Reviews - Updated on April 10, 2022

Last week, Jason Schreier of Kotaku went into great detail about what’s been going on with BioWare lately and why Anthem feels like a game that was painstakingly built in such a short amount of time. However, almost nothing was said about Dragon Age 4, whose fate is still unknown. As it turned out, Schreier decided to devote another voluminous article to this topic. And we once again publish a retelling of the most important details that became known thanks to anonymous sources who wished to share the information available to them with the journalist.

It started so well

The audience likes to blame the leadership of Electronic Arts, not the developers, for all the sins, but this time the publisher really influenced the fate of the new Dragon Age. The interests of EA and BioWare diverged: the first wanted to see another “service game” that would consistently bring money after release, and the second wanted to please the fans and offer them what they were waiting for. For this reason, many key BioWare employees, including series creative director Mike Laidlaw, left the team, and the first version of Dragon Age 4 was canceled in October 2017. Now the game is handled by the BioWare office in the Canadian city of Edmonton.

And it would be fine if the team did not know what to do, but no – everything was exactly the opposite. The Dragon Age team had a great idea of ​​what the new game would look like. She had all the necessary tools, had a clear idea of ​​​​the scope of the project, and the management promised the employees not to make the same mistakes that happened when creating Dragon Age: Inquisition. However, all these plans went to waste.

Inquisition was BioWare’s first Frostbite-powered open-world game, received very high press reviews, and was voted the best game of 2014 by The Game Awards and multiple publications. But few people knew about the production hell that the game was in. Schreier devoted part of his book Blood, Sweat and Pixels to this. In short, simultaneous development for five different platforms, the need to add multiplayer and not knowing the features of the Frostbite engine greatly complicated the development process. Too many people were involved in the project, the management constantly made controversial decisions, many elements of the game were completed in a hurry in the last year.

When the final version of Dragon Age: Inquisition did see the light of day, executive producer Mark Darrah and Mike Laidlaw promised the staff that things would be different next time. They understood how many mistakes were made and in what conditions the team had to work. After the release of the Trespasser add-on for Inquisition, the Dragon Age team was divided: many left to work on Mass Effect: Andromeda, and several dozen employees (along with Darra and Laidlaw) began discussing ideas for the next Dragon Age, codenamed Joplin.

How did Dragon Age 4 die and what happened to it?  Kotaku investigation

All through Joplin

Joplin is fondly remembered by Schreyer’s anonymous sources. By that time, many people managed to figure out the Frostbite engine, and the project was not handled by a bunch of developers, but by a relatively small team. Employees agreed with management to discuss new ideas as early and often as possible, test them at the earliest opportunity, and not put everything on the back burner, as was the case with Inquisition. “Management was aware that we would not be able to work in the previous conditions, and did everything possible to avoid such problems,” said one of the former employees.

Anonymous identified three main changes that greatly influenced the development process:

1) an accurate understanding of what should be the result, in the early stages of design;

2) continuous documentation, allowing new team members to quickly join the process;

3) quick decision-making is always better than several options, none of which take so long to choose that employees get tired of waiting.

Another developer calls that Dragon Age one of the best projects he’s ever worked on. According to him, it was less ambitious than Inquisition, but it had much more depth, companions and decision-making opportunities. “I am very sorry that this game will never be created,” he admitted.

Prior to the full relaunch, Dragon Age 4 focused on a group of spies in the Tevinter Empire, a magocratic region on the north shore of Thedas. Since decisions and their consequences played a huge role, the locations were smaller, and the quests were less monotonous. The creators wanted to make sure that the zones change over time, and with it, unique missions appear, arising from your decisions. It turned out quite interesting episodes, which even led to “non-standard” endings.

The main characters were spies, and the developers tried to put special emphasis on robberies. The players would have the opportunity to speak to the guards with their teeth or even extort something. Tools were invented that allowed the game to generate such situations, saving the scriptwriters from having to prescribe each such episode “manually”. Of course, in the course of development, such ambitious ideas would have to be simplified, but the BioWare employees were delighted with all the ideas and wanted to take on this project.

How did Dragon Age 4 die and what happened to it?  Kotaku investigation

Beginning of the End

Problems began to arise in 2016, when the development of Joplin had to be stopped for a while – all team members were ordered to help with the completion of Mass Effect: Andromeda. The game had to be released very soon, so a few months before the release, they tried to attract as many people as possible to its development. After the release of Andromeda in March 2017, the Dragon Age team returned to their brainchild and even expanded – part of the employees freed from Mass Effect participated in the design and creation of prototypes of Dragon Age 4. But they felt that everything was not going very smoothly for Anthem either, and soon they will again have to be distracted from a much more interesting game for them.

One of the main “flaws” of the new Dragon Age, according to anonymous employees, EA considered the lack of a clear vision for multiplayer. Although Electronic Arts gives its studios the freedom to create, there are still some rules they must follow. And one of these rules, formed by 2017, was that the project must fit the definition of a game-service – it must be profitable for several months or even years after the release. Traditional Dragon Age is hard to describe, and Inquisition-style multiplayer would hardly have earned as much as the publisher wants.

Both current and former BioWare employees agree that the studio is considered a black sheep compared to the rest of EA. These are, they say, some strange guys creating “nerd” role-playing games instead of first-person blockbusters and sports simulators. Of course, BioWare games are far from FIFA and Battlefield in terms of sales, and therefore the team receives much less money and resources. In this regard, BioWare employees are constantly asking the question: do EA management need story games and why do they need ordinary RPGs at all?

How did Dragon Age 4 die and what happened to it?  Kotaku investigation

Death and new life

In the second half of 2017, what the Dragon Age team was so afraid of happened – Anthem was literally falling apart, so it was decided to stop the development of Joplin and drag almost all the employees to the main BioWare branch, busy with co-op action. Executive Producer Mark Darra was also forced to help develop Anthem. A tiny team was left to pore over Dragon Age 4, but this is a completely different game – within the walls of the studio it is called Morrison, and it is she who is currently in development.

Morrison will have the service game elements that EA wanted to see. To sweeten the pill, the leadership of Electronic Arts decided to “forget” about the money spent by the former team over the past two years – the new team starts from scratch. It is not known whether the recruits will use the old developments. The main problem is that many key BioWare employees have already left. Matt Goldman, Artistic Director of Inquisition and Joplin, took over as Creative Director Mike Laidlaw, while Darra remained as Executive Producer of Morrison and Anthem.

Last year, BioWare responded several times to rumors of a reboot of the game. “Reading a lot of feedback on the upcoming Dragon Age and I think you’ll be excited to see what the team is up to now,” Studio General Manager Casey Hudson tweeted. – Great emphasis on story and characters. It’s too early to talk about the details, but when we talk about ‘service’, it means making a game that continues after the main story ends.” And in December, during The Game Awards, a teaser for the fourth part was shown, after which Goldman wrote in a blog about the “strongest team” of developers and “the most epic journey in history.”

How did Dragon Age 4 die and what happened to it?  Kotaku investigation

What’s next?

What to expect from Morrison, Schreyer cannot tell – much has not yet been finally decided, the game is at a very early stage of development, and some elements may change after the negative reaction of the audience to Anthem. It’s funny that some BioWare employees called Morrison “Anthem with dragons” because of a rumor that spread within the walls of the studio, but current employees claim that this is an incorrect description. “Anthem has always been an online game, and the Dragon Age and Mass Effect series, even though they had elements of multiplayer, are not about that at all. I don’t think you will see drastic changes in these franchises,” says one of the anonymous people.

Another person who knows more about the new Dragon Age said that at this stage, Morrison’s main storyline is being created for a single player experience, and multiplayer elements will keep the audience after the game’s release thanks to post-release updates. Single add-ons, like Trespasser for Inquisition, sell very poorly regardless of quality – Schreier heard such statements not only from BioWare, but also from other developers.

At the same time, there will not be such a clear separation between single player and multiplayer as in Inquisition. BioWare has several ideas. For example, authors can add support for a cooperative mode with the ability to connect at any time. Or change the world and quests depending on the decisions made by players around the world, and not just one user. At least such possibilities are being discussed.

“Many questions still remain unanswered. And for sure a lot will change about five times in the next two years, ”said one of the employees. The Dragon Age team is compared by many employees to a pirate ship that will someday reach its destination, but before that it will visit several ports, and the crew members will drink all the rum. The team headed by Darra always changed the vision of future projects on the go – they wanted to fix this when creating Joplin, but, apparently, one cannot get away from traditions.

How did Dragon Age 4 die and what happened to it?  Kotaku investigation

***

However, employees still hope that the development of Morrison will go as smoothly as possible. After publishing the last Kotaku article, Casey Hudson sent out a letter to everyone at the studio promising to “make BioWare the best place to work,” but that could take too long. A large number of workers fell into depression and lived with a sense of anxiety – not only because of the need to do everything as quickly as possible at the last moment, but also because of other problems: not understanding what they should do, unwillingness of management to listen to them. According to Schreier, some of the Anthem developers’ stories were some of the saddest and most horrific stories he’d ever read, but to preserve the anonymity of those people, he didn’t publish them. Perhaps at least this time everything will be at least a little better and calmer.

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