BioWare's Mass Effect franchise was one of the studio's more successful ventures, selling an ungodly number of copies for both the original game and its sequel across a number of systems. Stunningly, Dragon Age managed to outsell not just that franchise, but according to BioWare's Rob Bartel the game (only released last year around Christmas, it should be reminded) has apparently beaten sales records of all their other titles as well. I think most people would look at that and give themselves a pat on the back, recognising they had a winning formula, but not BioWare.
Last week the developer announced that Dragon Age 2 would be coming out in 2011, but followed up that fantastic announcement with something of a "huh?" Taking a page from Mass Effect, Dragon Age 2 drops most of the character customisation from the first game, giving you essentially a Commander Shepard in fantasy form. You play the human Hawke, a survivor from the blight of the first game. While you have a choice between gender, you don't have a choice as to race: you're human and that's it. If you enjoyed being a dwarf or elf in the first game– sorry. Hawke's experience is very specific and tailored and in all respects it really looks like this is some sort of fantasy sidequest for the Mass Effect series: Hawke will have voice acting, dialog will be handled through Mass Effect's "patented" conversation wheel, and you will have the ability to carry over saved games from the original.
Most of my reaction to this release is confusion. Dragon Age was phenomenally successful for a reason, clearly, and it makes little sense for BioWare to radically drop the aspects of the first game that made it so special. Mass Effect 1 and 2 were great games as well, but they were their own titles. The Dragon Age franchise has no need, obviously, to copy off of its sci-fi brother to court attention.
Personally, the biggest question I have is how this will affect other sorts of character choices that were available in Dragon Age 1. Part of BioWare's justification for turning Shepard into a heterosexual spaceman was that Mass Effect was a deliberately tailored "interactive movie," giving you a specific character to inhabit for the duration of the game with little latitude in changing it. Is Dragon Age 2's Hawke going to suffer a similar "deliberate tailoring" as well?