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Dragon Age Needs To Evolve

Dragon Age should move towards a more engaging combat system to retain its "epic" feel and pull in renewed interest for the series.
Started on 27 November 2018 by MosesVandenberg
Latest Reply on 27 November 2018 by MosesVandenberg
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Dragon Age: Origins was my very favorite game in the world for a long time. It has some steep competition these days, but it still remains one of my favorite experiences in gaming, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the gameplay. The gameplay of Origins was very familiar to me at the time, having been a big fan of Knights of the Old Republic as a kid, but Origins came out in a time where many RPGs were moving away from the tactics based, strategy-esque gameplay that had been adapted from tabletop games and early entries into the genre, and instead into a more interactive, action combat system. Bioware's other big release at the time, Mass Effect, already fully embraced this in a unique way, being both a third person shooter and an RPG, and naturally Mass Effect has always had a wider mass appeal because of it.

Today, most of the biggest western RPGs are action games as much as they are RPGs, and largely they are fantastic. Dark Souls, The Witcher, and other games like them are the kings of the genre because they have combat systems that give the player a sense of agency, that the enemies are being affected by their attacks and their actions are have impact and are engaging. This is something that Dragon Age has always lacked and is weaker for it. In Dragon Age, players command a party of four rather than a single character and for the most part, attacks on enemies feel rather bland. Mages can engulf a room in a giant inferno, but enemies will run through it to get to the player, or in some cases run away from the damage, but it doesn't ever really feel like any of them are actually on fire, they're just manifestations of a health bar being depleted. When enemies are struck by a blade or an arrow, they don't react in any meaningful way. Some abilities will inflict different effects on enemies like knocking them over or stunning them, but it never feels very organic, and the combat itself, not engaging.

Dragon Age as a series has a very real chance of reinventing itself with its next entry. The fourth game will be the first game released exclusively for current gen consoles, allowing Bioware to utilize the full potential of current technology. It also benefits from the experience that Bioware now has using the Frostbite engine, compared to the mixed bag of Dragon Age: Inquisition, Bioware's first game using the new engine. Unlike some other games, Dragon Age has had pretty big fundamental changes to how its combat works in every release, mostly moving towards a more action-centric style while trying to maintain some semblance of a tactics based system. However, the constant balancing act of appeasing two very different styles of gameplay has meant that they've been unable to truly fulfill the promises of either, falling short in both regards.

The next game is truly Bioware's chance to start fresh with its core combat system, while retaining the fundamental qualities of Dragon Age, namely its incredible world-building, lore, and characters. In this endeavor, Bioware could learn a lot from another series that has recently reinvented itself, leading to widespread critical acclaim and success, Assassin's Creed. Assassin's Creed began to decline in popularity, and frankly quality, after the release of the final chapter of the Ezio story, Assassin's Creed Revelations. After that, Ubisoft tried several times to take the game in fresh new directions, experimenting with different gameplay mechanics and combat systems, and after the horrible release of Assassin's Creed Unity, and the lackluster sales of Assassin's Creed Syndicate, Ubisoft took a step back to make sure they got it right. This led to the release of Assassin's Creed Origins, a complete re-imagining of the series core gameplay features, while retaining an engaging story, relatable protagonist, and the series' trademark historical sandbox. A short while ago Ubisoft released Assassin's Creed Odyssey, a game that built off of the success of Assassin's Creed Origins and is now being touted as possibly the best entry of the series, a few years after it seemed like the series' reputation had been tainted forever.

Another option that I've seen some fans consider, is that instead Bioware should instead solve the issue of its dual identity by heading in the other direction, by becoming more of a tactics-driven game, and though that might be a possible fix, it seems a much more natural fit for Dragon Age to build towards becoming a great action game. For one, Dragon Age has always been an epic tale told on a grand scale, and a more action RPG style of gameplay would be a much more natural choice to express that . It was always a bit jarring for me to play an RPG that wanted to be a grand epic tale that would throw you into an epic battle, but ultimately fell a little flat because of a turn-based or slower paced combat system.

Besides a more responsive action system being more suited to the epic scale of Dragon Age, it is also already more or less the direction that Dragon Age is heading. Inquisition, despite reintroducing the popular "Tactical Mode" from Origins after its absence from Dragon Age 2, had remarkably little reason to use it, and also featured an extremely limited range of tactical options. Healers were non-existent, instead healing was limited to a finite number of potions and players were encouraged to use a range of other abilities to improve survivability, abilities that often required players to adopt a more aggressive playstyle.

Like Ubisoft, Bioware needs to use the opportunity they have to reinvent their core gameplay mechanics from the ground up and still retain the incredible story and characters that they are known for to attract a whole new group of fans to experience the great world and stories they have to offer, but have been turned off by the lackluster combat experience.
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