Back in 2012, BioWare started working on a dream that would initially captivate millions in the gaming industry – a promise of an open-world game that would rise and thrive in the market. Makers of the game claimed, at the time, that ‘this to-be mammoth would give the players the ultimate Iron Man fantasy’. Promises were thrown around like pennies – fly around in your own mech, meet other players in the world, go on life-altering quests, and unravel a gorgeous open world.
When the game launched, the only thing players unraveled was their newfound fear of pre-ordering half-baked experiences that never lived up to their name. This is the story of Anthem, the synergized failure of BioWare and EA.
Exo-suits and dreams that didn’t take off
BioWare is better known for Mass Effect, the sci-fi epic that changed how modern games told a story. The company made a name for itself by creating elaborate, narrative-focused RPGs that bring its artistic ideas to life. Anthem, however, was a decision that deeply damaged BioWare’s legacy.
The game got off to a rocky start, with a variety of problems, some of which were fixed while others were abandoned. Anthem fell short due to connectivity issues, glitches, inconsistent loot, and structural issues. Although some of these issues were resolved with post-launch updates, the game’s poor support service ultimately killed it.
Too often, the biggest failure of live-service titles is the lack of attention they receive, as ironic as that may sound. These games ask for their developers to constantly nourish the game world with new content, patches, and quality-of-life updates.
The post-launch roadmap for Anthem was often derailed by features that were either abandoned or delayed and released far too slowly. A looter-shooter that lacks an engaging, replayable endgame is a sure-shot way to an early grave. In contrast, this is what games like Destiny 2 get right. Anthem’s development was a lesson EA and BioWare had to learn the hard way, but it didn’t have to be like that.
Some of the problems can be broken down into:
While Destiny and Anthem were popular choices for those who wanted live service shooters, BioWare’s core fans – who were still upset over “Mass Effect: Andromeda” in 2017 – wanted the developer to go back on track and deliver the much anticipated Dragon Age: Inquisition sequel. Anthem had a famously complicated production process, and only EA and a small group of BioWare developers were fully invested in it. The resignation of lead developer Casey Hudson, whose direction was essential to Mass Effect’’s success, was one of the game’s major problems. Then there was EA’s demand that BioWare keep using the cumbersome Frostbite engine, which had already given rise to several technical difficulties during the creation of Dragon Age: Inquisition. Not only did Anthem struggle with a live-service model, it also didn’t set solid expectations with its player base. It never clearly knows where to put its focus and what to deliver.
The planned update roadmap for BioWare had to be scrapped. People who already owned the game weren’t returning to it, and neither were new gamers. But BioWare was compelled to concentrate on Anthem’s significant technical challenges rather than turning its attention to updating the content. It took BioWare almost six months after the game’s release to even attempt to make the necessary repairs because the game was still in need of finishing touches. It was obvious that BioWare sought to emulate Hello Games’ success with No Man’s Sky with Anthem.
Dealing with abandonment
The game was unable to locate a player base. People didn’t want to buy or play the game at all, let alone spend money on the numerous microtransactions that EA relies on and which are the whole reason the business has been promoting live service. Simply put, EA and BioWare were unable to identify a core player base for Anthem that would support the prolonged expense of development. What, then, could Anthem have done differently? What can other game designers learn from this? Perhaps Anthem wouldn’t be in this situation right now if it had opted for a freemium business model sooner. It desperately wanted to be Destiny, and BioWare should have developed the game like Bungie did – expand as a free-to-play game.
Vast but shallow gameplay
Other than its management, bugs and planning, Anthem had another major issue that couldn’t be solved easily – how vast it wanted to be considering how empty the game world truly was. All of the things they BioWare promised you could do weren’t included, despite their assurances.
At the time, it looked like Anthem hadn’t delivered when compared to games like Destiny, Fortnite, and World of Warcraft, which have attracted large player bases that spend hours crafting unique in-game goods and building their characters.
These games didn’t serve as competition simply because they were successful, they were huge worlds that kept the player’s interest with all the things you could do in the world. For example, with Destiny, there were dungeons, co-op quests, quality loot and of course, the classic Raids. With Fortnite, you had multiple game modes, evolving seasons with new gameplay mechanics and a map that kept changing. Anthem couldn’t match up to the hype of these games purely on a gameplay level.
A disheartening failure
As people who love video games, we also admire the potential of great ideas. Anthem had some clever tricks up its sci-fi fantasy pocket, and we were all for it. Anthem had immense potential; it was just a great game with poor management.
Even if the mission diversity did not improve, the combat was worth the time. On the strength of the gunplay, even the most dull and repetitive missions felt tolerable, entertaining even.
There is a compelling case to be made for Anthem – it features some of the best looter-shooter combat the genre has ever seen. Every Javelin (exo-suits from the world of Anthem) delivered an engaging gameplay experience, but the Storm Javelin stood out for its striking appearance and powerful punch. It was always thrilling to experience the uniqueness of each Javelin.
Despite being underused, Anthem’s world-building and characters nonetheless stood out. The game has stunning visuals and a strikingly memorable art direction right away. This might have been another landmark sci-fi game, like Mass Effect, had BioWare been permitted to explore Anthem’s universe in a new setting.
The bitter end
Some players still believed in this game despite the unimpressive reviews and slow sales. Anthem did, after all, function well on its basic game design elements. The combat was exciting and engaging, and soaring around the exotic biomes while wearing an exo-suit could be really exciting.
The main problem was the filling around the margins, which was frequently annoying and malfunctioning. But BioWare could course-correct only if they made a sincere effort. For this reason, a release date for the rumored Anthem Next, a complete overhaul of the game’s entire loop, was eagerly awaited by players.
Anthem Next could change the game’s course and rekindle interest, much like No Man’s Sky did following its similarly rough launch. Sadly, EA revealed later that it would be altogether abandoning Anthem, turning off the hook on what once was its most eagerly awaited release. Thousands of fans were left in the dust.
The truth is – video games like Anthem die when developers abandon ship and players are left on the servers by themselves, regardless of what the game’s legacy is. There’s a similar case to be made for Titanfall 2’s multiplayer – an excellent game with great potential that was eventually abandoned by the people who made it.
It’s one thing to let go of a project you love, but it’s another to abandon the potential of it completely. That was, unfortunately, the fate Anthem suffered.