I’ve never finished a Dragon Age game. To be honest, I’ve never really gotten that far into any of them, with Inquisition only holding my attention for a few hours until my attention was diverted elsewhere. BioWare’s beloved RPG series is talked about in the same delighted tones as Mass Effect, Final Fantasy, and The Witcher – fans holding fond memories of moments I have absolutely no context for. Features Editor Ben Sledge has beaten me to the punch when it comes to revisiting past games from a modern perspective, and I still don’t think they’ll hold up in ways that will keep me invested. Even Inquisition feels archaic today.
But with recent gameplay leaks for Dreadwolf teasing a more action-based combat system (fans at TheGamer tell me this is a return to Dragon Age 2) and a timeless yet contemporary aesthetic, part of me is already tempted to see what all the fuss is about. No longer will I have to contend with pages of lore I don’t understand or foes only downed through lightweight melee attacks and campy magic, instead a more approachable take on Western fantasy that unfamiliar fools like me can pick up and fall in love with. I think it’s time for Dragon Age to evaluate its position in the gaming landscape anyway, with over ten years likely to have passed by the time Dreadwolf finally comes around.
The game finds itself in a similar position to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings was far from a niche gem, yet CD Projekt Red still recognised how significant an impact the third entry could have with the right attitude. From the off, it was marketed as an open world epic to rival the likes of Skyrim, positioning itself as both Geralt of Rivia’s swansong and an ideal starting point for newcomers. It was built to satisfy existing fans while pulling in new ones as it delivered just enough context and lore to ensure we all remained invested. Geralt’s pursuit of Ciri might be defined by much wider ramifications and political intrigue, but you could still discard that prerequisite and have an incredible time. I sure did, and I bet the majority of fans who now love the series so dearly came in at Wild Hunt and decided to stick around.
Dragon Age has been more consistently popular, but almost ten years removed from its last release I’d like to think millions of fans are either fresh-faced or in dire need of a reminder on what the series is all about. I don’t have time to play three massive RPGs that are doomed to show their age more and more as time goes on. I’m a cool gamer, so give me new things and do all the legwork for me. Dreadwolf has already made it clear that the bad elf dude who betrayed you in the last game (I think his name is Solas?) will be a very big deal this time around, with the player likely tasked with bringing them down and preventing another cataclysm from tearing the realm asunder. Business as usual I suppose, and despite all the prior knowledge such a tale requires, who says it can’t be positioned in a way to soft reboot Dragon Age for a new era? It could even help BioWare shed some of the baggage it’s had to deal with after years of failures.
The studio that originally brought Mass Effect and Dragon Age to life is a completely different beast these days, and expecting games to accurately reflect our experiences from back then is foolish. Mass Effect Andromeda was a tough lesson in our inability to manage those weird expectations, while BioWare was clearly not given enough resources nor creative direction to bring the series back to life after years of absence. While it’s in a playable state now and not worth the derision it received, to say it stands alongside the original trilogy is an outright lie.
We also had Anthem. This misguided attempt to capitalise on the live-service market was cobbled together in less than 18 months while hinging on a single mechanic worth caring about. It doesn’t even feel like a BioWare game, with reviews at the time almost bargaining with its mediocrity to find something worth salvaging. BioWare apologised for its poor state before promising us a reboot, then cancelled that too because it wasn’t worth the trouble. Those who picked up the game at launch hoping for a fully-fledged product were duped, and it still hasn’t been made up to them. When you think about it, aside from Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, Dreadwolf is the first chance this studio has to prove itself after what feels like an entire generation of disasters. If this goes wrong, I’m not sure what exactly happens next.
Dreadwolf is a way for BioWare to change things, and show the team behind it is more than capable of creating world-class single player journeys we will never forget. Those who are already firmly in love with the series can easily forget exactly how long it’s been since the studio has landed in our good graces. Mass Effect is making a comeback too, likely set to expand on the original trilogy instead of exploring greener pastures, and that carries with it the same pressure to not only succeed, but give BioWare a reason to exist at all in 2023.
This is the big reason behind my passion to play Dreadwolf, to analyse exactly how much has changed and if BioWare is capable of learning from contemporary RPG successes to craft a game that is equal parts groundbreaking and approachable. So many of my friends and colleagues show so much love for Dragon Age, and I want to be a part of that. With any luck, its next adventure will restore BioWare to its former glory and bring newcomers like me along for the ride. Just make it clear I need to stop the bad elf guy by any means necessary and let me be a gay fantasy superhero. Tick those boxes, and I’ll have absolutely no issues.
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