As it turns out, EA’s recent bloodbath over online BioWare multiplayer games was larger than we thought. And in today’s case, a behind-the-scenes report seems to offer good news on that front.
After yesterday’s official confirmation from EA that “Anthem Next” was no more, Bloomberg reporter Jason Schreier has arrived with news about another dramatic change to a BioWare game: the unnamed Dragon Age sequel (which we’ll call Dragon Age 4 for convenience’s sake) will be a single-player game.
The way Schreier tells it, EA as a publisher is now “allowing” the Dragon Age 4 team to “remove all planned multiplayer components from the game”—and that use of “allowing” implies that this was a butting-of-heads between who wanted online components in this famously single-player RPG series (EA) and who didn’t (BioWare).
That multiplayer element, which had never been announced to fans as part of EA and BioWare’s promotional trickle, would have been “heavy,” Schreier goes on to report. This claim lines up with EA’s reputation for building “games-as-a-service” (GaaS) products with heavy online components in recent years. But this attitude changed considerably inside of EA recently, Schreier writes, thanks to two massive developments: the sales success of the wholly offline 2019 adventure game Jedi: Fallen Order, and the abysmal sales of BioWare’s last shoehorned GaaS game, Anthem.
But Schreier’s report doesn’t clarify what shape such a “heavy” online component would have taken or how it would have likely diverged from the Dragon Age series’ reliance on tightly controlled, narrative-driven single-player adventures. Additionally, this RPG series famously leans on character development and voiced characters; these were two aspects of Anthem that were painfully difficult to parse when online voice-chat lobbies buried that game’s plot.
Without those details, we’re left with a quote from BioWare’s frustrated staff, who called the in-development game “Anthem with dragons.” In other words, just about the worst quote you could insert into any review of a hotly anticipated Dragon Age sequel.
A new wrinkle on a December departure
This seems to have affected staffing at BioWare through the game’s rocky development, with creative director Mike Laidlaw leaving in late 2017 in the thick of such development rivalries with EA (though he put a much more charitable spin on his departure in his early-2018 remarks to Game Informer). Another major Dragon Age head, executive producer Mark Darrah, left as recently as December of last year; whether or not his departure was a protest against bolted-on multiplayer content is unclear, but at the time, his replacement was the previous head of BioWare Austin (whose last major BioWare project was, you guessed it, Anthem).
The next Dragon Age game remains untitled and lacks an announced release date, and it’s being produced alongside a new Mass Effect game (also untitled and unscheduled). As longtime fans of BioWare’s knack for compelling single-player content, we hope this mid-development pivot for DA will benefit the ME team, as well—although, yes, we here at Ars are already doing the reductive, unhealthy thing of wondering what other projects and staff members we lost along EA’s dark GaaS road in recent years.