Today's announcement from BioWare, confirming and naming Dragon Age III: Inquisition, came with startlingly little other news about the game. We've known—or at least suspected—for many months now that it was in production, but so far we've seen almost nothing official about it.
And yet what we have seen, from the story as it's evolved through novels and comics, to the tidbits about gameplay and design that have dribbled out on forums and in panels, begins to add up to a reasonably robust picture of what Dragon Age III might be all about. So what do we know about today's big announcement—and what's lingering around the edges, weirdly unsaid?
- It will have improved level design over Dragon Age II. During the Dragon Age presentation at PAX East, the team announced in no uncertain terms that they had heard and understood the feedback about recycled environments from DA2 and would be avoiding a repeat.
- Players will be visiting at least one city or other location in Orlais, Dragon Age's equivalent of France. In the game's lore, it's the home base of the Divine, who is more or less the reigning papal figure of Thedas—and who, as head of the Chantry of which both the Seekers and Templars are branches, may well be highly involved in the plot.
- Players will be able to customize their companion characters' gear. BioWare have detailed at length, both in the PAX East presentation and on their blog, the way that they plan to blend unified, thematic visual appearances in the manner of DA2 with the armor customization from DA:O. Players may also be able to mess around with textiles and dyes.
- Player decisions from the first two games will carry forward, creative director Mike Laidlaw confirmed at the same PAX East panel. Dragon Age II let players import a save from Dragon Age: Origins. If players didn't import, then at new game creation, they chose one of three possible predetermined sets of outcomes from the first game. Whether or not DA3 actually has save-game imports is still up in the air, but it seems likely to.
- There will be an online or multiplayer component. No specifics have bubbled up yet, but Dragon Age III is guaranteed to have some kind of online or multiplayer element. Not only is EA actively and publicly putting online "universes" behind all of its games and series, but also lead writer David Gaider has confirmed as much on the forums.
- What platforms will this game be on? "Late 2013," as specified in the press release, is a dark and murky time, filled with rumor and conjecture. Most folks are betting on either Microsoft or Sony, or possibly both, releasing their next-generation successor consoles for next year's holiday season. That makes predicting whether DA3 would run on current generation consoles or still-unannounced next-generation consoles tricky. (PC players have it easy, in comparison.)
- Who—or what—is the player character? The Warden was one kind of character, heavily defined by the player's origin choices. Different classes, races, and genders had extraordinarily different perspectives on the story, and could create or engineer some surprisingly disparate outcomes. Hawke, meanwhile, was fully-voiced and largely pre-defined. To which end will the pendulum swing? No idea.
- Who are the player's companions? Do others from the first two games return? All we really know is that there's at least one Grey Warden and one Seeker involved. Personally my instinct puts good money on Cassandra being that Seeker, but that hasn't actually been stated (or even nudge-nudge non-stated) anywhere.
- What's the story about? Dragon Age II pointed to a fracture in the Chantry, the religious organization that more or less structures life in Thedas. Further materials—the novel Dragon Age: Asunder and the anime film Dawn of the Seeker—have filled in the story, outlining a breakdown in the class system of which mages, Templars, and the Chantry clergy are all rigidly defined pillars. Specifics, however, are harder to work out. Particularly in the face of...
- What about all the loose ends? What's the deal with Morrigan or, for that matter, what's the deal with the deal the Warden can make with Morrigan at the end of DA:O? What is Flemeth up to? What about Leliana, and the Divine? What are the repercussions of Anders's major action in DA2, and how's Thedas doing under the specter of civil war? What about Tevinter, or the Qunari? Any fanfiction author's guesses seem pretty much equally valid, still.
The "inquisition" in the title certainly seems to point to the continued involvement of the Seekers of Truth, the branch of the Chantry that investigate internal affairs. And yet others out there have pieced together the relevant bits of lore from both Dragon Age games to unearth the history of the Inquisition in Thedas. It was a reign of terror, coincident with the First Blight. The world of Dragon Age has always seemed to move in cycles, and man's terror to man may indeed be the cycle that the third game finds itself capturing.
For now, though, all we really know with absolute certainty is that you shouldn't delete your Dragon Age and Dragon Age II saved games. Ah, well. Sometimes, speculation is half the fun.