Before the thunderous arrival of Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, Larian’s Baldur’s Gate 3 had taken over my evenings and early mornings. Despite being in the Steam Early Access phase and only featuring a small part of the content that will be present in the full game, BG3 is already a masterpiece of a game. Deep, tactical and driven by characters and players’ choices, it is ready to sweep players off their feet, gather their party and venture forth.
You see, my favorite type of game is the one providing you with companions to travel, fight and banter with. Thankfully, the last few years were kind when it came to party-driven games: GreedFall, Pathfinder: Kingmaker, DOS2, PoE2: Deadfire and many others.
Due to game mechanics, almost all such games belong to cRPG genre and, much like Divinity: Original Sin 2 before it, Baldur’s Gate 3 revolutionizes it all over again.
Still featuring unparalleled depth and branching story, BG3 takes its graphics to the next level with gorgeous cutscenes and cinematics, putting the game up there with the likes of The Witcher 3, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Dragon Age: Inquisition and others. Characters come alive during dialogues with a great variety of gestures, poses, pronounced facial expressions and amazing voice acting.
And therein lies the problem. Baldur’s Gate 3 made me actively aware of the untapped potential that lies in cRPGs.
Which brings us to Dragon Age. In case you are not familiar with the series, I will give a brief overview of how Dragon Age progressed since its introduction.
The world of Thedas and the Dragon Age series by Bioware is one of my all-time favorite fantasy franchises out there, despite the infrequent release of new games. The series utilizes the same save import/export feature used in Bioware’s Mass Effect but unlike the shooter and its Commander Shepard, every new Dragon Age entry uses a new protagonist.
The series began in the distant 2009 with the release of Dragon Age: Origins, a classic cRPG taking players to the region of Ferelden as it plummets into the chaos of the Fifth Blight. Featuring a varied cast of unique characters (and romances!), the game allows players to choose their race, gender, appearance and class and make choices that will affect the world in the following games of the series.
Dragon Age 2 released in 2011 and decided to bring some changes to the classic BG-like formula of the first game. Instead of the mute protagonist of DAO, you get fully voiced Hawke. While your character is locked into being a human, you do still have a selection of gender, appearance and class.
DA2 took a step back from the epic world-ending threat of DAO and instead focused on a smaller-scale, more personal story: Hawke and friends against the world and Kirkwall.
The game brought a variety of new features such as the tone of the conversation, allowing players to choose between Diplomatic/Helpful, Humorous/Charming and Direct/Aggressive responses that over time would affect Hawke’s character. Additionally, DA2 revamped the companion relationship system by adding a friendship/rivalry slider. The new system allowed players to disagree and actively fight companions’ beliefs and actions and not to get punished by the low approval in return.
Sadly, while its story and characters were top-notch, DA2 had a plethora of gameplay problems such as frequently reused assets which made Kirkwall entirely too small and boring. But this is where the greatness of Inquisition was born.
Currently, the latest installment in the series, Dragon Age: Inquisition launched in 2014 and won The Game of the Year award in the same year. While not perfect by any means, Inquisition combines the best of Origins and DA2. The Inquisitor is a fully voiced character with 2 separate voice choices per gender. Players can choose race, gender and class just like in DAO. The game also provides an opportunity to roleplay your character as stoic, diplomatic, charming, etc. without locking the Inquisitor into that role like Hawke was in DA2.
Unlike DAO and DA2, Inquisition is more of a third-person action RPG vs. more cRPG-like format of the previous games. A change like that cannot occur without drastically altering gameplay.
While the game has taken the world of Thedas to new heights in terms of beauty and immersion, the tactical side has suffered due to the more action-driven gameplay that didn’t leave much time for more intricate control of characters. Inquisition does still feature the Tactical Camera, that much is true, but even on the maximum level of difficulty, I have not used it much except for a few boss fights that required careful positioning.
Dragon Age 4 (also referred to as Dragon Age: The Dread Wolf Rises) is currently in development at Bioware. There isn’t much known about the game: so far Bioware has officially shared a short trailer with the image of the Red Lyrium Idol and Solas wondering if players have any questions, a 12-seconds-long teaser featuring an evil tree and, the most interesting, behind the scenes video that you can find below.
The teaser trailer features a number of concept art pieces and a glimpse at a few in development shots of the future game. While not much to go on, these few seconds of footage seem to indicate that the new title will build on what Inquisition offered.
And, after spending an embarrassing number of hours in Baldur’s Gate 3, a part of me wonders what if, just what if the new Dragon Age returned to the Origins-like format and was more of a cRPG?
What kind of game could it have been? Unlike BG3 and DOS2 before it, all Dragon Age games have been real-time with pause. From DAO to DAI, the number of skills learned by any particular character has been drastically reduced – could returning back to the roots change that?
Larian’s games feature crazy amounts of world interactions, from the “environmental hell” to climbing, dropping characters off great heights, hauling barrels and much more
Visually, BG3 proved that it can match the cutscenes and cinematics of non-cRPGs head-on and leave many of them behind as well. Would focusing on just cutscenes increase their quality vs. having to polish so much of the world?
Questions, questions. Regardless of the wishful thinking, I cannot wait to see what Bioware has in store with Dragon Age 4 and will welcome it with open arms. If the developers can make it something akin to Witcher 3 or AC: Valhalla but with the presence of companions at your side? I’m in all the way!