Earlier this week, news broke that saddened the hearts of at least a few dozen people: The moderately-awaited overhaul to BioWare’s Anthem, dubbed Anthem Next, will not be released. Now, we’ve got fresh BioWare news that manages to be both positive and somewhat alarming. EA will “allow” the Dragon Age 4 development team to remove multiplayer from the game.
If you’re scratching your head trying to remember all those delightful online adventures you had in Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age 2, and Dragon Age Inquisition, it’s not just you. Dragon Age has historically been a single-player series, though Inquisition did feature a small multiplayer co-operative campaign.
It turns out DA4 may have been saved by the way Anthem tanked. Up until last fall, EA had apparently mandated that multiplayer be front-and-center to the Dragon Age 4 experience. It was the catastrophic response to Anthem that seems to have changed their minds, combined with the success of the single-player title Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.
Not Every Game Needs Multiplayer
Since 2012, EA has been on a corporate mission to stuff multiplayer into every title it builds. Like the mandate that all game development takes place on the Frostbite engine, no matter how poorly it fits the title, EA has been laser-focused on integrating multiplayer into its properties, regardless of player preference.
One of the biggest reasons why people disliked Anthem was the lack of content and the flimsiness of the story. BioWare is one of a handful of companies in the industry known for well-crafted RPGs. BioWare always made it clear that Anthem was supposed to take the company in a new direction, but a lot of people clearly expected the company to meld that new direction with the storytelling it’s known for. EA CEO Andrew Wilson gave an interview back in 2019 in which he acknowledged this:
We brought together these two groups of players who were making this emotional value calculation on two different vectors…One was traditional BioWare story driven content, and the other was this action-adventure type content. About the 30 or 40 hour mark they really had to come together and start working in on the elder game. At that point everyone kind of went, ‘Oh, hang a minute.’ Now the calculation is off. It’s off because I’ve got a friend who sits in this other category of player. They want to play the game a certain way. I want to play the game a certain way. The promise was we can play together, and that’s not working very well. Oh, by the way I’m used to 100 hours of BioWare story, and that’s not what I got.’ Or, ‘I expected that this game would have meaningfully advanced the action component that we’d seen in games like Destiny before, and I don’t feel like it has.’
This quote is from 2019, and the Bloomberg story linked above makes it clear that DA4 only got permission to cut the multiplayer focus late into last year. In other words: A year after the CEO of EA was handing out quotes about how EA had learned its lesson with Anthem, the company was still attempting to shoehorn an explicit multiplayer focus into Dragon Age, despite the fact that DA is a single-player experience first and foremost.
DA4 entered development in 2015 but was rebooted in 2017 to focus on long-term monetization, Schreier writes. This was the catalyst for Mike Laidlaw’s departure from the game, and development has reportedly been in flux ever since. A group of BioWare leaders has been fighting with EA to turn the focus back to single-player development and the game’s success is vital after both Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem both critically flopped.
Despite the above, it’s not clear either title financially flopped. EA panned Andromeda’s sales back in 2016 but sang its praises a year later. Anthem isn’t thought to have hit its 6 million copy target, but nobody knows how well or poorly it actually did. The NPD Group listed Anthem as the 10th best-selling title of 2019. For reference, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was the 10th best-selling title of 2018.
News that DA4 has dropped multiplayer is the best news I’ve heard about the game thus far. The team working on Anthem will reportedly be folded into DA4 development.
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