Lifetap Volume 1, Issue 36 – Could Dragon Age Work as an MMO?

Having played an absurd amount of Dragon Age: Inquisition since its release last month, Sardu weighs in with his thoughts on how well the franchise would work as an MMO.

A confession: I’m still holding out hope that one day in a mystical far off land, a Mass Effect MMO will materialize. I’ve been dreaming of that day since even before the official announcement of Star Wars: The Old Republic, and still haven’t completely given up hope. A heck of a lot of stars will no doubt need to align first, but stranger things have happened, right?

When it comes to the Dragon Age series, the thought of seeing it transition into an MMO at some stage never really occurred to me before. That is, until getting my hands on Inquisition, and from there, everything changed.

Inquisition – whether part of its intended grand design or not – draws heavy inspiration from many facets of MMO gameplay. At first I thought I was imagining things, and that the series hadn’t changed all that radically since the last installment. Then I fired up Dragon Age 2 over the weekend and was shocked at just how much had changed about core gameplay systems.

Everything from character movement, to combat systems and crafting, and even world design in Inquisition showcases how much BioWare has learned through the process of unleashing SWTOR on the masses. SWTOR is only one of the primary influences I’ve seen on Dragon Age. There is also more than a simple, polite nod to certain aspects of Guild Wars 2, among other major players in the MMO and RPG spheres.

The Massively Small Group Era Beckons

As is customary with the end of the year breathing in our face like an angry fortune teller who ate too many beans for breakfast, we’ve already begun the process of analyzing the landscape of major MMO releases slated for 2015. At this point I feel it’s safe to say that we’ll be seeing far more AAA small group titles than we will major MMO launches.

Call it a sign of the times, but the hip new trend is all about cashing in on the coattails of the success of titles like League of Legends, Team Fortress 2, World of Tanks, and pretty much any title that even hints at eSports aspirations. We’re hitting a point where you can’t wave your stick at the cosmic MMO piñata without first smacking it into another company boldly declaring that eSports is the future.

Funny how it was only a few years ago that the exact same thing was being said about mobile gaming.

These things do tend to be cyclical in nature. Almost to the point where that angry fortune teller – had they not eaten quite so many beans – would probably tell you what the future holds for the post-MOBA stampede:

  • Top shelf publishers will declare that eSports is the future of online gaming (that is, those that haven’t already done so)
  • 2015 industry events will be dominated by announcements for new titles that are based on small group play, showcase well in a live streaming environment, and lean heavily towards eSports
  • Only a handful of these titles will ultimately succeed, followed by countless studio closures, layoff announcements, and industry analysts boldly declaring that online gaming is dead
  • In the meantime, something entirely new will spring up – likely from a small independent startup or modding community effort – that becomes the Next Big Thing that publishers will attempt to hitch their wagon to

You could probably take the above and create a Mad Libs version and it would work incredibly well for the post-WoW MMO explosion, mobile gaming, Facebook games, or pretty much any other major trend we’ve witnessed over the past decade.

Full Circle

What the heck does all of that have to do with a Dragon Age MMO? For starters, if one were ever going to materialize, I could see it taking shape based more on the original Guild Wars model (or even Destiny for that matter) than a fully open world setup. I still think Elder Scrolls Online would have been better served by focusing the game on small group play than skipping right past the multiplayer game Elder Scrolls fans wanted and going the route of a fully open virtual world.

Dragon Age does have many of the key building blocks already in place: interesting and diverse races with plenty of cultural history, a combat system based on team versus solo play, and plenty of major world events that could serve as a backdrop for the action. A new blight perhaps? Or imagine what would happen if you dropped players into the Fade and focused gameplay on their escape?

The thing is, I couldn’t foresee Dragon Age working as an MMO in the vein of World of Warcraft, at least not without devolving into a big old pile of Kill Ten Nugs quests. But if you focused on major social hubs similar to Skyhold and then allowed small groups to form before venturing out into instanced slices of the world ala Guild Wars, I could see it working.

Some of the building blocks already exist within the Inquisition multiplayer mode. The trick would be to properly synch that up with the massive world found in the single-player campaign, and finding ways to make the story stick without the lone hero setup. If you think about it, that already exists as well. You might lead the inquisition, but it’s not like you’re saving the world on your own. You always have a group with you while facing off against the bad guys. A main difference would be having human players in that group instead of AI companions.

So to answer the question posed in the title of today’s issue of Lifetap: yes, I fully believe that Dragon Age could work as an MMO. Will it ever happen? I’m far less certain on that one, leaning heavily towards it being highly doubtful.

Besides, I’m still holding out hope for a Mass Effect MMO first.

To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Dragon Age: Inquisition Game Page.

Last Updated: Mar 18, 2016

About The Author

Reuben "Sardu" Waters has been writing professionally about the MMOG industry for eight years, and is the current Editor-in-Chief and Director of Development for Ten Ton Hammer.