Warning: Spoilers ahead for the Dragon Age series.
Welcome to Part 2 of this discussion about game mechanics breaking lore. Yesterday, I talked about how the Blood Mage and Spirit Healer specializations were heavily tied in via the lore and story of Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II. However, as I hinted at the end, things began to go downhill when Dragon Age: Inquisition joined the franchise.
Like its predecessors, Dragon Age: Inquisition utilizes class specializations for character builds. As technology and know-how has come quite a long ways since the first of the series, companion characters within Dragon Age: Inquisition will actually comment upon your choice of specialization. Like when Dragon Age II entered the franchise though, mechanics were changed in an attempt to improve the game’s entertainment value. For mages, the specializations available in Dragon Age: Inquisition are Knight-Enchanter, Necromancer, and Rift Mage.
I’m sure as you can notice at first glance these are not at all specializations that were present in the first games.
Now whether the specializations are well-developed is a discussion for another day. What is relevant to today’s discussion is that lore wise and description wise, these specializations are not anything that has previously been established within the game’s world. I am certainly not opposed to new elements that may enhance the lore or change specializations for the better. In fact, anyone who knows me can tell you I love necromancy mage classes. Yet, none of these specializations match up to the previous games as far as lore goes. In essence, these make the game’s world feel entirely different than what it has felt like before, and in this case, not in a good way.
What exactly happened, you ask? Anyone familiar with the franchise will know about the lack of healing controversy for Dragon Age: Inquisition. For those who don’t, in an effort to make the game “harder” the developers took out healing and instead replaced it with flasks, barriers, and other compensating mechanics. It basically changed from healing yourself in the game to preparing yourself to just never get hit or take damage. Unfortunately, this lack of ability to heal or be a Spirit Healer feels completely out of place in the world. It has been shown since the beginning to be part of the world, and for characters like Anders, it is somewhat integral to their presence. Yet, we are faced with a game whose mechanics do not let us reflect that mages in this world can heal. Thus, rather than being the world where we met Anders or any of the characters who had a role by healing someone with magic, this feels like a different world. The consequence is that the lore feels broken; those invested into the lore are hit with that reminder I mentioned yesterday about the world being fictional. Hence, it becomes much harder to immerse yourself due to the foreign tone that is suddenly present.
Of course, there is also the lack of Blood Mage to address. The argument has been made that for this particular game, Blood Mage would not be a suitable specialization for the Inquisitor. While there can be validity in this argument, previous games have never had issue. Even in Dragon Age II you could have a Blood Mage Hawke but never get villainized the same way due to a myriad of circumstances. So, in light of that, it seems to be a very thin argument to make. However, even if your Inquisitor cannot be a Blood Mage, the concept of blood magic is well-established into the world’s lore. Sadly, through most of Dragon Age: Inquisition, the concept is barely ever mentioned. This is great oddity considering the war between mages and Templars is still ongoing during the game’s events. In the end, between both the lack of the mechanic and the bare mention of such an important lore piece, the world once again feels completely different from the one players experienced in the previous games.
As shown, these game mechanics were, originally, tied very well into the lore. They suited known elements of the franchise, such as blood magic, and were utilized in a way that always immersed one better into the world they were playing through. It achieved what these sorts of games should; each character was its own character in a world, rather than just some generic medium for player’s to experience the story. Yet, when the mechanics were thrown out for the “sake of improvement,” fans of the franchise were suddenly left in a foreign world. Mechanics wise, very little for the mage specializations reflected over, and this changed the entire tone and way in which the player engaged the world. The changes made were just far too drastic and ruined some of the mystique and continuity of the world. This is especially insulting considering the Warrior class maintained well-established specializations in all three games. Why was mage treated to such a lore breaking change (and rogue for that matter)?
My hope for this analysis is that other potential game creators realize that game mechanics and lore can be tied together in a very important way. For story games, the best ones are those that make their mechanics fit the world’s lore. It immerses players into the world, since every aspect of them playing feels part of it. However, breaking the game mechanics too far away from the established lore and precedence can backfire for your longtime fans, making the world feel too utterly foreign to be immediately enjoyable. Though improvements and changes should be made to increase a franchise’s longevity, one should always keep in mind previously established canon.
Though I still enjoyed Dragon Age: Inquisition and appreciate other elements it added to the lore, part of me will always remember this particular lore break with bitterness. It is a dark spot for me on the franchise, and I can only hope the next addition goes back to its origins a bit more.
Dragon Age is © to Bioware, Electronic Arts, and all affiliated parties.
Image: Concept Art- Apostates in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Obtained from the Dragon Age Wiki.