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Why We're Worried About Dragon Age 4

Dragon Age has long been a staple of the RPG scene thanks to BioWare's skill at crafting complex stories and memorable characters. Dragon Age: Origins stole many hearts with its dark heroic fantasy setting and emphasis on player choice. Dragon Age 2 followed in 2011, moving the franchise two steps forward and one step back. Though a disappointment to some, the sequel polished the core combat system and other mechanics, laying the groundwork for Dragon Age: Inquisition, the multi-region triumph that launched in 2014.

Over half a decade has passed since the last game in the series released, leaving fans hungry for the next installment. Though Electronic Arts and BioWare have confirmed the project, a lack of communication, company restructures, a decline in game quality, and troubling rumors have left many concerned about the fate of Dragon Age 4. Here's what you need to know about the situation at BioWare and the implications for the Dragon Age series.

Details about Dragon Age 4 remain scarce

BioWare teased a new Dragon Age title at The Game Awards in 2018 via a minute-long trailer. The video centered on a representation of the Lyrium Idol introduced in Dragon Age 2 before culminating in an image of Solas and Fen'Harel, accompanied by #TheDreadWolfRises. Though it seemed to confirm Dragon Age 4 would center on the fallout of Solas's actions in the Trespasser DLC, the reveal and accompanying blog post from Mark Darrah and Matthew Goldman spawned more questions than answers.

Despite Darrah's assurances that the next Dragon Age game has been in the works for "quite a while now," the developers have offered little else to appease fans. In July 2019, Dragon Age lead writer Patrick Weekes announced Dragon Age: Tevinter Nights, an anthology of Dragon Age short stories set to release on March 10, 2020. This seemed to confirm rumors that the next game would take place in the Tevinter Imperium.

Later in 2019, Mark Darrah sent out a series of tweets showing illuminated-manuscript style art, a screenshot of a winter path, and a gif of a four-legged spider. He followed this up on Dragon Age Day in December with a "slightly redacted" screenshot showing what looks like a branch or leaves in a small square in the top corner. That's it. BioWare and Electronic Arts haven't shared any other details about the game.

Dragon Age 4 lost its lead producer

About nine months after BioWare unveiled The Dread Wolf Rises at The Game Awards, Fernando Melo, the lead producer for the project, left the company. Melo had been with the studio for 12 years, serving as the producer for Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age 2

"Tonight I got to write my name up at our local pub, alongside many other amazing peers over the years, and it reminded me of a lot of folks no longer here that I miss dearly," Melo tweeted on his last day.

Though Melo seemed to go out on a high note, his parting words point towards a concerning trend of high-profile departures from the studio. The lead producer of Anthem left BioWare only days before, and Chad Robertson, Anthem's chief developer for live service, followed suit in October. While both Melo and Robertson claim to have left their respective projects in good hands, it's hard to imagine what the future of both franchises will look like without the involvement of key team members. 

Beyond Mark Darrah and Matthew Goldman, how many Dragon Age veterans remain with the company? And will they be able to stay true to the aspects of the series so many gamers fell in love with?

EA has already cancelled Dragon Age 4 once

For a game first introduced to the public at the close of 2018, Dragon Age 4 already has a long and checkered history. According to Kotaku's Jason Schreier, work on Dragon Age 4 began in 2015 following the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition's critically acclaimed Trespasser expansion. While part of the Inquisition team moved to Mass Effect: Andromeda, Mike Laidlaw, Mark Darrah, and a few dozen developers began dreaming up the next entry in the series under the code name "Joplin."

Joplin had a clear vision, tools, and production pipeline in place, a process that excited those involved. The team had learned from the mistakes and resulting crunch of Inquisition. While smaller in scope, Joplin would offer greater choice and depth as you played as a group of spies in the Tevinter Imperium. Decisions would have consequences, areas would change over time, and the branching narrative would offer maximum replay value.

Unfortunately, Joplin never saw the light of day. BioWare put the game on hold in 2016, shifting the full team to Mass Effect: Andromeda during the final months of development. Though work on Joplin resumed in 2017, EA cancelled the project a few months later and moved most of BioWare's staff to Anthem in an attempt to salvage the troubled shooter.

EA doesn't seem in a hurry to release Dragon Age 4

Dragon Age: Inquisition won over 150 awards, including Game of the Year in 2014, and distinguished itself with the most successful launch in BioWare's history. Despite this, publisher Electronic Arts does not seem all that interested in pushing a sequel out the door. According to CFO Blake Jorgensen, Dragon Age 4 will not release for at least two more years.

Jorgensen delivered this news during an earnings call in October 2019. Though "plans are underway for that product," Jorgensen stated fans would not have a chance to play Dragon Age 4 until after Fiscal Year 2022, which comes to a close on March 31, 2022. Though Mark Darrah stated BioWare had been working on Dragon Age 4 for awhile when the company first unveiled the project, this timeline, combined with an update from BioWare general manager Casey Hudson, tells a different story. 

"One of our projects has a large and growing team in Edmonton working through pre-production, and based on the progress I'm seeing, I can confirm that indeed the Dread Wolf rises," Hudson shared in a post in September 2019.

While it's possible Dragon Age 4 has since entered production, Jorgensen's word choice during the earnings call in late October implies the project remains in the planning stages.

Dragon Age 4 is receiving the "games as a service" treatment

When BioWare shifted its focus to Anthem in 2017, a skeleton team remained to work on a new Dragon Age 4 concept. The studio officially rebooted the project at some point between the close of 2017 and early 2018 under the code name "Morrison." It's unclear what features, if any, will carry over from Joplin to the iteration currently in development.

According to Jason Schreier, Dragon Age 4 will be built on Anthem's tools and codebase and will feature live service elements, an emerging staple of EA's business model. The choice to construct the next entry in a series known for its single-player RPG campaigns using the framework for an online-only shoot-and-loot title is telling in and of itself. What would a Dragon Age 4 with live and online elements even look like?

A number of theories have surfaced based on Anthem's own structure. Mark Darrah and Mike Gamble previously hinted that Anthem's "reactive storytelling" and post-launch storytelling elements would likely make their way to Dragon Age. Others have suggested Morrison will allow players to control companions using drop-in/drop-out co-op.

While these elements could push the Dragon Age series to new heights, many fans remain concerned due to EA's notorious use of microtransactions. Worries have also surfaced over using Anthem, a game with a disastrous history of its own, as the basis for the next chapter in one of BioWare's most beloved franchises.

BioWare has hit a rough patch

Over the past few years, BioWare has hit wall after wall and lost some of its best talent in the process. In addition to the departure of Fernando Melo and Chad Robertson, creative director Mike Laidlaw left the company after 14 years just before the Dragon Age 4 reboot in 2017.

Though it received generally positive reviews from critics, Dragon Age 2 released to widespread backlash from players in 2011. The studio managed to win back some of the lost Origins crowd with Inquisition in 2014, though the near-catastrophic development cycle almost ran the team into the ground.

Mass Effect: Andromeda, the most recent addition to the revered Mass Effect series, shook the faith of fans when it released in March 2017 after spending five torturous years in development. In response, BioWare put the franchise on hiatus and downsized its Montreal studio.

And then there's Anthem, a game that spent almost seven years in development. Despite pushing the release from the end of 2018 to March 2019, Anthem launched with a number of issues, drawing disappointment and ire from critics and players alike. Though the studio scrambled to save the project, it remains a pariah in the gaming community.

BioWare has multiple projects in development

Beyond Dragon Age 4, BioWare seems to have a growing number of projects on its plate. Back in November 2019, Jason Schreier shared information about "Anthem 2.0," a project intended to bring massive changes to the online RPG shooter. According to the report, BioWare has dozens (possibly hundreds) of employees working on the overhaul between its Edmonton and Austin offices. These teams have already spent months tearing apart and rebuilding the Anthem structure.

In the same report, Schreier confirmed a new Mass Effect game had entered pre-production at the Edmonton office under director Mike Gamble. Gamble served as producer on Mass Effect: Andromeda and took to Twitter on 2019's N7 Day to ask fans what they would like to see in the next installment. Though still in early development, the project will likely face immense pressure due to the poor response to Andromeda, much like the situation the Inquisition team found itself in.

Rumors of a Mass Effect trilogy remaster popped up in mid-January thanks to a cryptic tweet with the caption "#MassRelays." Based on the hasthag and accompanying video fans theorize BioWare plans to finally release an upgraded bundle containing all three games under the title "Mass Effect: Mass Relays Edition."

At this point, it looks like BioWare is trying to revitalize not one, not two, but three franchises at the same time, a heavy workload for a company that keeps losing key team members.

Dragon Age 4 could fall victim to Star Wars fever

A fourth franchise may have re-entered the ring to vie for BioWare's resources and attention. On Jan. 23, 2020, Jordan Maison of Cinelix claimed two different sources had confirmed EA has a Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic remake in the works. Maison accurately leaked the existence of the Obi-Wan TV show a week before the official confirmation, lending his words some credence.

So, what does this mean? According to Maison, the project will serve more as a re-imagining/sequel than a true Knights of the Old Republic remake. BioWare developed the original game under the direction of Casey Hudson, and it released to lasting acclaim in 2003. Obsidian Entertainment developed the less well-received but still popular sequel, Knights of the Old Republic 2 – The Sith Lords, at BioWare's suggestion.

While Maison did not state whether BioWare would handle the rumored KOTOR sequel, EA could take the opportunity to cash in on the recent Star Wars fever. Jedi: Fallen Order exceeded the publisher's sales expectations. With the conclusion of the Skywalker saga, fans are already clamoring for more Star Wars content. A new Star Wars title could fill that void and help revitalize BioWare's reputation, but the studio has a finite amount of resources and talent. Sacrifices would need to be made. 

EA has sacrificed Dragon Age 4 at least once before and it could end up on the chopping block again, especially with Star Wars money on the line.