by Syazwan Bahri in

With BioWare facing flak after what became of Anthem and Mass Effect: Andromeda, we’ve not heard of its other IP, Dragon Age. There were a few years of silence on the Dragon Age end, we’re starting to hear developments of the next game in the series after Dragon Age: Inquisition, and it’s not very pleasing to hear.

Truth is, BioWare is in deep trouble, and they haven’t come out of that deep rut they have fallen into. And because of said troubles, many of the key members of BioWare such as veteran Dragon Age creative director Mike Laidlaw left, leading to what the developers want now, a live service Dragon Age game.

The team had everything to get it right before the cancellation in 2017; they had the right tools, the right scope, the right team, and the right ideas. It was the golden opportunity to boost the BioWare brand back into the spotlight.

According to Jason Schreier’s post, there were one too many problems culminating in this development.

For example, EA and their greedy financial goals had other plans, and then Anthem stepped in. So everyone had to be on board the Anthem ship.

Patient Zero

To understand where this all started, let’s look back at Dragon Age: Inquisition. It was a great game, even winning Game of the Year at the 2014 Game Awards. However, it was plagued by a plethora of problems. This includes shipping the game to five platforms; PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, and Xbox 360, the first Dragon Age to have a multiplayer mode, and the technical issues of the Frostbite engine.

There were so many people on board the development team that leadership was spread out thin, often making hasty decisions so that each of the workers looked busy, but that ended up backfiring since most of them had to redo their work.

The biggest downfall in this tale is the bad reception of Dragon Age 2. It was a repetitive and narrow game, completed within 14 months. This left the developers insecure.

By the time Inquisition finally launched in November of 2014, the development team was burnt out. The team voiced out their opinion, saying ‘we don’t want to shoulder that kind of burden again.’

Insecurity Kills

The BioWare staff had a sentiment going on, they felt like they are the weirdos in EA’s lineup of shooters and sports games. They thought that they won’t have access to some of the resources of games like FIFA and Battlefield.

Another question lingered:  Did EA’s executives really care about narrative? Did they really care about RPGs?

It was no secret that EA wants to make their games live services (read: easy money makers), so would Dragon Age going as a live service game be BioWare’s salvation?

The Million Dollar Question

A splinter team stuck around to work on Dragon Age 4 with the tools and codebase of Anthem. It was codenamed Morrison. With live-service component, long-term gameplay and revenue in mind, the team started from scratch, unaffected by their expenditures of previous failed projects.

Casey Hudson, BioWare’s general manager, had to put in his say:

It is an ambitious move to put the next Dragon Age into the multiplayer arena. There were ideas of drop-in and drop-out gameplay, not unlike Baldur’s Gate. The game will evolve from time to time as the developers take in feedback from games such as Anthem.

As one of the employees put it: “Dragon Age games shift more than other games.”

But Wait, There’s More

Before the alleged live services plan for Dragon Age 4 came into effect, the original version (codenamed “Joplin”) had a lot of great ideas before it was scuttled.

Ideas include:

  • Placing players in a region centered around spies working in Thedas’oldest human nation, Tevinter Imperium. It’s a country ruled by mages.
  • Giving players “heist” missions that involve invading the city and thwarting whatever plans rogue mage sectors had.
  • The game world being reactive and emergent, “systematic narrative mechanics”, and ways for the game to build a coherent story around the choices players make in the game. In essence, a lot of dialogue trees.
  • Design and story choices made by Alexis Kennedy, the writer behind the indie hit Sunless Sea, Fallen London, and Cultist Simulator.

This puts into perspective as to who runs who in the grand scheme of EA’s things.

I’m just hoping whatever they do, it’ll be the best for the franchise. Though nothing is set in stone yet, BioWare needs to bounce back. Depending on how Dragon Age 4 pans out, it’s sink or swim for them.

A budding writer and an avid gamer. I hunt monsters, drive race cars, and slay space gods to keep the Last City safe.
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