As an RPG fan, when you hear that BioWare will be announcing a new IP, you tend to sit up and listen. The new IP was teased with an ARG leading up to the game’s announcement at Gamescom 2014. Dubbed Shadow Realms, BioWare’s new IP was to have been a 4v1 asymmetric multiplayer action RPG set in modern times with a healthy dose of magic tossed in. The goal was to recreate the pen-and-paper dungeon crawl experience with players going up against the Shadowlord, who was essentially the dungeon master. This didn’t really come through in the announcement trailer, however. I remember thinking to myself, “Wait. That’s it?” after watching it. It all looked, well, fairly hum-drum and generic. A cursory glance across the interwebs resulted in similar head scratching reactions from gamers.
For me, things didn’t actually click until I got a chance to sample the game for myself at PAX Prime 2014. I wrote all about it at length, but to sum things up, I found myself really enjoying the slice of the game I got to play. After playing a couple of rounds, I could really see myself having fun in Shadow Realms with friends back home once the game finally released.
Speaking of release, BioWare surprised everyone when they announced that were essentially going to take a sort of Early Access approach to the game’s development by inviting people to the alpha much earlier than usual in order to really take advantage of player feedback. It made things all the more bizarre when months rolled on by and there wasn’t a peep from BioWare on alpha plans. If things weren’t looking good for the game, why even announce any of that? Odd.
Updates from the team were less and less frequent and eventually, rumors surfaced that suggested Shadow Realms was being rebooted altogether. Finally, it all came to a head this week when BioWare Austin general manager Jeff Hickman announced that the studio was ceasing development on Shadow Realms in order to focus on assisting existing projects such as Dragon Age: Inquisition, the next Mass Effect game, other unnamed new IP, and, of course, focus on the studio’s bread-and-butter, Star Wars: The Old Republic.
The short period of time between Shadow Realms’ announcement and its subsequent cancelation has left me back where I started: scratching my head. I can’t help but wonder what went on internally to make for such a sudden shift within a couple of months. Was the game not received as well as the studio hoped for in the press or by fans at shows? Or was this a simple business calculation having to do with resources? I suppose we’ll never know.
Maybe Shadow Realms was a disaster internally; I don’t know. What I can tell you is that the version I got to play was fun. Even though my time with the game was fairly brief, it scratched that itch for me. That itch you hope to find in any new game, the one that keeps you coming back over and over. I don’t know that Shadow Realms was going to take the world by storm – but I do think that if BioWare had a gem on its hands, it’s a shame that gamers out there won’t ever have a chance to see it for themselves.
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