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Dragon Age: Inquisition, the Baldurs Gate Legacy, and the Value of an Open World

""It's required a lot of learning and a lot of trial and error as we've gone through the development in the last three or four years.""

An hour doesn't give me much time to see if the game lives up to these statements, especially when I am more concerned with roaming the countryside and picking herbs, even though I know I'll probably never have the chance to do anything with them during the demo. It's the explorer in me. It's the compulsive collector in me. I see something shiny, or something with a name hovering over it, or something that makes a button prompt appear, and I must grab it or interact with it. Lee gently prompts me to push forward so that I can fight a dragon before the demo ends, and it isn't long before a portal appears above me and enemies swarm around me. 'It's one of Oblivion's Oblivion gates, or one of Rift's rifts,' I think, and sure enough, Lee tells me that this opening in the sky is a rift--a dimensional tear resulting from the raging templar/mage conflict. Closing the rift brings stability to the region and earns renown for me and my inquisition.

As I fight off the creatures surrounding me and hold a controller button to close the rift, Lee shares more with me about the challenges of making a BioWare branching story work in a world where a single region is as vast as the entirety of Dragon Age: Origins. "The immediate challenge that we faced was, how do you keep players' engagement with the story in the BioWare way of doing things," Lee says. "You know, progress through a story, and a couple of branching things, and stuff like that, but then do an open world? That was really hard to work out."

But work it out BioWare did. Says Lee, "Eventually we came to this realization that because you had the inquisition, you could use that as the glue. By giving the player choice around the inquisition, we gave them power around how they progress through the story in that open world. It's up to the player about what balance they want to strike between charging through what we call the crit-path [that is, the critical story path - ed.], which is the typical BioWare experience, and then we had to think about ways of bridging the two mechanics. Earning power through the exploration gameplay--exploring this world, doing quests, exploring dungeons, whatever--was a nice way to encourage players to get out into the world as a mechanism through which to progress in the story."

Posted on Jul 11, 2014


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