A new Kotaku report (opens in new tab) on the history and current status of the next Dragon Age game reveals old plans for an ambitious and intriguing RPG, code-named Joplin, that would have prioritized "choice and consequence," rather than simplistic fetch quests, in a game world smaller than Dragon Age: Inquisition, but deeper and more reactive. Alas, that vision of the game allegedly fell victim to the ol' double-whammy of Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem.
In its place, according to the report, is a rebooted game intended to be a better fit with Electronic Arts' mandate to develop "games as a service," which evolve—and can be monetized—for years after their initial release. Instead of using the tools and pipelines established for Dragon Age: Inquisition as was originally planned, the rebooted game—code-named Morrison—will be built on Anthem's codebase, and will feature a "live service component, built for long-term gameplay and revenue," something that did not figure into Joplin.
It's not clear how much of the original idea will be inherited by the new game, but the report notes that Mike Laidlaw, the creative director on the Dragon Age series up to that point, left BioWare shortly after the reboot. BioWare general manager Casey Hudson said in early 2018 that the game will be "story and character focused," however, and that describing it as "live" simply means "designing a game for continued storytelling after the main story."
Bear in mind that Dragon Age 4, or whatever it ends up being called, is still very early in development, and none of this is carved in stone. Some BioWare staff have reportedly described Morrison as "Anthem with dragons," but others say that's not an accurate depiction. One source told Kotaku that the main story would be designed as a singleplayer experience, while multiplayer would aim to keep players coming back for post-release content, although that sounds more like a conventional DLC model, or like Mass Effect's multiplayer, rather than a 'games as a service' game like Anthem or Apex Legends.
The amorphous state of the next Dragon Age game was emphasized by the teaser that appeared at the Game Awards at the tail-end of 2018, which didn't even mention the series by name. A "live" game of some sort seems likely—why else build it on Anthem?—but it's clear that we're still a very long way from specifics. One current employee summed up the current situation very aptly: "I know it's going to change like five times in the next two years."
Hopefully BioWare returns to form in time. Its games feature prominently in our list of the best RPGs of all time (opens in new tab).