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The RPG Files: Bioware Reveals Never-Ending RPG

Column By Christopher Coke on August 16, 2014

Welcome back to the RPG Files, the column where roleplay gamers fly their geek flags proud. Our biggest story this goes right to Bioware with their announcement of Shadow Realms. It sounds like they’re going back to their roots with a fresh, modern spin and we couldn’t be more excited. We also have fresh news straight from Gamescom 2014, so gather your party and join us as we adventure through the stories below!

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If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you love or have loved Bioware in your past. With epics such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect under their belt, it’s hard not to be a Bioware fan of some sort. The company has been teasing us with its “You’ve Been Chosen” trailers for weeks now, most recently focusing on Fire. The wait has finally paid off with their announcement of Shadow Realms at this year’s Gamescom.

Shadow Realms is an interesting departure for Bioware in a number of ways. The first, and probably most fundamental, is that the game will focus on online multiplayer and blend four-player cooperative play with PVP. It’s also set in modern times, which is a first for the company, and opens up new avenues for urban fantasy that they’ve never been able to explore before. The game focuses on a reality that extends far beyond our understanding, where “impossible realms” are reached by “hidden pathways separate our existence from a spiraling and ancient world” where “magic, legends, and monsters that inspired our myths are real.” If you liked The Secret World, this looks like the kind of game for you.

What I love about this is that Bioware is beating the drum on how they want Shadow Realms to bring tabletop gaming into the digital age. They wanted to create a story that can go on forever, just like a good DM can keep a campaign going for months and even years, so the game will be episodic and continually built upon. Players will need to party up and go on adventures inspired by the developer’s tabletop experiences: explore “dungeons,” kill monsters, collect treasure, and move through a deep story. All the while a fifth player follows them, hidden in the shadows. This is where PVP comes in.

Bioware wasn’t happy with how, well, shallow AI is compared to an actual dungeon master planning the traps and tactically challenging his players. Shadow Realms’ answer to that is the Shadowlord. While four players team up to succeed, the fifth player tries to stop them at all costs. This player enters the game as the shadowlord, a character-type with its own full story and progression system, and has the power to set traps, cast spells, summon monsters, or even inhabit those monsters to crush the team under his shadowy boot. The shadowlord remains completely invisible to the group until he chooses to reveal himself.

It’s probably clear that I’m super excited about this game. Bioware rose to greatness by sticking close to its tabletop roots. Neverwinter Nights remains one of my favorite RPGs of all time and I spent hours poring over the instruction manual, inadvertently falling in love with the Dungeons and Dragons ruleset it was based on. The prospect of a Bioware story that never ends, especially one set in a twisted, parallel version of modern day, just tickles me. Funcom’s The Secret World showed us how cool and compelling that setting can be and it’s exciting to imagine what the full might of Bioware’s story team might do with it.

That said, there is certainly more that we need to know. The problem with imbalanced PVP games (see, Evolve) is that it’s difficult to make everyone’s experience equally fun. Will everyone want to be the necessarily overpowered Shadowlord? And how overpowered will they actually be? Shadow Realms sounds like it depends on everyone working together to have a good time. Too few limits could mean griefing while and too many will make Shadowlord uninteresting. It’s a delicate balance Bioware will need to be careful with.

Thankfully, they’re promising transparency, so we should get a good idea on all of this as it moves along. Sign up for the alpha already!

In other news:

Casey Hudson has left Bioware. You might remember Casey from his work Knights of the Old Republic, Neverwinter Nights, or any of the Mass Effect games. He describes this as “hitting the reset button” on his career after making sure that Bioware’s new IP, presumably Shadow Realms, had its foundations firmly set.

Before moving on from Bioware, you should also check out the latest trailer for Dragon Age: Inquisition titled “The Enemy of Thedas.” In a surprising turn, Hawke, the protagonist from Dragon Age 2 makes an appearance, indicating that Bioware intends to pull together at least some of the threads from its misguided middle-chapter in the Dragon Age trilogy.

Obsidian Entertainment has secured the rights for the Pathfinder RPG. There was a time when I might have been concerned about Obsidian working on such an iconic RPG (Alpha Protocol, anyone?), but they’ve been knocking it out of the park for some time now with games like South Park: The Stick of Truth and Pillars of Eternity. We don’t know what their plans are yet but it’s exciting to see more movement in the Pathfinder universe.

Dead Island 2 released a new trailer featuring such memorable lines as “come for the sun, stay for the slaughter.” And slaughter they do. This is a gory trailer. Then again, this is an RPG based on creatively dismembering mass amounts of zombies, so… fitting? Someone needs to explain to me how California is a dead “island” though.

Might and Magic Heroes VII was announced, making it the mightiest of all if my math is correct. No release date yet.

Get your thumbs ready, mobile fans, because Dragon Quest IV is on its way to iOS and Android. The game will feature all five chapters and 40+ hours of gameplay, plus an improved interface and party talk to chat with party members.

Last but not least, Destiny revealed a new trailer focusing on cooperative multiplayer to Gamescom attendees. It’s time to buy a console PC fans. It’s a bubble bath of multiplatform love over here and you’re invited to share in the suds.

Before we go, just a brief programming note that the Friday edition of this column may be taking a short, two-week break as I settle into a new career. Thank you for understanding and let us know what you think of the stories above in the comments section!


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Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.

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