BioWare is a legendary developer. It is one fans of story-focused games have held dear. Fans of modern RPGs have always been turn to them for solid games in the Baldur’s Gate, Dragon Age, Mass Effect and even Star Wars lines. But over the last few years, perhaps even since EA’s acquisition in 2000, things haven’t seemed right. The usual luster and excitement surrounding its games has begun to fade. It may have someone wondering if BioWare might be in trouble. With all that has happened as of late, it seems like the focus may have been lost at best and we could be seeing a downturn at worst.
I started feeling concerned back in 2012. That is when Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, two of the co-founders, left the studio at once and retired. These were two men who helped shape the company and its wonderful story-based games, and suddenly they were gone. Worse, for a year there was no head, and then the new head was Matthew Bromberg. No offense to him at all, especially since he was general manager of BioWare Austin for about a year before taking the job, but he was also known as being the former head of Major League Gaming. His specialty wasn’t in what BioWare was known for and what made it great.
This was followed by the exit of some of BioWare’s greatest writers. I mean, when you think of BioWare, which games come to mind? Are you waxing nostalgic about titles like Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age: Origins, and Mass Effect 2? Or are you really hyped about things like Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes, Command & Conquer: Generals 2, and Mass Effect: Andromeda? I think its rather obvious. With Mass Effect’s Casey Hudson, Dragon Age’s David Gaider, and Mass Effect and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic’s Drew Karpyshyn gone, it seems all the talent behind BioWare’s defining feature has abandoned the company.
Then, there’s the history of the company’s recent games. We have one cancellation, one flop, and one that is hardly inspiring any fervor or loyalty. Shadow Realms was teased and hyped up as an asymmetrical multiplayer game with action-RPG elements. For about a year, it seemed like a good thing. Then, it was canceled. Mass Effect: Andromeda was supposed to introduce us to a whole new element of the Mass Effect universe. Instead, it felt like a buggy, rushed effort that focused on busywork over actual storytelling.
And now we have Anthem. While Karpyshyn is appearing as a contributor, all initial footage suggests it shuns things that BioWare fans have loved. It has people working with up to four “squad members” in Javelin exosuits as they explore an area and fight enemies. No mention of specific characters has been made. There has been no world-building hype. Even though it is supposed to be released in 2018, we know precious little about it. The last time such a thing happened, we ended up getting Mass Effect: Andromeda.
Finally, there is EA’s overall demeanor. BioWare Montreal was turned into a support team and combined with EA Motive after Mass Effect: Andromeda. EA canceled the Visceral Games’ single-player, linear Star Wars game. In fact, the company almost only focuses on games with multiplayer elements included now. And it has no qualms about shuttering studios it has acquired, with Visceral being the most recent fatality.
It may make people worry for BioWare’s future. Everything we are seeing isn’t encouraging. Anthem isn’t causing much of a stir. EA has a bad track record with its developers. A lot of key staff members have already abandoned ship. And the last few years, we haven’t seen a standout game like Mass Effect 2 or even Dragon Age: Inquisition. This seem rather ominous.