Every Dragon Age player has their best friends – the companions that they connected with the most. Maybe you just really loved bro-ing down with Alistair at camp. Maybe you connected with the Iron Bull best because you were both Qunari. Maybe you just loved helping Isabela cheat men out of their money.
Whoever you felt closest with for whatever reason, friendship is a natural connection to develop in a roleplaying game. You build your character’s personality through conversation and story choices, and only someone with the blandest personality ever would like every single one of their eight-or-so companions equally.
So why doesn’t Dragon Age ever let you formalize this relationship? Friendships in Dragon Age may feel dynamic, but they’re missing one final step. The methods have changed a little over the three games, but the current system is basically just to develop friendships through two systems: an approval meter and periodic side quests. This has worked well for three games, but by Dragon Age: Inquisition, it was beginning to feel a little stale.
The approval meter ensures that you have a few companions who don’t agree with you and a few that do, and that definitely shows in conversations with them. However, this rarely impacts your access to their side quests. In Dragon Age 2 and Inquisition, they’re all given to you at once after completing a major story step. If you’re like me, you always complete all of your important side quests before moving on. This perfunctory feeling to improving your relationships isn’t a great start.
Though these encounters can end positively or negatively, if you like that companion then they’re probably going to be positive. The final quest usually does something to cement your relationship with this companion as a dear friend, assuming all went well. After having that deep conversation with two or three or four different companions, it starts to feel canned.
Despite the fact that I’ve just spent several paragraphs complaining about it, I do think that Dragon Age generally manages to make your connections with the companions feel realistic and dynamic. I’d have much more to complain about if the side quests were more scripted or the approval bar didn’t have a negative scale. However, I do think there’s a missing puzzle piece that would bring it to the next level: a ‘Best Friend’ mechanic.
Choosing and having a best friend in-game would be a lot like choosing a love interest: your relationship would be exclusive, you would be able to make your choice around the mid-to-late game, and it would earn you new cutscenes and dialogue. As with your love interest, it would feature some form of intimate connection, just without the physical intimacy. It would also change all of your conversations with them after that point, and like the love interest, could even be recreated in smaller ways by visiting them. Other characters may even comment on the friendship.
Adding a best friend to the game would be a simple way to provide what BioWare has been seeking for years: an added level of roleplaying, left entirely up to player choice.
Player choices already feel more impactful than the story beats that just unfold in front of you, but that’s a story for another article. As much as Dragon Age has tried to give the player that feeling of choice, it’s not hard to see through the curtain. Your relationship builds at key moments, when the developers want it to, with a set number of quests, and the process is repeated for every companion. You’re choosing to be friendly with them, but you’re not really choosing to be friends. You’re just doing side quests. You can get to maximum friendship with everyone if you try hard enough (and maybe do a little Googling). Giving you just one choice to make could change everything.
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