Mike Laidlaw completes his signature with a flourish, rounding off that last "w" on the black cotton of a BioWare t-shirt. Then he smiles, and sets the pen down. Despite his bloodshot eyes, and the constant clamor of the PAX show floor all around him, the creative director discusses Dragon Age: Inquisition with the same enthusiasm as the fans lining up for his autograph.
"We're not sure what's next," he says, pausing to gulp water while he has the time. "But we're wholeheartedly focusing on the task at hand. And that's bringing Inquisition to a close."
Just recently, BioWare announced Trespasser, the final DLC for last year's acclaimed RPG. It's set two years after the events of Inquisition, which marks a first for BioWare, whose extra content has always taken place during, before, or shortly after the main game. Trespasser begins in a time when heroes aren't needed, and adventurers hang up their boots for good.
But this is a BioWare game. So of course conflict will appear. And when it does, we'll be right back in the eye of the storm, replete with politics, alliances, backstabbing, and fraud. This is a new era, with new problems of its own, and new questions that need answering in the fantasy world of Thedas.
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"I find it's effective when you create a tension out of these opposing ideas," Laidlaw says. "On the one hand, you're asking yourself, 'Are these heroes necessary anymore?" But then you see something new happen, and it's, 'Wait, we kind of are. Who else is equipped to deal with trauma like we are?'
"It evokes a real human response. The story moves you along. You're constantly asking yourself if you're the actual danger to the people. If the problems you give birth to are just as detrimental as the ones you're fighting. This is the same dilemma a lot of superheroes face."
It's been less than a year since Inquisition released. But in that time, the limelight has blinded new games as well . We've explored dozens of new worlds; completed hundreds of quests; we've loved, hated, and questioned a variety of characters from a plethora of different backgrounds. For many of us, the characters of Inquisition are distant. They're those friends we call for the sake of staying in touch.
For Laidlaw, bringing us all back into Thedas is Trespasser's biggest challenge. "How do you make something meaningful as an ending," he says, "but also meaningful as a return?" This, Laidlaw says, is why epilogues are so hard to create.
But he speaks with confidence about the rising Qunari threat, a major plot thread in Trespasser. It creates divisive politics, and examines the heroes' individual responses to their own internal problems. The Qunari are friends to many, and with Iron Bull by our side throughout the main game, we may have difficult choices ahead. But BioWare has always sworn by the idea of player choice. In this respect, Trespasser sounds no different.
BioWare has also suggested the DLC will hint at what's next for the developer. Whether this is something in the Dragon Age universe, or an inter-franchise easter egg, is still unclear. Like the heroes of the Inquisition, Laidlaw and his team continue looking for their next mission, that next project in BioWare's storied RPG ouvre.
Only feet behind Laidlaw, a Commander Shepard cosplayer walks past BioWare's booth, her N7 armor gleaming as the crowd parts in front of her.
"Those people who've been with BioWare since the beginning, and through all the Inquisition DLC, we've been right there with them," Laidlaw says, glancing back toward the table, and a fan waiting patiently there. "I don't exactly know what's next. We always have ideas. But right now, with Trespasser, at least we have closure."
Laidlaw turns away, finishing his water as he returns to his chair. There's only one Dragon Age shirt left, and the booth is about to close. So he opens the silver Sharpie, begins with an "M," and writes his name for the last time tonight.