Throughout the years, BioWare has become equally known for both the games it makes and the reactions surrounding those games. Most of the time, this relates to its sci-fi RPG Mass Effect, which is due to receive some type of resurgence within the next couple of years. And while you very much wouldn’t say that’s the only thing the Canadian developer is known for, it can be sometimes easy to overlook Dragon Age, the studio’s equally beloved fantasy-RPG series.
But this month in particular has felt like a boon to Dragon Age fans, who’ve largely been subsisting on a drip feed of information about the follow up to Dragon Age Inquisition. The month began with the title reveal of Dreadwolf, the next major entry in the series, which is hopefully arriving in 2023. And during Netflix’s Geeked Week, it was revealed that the series is getting its own animated series, Absolution, due to release this December. For the moment, at least, everything’s coming up Dragon Age.
Fantasy has always been popular, especially in games, but the success of The Witcher 3 in 2015 arguably helped the genre get back in favour in the gaming space during a time when marines and realistic settings were taking over a lot of mainstream video games. A succession of great fantasy RPGs have since followed in its wake: whether you wanted to be a Monster Hunter, die again and again, or just feel like you’re playing Dungeons & Dragons, the fantasy genre has had a pretty strong streak of games in recent years. But Dragon Age was a little too early to the party; while a critical and commercial success, Inquisition came out just a few months ahead of Witcher 3, and the franchise has become somewhat lost in the shuffle as a result.
It’s a shame, because Dragon Age is a pretty good franchise in its own right. A lot of that is owed to its cast and the narratives in each game. As with most BioWare games, the writing for the characters is consistently engaging, and there’s at least two or three winners among the party members of each game. The ones that hit really hit, and the games do a great job of giving you moments to bond with them, romantically or otherwise. I cared about them enough to make sure that everyone remained loyal enough to not leave the group, which is certainly a credit to the writing and their actors’ performances. Playing Inquisition, I enjoyed having to put the work in to woo Cassandra and lightly teasing her about her secret appreciation for Varric’s saucy (and extremely embellished) novels, as much as I loved bringing Dorian and the Iron Bull along to hear them flirt back and forth. Listening to everyone trade barbs back and forth is worth the price of admission all on its own just to see them get along or clash with each other.
While everyone has their own favourite entry in the series, there’s a general mutually agreed soft spot for Dragon Age II, despite its place as a bit of a “black sheep” in the franchise’s critical estimations. Though that game has more than its share of issues, there’s a certain charm — and appreciation, even — for its decision to be considerably smaller in scale and size compared to its predecessor, 2009’s Origins. Keeping the focus on Hawke, a refugee in the city of Kirkwall who serves as the game’s customisable protagonist, makes the game feel more like a tie-in novel to a much larger game to come. Like all BioWare games, DAII is a hero’s journey, with an emphasis on “hero,” as events are all kept squarely on Hawke and their allies as they rise to power in Kirkwall over the course of a decade. The game had a rocky development, and the game’s developers have said as much, numerous times, but there’ve been many who’ve seen it for the hidden gem that it truly is in the 11 years since its original release.
Dragon Age is just one of many fantasy RPG franchises out there, and it certainly won’t be the last, but it retains a vibe and feel all its own. If it’s not the characters and the political conflicts they can’t entirely pull themselves out of, it’s how each game manages to feel like a thrilling fantasy adventure in its own right while remaining character focused. It’s the way the game indulges in the typical fantasies befitting of its genre, like sitting on a throne to cast judgment, while giving you the relatively unique experience of learning how to navigate through its complicated political world, either on the fly at an important dinner party or at a war table that requires you use your best judgment.
Perhaps Inquisition is too big for its own good in certain areas, and II is lacking in size compared to Origins — those are both incredibly valid critiques. Even so, it’s just fun to grab three of your favourite party members to explore a dungeon or face off against a dragon who you’re absolutely convinced only showed up because someone in the group decided to smack talk as it flew above them. In the same way that Mass Effect remains unique, the same can be said of Dragon Age, with the way it allows you to use a jar of bees like a grenade or completely ruin the moment of a former friend turned enemy, who decides to repay your rudeness by being equally bitchy to you.
An anime and eventual sequel are small steps, particularly when we’ve yet to see much of anything from them beyond hard confirmations that they exist. But it’s still fun to think about the real information that’ll be coming in the months leading up to Absolution and Dreadwolf’s respective releases. The idea of meeting new faces, seeing new lands, and maybe hanging out with some old friends in this franchise feels realer than it ever has in quite some time. Much as I hate the idea of saying that a franchise is “back” when it hasn’t really gone away in the traditional sense, Dragon Age is on its way back, and I’m excited for it to return. Well, that, and to finally crack that egg.