What we want to see from Dragon Age 3
Everyone expects the Dragon Age 3: Inquisition, mostly because it's already been announced and therefore doubting it would be very silly. We know it'll be based on the Frostbite 2 engine, and thus has no excuse not to offer a rather bigger, more attractive world than Dragon Age 2's deserted city of chains. Everything else though, from story to design, is still under wraps. That's not going to stop us making a few wishes though, so here are some of the things we want to see...
Fix The Dragon Age 2 Problems, Obviously. You know the list. The re-used areas, the spider jump-scares, the empty streets of Kirkwall... Dragon Age 2's problems aren't exactly a secret, and while many of them can be put down to it feeling like a very rushed game, nobody wants to see them appearing again. Dragon Age 3 has no such excuse, with its development starting around two years ago according to the announcement letter, and no release date or even a single screenshot yet to be revealed.
A Song Of Guts And Maturity. For a series that supposedly owes such a creative debt to A Song Of Ice And Fire, the Dragon Age series - while not necessarily playing it safe - has always felt like a pretty sterile, unsurprising world. The first game established itself as something of a cliche storm when Loghain and his thunderface walked on to be the villain. Dragon Age 2, as much as it wanted to explore darker themes, often struggled by resorting to fantasy horror archetypes rather than anything with punch, with its attempts to do more - Hawke's mother for instance - often just coming across as silly.
In the wake of The Witcher 2, that's just not good enough. It's not a question of making Dragon Age a dark universe so much as actually living up to the darkness already written into it, instead of just claiming to be for adults and then cutting away to people having sex in their underpants or mistaking big gory combat hits for impactful violence. Geralt's controversy-shrugging adventures make it look like a cartoon in comparison, and without coming across as gratuitous. Well, mostly anyway.
The Inquisition title gives this sequel the perfect chance to really sink in deep with the demons and whatever we've already seen, but also tell dark, more relatable human stories of sin, corruption and consequence that put the player into tough moral places throughout. Speaking of which:
No Light/Dark Side Counter. Childish. Boring. Any system where you can commit atrocities and make up for it by handing over a few presents is a system in sore need of being ripped out and replaced with something more effective where deeds rather than integers are what counts.
A Fresh And Motivating Story. Well, yes, obviously. However, specifically, more of a hybrid between Dragon Age 1 and 2 in terms of approach. Dragon Age 1 nailed the motivation, but the individual stories it told were fairly stock fantasy stuff. Dragon Age 2 braved new territory, but all too often gave little reason for the characters to be involved or even particularly care. Dragon Age 3 needs to do both.
Story And Game Integration. It also needs to actually play by its own rules. To pick one element, the Circle of Mages is an interesting idea in lore-terms, but one that the game routinely breaks over its knee by filling the world with blood mages on the grounds that mages are fun to fight, by having guards completely ignore you wandering around in a mage's robe and holding a mage's staff and having fireball battles in the streets of Kirkwall, and by the game simply not having the guts to instil spellcasting with the risk it's supposed to have. Mages can be taken over by demons from the Fade at any point? Yeah, right. Not if they're the player character of a 20+ hour RPG, they can't.
This kind of thing simply breaks the fiction, and even if you can find some "But Elves Are Nymphomaniac Nudists In The Lore!" type justification, makes the world far less interesting than if Bioware had actually changed things. Some things can obviously be handwaved. Making the entire plot of Dragon Age 2 unsupported by Dragon Age 2 can't. Dragon Age 3 needs to be built around the rules as established so far, rather than taking the easy road and hoping we just don't notice.
Open World, Open Heart. The idea of setting an RPG in a city or other small, densely packed area isn't inherently a bad one. It doesn't however fit Dragon Age, with its more old-school, epic sweep. Let's see a map bursting with possibilities and secrets, that rewards exploration and puts new area types and cool things to discover around every corner. Oh, with one caveat:
No More Deep Roads. Dullest. Location. Ever.
Leaving Ferelden. Yes, yes, Kirkwall was in the Free Marches rather than Ferelden itself. The differences weren't exactly huge though, and this time it would be good to spread a bit further to some of the locations we've only heard of so far - chasing a heretic through the Tervinter Imperium for instance, or taking a trip to the corrupt court of Orlais. Provided that Bioware can find actors whose Orlesian accents aren't like nails down a chalkboard, of course. (This is far from guaranteed.)
Character Customisation. Commander Shepard was a great character, and there's no reason that she couldn't have a fantasy equivalent. Dragon Age isn't the game to do that in though, and Hawke added nothing to the game except for a bad British accent, some forgettable family members, and even less reason to care about what was going on in Kirkwall if you weren't (sssh!) a mage.
To get that "meh" though cost so much. Outright origin chapters aren't really needed, but race and similar choices were sorely missed - especially in such a fractured world. The nature of the story will obviously determine how much freedom there can be - creating a Qunari for instance for instance would mean immediate difficulties with the name field, never mind finding helmets that fit - and dwarves are tricky for a few reasons. Elves at least should be an easy enough alternate race to play as, and one with plenty of scope for extra political drama due to their poor social status in Thedas.
No Main Character Voice. For the above reasons, really. A fixed character having a voice is one thing - it would be silly for instance if Geralt didn't. When it's your own creation, the immersion lost by having them be a heroic mime is more than made up for by them not sounding like a complete cock/cockette. Once again, Hawke, looking at you. Over a whole RPG though, you soon get used to silence.
Party Customisation. Personally, and this is somewhat heretical, I prefer characters to retain and develop a unique look over the course of a game rather than everyone just ending up in plate armour by the half-way point. Still, as the head of the party, you should feel like you're in command.
Jobs For The Boys And Girls. As part of that, these slackers shouldn't be spending ten years sitting in a pub, hanging around at the campsite, or sitting in some mysterious void when they're not in the party. Let's send them out on missions, a bit like in Star Wars: The Old Republic, to earn their keep, practice their skills, and find more goodies and secrets. Ideally that wouldn't be purely random missions though, adding some of the tactical element of Mass Effect 2's suicide mission throughout the game and giving you a reason to switch around your team if your regular sword-and-board guy is elsewhere.
NPCs Responding To You Showing Up In Your Pants. It just bugs me when they don't. Anyone else always take a moment to check when playing a new RPG? Oh. Well, moving on...
Action/RPG Choices. Ignoring the dreadful waves mechanic, I didn't mind the more active combat of Dragon Age 2. With Bioware's resources though, it would be good to see a choice between classic, hardcore RPG combat and something faster that can be either more exciting, or simply skip to the next bit of the story a la Mass Effect 3's Narrative Mode. Bioware already made the (arguably bad) decision to split its audience between the two styles. Neither can really be left out of the next game.
Return Of The God Baby. Morrigan's son really needs to play some part in this story - even if it's only a side-quest that can be cut out depending on imported saves. That decision was far too important in Dragon Age Origins to be just thrown aside or consigned to a crappy bit of DLC that nobody played. While we're on the subject, David Bowie's plans from Dragon Age: Awakening really need to be addressed as well - a quick "Oh, yeah," line of dialogue doesn't count. In both of these cases, and the political chaos at the end of Dragon Age 2, it's not simply about tying off old plot threads - it's about conveying the idea that these stories mattered, so that Inquisition feels like it does too.
No More Starmap Design. Compartmentalised design (where the quest is secretly split up into intro/outro, four isolated zones and the ending run) is obviously easier on the designers than integrating everything. It's also really hard to ignore these days. The different parts of Dragon Age 3 should really mesh together to feel like a world, where some quests are isolated, but others draw in elements from around the world. At the very least, it would be good to see Dragon Age 3 blur the edges.
Fluid Politics. A good start would be a proper politics system, where tough decisions can actually follow you around and kick back at unexpected moments. Get a reputation as a liar? Good luck getting anyone to help the next time you shout "Wolf!" Alpha Protocol exists. Steal from it.
Separated Multiplayer. Multiplayer is inevitable, not least because Mass Effect 3's was so popular. That's fine. It shouldn't however have any impact on the single-player game, beyond - at most - minor cosmetic stuff. Certainly, no War Assets type system to try and force everyone into it. If it's fun, we'll play it. If not, we don't want to be coerced by the threat of getting the crap ending.
Built For PC. Consoles can play too, but for a Western RPG experience and all the trimmings, you're looking at the PC. The Witcher 2 raised the bar, and it's unlikely that The Witcher 3 will be any less. If Dragon Age 3 is targeted for current-gen console systems, it'll never be able to match up Even the initial batch of next-gen games it might be part of won't come close to what our machines can do.
DLC That Actually Feels Like It Was Designed To Integrate Into The Game In A Satisfying Way Yet Not Just A Chunk That The Core Game Is Lesser For Lacking. That.
And More Specifically? It's a very difficult line to draw, but there are possibilities. Instead of trying to give the main character more adventure for instance, fleshing out the stories of the party members. If they're not interesting enough for that, they're probably not interesting to be on the team.
Character Vault. Finally, a really small one, but a necessary one. Bioware has long talked up the benefit of keeping your saves. With Origin (and Steam, but I think we all know how likely DA3 is to benefit from that), the game itself should keep characters on file for use in future games. Dragon Age 3 should offer the chance to at least upload the gamestate for the next one and the DLC. The first two games should also offer some way of storing characters safely, rather than expecting everyone to back them up. This is something that should have been standard as of the Cerberus Network in Mass Effect 2.
And those are our ideas. What others can you think of?