Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, BioWare's next Dragon Age game will be reborn from the dust and bones of Anthem's failing infrastructure. But is this a blessing or a curse?
Making games is never a straightforward process. Devs typically draw inspiration from previous games and iterate on everything they've done before to make new titles, including animations, engine tech modifications, lighting, textures, and effects. Like the games that came before it, Dragon Age 4 will too iterate on and share key similarities with its predecessor (in this case the troubled Anthem). But with Anthem's laundry list of mistakes and hiccups, this could be somewhat alarming.
To understand how this could affect future games, we need to inspect the present.Anthem actually broke the iteration formula BioWare had used for years, making things quite difficult for its team.
According to Kotaku's massive expose on Anthem's troubled development, BioWare built most of Anthem scratch. Frostbite, an engine infamous for its complexity and built specifically for FPS games, forced BioWare to spend many hard-working years to adapt the tech for deeper RPGs like Dragon Age: Inquisition and Mass Effect: Andromeda. But most of those advancements weren't used with Anthem.
The new IP was a fresh beginning that brought a special kind of development hell.
The report also states that the new Dragon Age is being built on Anthem's codebase. No more fresh starts--this time BioWare will return to its iteration methods. This could be a precarious, and rather curious position for BioWare's RPG series.
It's rather strange to see a game mostly known for singleplayer RPG mechanics being built on a framework for an online-only shoot-and-loot title. But why use Anthem's codebase and not Dragon Age: Inquisition's? After all, Dragon Age: Inquisition is a singleplayer-driven, sprawling high-fantasy adventure that delivers what gamers expect from the series.
Does this hint Dragon Age 4 could be a live game that's monetized with microtransactions and messy engagement cycles? BioWare has already expressed interest in bringing "live storytelling" to Dragon Age and Mass Effect games. This is alarming because BioWare doesn't know how to handle specific live games and I think Dragon Age doesn't fit as an online-only title.
Plus there's Anthem's rather turbulent development to consider.
A big reason why Anthem is such a mess today because it was an even bigger rat's nest in development. It wasn't just Frostbite that muddled things. BioWare suffered (and reportedly still suffers from) a lack of cohesion that saw way too many ambitions laid out on a table that they couldn't possibly deliver on.
No, it's not necessarily Anthem itself that'll effect Dragon Age 4 negatively, but BioWare's own management that could do real harm.
Kotaku's Jason Schreier reports Dragon Age 4 was already rebooted once. The project we have now, Rise of the Dread Wolf, is different from the game that Mark Darrah was working on years ago. The reboot even saw Mike Laidlaw jump ship after 14 years with the company.
Then again, maybe I'm looking too far into it. Maybe Dragon Age 4 will use the bulk of Inquisition's tech, including party systems, skill trees, third-person traversal and sequencing, and borrow from Anthem's best elements, including motion capture and the like. After all, Anthem has one of the most beautiful, stunning in-game worlds I've ever seen, and the combat, effects, and general visual style is incredible.
It's odd that when I first played Anthem, I got a lot of hope for the next Dragon Age. I didn't immediately see a grand future for Anthem, but BioWare's next games. Anthem's visuals and environments were so mystical that I felt like I was playing a Dragon Age/Mass Effect crossover.
Using existing tech will also make things easier for BioWare. The devs can draw upon Anthem's engine, toolsets, effects, and other technology to create Dragon Age 4 instead of having to go through the soul-gnawing process of another Frostbite reset. But I'm still curious if the new Dragon Age will use Inquisition's tech, and if not, why?
With all of this in mind, it's an interesting future for Dragon Age. Perhaps it'll be a live game, or a singleplayer game with optional multiplayer similar to Mass Effect 3, Andromeda, and DA: Inquisition. Perhaps it'll meld everything BioWare has done before while using Anthem's advanced tech, and leave the messy and confusing live elements out of the mix.
With its next game BioWare has an opportunity to employ all the lessons its learned from Anthem. These lessons weren't learned lightly and the live service game has had a massive detrimental effect on the team, according to Kotaku's report.
A former dev told Kotaku: "There are things that need to change about how that studio operates. There are lessons that need to be learned and the only way they'll get learned is if they become public knowledge."
Whatever BioWare does with Dragon Age 4, I hope they find their guiding light again. The studio has had two big misses in a row (first with Mass Effect: Andromeda, and now with Anthem), and both fans and developers feel the weight.