The Grey Wardens, the Inquisition, and the Elder Gods have collectively developed a loving community of loyal fans since BioWare's first instalment in the Dragon Age franchise released in November of 2009. Today, as a decade has passed, however, the relationship between the fans, the studio behind the franchise, and the studio's mother company EA has turned sour. To delve deeper into the issues with both the studio and the Dragon Age franchise we have to dial back the clock 10 long years.
When BioWare released the first Dragon Age game, Dragon Age: Origins, they were already on top of the world. With one successful game launch after the other, boasting massive games such as Baldur's Gate, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and Mass Effect in its arsenal, the developer had the RPG crowd in its firm grasp. Back then, and for many years to come, BioWare was seen as the biggest genre giant out there, and for good reason. After people had fallen in love with intergalactic protagonist (or antagonist, depending on your in-game choices) Shepard, the developer switched its focus towards the fantasy fans, letting people experience a grand, dark story revolving around honour, fantasy creatures, and fighting for what's right in a world in turmoil.
The player took on the role of a self-made, customisable character with a varied list of possible backstories to bestow upon them, as was the BioWare way. Creating your own hero was, of course, one of the big reasons why fans were so passionate about the game, and the release took genre fans and critics by storm, quickly being seen as a pillar of the RPG genre and its deep companion system. Paired with Mass Effect, it made the studio stand out a little extra. Dragon Age: Origins had it all - a grand story, the perfect setting, loveable characters, and a fresh combat system where the player could switch between characters and even change the camera view for tactical combat. BioWare had, with the deep narrative, the romance options, and the customisation options offered, ensured that Dragon Age was a one-of-a-kind adventure with plenty of potential for future entries in the series.
Dragon Age: Origins (dark)spawned no less than seven DLC packs, a companion approval system tweak, and one grand expansion within a year post-release. BioWare looked to the future of the series alongside developing and releasing fan-favourite sequel Mass Effect 2, a future that would somewhat split the fanbase, with some deeming the follow-up less of an RPG than the original.
While the development goal for Dragon Age II was to improve the Dragon Age: Origins formula, the game was on the end of a major backlash after its release in 2011, despite its praise from critics. Fans criticised the major change to the original combat (despite this having been the main complaint of the original game), as well as the weak origin choices, the enemies of the game, spawn-mechanics, and the lack of fresh environments. The sequel to the beloved original had been streamlined, and by making that change, BioWare lost a lot of its hardcore audience, gaining new ones from within the more casual crowd. The dawn of BioWare's inclusive stance on romance-options, however, started with Dragon Age II. The player - who stepped into the shoes of a human Fifth Blight refugee and soon-to-be Champion of Kirkwall called Hawke - had plenty of options when it came to wooing a special someone. As is often the case when a developer tries to be open-minded, there was some pushback, and BioWare started receiving complaints about the lack of romance options for the "core base of players". BioWare did, and still do, make sure to add options for people of all preferences and sexualities, and the studio promptly shot down the complaints, standing up for the LGBTQ+ community, and that fact has since been praised and appreciated by gamers of all types, being one of the reasons why the studio's games hold such a special place in so many hearts across the world.
After four DLCs released for Dragon Age II, BioWare moved into somewhat uncharted territory with Dragon Age: Inquisition, switching the linear narrative for open world exploration. Having released the Mass Effect game that brought mixed feelings from fans with its abrupt ending and unworthy farewell to the beloved Shepard earlier in 2012, Mass Effect 3, Inquisition was officially announced, and it would bring major changes to all aspects of the now-franchise.
The linear experience was gone with Inquisition. BioWare instead opted for a massive open world for the player to explore, and fans got a lot more content, a crazy amount of new additions such as the extensive crafting system, and a roughly 50-hour long storyline (and that's not counting the side-missions and optional content). However, while they got a lot, fans didn't get much that they had actually asked for. The criticism of the changes has since been dismissed by others as a direct factor of nostalgia, where fans have such a strong connection to an original game that they have a hard time appreciating what comes next in a series.
The additions, such as the multiplayer mode and the War Table operations, were somewhat separate from the core game, rendering them optional content that the player wouldn't notice if they weren't looking for them. As for the story, setting, actions and consequences, and characters - which make up the very essence of Dragon Age - these aspects of the game received praise. After the identity crisis of the series after the launch of Dragon Age II, the developer had taken a step back in a sense, while at the same time moving a console generation forward and focusing more on narrative. That said, some fans believed that the open world took something away from the DA experience. The main protagonist, gaining the title of Inquisitor, was customisable in terms of race, gender, morality, and cause and effect would once again be a big focus.
Dragon Age: Inquisition reintroduced some companions and NPCs from the previous games, with most of these being praised for their depth, while fan-favourite bard Leliana received a change in personality, albeit one that was warranted. The most notable character added to the series was Solas, who would come to play a big part, both in the story of Inquisition, its last DLC The Trespasser, and the upcoming Dragon Age 4. This fact was somewhat controversial considering The Trespasser, which was a purchasable DLC, added to the story of The Dread Wolf which would later be confirmed as the main focus of the upcoming release of Dragon Age 4, essentially rendering those who didn't purchase the DLC somewhat clueless about what was coming next.
As for development, the team behind Inquisition encountered a massive bump in the road with the switch from the Eclipse engine to Frostbite, forcing the team to not only bring Dragon Age to modern-day consoles, patch up the wounds still left open by the criticism of Dragon Age II, and expand the universe with an open world, but to do all of that in an engine that wasn't as familiar to them.
Following the release of the overall much-appreciated Dragon Age: Inquisition followed a hefty amount of controversy, not necessarily tying back to the Dragon Age development at BioWare, but definitely impacting the work on what was to come. Mass Effect: Andromeda, the BioWare game that followed Inquisition, received a massive backlash both from fans and critics, with some going so far as to state that the sci-fi RPG "killed" the franchise that had been one of the more prolific role-playing experience of all time. Not only did the criticism centre on technical issues, visuals, and the overall role-playing elements, Andromeda's companions, narrative, and the consequence-based gameplay were dumbed down according to many, essentially resulting in bad sales, fan-disappointment, and cancelled narrative DLCs.