The Frostbite engine doesn't seem to be working terribly well for EA anymore, with many of Battlefield 2042's woes blamed on the in-house technology. News that the as of yet unnamed upcoming Mass Effect sequel is snubbing it in favor of Unreal 5 doesn't exactly paint any prettier a picture of things.
BioWare already has a less than rosy history with Frostbite. The first three Mass Effect games and first two Dragon Age games were developed in Unreal 3 and Eclipse, but when EA mandated a switch to Frostbite on all projects, subsequent games were hurt.
Dragon Age 2 lost an expansion, Dragon Age Inquisition had its fair share of issues, and Mass Effect: Andromeda... well, yeah, we all know that story. While the Frostbite engine wasn't the sole factor to be blamed for the title's issues, it definitely did not help. BioWare's loss of popularity in recent years could arguably be aligned with the switch to Frostbite, even.
While there have definitely been good games over the years running on Frostbite, the engine just doesn't seem to click as well as some other, more ubiquitous tech. This must also be the conclusion BioWare arrived to, as they're switching gears and developing the next Mass Effect in Unreal 5.
First appearing in a job listing for Associate Technical Director at BioWare, calling for experience with Unreal Engine 4 and 5, the news took off soon after. While the job listing itself didn't directly name Mass Effect, Brenon Holmes who is currently a producer on the project, did.
In a Tweet signal boosting the job listing, Holmes once again brought attention to the experience with Unreal that the position requires - and even added an Unreal engine tag to the Tweet - while stating outright that the position is related to the next Mass Effect game.
— Brenon Holmes (@BrenonHolmes) December 17, 2021
While this is already pretty cut and dry, there was another job listing posted a while ago - since taken down, possibly due to being filled - seeking a "franchise director" which once again included in its copy that experience with Unreal Engine 4+ would be "an asset" for applicants.
Also on Twitter, known industry insider Jeff Grubb also chipped in to specifically confirm that Unreal Engine 5 will be used for the game, and that this choice was made by the dev team rather than higher-ups. This sort of decision making being left to the actual developers bodes well for the project, as does the return to Unreal. While not a guarantee that the next Mass Effect will soar where Andromeda flopped, we've definitely got more reason to hope now than before.
— Jeff Grubb (@JeffGrubb) December 18, 2021
Even so, this seems to be an isolated case rather than a sign of EA moving away from Frostbite. Developing an in-house engine is a huge investment, and despite some issues it has hardly been enough of a train wreck to warrant phasing out broadly. For example, Dragon Age 4 is sticking to Frostbite.
We still don't know a whole lot about this upcoming continuation of Mass Effect, and while BioWare released some more teasers on N7 day earlier this year, details are still thin - it's at least clear that there will be a much stronger, direct connection with the original trilogy than there was in the case of Andromeda, which distanced itself a whole galaxy from Shepard's saga.
It seems that this game will be a return to form in more ways than one, not only veering back to some familiar characters and locations, but also being built on similar technical foundations - hopefully the next Mass Effect will take from the trilogy its quality as well.