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    Shadow Realms: BioWare takes a first stab at episodic storytelling, and another at co-op action.

    I think BioWare’s presence is going to ramp up significantly over the next few years. We’ve had Dragon Age: Inquisition, we know there’s a new Mass Effect on the way, Star Wars lives in the EA stable now, and the original  Mass Effect  team is creating some kind of  all-new series. If you’re partial to brilliant, story-driven RPGs, prepare to be buttered up by the nipples in BioWare over the next two years. Shadow Realms is yet another new thing from the studio, this time from The Old Republic team in Austin, Texas.

    In this 4vs1 co-op action-RPG, players move through a gothic modern fantasy world while a dungeon master sets the parameters of the challenges they face. The GM’s powers include laying traps, manipulating enemies and even playing with the environment to ensure that games don’t always feel the same. The combat looks well within the range of  Dragon Age ’s real-time melee, and players can customise their hero’s combat in diverse ways it sounds like the upgrade options are built around your specialities as a player, as opposed to being class-based. The dungeon masters, known here as Shadowlords, have their own upgrade systems, too. The action looks refined and the animations look on a par with Dragon Age and Mass Effect. I’m really looking forward to the alpha when that kicks off this year.

    The promise for me with Shadow Realms lies in the storytelling structure, which BioWare equates to a TV show. The game will be released in some kind of episodic form, with cliffhangers and developing characters that aim to provoke an ongoing dialogue about the tale being told. Episodic BioWare? Sounds to me like new ground for the talented teams there. I’m in.

    The contrast in the imagery of the setting is appealing, too. Shadow Realms is set partly on Earth and partly in a mystical (read: European-looking) realm called Embra, apparently a world with bomb-squad clerics and wizards wielding machine guns.

    By the summer of 2014, BioWare had already written 30 episodes, and the finished story will come with the developer’s trademark romance and choice options. How it will be sold is still a mystery but I see enormous promise in BioWare’s attempt to branch out.

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