The Anthem thing. Again.
So, there’s new info on Dragon Age. Sort of. Basically an article from VG247 titled “New Dragon Age, Mass Effect titles will be heavily influenced by Anthem, says Bioware”. You can find it here. What it basically boils down to is that Bioware says it wants to continue what they’re trying to do with Anthem in terms of storytelling, not necessarily that Dragon Age and Mass Effect will be “the next Anthem”. Michael Gamble, producer in Bioware, was quick to point this out on Twitter, too:
I want to clarify this, as the title simplifies it far too much. Anthem has a main story and that story concludes. But it also allows us to continue the storytelling soon after launch, and keep the world alive and changing and fresh. New adventures, characters, and fun. https://t.co/u65Ebw88MY— Michael Gamble (@GambleMike) 3 September 2018
So, the (especially) Dragon Age fandom being what it is exploded into two main camps: those who immediately start ranting about how Dragon Age is dead (I suspect the same is true for the ME fandom but I don’t follow that, so I’ll concentrate on DA), how dare they etc., and those who quickly jump to the defense of Bioware, telling everybody that nobody needs to worry and please stop being negative because everything will be perfect as always because Bioware is perfect.
Let me take a moment to breathe deeply.
And now let me try and explain why the news makes me apprehensive and why both camps annoy me so much.
Now, first of all: yay, they keep hinting at a Dragon Age production \o/ So, Dragon Age is not “dead”, of course. However. I cannot stress enough how angry I get if I am told that every criticism of a game or a production company is bad, too much or that I’m not a “good fan” if I don’t praise everything the writers/devs/the company do. If you think that, this blog is not for you, I’m afraid, thanks for stopping by.
So. As I’ve elaborated on before, Anthem is not the game I was hoping for and one I probably won’t buy. Every news I’ve read since their press conference added to the initial feeling I had: about Anthem being a probably fun shooter with some minor RPG aspects but no game that has any consequences or story decisions that matter for the story or world. Not a deeply character-driven story that explores in depth lore and world history and definitely nothing where the world changes according to my choices (like it does in Dragon Age at least in parts across the three games).
Is it a wonder that I am frowning on every news that tells me that Dragon Age will be more like Anthem?
And honestly – Michael Gamble’s above-mentioned clarification that “only” the storytelling aspect is something they are looking at for Dragon Age and Mass Effect and want to explore more in-depth just adds to my apprehension. Because the storytelling is what I love about Dragon Age and Mass Effect. The (player-influenced) storytelling is something that sets RPGs apart from games like Tomb Raider, The Last of Us or even Life is Strange. What Bioware has so far told us about Anthem is: MMO, online-only, open world that does not massively change by your choices, no consequences from your dialogue choices, no companions… we already talked about this. What they have *not* really talked about is what the actual story will be. Or even how relevant said story will be for the experience of the game (however, their emphasis on “play with other people, not alone” makes me think it’s not that relevant). Just that they’ll keep adding to it after release and that this story content will be free for the players – ergo, no DLCs to buy.
Now, maybe I am unimaginative but I just can’t quite figure how they want to do that for a single-player game even if they have a conclusion only after which they add story content. And, going into the plot of Dragon Age, I especially cannot imagine that for what will (supposedly) come in DA4: namely trying to stop Solas from tearing down the Veil or, failing that, trying to help the mortal races survive the onslaught of magic after it is destroyed. That is some epic, world-changing, intense plot! And possibly very, very differently experienced depending on your choices from the previous games. And I’m not only talking about a possibly romanced Solas, I’m talking about: does the Inquisition still exist?! Who rules Orlais or is there civil war? Who is the Divine and what was decided about the Circles? Are there still Grey Wardens in your southern Thedas? Did you have an alliance with the Qunari? Who rules in Orzammar and are the dwarves therefore even possibly available? Did the soul of a certain archdemon survive or not? All those decisions together form a very, very different preset for your Thedas – all of them also relevant at least marginally and politically if the whole setting is indeed in Tevinter.
To account for at least the biggest decisions, the plot will probably have several, maybe even major options and choices only available for certain presets. Which in turn means, the whole story with all its twists, turns and different aspects should be plotted more or less from beginning to end and, more importantly, is dependent on your world state. (Incredible respect and awe for the writers tackling this immense project!)
That in turn leaves, in my eyes, not much leverage for “ah, let’s just start like this and add relevant content later”- unless they mean only minor story addendums (read: DLCs). (Although Trespasser for example is far from “minor”.)
Maybe Bioware will surprise me in four or five years, when the next Dragon Age game might be published and they will have found a way to perfectly integrate their “new” storytelling way into a single player game.
Somehow I doubt it.
The whole PR for Bioware and Anthem and everything surrounding it points – for me – to a general shift in how they approach games and gaming. A shift away from single-player (and thus single-buy) games towards MMOs full of microtransactions to ensure a continuous income even after the initial buy. It also points to a shift in storytelling – which we already experienced in DAI, if we’re honest, with the blandest protagonist AND antagonist Dragon Age ever had and (in comparison to the first two Dragon Age games) the worst paced plot.
Add to that the extreme emphasis Bioware puts on multiplayer and away from character-based dialogues and decisions – which is also visible in the fact that there is no value in making a second protagonist for Anthem and that customization of said character is not relevant at all – and you have a general development that makes me very, very apprehensive. If the next Dragon Age will be an MMO, I want it to be at least like SWTOR – which has very different experiences depending on your protagonist’s class and origin and at least within the personal story for your protagonist as well – and not like Anthem. I want Dragon Age to continue to be a game that is driven and dominated by the story, not by fancy graphics and lackluster no-consequence pseudo-plot.
Now, I’m not gonna go on social media to pound on devs or writers or even Bioware itself. I’m not an asshole, after all. There are reasons behind the decisions for Anthem (and consequently for DA and ME) that are probably even beyond their power. (Looking at you, EA…) But I’m also not going to jump around and be all “hey, don’t say anything negative, criticism is not allowed!”. Fandom is a place to exchange opinions – and these opinions may and can be critical. It feels like many people can no longer distinguish between toxicity and criticism. And the apprehension that many people experience because of every news about DA and where Bioware in general is headed is well-founded and not without reason. Yes, the company may still surprise me. Heck, maybe in a year I’ll have Anthem and play it daily and love it to bits and pieces! I’m pretty sure, though, that it won’t be for the same reasons I love Dragon Age. And seeing the aspects because of which I love Dragon Age become less and less important for a gaming company does make me anxious about what’s to come for this beloved game series of mine.
And for good reasons.