A promising direction was allegedly scrapped amid Anthem’s development.
The upcoming fourth entry into BioWare’s Dragon Age series was reportedly rebooted in 2017, and is allegedly influenced by a canceled Dragon Age project the studio had potentially been working on since 2015.
Kotaku reports that the current version of Dragon Age 4 began development under the codename Morrison while the canceled project was known by the codename Joplin. Morrison is reportedly being made on Anthem’s tools and codebase, and is planned to have a “live service component” designed to sustain long-term gameplay and revenue. The current project is reportedly being made in BioWare’s primary Edmonton offices.
Some BioWare developers allegedly said it’s possible a Dragon Age game built on Anthem’s codebase could have an offline structure. However, it appears the game will likely be online-only, but could largely still be experienced by a single player. One individual close to the Morrison project says its main story will be designed as a single-player experience, and multiplayer elements would ideally keep players engaged for post-launch content.
Some alleged ideas for this multiplayer component include companions that can be controlled by other players in a drop-in, drop-out fashion, or that quests could change based on choices of players across the globe. Ultimately, there are many unanswered questions about the game’s multiplayer components, though some involved reportedly believe it’s likely to change multiple times before launch.
Interestingly, the prior Dragon Age project, Joplin, didn’t seem to have these multiplayer components, and was allegedly on the right track prior to the team being pulled into Anthem’s reportedly troubled development. Joplin reportedly began early development in 2015, after Inquisition’s Trespasser expansion was finished. With part of Inquisition’s team working on Joplin, others moved on to Mass Effect: Andromeda.
Joplin reportedly had players controlling a group of spies in Tevinter Imerium, the oldest remaining human nation in Thedas that is ruled by wizards. Choice and consequences were reportedly a major focus, and there was allegedly an emphasis on repeat play, with areas changing over time and missions branching based on player decisions. Much of the game would allegedly center on heists, and the development team was interested in having players be able to persuade or extort guards using systemic narrative mechanics.
The Joplin team reportedly included executive producer of the Dragon Age franchise Mark Darrah and creative director Mike Laidlaw. The team was allegedly working with a set of established tools, had a feasible scope for the game in mind, and had several ideas that excited the entire team. Leaders were also seemingly committed to avoiding mistakes made during Inquisition’s development.
A former BioWare developer that worked on Joplin allegedly called the project among “some of the best work experiences” they’d had, saying the team was working towards something “very cool” that was hugely reactive and smaller in scope to Inquisition, but bigger in player choice and depth.
Unfortunately, Joplin was allegedly put on hold in 2016 when BioWare moved the team to Andromeda’s reportedly troubled development during its last few months. Joplin was later purportedly canceled in October 2017, with most of its staff moving on to Anthem’s similarly troubled development.
Though the newer Morrison project seemed to largely start from scratch, some involved with the projects claim Joplin’s vision will at least partially shape it. After the reboot, Laidlaw and other veteran Dragon Age staff left, with Inquisition art director Matt Goldman taking over as creative director.
If the report is accurate, project Morrison is Dragon Age 4: The Dread Wolf Rises. Dragon Age 4 was teased at The Game Awards 2018, accompanied by a BioWare blog post. Nearly a year before Dragon Age 4 was teased, BioWare’s Casey Hudson said the next Dragon Age game would be a live game, explaining “I think you’ll be relieved to see what the team is working on. Story & character focused. Too early to talk details, but when we talk about ‘live’ it just means designing a game for continued storytelling after the main story.”
While we only have a 60-second video to watch at the moment, there’s a surprising amount of info packed into Dragon Age 4’s teaser.
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Colin Stevens is a news writer for IGN. Follow him on Twitter.