The Past And Present Of Dragon Age 4

The Past And Present Of Dragon Age 4

In December 2018, developer BioWare teased the next Dragon Age game, hinting at a mysterious future for the popular fantasy series—one that’s enticing, but seems very far away. Why, more than four years after Dragon Age: Inquisition, is Dragon Age 4 still so early in development? The answer is complicated, and reflective of BioWare’s turbulence over the past decade.

Last week, we published a lengthy investigation into how Anthem, the new loot shooter from the beloved game studio, went so awry.

While reporting on this story and then in the days that followed, I learned a lot more about the current state of Dragon Age, one of BioWare’s two tentpole franchises (alongside Mass Effect, which was put on ice in 2017 following the disappointing Mass Effect: Andromeda but has since been warmed back up). I heard more about the first version of Dragon Age 4, which was rebooted in October of 2017, and the current version, which is now in development at BioWare’s office in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

How BioWare's Anthem Went Wrong

It wasn’t even supposed to be called Anthem. Just days before the annual E3 convention in June of 2017, when the storied studio BioWare would reveal its newest game, the plan had been to go with a different title: Beyond. They’d even printed out Beyond T-shirts for the staff.

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The story behind this reboot isn’t just a story of a game going through multiple iterations, as many games do. The Dragon Age 4 overhaul was a sign of BioWare’s troubles, and how the company has struggled in recent years to work on multiple projects at the same time. It was indicative of the tension between EA’s financial goals and what BioWare fans love about the studio’s games.

It led to the departure of several key staff including veteran Dragon Age creative director Mike Laidlaw, and it led to today’s Dragon Age 4, whose developers hope to carefully straddle the line between storytelling and the “live service” that EA has pushed so hard over the past few years. (EA did not return a request for comment.)

Perhaps the saddest thing about Dragon Age 4’s cancellation in 2017 for members of the Dragon Age team was that this time, they thought they were getting it right.

This time, they had a set of established tools. They had a feasible scope. They had ideas that excited the whole team. And they had leaders who said they were committed to avoiding the mistakes they’d made on Dragon Age: Inquisition.

But Anthem was on fire, and BioWare needed everyone to grab a hose.

In the fall of 2014, BioWare released Dragon Age: Inquisition, the studio’s first modern open-world game and the first role-playing game to be made on EA’s Frostbite engine. It was a critical success, selling well for BioWare’s standards and winning Game of the Year at the 2014 Game Awards.

It was also a catastrophic production, by all accounts, one that was documented in the book Blood, Sweat, and Pixels. The short version: Dragon Age: Inquisition was hampered by a host of problems, including the challenges of shipping on five platforms at once (PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, and Xbox 360), the addition of a multiplayer mode to Dragon Age for the first time, and the technical difficulties of Frostbite. (Disclosure: the author of this article and the author of the book are one and the same.)

Too many people were assigned to work on the game when it first started development, forcing the leadership team to spread themselves thin and make fast, questionable decisions in the interest of ensuring that everyone had work to do (work that they’d frequently have to redo later). Most notably, Inquisition was the product of the “BioWare magic” documented in our Anthem investigation.

Much of the design and story was finalised during the final year of development, leading to stress and crunch throughout 2014 as the Inquisition team scrambled to finish the game.

One of the biggest problems was that the chilly reception to Dragon Age 2, a narrow, often repetitive game made in just 14 months, left the developers feeling skittish and insecure. As creative director Mike Laidlaw told me in an interview for the book a few years ago, this insecurity led him and his fellow directors to second-guess a lot of their decisions.

“You’re following a negative experience,” he said. “You’re not quite sure where and how to get it back. And on top of that you’re introducing all this new gameplay that leads to an inherent insecurity.”


By the time Inquisition finally launched in November of 2014, everyone was burnt out. Laidlaw and executive producer Mark Darrah told staff they would try to do things better for their next project, acknowledging that they had made mistakes and telling the staff they didn’t want to shoulder that kind of load again. They said they would focus on delivering an explicit, consistent vision and communicating that vision to the team in as efficient a manner as possible.

Following 2015’s critically acclaimed Trespasser expansion, the Dragon Age team split up. Many of the people who’d worked on Inquisition moved to the troubled Mass Effect: Andromeda, while a few dozen developers including Darrah and Laidlaw started spinning up the next Dragon Age, which was code-named Joplin.

The plan for Joplin was exciting, say people who worked on it. First and foremost, they already had many tools and production pipelines in place after Inquisition, ones that they hoped to improve and continue using for this new project. They committed to prototyping ideas early and often, testing as quickly as possible rather than waiting until everything was on fire, as they had done the last time thanks to the glut of people and Frostbite’s difficulties.

“Everyone in project leadership agreed that we couldn’t do that again, and worked to avoid the kind of things that had led to problems,” said one person who worked on the project, explaining that some of the big changes included: 1) laying down a clear vision as early as possible, 2) maintaining regular on-boarding documents and procedures so new team members could get up to speed fast; and 3) a decision-making mentality where “we acknowledged that making the second-best choice was far, far better than not deciding and letting ambiguity stick around while people waited for a decision.” (That person, like all of the sources for this story, spoke under condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to talk about their experiences.)

Another former BioWare developer who worked on Joplin called it “some of the best work experiences” they’d ever had. “We were working towards something very cool, a hugely reactive game, smaller in scope than Dragon Age: Inquisition but much larger in player choice, followers, reactivity, and depth,” they said. “I’m sad that game will never get made.”

You’d play as a group of spies in Tevinter Imperium, a wizard-ruled country on the north end of Dragon Age’s main continent, Thedas. The goal was to focus as much as possible on choice and consequence, with smaller areas and fewer fetch quests than Dragon Age: Inquisition. (In other words, they wanted Joplin to be the opposite of the Hinterlands.)

There was an emphasis on “repeat play,” one developer said, noting that they wanted to make areas that changed over time and missions that branched in interesting ways based on your decisions, to the point where you could even get “non-standard game overs” if you followed certain paths.

A large chunk of Joplin would center on heists. The developers talked about building systemic narrative mechanics, allowing the player to perform actions like persuading or extorting guards without the writers having to hand-craft every scene. It was all very ambitious and very early, and would have no doubt changed drastically once Joplin entered production, but members of the team say they were thrilled about the possibilities.

The first big hiccup came in late 2016, when BioWare put Joplin on hold and moved the entire team onto the troubled Mass Effect: Andromeda, which needed as many hands as possible during its final months of development. Those people, who worked on the game for three or four months, are noted in the game’s credits as the Dragon Age “finaling team”:


Once Andromeda shipped in March 2017, it was back to Dragon Age for this team, even as some of them started to sense that Anthem was going to be the next project to turn into an all-hands-on-deck disaster. The Joplin team expanded with people who were rolling off Andromeda and kept working, prototyping, and designing the game.

After spending months of their lives helping finish a Mass Effect that didn’t excite a ton of people, it was nice to return to Dragon Age.

One thing that wasn’t discussed much on Joplin was multiplayer, according to a few people who worked on the project, which is perhaps why the project couldn’t last. While BioWare’s publisher and parent company, Electronic Arts, tends to give its studios a fair amount of autonomy, there are still mandates to follow.

By 2017, EA had not been secret about its desire to make all of its major products into “games as a service,” best defined as games that can be played—and monetized—for months and years after their release.

Traditional Dragon Age games did not fit into that category. Inquisition had a multiplayer mode, but was something like that really going to bring in the long-term revenue that EA wanted from expensive productions like Dragon Age 4?

While reporting on Anthem, I kept hearing one interesting sentiment from current and former BioWare staff: They felt like the weirdos in EA’s portfolio, the guys and gals who made nerdy role-playing games as opposed to explosive shooters and big sports franchises. BioWare games never sold quite as well as the FIFAs and Battlefield‘s of the world, so it never felt like they could get quite as many resources as their colleagues at other studios.

High-ranking BioWare staff openly wondered: Did EA’s executives really care about narrative? Did they really care about RPGs? Those questions have always lingered, and still do today.

By the latter half of 2017, Anthem was in real trouble, and there was concern that it might never be finished unless the studio did something drastic. In October of 2017, not long after veteran Mass Effect director Casey Hudson returned to the studio to take over as general manager, EA and BioWare took that drastic action, cancelling Joplin and moving the bulk of its staff, including executive producer Mark Darrah, onto Anthem.

A tiny team stuck around to work on a brand new Dragon Age 4, code-named Morrison, that would be built on Anthem’s tools and codebase. It’s the game being made now. Unlike Joplin, this new version of the fourth Dragon Age is planned with a live service component, built for long-term gameplay and revenue.

One promise from management, according to a developer, was that in EA’s balance sheet, they’d be starting from scratch and not burdened with the two years of money that Joplin had already spent. Question was, how many of those ideas and prototypes would they use?

It’s not clear how much of Joplin’s vision will shape Morrison (at least some of it will, says one person on the game), but shortly after the reboot, creative director Mike Laidlaw left, as did some other veteran Dragon Age staff. Matt Goldman, art director on Dragon Age: Inquisition and then Joplin, took over as creative director for Morrison, while Darrah remained executive producer on both that project and Anthem.

In early 2018, when I first reported that BioWare had rebooted the next Dragon Age and that its replacement would be a live service game, studio GM Casey Hudson responded on Twitter.

“Reading lots of feedback regarding Dragon Age, and I think you’ll be relieved to see what the team is working on. Story & character focused. Too early to talk details, but when we talk about ‘live’ it just means designing a game for continued storytelling after the main story.”

At The Game Awards in December 2018, BioWare teased Morrison with a vague trailer, hinting at the return of the enigmatic villain Solas and promising in a blog post that the team was full of vets. “We’ve gathered our strongest team yet and are venturing forth on the most epic quest ever,” wrote Goldman.

So what does all this mean, exactly? How much of a multiplayer focus will Dragon Age 4 have? Is it online-only? We’re not sure about all the details, and in fact they’re likely still being decided, as the game is still very early in development and could evolve based on the negative reception to Anthem.

Rumour among BioWare circles for the past year has been that Morrison is “Anthem with dragons” – a snarky label conveyed to me by several people – but a couple of current BioWare employees have waved me off that description. “The idea was that Anthem would be the online game and that Dragon Age and Mass Effect, while they may experiment with online portions, that’s not what defines them as franchises,” said one. “I don’t think you’ll see us completely change those franchises.”

When asked, a few BioWare developers agreed that it’d be technically possible for a game built on Anthem’s codebase to also have an offline branch, but it’s not yet clear whether Morrison will take that approach. If it does turn out to be an online game, which seems likely, it would be shocking if you couldn’t play the bulk of it by yourself. (Diablo III, for example, is online-only on PC yet can be played entirely solo.)

One person close to the game told me this week that Morrison’s critical path, or main story, would be designed for single-player and that goal of the multiplayer elements would be to keep people engaged so that they would actually stick with post-launch content. Single-player downloadable content like Dragon Age: Inquisition’s Trespasser, while often excellent, typically sells only a fraction of the main game, according to developers from BioWare and elsewhere across the industry.

Yet this wouldn’t be a “live service” game if it was a repeat of Dragon Age: Inquisition, which compartmentalized its single- and multiplayer modes. Fans in the past have grown outraged at the idea of BioWare putting a lot of emphasis on multiplayer gaming, but there are ways in which a service-heavy Dragon Age 4 could be ambitious and impressive.

For example, some ideas I’ve heard floated for Morrison’s multiplayer include companions that can be controlled by multiple players via drop-in/drop-out co-op, similar to old-school BioWare RPGs like Baldur’s Gate, and quests that could change based not just on one player’s decisions, but on the choices of players across the globe.

ImageScreenshot: Dragon Age: Inquisition: Trespasser

Maybe in two or three years, Morrison will look completely different. It’s not like Dragon Age hasn’t changed drastically in the past. In the office, BioWare developers often refer to Mark Darrah’s Dragon Age team as a pirate ship, one that will eventually wind up at its destination, but not before meandering from port to port, drinking as much rum as possible along the way.

His is a team that, in the past, has iterated and changed direction constantly – something that they hoped to cut down for Joplin, but has always been part of their DNA (and, it should be noted, heavy iteration is common in all game development). One BioWare employee summed it up well as we talked about the future of BioWare’s fantasy franchise. “Keep in mind,” they said, “Dragon Age games shift more than other games.”

Said another current BioWare employee about Morrison: “They have a lot of unanswered questions. Plus I know it’s going to change like five times in the next two years.”

There are other questions remaining, too: With BioWare’s Austin office gradually taking over Anthem going forward, when will the bulk of employees at the company’s Edmonton HQ move to the Morrison team? Will Morrison be able to avoid following the lead of Dragon Age: Inquisition, which took on too many people too early and wound up suffering as a result?

And, most important, will BioWare work to prevent the burnout that has led to dozens of developers leaving over the past two years, with so many citing stress, depression, and anxiety?

Last week, just a few minutes after the publication of our Anthem report, EA and BioWare put out a statement (written before they could have read the article) that was disheartening to some current and former employees and felt almost dismissive of their issues.

The next day, in an email to employees, BioWare GM Casey Hudson sent a far more assuring message, promising change “to make BioWare the best possible place to work.” But there have been several recent employee departures, with more (I hear) on the way, and wide-scale leadership improvements may take a long time.

BioWare Boss Addresses Studio Issues, Vows To 'Continue Working To Solve Them'

The head of BioWare addressed a Kotaku report on the studio’s cultural issues yesterday afternoon, acknowledging that “these problems are real” and promising that it is “our top priority to continue working to solve them.”

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The depression and anxiety that has been described by current and former BioWare employees didn’t just result from crunch. It came from people who felt stressed and exhausted, who felt like they couldn’t voice their opinions, who felt like their goal posts were constantly moving, who felt like they’d be targeted for speaking out.

These were issues of management and leadership, not just scheduling. In order to protect the identities of employees who spoke to us for the Anthem article, we weren’t able to share some of the saddest and more devastating anecdotes we heard during reporting, but they painted an ugly picture.

We’ve also heard questions and stories from other developers who faced the same sort of issues at other big video game studios, who noted that the idea of “BioWare magic” is common across the industry, not just specific to BioWare. We intend to continue tackling these questions and reporting on these stories.

We’ll have to see how the next few months and years proceed. If there’s one wish among people connected to BioWare (besides “get rid of Frostbite”), it’s that Morrison will follow Joplin’s lead and not just become a great game, but an example of a project whose leaders are trying to do production right.


  • Interesting and well written article – I don’t play these games so it’s good to learn something.
    EA seems like it has really myopic and greedy values. You can’t just turn everything into a service driven game, it’s completely illogical and and odds with creativity and vision when we are talking about deep, narrative driven titles.
    I play lots of games by Capcom, they seem to make loads of cash without going into the Pandora’s box of micro transactions, paid services, loot boxes etc. more importantly they make high quality and polished games. If they make a mistake with a franchise, they try to rectify it with future titles. They don’t stoop to knee jerk reactions, closing down development houses, cancelling and restarting development constantly.
    The way companies like EA operate seem like a majorly disorganised shit show in comparison.

    • I think it’s possible to have a service-driven narrative game; it’s what Ubisoft seems to be working towards with the latest Assassin’s Creed and while it hasn’t been flawless, it’s been engaging from the narrative POV (the continue-the-bloodline clusterfracas notwithstanding), and I assume moderately successful, since they are continuing to do it.

      What it isn’t, though, is easy. You need to plan the story arc far in advance, work to a schedule and despite both of these things, be able to react to player feedback fast and acknowledge and fix your mis-steps. BioWare just doesn’t seem to be in a place where they can do that. Their plots, mechanics, story arcs and even the nature of their games changes with the wind until late in the development schedule, it seems, so how are they supposed to come up with, and then implement, a schedule of content stretching maybe years into the future? They can’t even release SWTOR content regularly, and that’s on a game they’ve had locked down for years.

      • Oh I agree, was just pointing out that some companies don’t need money making gimmicks in order to sells loads of games.
        As much as I don’t dig Ubisoft games, you can see that they put necessary resources and time into making properly realised games most of the time.

        • I’ll also add that there is a huge difference between publishers that respect and value their player base via free updates and dlc, without resorting to hated practices mentioned, and those that run their games into the ground via greed.
          This goes a long way to ensuring consumer trust and loyalty.
          EA in particular can’t seem to get anything right at a management level. It’s dodgy shit after dodgy shit, controlled by staff cuts, budget cuts, haphazard development cycles.

        • I didn’t finish AC or play very far into any of the early ones (even the ones set in 15th century Italy, which, for those who know me, is a matter of astoundment). And then there was that whole silly business of “women are hard to animate” which did not incline me to try any of their later stuff.

          But a friend lent me Origins, and it didn’t suck. And Odyssey, which I’ve just started, is rather good, so far. Depending on what you are into, you might find it OK, if you pick it up in a sale or similar.

    • I don’t think EA’s to blame for this to be honest. They may make demands (or strongly worded suggestions) but it’s not like it’s sprung upon the developers at the 11th hour. There should be plenty of time (read; years) to factor those interests into their game design.

      I don’t think there is anything inherently evil about EA’s wish to make their games live service.

      • That’s a little bit of a fascinating opinion.

        Certainly, on Anthem, you could be right. EA said “we want a GaaS” game, and Bioware appear to have been happy to step up and try to make it, then been unable to realise it.

        Here, however, Bioware said “We’re making DA4 – we have a tight vision, an exciting concept, and know how to implement it” and EA said “it doesn’t sound like it can be GaaS, so we’re axing it”. I’m fairly comfortable on blaming EA for that one.

        EA’s huge mistake here is in assuming that a model which works for FIFA (GaaS) – a game where you do the same thing a thousand times (i.e. defeat yellow team by hitting a ball) – works for a totally different style – a narrative driven game (i.e. everything changes all the time and players enjoy them because their choices may close off entire arcs).

        GaaS can definitely work, but it’s a model which is the antithesis of a well-made narrative-driven experience, imo. The things you have to do to implement GaaS stand in distinction to what you need for narrative.

        This whole article, to me, reads as “EA has killed Dragon Age”

      • I disagree. When it negatively affects the quality of the work, or simply does not work with certain styles of game (eg: single-player, narrative-driven), but you compromise the franchise and mandate that those types of games can no longer be delivered, then yes… yes it is fucking evil.

      • Evil? Not really – more ‘incredibly stupid’.

        “Let’s make everything live service – because having all our products cannibalise each other for time and commitment will totally work.”

        The evil comes later; when they scrap budgets, downsize teams and force the remnants to cover the gaps because it somehow didn’t totally work.

        • This is absolutely right.

          EA sound like they’re clever business people but they really need to get off the fence on this.

          Since Dead Space 2 we’ve seen the slow failure of every narrative game at the demands of ‘GaaS’. I don’t mind the idea of EA saying “everything needs to be GaaS”, but in that case they should make peace with the fact that they shouldn’t be doing strongly narrative experiences. EA has gone from having a few franchises I was interested in to … maybe… having Battlefield (I’m one of those apparent ‘idiots’ who was happy to move past female avatars, and has quite enjoyed BF5).

          I’m going to need to see some very convincing reviews of a single-player game which they release before I pick it up in the future.

          It’s odd though; because not everything can be FIFA. Not everything can be Battlefield. They’re leaving money on the table trying to make everything fit into the same model. Maybe not everything has a 4x ROI. Maybe some things only make 2.5x. But 2.5x is still pretty good, if it can be guaranteed – which it generally could be, before they started GaaS directives to every studio.

  • I don’t think I really want to see another one from this current iteration of BioWare.

    At first i figured it was just nostalgia and maybe their games weren’t all that good to being with – then i started playing kotor again with the upscaled graphics on xb1x and oh boy was it an amazing game, especially for the time.

    They are BioWare in name only, much like atari and a bunch of other studios.

    I don’t think they will ever come back.

    • It’s funny, but I’ve tried to replay KotOR multiple times over the last few years, whether PC or iOS version, and I’ve not been able to get past the first planet. I was totally into it back in the day but now I wonder if it really was just a case of at that moment in time it was magic, but for me now it’s unplayable.

  • There is some perverse pleasure to be had seeing Jason perform an autopsy on a still living company.

    Though I found it a bit suspect that he shills a book a little without expressly mentioning that he’s the author.

    • I don’t think this is a shill so much as a citation, although I agree he should have specified he was the author of the book.

    • Yeah, I mean, why not say “…in my book…” instead of “…in the book…”. Just strange use of language, like he’s trying to avoid linking himself to it.

  • Nice article. So what’s with the quality of articles making an upswing lately. I considered leaving a number of times last year but, lately there have been a lot of good articles showing up. a lot of fluff pieces that are barely news are still around but, still a lot better overall.

    • The news process goes through waves. Sometimes, opportunity emerges for one story to roll into another as a result of the research, which is part of how the EA/Bioware/Dragon Age stories have come together.

      If you’re talking about other articles, you’d have to mention them specifically and I can maybe answer that question a little more deeply. But in general, everyone is just working as hard as they possibly can.

      Also, post-GDC is a factor. Developers often open up more about the development process through panels and talks, and the fact that they’re there to talk about the process of development, and journos are there to listen and ask questions, means more of that in-depth, human pieces about how games come together naturally comes out.

      • To be fair, this likely has little to do with the time of year.

        I’m confident @blazenite104 will be referring to the fact there have been a number of interesting articles lately which haven’t focused on race, gender or sexuality.

        While I understand those issues are important to some people – they can be tiresome for those of us who want to stay focused on the actual games and their development.

        Consider if Kotaku hired writers who focused on animal welfare. Or environmentalism. Or any issue which was the primary concern of the writer, with gaming taking a back seat.

        Would you like it if a writer continuously projected their views on these topics whilst loosely tying them to a particular game, or perhaps the entire industry?

        • I’m talking specifically about the types of long-form articles that have popped up in the past month, but sure.

          Everyone hired to the site has a love of games – you couldn’t do this job if you didn’t. And everyone involved puts out hundreds of articles a year (sometimes thousands, particularly in my case). You’re going to get a massive gamut of coverage from that, not to mention all the hardware, technical aspects, human stories, and breaking news everyone wants to know.

          Part of our DNA is to cover how games are made, what happens to the people who make them and the communites that form around them. By the nature of the amount we do cover, and the affects of those things converging, you’re going to get some stories that touch the third rail. Some of it won’t be to your taste.

          That’s OK – not everything is for everyone. And you said as much yourself when you mentioned that certain topics are important to some people. By that very nature, that means they’re worth covering! Not everyone will be interested, but not everyone has to be.

          The mission of every writer is to tell the most interesting stories they can while keeping readers informed of all the news in the gaming world. Some days that means it’s a ton of short announcements; other days give people an opportunity to work a little more on a long-form investigation into something behind the scenes.

          Long story short, we try to cover everything we can, and we try to do it in a way that’s interesting for everyone. The creative process means that not everything will hit the mark sometimes, but we always redouble our efforts to provide the best coverage we can. And I’m always super active about having discussions with everyone here in the comments (or through email/elsewhere) about any story. You might see a story that’s not up your alley, but if you have a genuine issue with it – as in, it’s factually wrong or maybe the take is a fraction off or something’s seriously awry – you should know that you can always chat to me about it.

          And I have no qualms with anyone who wants to read about video games in a form that dodges the themes and contexts in which they’re made (or their impacts), but there are places that have been doing that for decades. This site was deliberately founded to do something different, to speak to readers who wanted a deeper discussion about the hobby they love.

          If that style of coverage isn’t for you – that’s OK, because we’ll always have other stories and features that will be right up your alley. We work bloody hard to make sure that’s the case.

  • …whose developers hope to carefully straddle the line between storytelling and the “live service”

    In other words, they are living in a fool’s paradise.

    • Absolutely; I’m literally unable to think of a single instance where the narrative hasn’t suffered because of the GaaS model.

      The games themselves have seen various levels of success. Destiny/2 were massively successful – but I don’t think anyone could claim they’re great RPG storytelling.

      • It’s funny because the only instance I can think of where story-based content came out of a GaaS content that I thoroughly enjoyed was … The Old Republic.

        I think that goes more to the DNA of that game and how it was setup than the model, though.

        • I think that’s a pretty chilling example, though. Because if that’s what ‘narrative-driven GaaS doing it right’ looks like, it’s well and truly worse than any single-player non-GaaS alternative.

          SWTOR’s storytelling was always hindered, not helped, by its MMO shackles.

          The needless grinding, the group requirements on certain content, the expectation of daily logins and timers for builds, the lack of impact on the game world, the potential for your story/dialogue decisions to be overriden/ignored/never appear at all thanks to the participation of others, etc, etc.

          Not to mention the most important blow to a narrative experience… that the story couldn’t actually… ‘end’. There was no satisfying resolution to be had because there couldn’t be – they had to leave everything open for future content coming ‘Soon'(tm) and to allow no clear victor in a war between two opposing player sides.

          We saw this especially with the plans they had around a companion who would betray you, and could then be killed… plans quickly abandoned because they would disadvantage players who needed that character’s skills in an MMO setting. The narrative fell victim to the game model.

          In the end, those who were only interested in the narrative then didn’t get the so-called ‘benefit’ of Games as a Service of getting to experience the new content, because it was gated behind level caps & gear scores, social gates like raiding, or simply the fact that many people who choose to engage with a narrative don’t WANT to do so indefinitely on a drip-feed, but would rather binge and be done. I have no doubt the ‘netflix binge’ is a big part of why drip-fed TV has declined. GaaS that ‘change the game world’ on the game’s schedule, not the consumer’s schedule, lock players out of part of that story, punishing them for not staying current.

          I believe they were essentially targeting two completely different groups of players; those who are invested in a repetitive social activity without any narrative development, and those who are forced into that activity in order to consume the pieces of what they came here for: narrative.

          • Out of curiosity, have you played through the Eternal Empire expansions, which are the conclusion to KotOR’s setup? Some things that you say they chickened out of actually happen in it, probably because every companion can be any class now so those launch issues haven’t been there for a couple of years at least.

          • No, as mentioned elsewhere in my comment, I found myself locked out by the MMO requirements. I struggled through Shadow of Revan, I tried to commence Fallen Empire, but there was so much MMO bullshit getting in the way of my story that I couldn’t get through it as a cohesive narrative experience and gave up.

          • Fair enough. Things really picked up with Eternal Empire especially on the narrative side. I had played launch and quit then came back in the lead up to the first Eternal thing, and they’d done away with pretty much all the grind by then.

          • I ran a character through all the content starting at the beginning and going to the end of Knights of the Fallen Throne.

            Having done so, I’m happy to agree with Transientmind where he, she or they say “SWTOR’s storytelling was always hindered, not helped, by its MMO shackles.”

            This is true, even with the latter story content. No matter how good that content ever became, you could tell it was being designed in an engine not originally designed for it and using systems which weren’t designed to foster that ideal.

            It’s really hard to see how Knights of the Fallen Empire and Knights of the Eternal Throne wouldn’t have been improved by a tighter design in a Mass Effect styled engine. It’s also worth noting that in designing KotFE and KotET I would say that Bioware effectively abandoned everything that made TOR a GaaS. There was no reason to involve yourself with any of the grind-based systems which had existed for that purpose while you’re doing those DLC – they made most of the GaaS systems feel tacked on and disconnected (looking at you, companion tasks).

            So I guess, on balance, I think Transientmind is right. It’s an incredibly apropos example – if the only way to make a GaaS with a good story is to produce a game which sacrifices both story and GaaS it’s a fairly pyrrhic compromise. A player picking up those ‘expansions’ can choose to only engage with them, and would absolutely be left with a compromised single player experience.

            Related: Anyone who likes KotOR/KotOR 2 and longs for more could do far worse than play through those expansions. Even with all the compromises made, they’re still worth playing imo. Much better than ME:A (though not a high bar to reach).

        • Have you played FFXIV? The combination of the main storyline and Hildebrand are magic. There are moments of filler that stretch things out tho, particularly between the ARR launch content and the start of the Heavensward content. (The magic of Hildebrand aside)

  • Between this and the last article it really feels like Anthem killed most of what was left of Bioware.
    It hurts the most because it feels like Dragon Age and (maybe to a lesser extent) Andromeda were sabotaged for the sake of a game that apparently nobody had any actual vision for.
    Bioware bled veteran staff and bright eyed idealistic newcomers alike for years for the sake of a game it doesn’t seem like anyone ever really wanted.
    For as much as that’s Bioware management’s fault, I can’t help but feel none of this would have happened or at least been near as bad had they not been shackled to frostbite and EA’s “games as a service” agenda. This is the nightmare everyone had when EA first bought Bioware where the studio is constantly kneecapping itself because EA bought a studio famous for singleplayer experiences and are now strong-arming it into multiplayer content it doesn’t have the resources or passion for.

  • “Games as a service” is one of those phrases that makes my genitals retract into my abdomen.

  • “It was indicative of the tension between EA’s financial goals and what BioWare fans love about the studio’s games.”

    “…it led to today’s Dragon Age 4, whose developers hope to carefully straddle the line between storytelling and the “live service” that EA has pushed so hard over the past few years.”

    “We were working towards something very cool, a hugely reactive game, smaller in scope than Dragon Age: Inquisition but much larger in player choice, followers, reactivity, and depth,” they said. “I’m sad that game will never get made.”

    “One thing that wasn’t discussed much on Joplin was multiplayer, according to a few people who worked on the project, which is perhaps why the project couldn’t last. While BioWare’s publisher and parent company, Electronic Arts, tends to give its studios a fair amount of autonomy, there are still mandates to follow.
    By 2017, EA had not been secret about its desire to make all of its major products into “games as a service,” best defined as games that can be played—and monetized—for months and years after their release.”

    “…this new version of the fourth Dragon Age is planned with a live service component, built for long-term gameplay and revenue.”

    If I were a wealthier man, I’d have just thrown my phone at the wall at each of these points.

  • At this point I think it is more likely that EA closes down Bioware than Dragon Age 4 being released.

  • Another great article… but Jason… can I ask… Did Bioware frown at your dog or something?

  • After Andromeda and Anthem i have lost almost all faith in Bioware and their ability to make the kind of games that had originally made me such a big fan. The sliver lining of this, is now EA offers nothing i am interested in at all so i no longer have to deal with their garbage.

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