How to kill a video game franchise . . .

I don’t talk very much about gaming on this blog, because I have a LiveJournal account where that is most of what I do.  However, because I posted my open letter to the gaming industry here, I did think that it might be appropriate to look at what the industry can do wrong.  Mostly because when they do it wrong, they go big on the error.

My case study for this is the 3rd installment of the franchise Dragon Age.

This one is called Dragon Age: Inquisition.  Both of the previous installments became “Game of the Year” award winners, and I loved the games.  So my hopes were high.

First up – the controls.  Every game in this series has had a different map to the controls.  Frustration levels run exceptionally high when you are in combat situations and instinctively try to attack with the previous habit motions, but your character dies because that button/trigger now does something totally different.  DA:I takes this to a new extreme.  Where the previous games started with very simple controls, and slowly opened up new commands over the course of the game, DA:I is more complex at the start than the others were at the end.

Secondly, let’s look at in-game story continuity.  In the first game of the series, you could play as any of 4 different basic character types, with up to 10 different back stories (plus the option of playing each as male/female), and your decisions both at character generation and throughout the game had real in-game impacts on how events unfolded and how NPC’s reacted to you.  In the second game, you’re only allowed one race choice, thus only warrior/rogue/mage types, and male/female.  However, you were allowed to import your save file from the first game to fill in the back story to adjust how the NPC’s behave in the game – a first in my gaming experience, and it was awesome!  DA:I adds one new race as a playable character (Qunari), but does not support importing save files from previous games.

On to trophies.  We all want to be acknowledged for our hard work – the same is true in gaming.  So imagine the disappointment average people will feel in finding out that no matter how many times they play the entire game, they will never be able to earn a “Platinum” trophy (or Achievement on the Xbox systems).  This is because there are two trophies that absolutely require you to play the entire game on “Hard” or “Nightmare” difficulty settings, and most people who play these games won’t be able to do that.

Next up is the User Interface.  There is a HUD-type map that appears on the screen to help you navigate to objectives.  Or at least that is what it is supposed to do.  It fails completely because the compass freely spins as you change directions, resulting in you never being certain where you are or how to get to your chosen destination.

Now on to character leveling – the process of improving your character as you progress through the game.  The previous two installments of this series handled this fairly well, and with good planning it was possible to keep your character’s build ahead of the demands of the game.  Not so with DA:I – which now has a “power” stat that is the measure of the influence of the Inquisition.  The power stat goes up rather independently of the XP that you need to raise level, but is directly tied into the level of the opponents you face.  It shouldn’t be hard to imagine the pain and frustration of having a level 6 character who is suddenly facing level 10 demons!  Oh, and I’ve also had the “pleasure” of having my level 4 character run into a DRAGON.  FYI – one fireball from the dragon wiped out my entire party.

I could continue – but suffice it to say that everything my “open letter” said the video game should do differently has been done wrong by BioWare and EA in the third game of the Dragon Age series.  I don’t think I’ll be interested in a 4th game of this series.  These companies don’t care about your business or mine – they cater to the elite “top 3%” of all gamers, and this game proves it in spades.

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