoyed the first immeasurably more than its lazy sequel, which conjured feelings of loathing by the time I was ticking off the game’s last few achievements and rolling through its embarrassingly recycled cityscapes for the umpteenth time to experience all of its tedious alternative denouements.

In October 2009, when I spoke with Dragon Age: Origins‘ lead designer, Mike Laidlaw, I asked him about something he’d said elsewhere: He wanted the game to be the HBO of RPGs (he also referenced George R.R. Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” books, which hadn’t transitioned to television yet, but everyone already thought of as exemplary):

Specifically, we wanted to remove the sense that the fantastic is casual, and to present the fantastic as something that for the common man, for the everyman is still very much fantastic. Almost terrifying, in fact. One of the key tropes we’re trying to upend is that lightweight lack of consequences feel that can happen in fantasy. It’s like “Oh, he’s dead… But it’s okay! Because we resurrected him!” No one ever talks about the near death experience or the tunnel of light or like in real life, the survivors going “Oh my god!” You know, we’re talking an inconceivably intense experience.

But when I finally played the game, it felt nothing like the HBO of anything, mistaking mere blood splatter for maturity, and foisted-upon-you consequences for meaningful ones, and overwrought, cliched fantasy banter (by writer David Gaider) about mature topics for artful storytelling. (Fair warning, I’m a literary snob: I’m looking for Cormac McCarthy and Gene Wolfe and Jorges Luis Borges and Alan Moore and China Mieville all the time, and why should games get a pass?)

I want to think the best of Dragon Age: Inquisition, though Laidlaw returns as lead designer and Gaider as lead writer. It doesn’t feel like a Dragon Age game in the trailer above, though it’s obviously trotting out the horse-beaten amnesiac hero shtick about random-person-you surviving a calamity and having no memory of why. If the gameplay turns out to be intriguing, of course, all bets are off, because I can play the heck out of a Final Fantasy VII or X or XIII (or Fallout 3, or Diablo III, or Baldur’s Gate II) and just let the first-rate game systems override the unimaginative storytelling.

In any case, the other pullout you’ll be interested to note here: the trailer confirms Dragon Age: Inquisition will ship on October 7 (for Windows, PS4, Xbox One, PS3 and Xbox 360).

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

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