The Glorious Possibilities of Dragon Age: The Live Service

Welcome to the darkest timeline

Dragon Age 4 has finally been announced, but maybe not in the form fans wanted. A recent report on Bioware’s internal trainwreck says that the original game has been canned, and that the new plan for the game intends to weave in “live service” elements in the vein of Anthem. Which, as I’m sure you’ve all heard, is doing super well. The title would have focused on a single-player campaign set in Tevinter and resolved a number of plot threads from Inquisition. But Bioware belongs to EA now, and what we’re seeing is only a dead company walking.

Some might see this as a time to mourn, but not me. I say this is a time to imagine all the glorious new possibilities that Dragon Age: The Live Service could bring to us. Maybe it’s because I was really invested in Hawke and my favorite Origins character was Zevran, but I consider telling the player to fuck off to be a franchise tradition. Now, let’s put on this Patrick Bateman suit and start imagining like a marketeer.

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So, picture this: the protagonist and their merry band of misfits make it back from a dangerous mission early on in the game. Now it’s crucial that this not be too early, because you want to make sure it’s outside of the refund window.

Anyway, the party comes back from their mission only to come to a horrifying realization — they’re covered in strange markings! Mysterious ones that not even the party’s greatest scholar can decipher, like the strange swoosh on the upper arm, or the bright insignia of the “Red Bull” on your healer’s back.

Not to worry though, there’s a strange old hermit who is said to have the ability to remove these brandings… for a price. Of course, strange old hermits are not in the business of taking common currency. All you need to do is pay a few mystical otherworldly coins ($5.99 a pack) to remove the curse. Keep a waypoint on that hermit’s location though, though. There’s more than one Fade mission that’ll leave your party looking like fantasy NASCAR drivers. And if you don’t want to pay? Well, it’s just cosmetic. The second time it happens, it’s just cosmetic all over the protagonist’s face.

Hey, it worked for Street Fighter.

Paywalled Sex Scenes

I’ve been saying for years that Bioware would feel much freer if it were to cast off its epic notions and embrace being the dating sim maker it longs to be in its heart. But even I can admit that Bioware games don’t exactly make for the most stunningly realistic portrayal of romance. It’s more like putting compliment coins in a slot until sex comes out and then you fill in elaborate headcanons on your own time. Each game’s implementation of wooing has been slightly different, which leaves us with absolute buckets to exploit. Gifts? Enjoy buying those from the in-game shop (excuse me, shoppe). Loyalty missions? Hope you got that season pass, champ.

And relationship points? Your party’s lives don’t revolve around you, you inconsiderate pinworm! You’re going to have to work your way into their busy schedules doing fantasy world-saving things. Unless you have enough money to buy this fantasy day-planner, which will imbue you with infinite sex points as your beau of choice notes how stylish and organized you are. Why, you could practically be a marketing executive, you lucky duck! This digital mouth mashing is about to get steamier than ever before. And it will only cost $9.99 to remove the mosaics.

Timers, Timers Timers

Now, let’s assume we still live in a world where the new Dragon Age will take place in Tevinter and involve some kind of covert operations. Because honestly, that’s really gonna work for me. You know what spies have to do a lot of? Waiting. You have to wait for your targets to slip up, wait for useful information to come in, and wait so that you don’t arouse undue suspicion. In the meantime, you probably do very boring paperwork so that the info you’re gathering is viable. It’s agonizing.

Which makes it the perfect place to put in our old friend, timers. Bethesda has recently discovered the joy of timers, so it seems reasonable that Bioware might follow suit. There were already timers in Inquisition, though they weren’t a major part of the game. But maybe this time around, those waits are a little more frequent, a little longer. And of course, you can always cough up a few dollars to speed things up a little.

You don’t have to use the timers, of course. Bored of waiting? You can go right on into that mission. With substandard gear, mind you. And the odds that you might break a questline by saying the wrong thing in conversation, because your spy didn’t tell you that Milady Bloodmagius has a thing about grapes. But nobody’s holding a gun to your head and making you use the feature! The game will technically run if you ignore it! It’s just like a normal game that hasn’t been explicitly built around preying on its audience.

Winter Festival S-Rank Fenris

Now, the single best thing about a new entry in a beloved franchise is that you can milk the fanbase for every last nostalgia dollar they’ve got. Were you upset that Alistair basically had a walk-on role in Inquisition? Do you finally want to nuzzle safely into Varric’s soft, supple chest hair? Are you bummed that the female romances for a female protagonist in Inquisition frankly kind of sucked? Well, everything has a price.

If Dragon Age: The Live Service might be rewriting the very foundation of what made the original games so dearly remembered, it’s only fair that  the player be able to rewrite the things that disappointed them. All your old favorites will be available as premium add-ons. This means that they won’t be able to have a significant impact on the plot because they aren’t part of the base gameplay, but that doesn’t matter. They’ll be there, looking like you remembered them but with more polygons, telling you all about what they’ve been up to while their glassy, hollow eyes silently beg for the sweet release of death. It is agony, agony, every second that they are dredged up from the soft, earthy grace of nearly a decade past.

Best of all, the ongoing content roadmap means that players will be constantly on tenterhooks waiting to hear if their favorite characters will be brought back for a new mission. We can sell holiday-themed expansions. Child-rearing options. The possibilities of monetization based on the fracturing of serialized narrative are truly, truly endless. And to make sure that players know about these recruitment options, they will receive in-game letters from old party members that inform you they are in terrible danger, with the threat of death breathing inches down their neck. Only you(r money) can save them!

But don’t worry. If you decide not to take these offers, the overall plot won’t be affected. I guess you just don’t love Fenris as much as you thought.

These are only preliminary ideas, of course. As we all know, game development is a magical career that gives your dreams flight, like fairy dust. And with just a little bit of Bioware Magic, we can crush the optimal amount of sparkly productivity out of those little flying bugs and step on their little corpses in search of the next injection of magic. Ah, we have fun here.

Anyway, game developers should unionize.