Another lengthy report into the strife at Bioware has come to light, courtesy of Kotaku’s Jason Schreier. He’s been sleuthing around the development of Dragon Age 4, a game which was (very briefly) announced during The Game Awards in December.
It sounds as if the follow-up to Dragon Age: Inquisition has had a very tricky time indeed, including a full reboot in 2017. The original plan for Dragon Age 4 was a focus on an RPG with a deeper, more systemic world that reacted according to the player’s choices. Bioware intended to move away from the large-scale filler content which proliferated in DA: I, honing it into a smaller-scale RPG with choice and consequence at the forefront.
But, all of that was thrown out. Schrier alleges Dragon Age 4 was effectively rebooted in October 2016 due to EA’s newfound desire to ensure all of its major titles are “games as a service.” Dragon Age 4 needs to be monetised for months and years after its launch, according to EA’s top brass, and this feeds into a new game that will be a live service with avenues for recurrent player spending.
Details are sketchy on the direction Dragon Age 4 is headed. Needless to say, Mike Laidlaw, creative director on the entire Dragon Age series, left Bioware once DA4 was rebooted. Internally at Bioware, Schreier claims there’s a sentiment that EA perhaps doesn’t care about narrative or RPGs.
This thirst for live games led to Anthem, of course. In 2017, Dragon Age 4 was effectively put on ice while BioWare prioritised finishing Anthem. It was all hands on deck to get it out by the end of the fiscal year, and we all know how that story turned out. A small team remained to keep plugging away at Dragon Age 4, although it’s still only in the early stages of development. DA4 is being built on top of Anthem’s codebase and is designed for long-term play and a live service with ongoing events and new narratives. A narrative-driven game with no specific narrative arc then.
A potential focus on multiplayer is continually peppered throughout Schreier’s piece, with BioWare staff even calling it “Anthem with dragons”. That’s not to say it won’t be playable single-player, but it at least appears as if Dragon Age 4 is shaping up to be a co-operative online RPG.
On the surface, this smells like trouble for BioWare. The once-great studio has had its reputation erased over the past two or so years, and any further damage to these RPG giants could well prove critical. As a studio they surely have to be given the time and the space to go in the direction they want and ensure we don’t end up with another Mass Effect Andromeda or Anthem situation. With EA at the helm though, don’t hold your breath.