Today BioWare re-confirmed it's working on a new Mass Effect game. We put all the clues together so you can gauge what to expect from the next big space opera.
In a recent post, BioWare GM Casey Hudson said a team of studio vets are working on a new Mass Effect project. The game is in early development stages (likely pre-production planning) and won't be out for some time. We also get our first glimpse at ME4 concept art, which is called the "mud skipper." EA execs haven't relayed any info about the new ME to investors. Even still, we have an idea of the new project's scope, and it could be the most ambitious project BioWare has ever made.
"Meanwhile here at BioWare, a veteran team has been hard at work envisioning the next chapter of the Mass Effect universe. We are in early stages on the project and can't say any more just yet, but we're looking forward to sharing our vision for where we'll be going next,"Hudson said.
Who are these veteran devs?
We at least know Mike Gamble will serve as project lead on the game. Gamble previously helped lead Mass Effect Andromeda's development.
Other developers like Ian Frazier and key long-time BioWare vets like James Ohlen, who was with BioWare for 22 years, have left the company.
Here's a list of the major BioWare departures over recent years:
Noteworthy BioWare Departures
- Drew Karpyshyn, lead writer on Mass Effect and Anthem, left in 2012, and then again in 2018
- David Gaider, lead writer of Dragon Age series, left in 2016
- Chris Schlerf, writer on Mass Effect: Andromeda, left in 2016
- Ian Frazier, Lead Designer of Mass Effect: Andromeda, shifted from BioWare to EA Motive in 2017
- Aaron Flynn, ex-General Manager, left in July 2017, shortly after Mass Effect: Andromeda's launch and after 17 years with BioWare (replaced by Casey Hudson, who previously had left in 2014)
- Mike Laidlaw, ex-Dragon Age creative director, left in October 2017 after 14 years with BioWare
- James Ohlen, lead designer on Baldur's Gate, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, and Dragon Age: Origins, leaves BioWare in July 2018 after 22 years
- Ben Irving, lead producer on Anthem, left August 2019 after 8 years with the company
- Fernando Melo, producer on Mass Effect Andromeda, Dragon Age Origins, Dragon Age 2, senior producer on Dragon Age 4, left August 2019 after 12 years with company
Before we begin, I want to remind everyone this isn't the first time BioWare confirmed a new ME game was in development.
Today's confirmation wasn't anything we didn't already know. If anything, it just tells us the game is still in development (which is to be expected because it's one of BioWare's only big IPs). We did get some new concept art though.
Now let's go over what to expect from the next Mass Effect game.
Next-gen exclusive on PS5, Xbox Series X/S
The next Mass Effect is a long ways off.
Right now BioWare is full steam ahead on Dragon Age 4. Yes, BioWare has multiple teams working on multiple games (there's separate teams for Anthem, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect, for example), but DA4 is the next in line. We expect ME4 to release after DA4, and EA recently confirmed Dragon Age 4 won't release until 2022.
By that time the next-gen console market will be more mature and there will be no reason to release on current-gen hardware. Targeting PS4, Xbox One will inhibit development and hamstring the team into compromising with a scaled, watered-down experience targeting the lowest common denominator hardware. No, better to build the next ME from the ground up for next-gen hardware.
DICE's Battlefield 6 will pave the way for ME4
DICE is pushing its Frostbite engine to new heights with Battlefield's 2021 installment. The game will push next-gen PS5, Xbox Series X hardware to its limit with massive battle sequences, high-end FPS, and other resolution/ray tracing optimizations befit of the new hardware.
These kinds of enhancements are made possible thanks to tweaks to the Frostbite engine. Remember that all of EA's internal studios use Frosbite, including BioWare, so any big improvements made to Frostbite will carry over to new games like Dragon Age 4 and Mass Effect 4.
EA CEO Andrew Wilson also teased new tech like AI and machine learning will create new kinds of next-gen gaming experiences. EA has been experimenting with these new technologies for years in its relatively new SEED R&D division.
"We're only at the beginning of the groundbreaking experiences and immersive fun that we're going to be able to create for players on the new consoles using more AI, machine learning, adding social layers to make connection and communication seamless and more. Where we're going will be truly transformative," Wilson said last month.
Merged singleplayer/multiplayer live service focus
This is where BioWare's real ambitious ideas come into play. Mass Effect 4 could merge multiplayer and singleplayer in new and exciting ways.
In 2018, BioWare execs like Mark Darrah talked about organically infusing live services into future Mass Effect and Dragon Age games. This is a bit nebulous and wasn't really defined, but the general gist is BioWare could use live services/online frameworks as a means of evolving their games.
Traditionally, BioWare rolls out premium story DLC expansions months after release. With this new "live storytelling" feature, they could roll out new content directly into the game. Users could subscribe to the content with a paid subscription, or it could be funded by in-game microtransactions.
I predicted this could lead to global online co-op play in future games that merges singleplayer, PVE multiplayer, and maybe even PVP into one cohesive environment. Worlds could be globally reactive environments that change over time, allowing for shifting events, new content streams, and a marginally more immersive experience.
Dragon Age 4 should have some sort of live multiplayer that taps this model, and I believe Anthem was a practice run for future BioWare games.
Remember, EA loves live games and monetization--they earn billions every year from mTX--and digital live services are the company's main business driver.
Here's what Mark Darrah said about "live storytelling" in an older PAX 2018 panel:
"Anthem's Fort Tarsis is a more reactive space, a space that feels more living and alive, and I think going forward in future Dragon Age games or other games that you're going to see that reactivity, that depth, in our hubs that we've really been able to bring out in Anthem."
"One of the things the structure of the game lets us do is a lot more character storytelling after launch. In previous games, because of the content release structure, we didn't really know where you were in a relationship with a character, and it meant we had to write generically for characters.
"But here we actually have a lot more ability to know where you are with the character and we can evolve and continue to grow these characters after launch and bring them into deeper and deeper progressions of their arcs."
We ultimately don't 100% know what BioWare will do. But based on the evidence I've outlined above, the next Mass Effect game should be a visual and performance spectacle that taps a new era of engagement models.
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