Dragon Age Inquisition - How To Kill A Series
I was first introduced to BioWare in 2009 with the release of Dragon Age: Origins. I’d heard of Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate before, but my childhood was spent hunched over a computer in my family’s kitchen playing hour after hour of Age of Empires, so I’d never been able to experience BioWare’s games before. Initially I fell in love with the game, the combat may not have been my cup of tea, but the story and lore more than made up for it. I was entranced by the Grey Warden’s and their plight, I wanted to save Ferelden from the Blight and prove Loghain’s treachery. I finished the game within a few hours and I still wanted more, the numerous DLC and Awakening provided me with this and by the time I’d completed them and run through the game a few more times Dragon Age 2 had just been announced.
I quickly rushed to place a pre-order and eagerly awaited the game, with each month ticking by my anticipation grew. March came round and Dragon Age 2 was released, I was disappointed that my Grey Warden would not feature in the game but I was nonetheless pleased by all the trailers I had seen up to this point, having a fully voiced playable character was a lovely bonus. To say I was disappointed from the get go would be an understatement, halfway through the game I was forcing myself to complete it to, not only see whether BioWare had perhaps put in something I could actually enjoy but also to simply reach the end and be done with it. Large scale reviewers such as IGN and GameSpot may have rated the game highly and given it titles such as “RPG of the decade” but fans such as myself were clearly troubled with what BioWare had released.
Things didn’t improve either with the release of Star Wars: The Old Republic and Mass Effect 3. Although both games were financial successes, they both rubbed the wrong way with fans causing the stable base Bioware once had with the community to begin to show cracks. Mass Effect 3 dredged up a lot of complaints from the community due to its ending and BioWare tried to please its fans by increasing the length of the endings (read: inserting a few pictures and some extra voice work) but the truth of the matter is, they didn’t listen to their fans. This is sadly the problem with BioWare, and this is likely going to affect Dragon Age Inquisition, rather than listening to the complaints fans voiced with Dragon Age 2, they’ve decided to alienate these fans and keep soldiering on. In this article I’ll be exploring some of the mistakes BioWare are making and why ignoring your core fan-base can harm your financial gains.
1) Romance Simulator 2014
Romance options have always been part of the newer BioWare games, but for some reason with Inquisition they’re becoming more of a core component. Over the past few months, more attention has been paid to which characters are ‘romance-able’ and what their sexuality is rather than the actual story and gameplay. Most of the interactions between the lead writer, David Gaider, and the public have been based around the romance options that will be available in Inquisition. Don’t get me wrong here, I enjoy having romance options in a game as it allows you to see another side of your playable character rather than just being the saviour of the known universe. However the issue is, why are we paying so much attention to what should be a minor part of the game?
The romance subplots behind Origins weren’t great as it was a simple case of choosing a few dialogue options and fetching an item, but it was more than enough to keep most people happy. If you wanted to romance someone, you could. If you chose to play without any love interests, you could. When we reached Dragon Age 2 suddenly the romance options weren’t optional, they were being forced upon us as in the case of Anders. This didn’t sit well with the fans and later lead to downfall of Jennifer Hepler, but nonetheless romance options seemed to no longer be optional. The romances in the games being forced upon us become more obvious when we compare Dragon Age 2 to Origins. In Origins we were giving four characters to romance, two were heterosexual and two were bisexual. There weren’t any approval losses if you decided to not romance any characters. However in Dragon Age 2 all the romance-able characters were player sexual and would make comments according to Hawke’s gender. To me, this seems more like BioWare are trying to force their romances onto us and not make them optional. This becomes more evident when we look at the current media interactions involving David Gaider and his team.
In a blog post discussing Dorian’s character, David Gaider described the character’s sexuality in detail. This lead to numerous game news websites publishing articles about how Dorian was the “first fully gay character” which prompted Gaider to release a tweet.
Now don’t get me wrong here, there’s nothing wrong with implementing a gay character in your games, it’s great for diversity and representation. Where I do draw the line though is when you release a blog post that goes into detail about how the character is gay and then complain that that’s all people care about; it seems very unprofessional. Let’s also not forget that Gaider had to explicitly mention that Dorian was a gay character rather than let people find out for themselves, to me this shows very poor writing. If you ever played Fallout: New Vegas then you may have run into Arcade Gannon, one of the companions available in the game. I used him quite extensively and it wasn’t until I was reading through some articles concerning the game did I find out he was gay. This came as quite a surprise to me and it wasn’t until I played through the game again and was searching for the dialogue options that I saw the tell-tale signs alluding to his sexuality. This is how a gay character should be written, the character’s sexuality is not a main part of their personality and they only mention their sexuality when it is brought up.
Let’s not forget that David Gaider was also quite happy without how effective Twilight was in portraying romance. If Bioware are going to make romance such a big part of their games, do they really want to leave it in the hands of a man who said the following?
2) BioWare can’t take criticism
Whether you’re releasing a game, book, or movie, criticism is a key factor in improving your product. Whilst it’s wonderful to receive praise, no product is perfect and criticism allows one to improve on their product. Not many companies have decided to listen to their fans as a whole and when BioWare responded to the outrage concerning Mass Effect 3’s ending it seemed like they were willing to listen to criticism for once. However Dragon Age’s lead writer, David Gaider, doesn’t seem to follow in his company’s footsteps and doesn’t seem to respond well to criticism. Whilst I can understand a writer having a certain plot he wants to follow, a good writer understands what may or may not please the fans. A good writer will take everything the fans say in his stride and weed out the good points and use them to improve the story. A good writer understands that feedback is key when releasing a product to the market, you need to know what the fans want and how you can adapt your story to best please them. David Gaider of course has decided that it’s better to ignore these fans and insult them in the process, disregarding the fact that these people are the ones who affect your sales.
The first issue with Inquisition’s story is how David Gaider has decided to ignore what occurred in Dragon Age: Origins. You had the chance to kill Leliana if you chose to but for some reason, she’s still making an appearance in Inquisition. Why is it that if characters died in the Mass Effect series they stayed dead and the writers made room for people’s choices. If I killed Wrex in Mass Effect 1, he didn’t make a sudden cameo appearance in the third game. If I decided to sacrifice one character in the first game they didn’t suddenly turn up in the subsequent games as if nothing had happened. I can understand that not every person chose to kill Leliana but a good writer would make allowances for paths that the player chose to take. Why is it that the writers behind Mass Effect could understand this but David Gaider chose to not only ignore it but to also throw his toys out of the pram in protest. “’I think X is dead so should never see them again no matter what’… well, prepare to be disappointed.” “What happens isn’t always going to be what you think should happen” This to me seems like a very unprofessional approach to dealing with your fans, I can understand that the story is hardly going to follow the path I want it to. However if you’re going to include an option to kill a character in the game then you should also include a plot-line that allows this character to remain dead, or include a method for them to be brought back to life as BioWare did with Shepard in Mass Effect 2. In fact it seems that David Gaider seems to be rather toxic for BioWare when you combine his interactions with the public as well as his writing. A professional writer would allow the PR department to handle interactions with the public and concentrate on the story whilst taking fan feedback into account. This doesn’t mean a writer isn’t allowed to interact with the public at all, but when it comes to discussing the story and the game it is better to allow a PR person to handle your replies so that they don’t come out condescending and insulting, as David Gaider has sadly allowed to happen. When criticism was voiced about the new looks of Cassandra and Morrigan, Gaider just HAD to weigh in even though it had nothing to do with his department. People were questioning the jaw line and the fact that Morrigan had suddenly grown a beauty spot. These seem like little quips of course, but David Gaider’s replies really put into perspective how little he and BioWare as a whole care about the feedback from their fans. “We absolutely will discard it, just as we discarded most of the nonsense posted about the other characters I mentioned.” “I’ll state it outright: there is absolutely a misogynistic element to the commentary on female characters” This discussion wasn’t even about something that could be conceived as misogynistic such as discussion about the female character’s breasts, but rather how the jawline of Cassandra seemed wrong and how Morrigan has suddenly grown a beauty spot. It seems like fans are no longer allowed to voice an opinion about the characters or the story without being labelled as misogynistic trolls. Have we really reached the stage where an opinion that doesn’t fit with David Gaider’s is suddenly sexist and homophobic? It sadly seems so, in a truly immature and unprofessional way David Gaider decided to take to twitter and tumblr to voice his displeasure of people misinterpreting words and bending them to suit their wishes, sort of the same thing he was doing. A professional writer would accept criticism of his work and concentrate on improving it, Gaider however decided to lash out at fans and spam the internet’s definitions of words from his view. For one example he gave us the definition of the word “plot hole”. “Plot Hole: (n) When the story advances in a way I didn’t anticipate, understand, or endorse.” Does this sound like a professional writer who’s been in the industry for more than ten years? Or does it sound like someone who isn’t quite happy that people are pulling apart his story and bringing his discrepancies to light. David Gaider is one of the few well-known writers in the industry who just can’t seem to take criticism at all, the story advances however he wishes and if the fans aren’t happy that’s their issue. This is a man quite simply telling the people who he is trying to sell the game to that this game isn’t for them. Let’s also not forget his condescending nature either, it’s not the fact that there might be something wrong with his writing or the fact that he doesn’t even follow his own lore but rather because the fans just don’t understand the gaming industry at all. In one interview, Gaider claimed that fans don’t truly understand what it is to make a game and alluding to the fact that we’re all mindless idiots who care about superfluous additions to the game. “They’re usually oblivious to what’s going on, harping on what color the sails should be while the hull is rapidly leaking water.”
3) The Gameplay
If you ask any gamer about open world and which games best represent it, Bethesda is definitely going to be the developer on their mind. Games in The Elder Scrolls and Fallout series are true representations of what it is to be open world. Your character is dropped into the middle of a large open map and you can usually go anywhere and everywhere. You don’t have to follow the main quest at all, you can explore the map to your heart’s content and travel anywhere by any means. When BioWare claimed that Dragon Age Inquisition was going to have a larger map than both previous games and had large multi-regions I wasn’t impressed. This was their way of trying to entice people into believing that the game was open world without actually saying it’s open world. What I don’t understand is why BioWare are trying to hide that the game is just going to follow a linear path with the odd rest to do a few side quests. Why try to convince players that the game is going to have large open areas that aren’t just full of copy pasted enemies. Dragon Age: Origins was linear, Dragon Age 2 was linear; linear is what BioWare does. Why not just admit that the game is going to be a corridor simulator with open areas to fight a few enemies. Why give people the illusion that in fact it’s this huge world with different areas? It’s not.
In truth, it’s the same textures copied and pasted all over the places with the colours changed about a bit to be blunt. I’m no fan of The Witcher series but they actually hired an artist to who was an expert in botany to research each plant that they wanted to use. Bushes that wouldn’t grow in a colder climate or around cliffs were excluded from these areas and plants that would not grow near each other weren’t included in the same area. Why is it that a company that is backed by the financial power house that is EA can barely figure out how to get your companions to follow you on their own horses, let alone figure out how to design a large open area with the correct fauna. I know this seems pedantic, but it’s little things like this that add up to make a game. I remember when I was playing Assassin’s Creed 3 how Connor’s animations would change when he was running on dry land or trudging through snow. Pile little things like this up and suddenly you have a truly amazing game that is worthy of an AAA developer, especially one that needs to bring in the high sales that EA requires.
The terrain isn’t the only thing that BioWare haven’t put any effort into either, it seems that they’ve been rather lax with their animations. Let’s ignore all the clipping that occurs in games for just one moment, let’s ignore the fact that in ALL the trailers and gameplay demo videos that have been released there have been vast amounts of objects passing through objects they shouldn’t be passing through. Ignored it all? Great, now if you had managed to capture a prisoner and you were going to torture him or her; would you leave them fully clothed? Hell, maybe you want them to retain some dignity as you cause them untold pain; would you leave their armour on them? I’m no expert, but I feel it would be rather difficult to torture a prisoner if they’re cased head to toe in protective armour. Furthermore, you hardly want them flailing about as you torture them so wouldn’t you perhaps tie their legs down as well as changing their hands together. Better yet, if you’re the kind of person who has the money to shell out for a torture chamber, I’m guessing you won’t grimace at the expense of keeping a full-time torturer in your employ. Then again what with the past financial crisis we all faced maybe hiring a torturer isn’t within the budget, maybe you could use one of your run of the mill “copy-pasted” soldiers, but you’d at least let him take his armour off? Even just his helmet, it must be hot work. Well sadly BioWare doesn’t seem to follow the lines of logic of us mere mortals as can be seen in this gameplay video.
If you continue to watch the game-play video there seems to be more proof of BioWare’s laziness when it came to the animations. One enemy is attacked by an ice spell yet seems to burst into flames for some reason, this clearly kills him as his body is turned to ash before suddenly disappearing and appearing on the ground as a normal body. For a company that has a multi million dollar budget and has had been developing the game for more than 2 years this is unacceptable. In games such as Fallout: New Vegas when enemies are attacked with energy weapons and are turned into ash, they remain as a pile of ash; they don’t suddenly revert back to their original bodies.
In conclusion, it seems that BioWare are happy running the Dragon Age series into the ground, and themselves with it. Rather than list to their fans and learn from their past mistakes they are more than happy to keep steam rolling ahead. Their staff are doing everything they can to appease all groups to recoup the the fans they lost with the release of Dragon Age 2, even at the expense of using racial slurs. Will Dragon Age Inquisition spell the end of BioWare and the series? Who knows, but I for one believe that it will be a financial failure for them even if the major review companies list it as the best RPG of the decade as they did with its predecessor. No words are needed when professional critics award a game 10/10 yet the user meta-critic score is below 5. BioWare are making the same mistakes they’ve made before and this time they are coming to light before the release of the game, we need only wait until October 7th to see how many fans BioWare really have lost.