Bioware owner EA’s pre-Gamescom press conference last night didn’t bring any additional news about the still-vague Mass effect 4but it did bring the surprise announcement of a very different kind of game from the studio best known for epic single-player RPGs. Shady realms is more directly inspired by tabletop RPGs, pitting a single “Shadowlord” (read: Dungeon Master) against a team of four heroes from the usual array of RPG classes in a trap-filled dungeon.
In an announcement post, lead designer James Ohlen notes that while previous Bioware RPGs have been successful in their own right, “The stories always come to an end and AI systems cannot replace the creativity of a human Dungeon Master. Shady realms wants to change that.”
However, unlike a traditional Dungeon Master, the Shadowlord is in Shady realms will not be an all-seeing almighty force hovering over the battlefield and controlling dice. Instead, as Bioware explains, he or she will roam the dungeon halls invisibly from an over-the-shoulder perspective, “setting traps, casting spells, summoning monsters, and controlling every monster in the level.”
It’s unclear how much control the Shadowlord will have over the game’s story potential at this point. Bioware will have some control over the overarching story, which follows a group of characters from the “real world” to the fantasy-infused realm of Embra. The company says it plans to regularly release “cliffhanger episodes” for players, which look a lot like pen-and-paper RPG modules you could buy. We suspect that players have only nominal control over how the story plays out in these episodes, but this is the studio that brought us the highly customizable RPG scenarios of Never winter nightsso everything is possible.
By requiring an online connection and the bickering of four friends (or strangers) to play, Shady realms might put some fans off the more solitary, story-based deep dives that Bioware is traditionally known for. Still, it’s always nice to see a big-name studio step out of its comfort zone and try something new, both in terms of gameplay and game world.