Yesterday’s cryptic Mass Effect tease revealed precious little about what we can actually expect from the upcoming sequel, but it did make one thing very clear for me: BioWare really doesn’t understand what a mess it’s currently in.
A complex ARG, an ominous countdown, and not one but three thin clips in lieu of an actual trailer or announcement; this is the kind of teasing of your fanbase you can do when you’re flying high, when anticipation is it at its peak and it can be taken for granted that you’ve got something special cooking. This is Rockstar-announcing-GTA-6 behaviour. It’s the kind of thing FromSoftware could get away with when they reveal the Elden Ring DLC. It’s what you do when you’re taking your victory lap.
BioWare, I have deeply loved so many of your games, but you are not taking your victory lap right now. In fact, you should probably still be on your apology tour.
Let’s be clear—this isn’t a one-off. For the last four years, BioWare has shown more cryptic teasers than it has any actual signs of life. This latest round is basically just a repeat of last year, and it’s been doing the exact same nonsense with the next Dragon Age for even longer. Whether it’s showing a logo, a bit of concept art, or a bit of puzzling audio, the technique is the same: a long, anticipation-stoking build up to revealing nothing of substance. At first it might have been intriguing; at this point, it feels like toying with the fanbase.
The BioWare of 2023 is not the BioWare you remember. It’s been over a decade since Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect 2. A lot has changed since those days. Founders Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka are long gone, along with key talent such as David Gaider, Drew Karpshyn, Matt Goldman, Mac Walters, Mark Darrah, and others. In other words, the creative leads and writers who built these settings we love. More recently, BioWare chucked another 50 of its employees, including Mary Kirby, who had been a writer on Dragon Age since its inception, creating Varric and the Qunari. That’s not to say there are no veterans of the good old days left, but you’re looking at a very different group of people than the one that made the studio’s greatest hits.
(Image credit: Electronic Arts)
Meanwhile, a simple look at the studio’s recent track record should raise concerns. In 2019, we got Anthem, the biggest disaster in the studio’s history. In 2017 we got Andromeda, the second biggest. In 2015, the studio cancelled ambitious new project Shadow Realms.
Even before that the studio was on uneven ground. There was a lot to like about 2014’s Inquisition, but also lots of valid criticism to be made; 2012’s Mass Effect 3 likewise has its strengths but also an ending so widely despised the studio made the unprecedented move of retroactively changing it after release; and 2011’s Dragon Age 2 is… well, it’s a 94% of course, not sure why I included that one. Ahem.
You have to get all the way back to 2010 to Mass Effect 2 to get an unequivocal hit. That’s 13 years since we could last say a BioWare game was good without a “but…”. Hell, it’s almost 10 years since BioWare released something it didn’t have to issue multiple public apologies for. Hope is a wonderful thing, but at a certain point you have to face the idea that things have not been going well for a long time now.
(Image credit: BioWare)
Faced with that reality, BioWare should be feeling humble—and focusing its efforts on winning back our trust. It should be showing, not telling; giving us a glimpse of the new Mass Effect and Dragon Age games when it has something substantial to reveal that might help dispel the real and valid concerns of fans. What it should not be doing is messing people about for the sake of a three second reveal of a fancy space coat.
It’s big talk from a studio that is yet to give us a reason to believe it can still back that up, exploiting the long-standing love people have for the two series by doing just enough farting about each year to keep them both in the news. Mass Effect and Dragon Age fans: you deserve better than this drawn-out breadcrumb trail that may well be leading nowhere.
I sincerely hope both Dragon Age: Dreadwolf and this new Mass Effect are great RPGs. I’m more than ready to dive back into both settings, and I’m not so jaded I wouldn’t embrace a modern BioWare victory. But this constant, substance-less teasing… it’s not just frustrating, it’s arrogant, and beyond my concerns for the quality of both games, I now worry that leadership at the studio doesn’t even realise how much there is still to prove. It’s long past time to let an N7 Day or two go past in silence, until both games are actually ready to speak for themselves.