Dragon Age II dev on DLC: add-in instead of add-on

“Oh, look, we’ve got a 91 Metacritic,” begins Dragon Age II lead designer Mike Laidlaw. “But it’s not 100, so there’s got to be room to improve.” Over the life of Dragon Age: Origins, Laidlaw’s BioWare Edmonton team attempted to do just that using DLC as a proving ground for new ideas and fixes.

The DLC packages for Dragon Age boast a litany of improvements — they introduced stamina draughts, a much-needed weapons locker, the ability to redistribute skill points, and Shale — but they were also a way to explore new narrative structures in standalone campaigns, not all of which were successful.

The “Leliana’s Song” campaign, for example, was an “amazing experience,” explains Laidlaw. “People really liked playing it, but they felt a little disconnected because it wasn’t their Warden involved. Fair point.” BioWare’s approach to DLC has been to take lots of feedback, but also to ground each package in the world of Dragon Age:

We took … the best parts of [Origins and Awakenings], the parts that we are very proud of and very passionate about. Team-based combat, epic story, having the world of Dragon Age stay the world of Dragon Age, not some weird hybrid — these are all things that we put a lot of effort into and we’re very very happy with. And then, we continue to refine. So, we look at what we have in DLC: Where were our successes? Where were our failures? And we live up to them, the same way we did with Origins.

While packages like “The Stone Prisoner” and Awakening stand up as some of the best uses of downloadable content out there, fan response to the others hasn’t been as positive. “Return to Ostagar” and “Witch Hunt” seem short and anemic, and most players thing “Warden’s Keep,” should have been included on the disc from the get go.

Laidlaw’s team is listening to that, too, when planning for Dragon Age II DLC. “The lesson that we’ve learned from that [response] is that what people want is more content, a bigger pack that’s a little weightier per piece. Maybe a little bit less of it as a result, because there’s only so much effort to go around. And that they want it to be more of an add-in instead of an add-on, if that’s not too fine a definition.”

As for Hawke, the Champion of Kirkwall? “[Any DLC would] continue Hawke’s adventures. It expands on the story that [players are] currently invested in, but adds a new element and a new piece of gameplay that makes them go, “Oh cool. That’s really neat.” So, that’s the approach we’re taking right now, and we’ll just continue to learn and take feedback as we go.”

Dragon Age II hits store shelves in March, and you can read my preview here.

Joseph Leray