Recently, I had the opportunity to join the folks at Bioware at their Edmonton studio to get some hands on time with their upcoming RPG, Dragon Age II. Now, before the forums are flooded with the fact that Dragon Age II is not an MMORPG, and that we've broken some cardinal rule by even daring to publish an article based on the game, I'm going to tell you that I disagree. Getting a glimpse at the development of one of Bioware's marquee RPG titles does provide at least some insight into what we can expect from the upcoming Old Republic title.
I'll start by talking a little bit about the game itself, which I thought was a great deal of fun. There aren't many games that I'm sad to take a break from after six hours of play, but this one managed to do it.
Fans of the old game are going to find a number of things improved, including much better visuals, a new but not-too-different art style, a streamlined UI, improved combat mechanics, archery that doesn't suck, and a dialogue wheel to replace the old dialogue lists. They're going to find some things the same as the overall gameplay experience and storytelling mechanics stay delightfully true to the original game, and they're going to find at least one thing that has the potential to disappoint them in the fact that humans are the only available race.
This choice is not made out of laziness, or to purposely anger elf fans everywhere, but has a purpose as this time around, Bioware is looking to tell a specific story with the game. That story is of the champion, Hawke, a human male or female who went from the life of a refugee to become the Champion of Kirkwall.
I spoke with some of the developers about the choice to limit the race selection this time around and it really came down to the fact that this was the story that they wanted to tell. Origins was exactly that, an introduction to the game world and all of its races, providing players with choices between many of the races, each with its own backstory. In short, Dragon Age II is not just a re-hash of Origins, it is its own game and its own story.
I won't go into too much more detail about the game, as half of the fun is in the surprise, but suffice it to say that I'd recommend picking this one up as I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Headed there as an MMO journalist, my interests were a little bit different than those of some of my colleagues, and so my questions were directed in a different direction than most.
Trying to tie this all together with Bioware's upcoming MMO without being able to ask any direct questions about it wasn't easy. Still, I wanted to know about Bioware's very specific storytelling style and how it has managed to endure in its original form when big publishers like EA have had a tendency to push games toward the modern and the shiny and away from classic games making.
The answer that I got from lead Designer Mike Laidlaw was that EA has seen the massive success that Bioware has had in their field and that it's hard to argue with a formula that has brought in that much money.
While I was unable to coax any other information from Laidlaw about whether or not Dragon Age was headed for the MMO treatment, I do hold out hope that The Old Republic will be allowed to properly follow in the footsteps of its single player RPG Bioware predecessors. After all, if you're going to make a story driven MMORPG, it should probably be based on one of the best formulas in the business.