Dragon Age 4 will not be ‘Anthem with dragons’

Following a big exposé on the working conditions at BioWare that supposedly lead to the studio’s latest game Anthem being received less-than-enthusiastically, there’s now a new feature focusing entirely on the development of Dragon Age 4 by the same source. The new report reveals development details of the next game in the Dragon Age series following 2014’s Dragon Age: Inquisition, including how the studio is struggling with its production and how the game will not just be “Anthem with dragons.”

The report was posted on Kotaku today, titled “The Past and Present of Dragon Age 4.” Within the article, reporter Jason Schreier speaks to various members of the Dragon Age 4 team, and reveals the current state of the game. Apparently the title was canceled at the end of 2017 and rebooted after that, which was reportedly disheartening for the team. The version of the game being worked on prior to this included work from creative director Mike Laidlaw and executive producer Mark Darrah, with plans not only to not repeat the problems with Inquisition that lead to the team being “burnt out,” but also to deliver “an explicit, consistent vision” and maintain good communication with the team.

Developers who worked on this version of Dragon Age 4, codenamed Joplin, described the experience (under anonymity) as “some of the best work experiences” they’d ever had. It was described as “a hugely reactive game, smaller in scope than Dragon Age: Inquisition but much larger in player choice, followers, reactivity, and depth.” It sounds a little similar to Trespasser, the final DLC that released for Dragon Age: Inquisitionwhich was less open-world than previous Inquisition expansions and played more like Dragon Age: Origins, but was well-received by fans.

It sounds like Joplin was to feature a new set of characters, similar to previous games. Players would take on the role of a group of spies infiltrating the Tevinter Imperium, the previously-unseen continent ruled by mages, which was set up at the end of Trespasser. The game would focus on player choice and consequence, and would have “smaller areas and fewer fetch quests” than Dragon Age: Inquisition, which players often complained about, joking that it felt like an offline MMO at times.

One developer described a emphasis on “repeat play,” meaning areas that changed over time and missions you could complete in many different ways. Heists would be a particularly large part of the game, with the team apparently working on “systemic narrative mechanics” which would react to the player’s actions without BioWare having to script every response. Unfortunately BioWare put Joplin on hold so the team could be moved over to the struggling Mass Effect: Andromeda, and were actually credited in that game as the “Dragon Age finaling team.” After Andromeda shipped Dragon Age 4 resumed production.

The report theorizes that part of the problem with Dragon Age 4, particularly the Joplin version (which was sounding amazing, and exactly what fans would want), was that multiplayer was apparently never considered. EA has a mandate that all its titles should be “games as a service” products, that can be played and monetized for years afterwards. A fan-friendly Dragon Age “would not fit into that category.”

However, it would be the struggles of Anthem that would get Joplin cancelled at the end of 2017 apparently, and most of the team moved over to that game in order to get it finished. A new, smaller team then started work on a new version of Dragon Age 4, using “Anthem’s tools and codebase.” A few more sarcastic developers apparently referred to it as “Anthem with dragons,” but apparently other developers insisted that was not the case. However, the game will apparently be built with a live-service component around long-term gameplay and revenue, like EA’s other games.

However, as of right now the game is reportedly in flux, as despite the teaser trailer released at the Game Awards last year, Dragon Age 4 is still “very early in development,” and the negative reaction to Anthem could affect it. It’s still unknown whether the title will be an online-only title (although probably will be), although it seems likely that the main campaign will be able to be completed solo, with multiplayer elements keeping people engaged enough to carry on playing. One developer notes however, “it’s going to change like five times in the next two years,” so it seems we may have a long time to wait to find out.