The clock is running out on a relaunch of the maligned “Anthem” experiment.
According to a “Bloomberg” report earlier this week, executives at EA will meet with Bioware developers working on an update to the game to ultimately decide whether additional money and resources should be dedicated to fixing the game, or whether the plug should be unceremoniously pulled — finally shutting down work on what was supposed to be EA’s prized games-as-a-service title.
“Anthem” released in early 2019, and was supposed to be EA’s answer to “Destiny” — a live-service game that would combine action gameplay and RPG elements to induce that desire to grind endlessly for hours on end for new loot. The world was to evolve constantly to tell new stories, offer players new adventures and eventually expand the lore and universe of “Anthem.” It was supposed to be a refined “Destiny,” but somehow launched in even worse condition than “Destiny” in 2014 — an accomplishment in itself.
Bioware launched “Anthem” with a broken loot system, a half-finished campaign and a plethora of broken promises and outright lies compared to footage and promises offered pre-launch. Players quickly discovered that attributes and perks assigned to weapons and armor didn’t even work as they were supposed to in-game. The campaign, which could be played solo or with other players, was unfinished and just ended without another word. Settlements and combat areas originally shown to be packed with content, characters and enemies in trailers and gameplay demonstrations were noticeably barren. The game was rushed out the door, unfinished, despite a development period that stretched longer than five years.
But if there’s one thing that the video game industry loves more than an abject failure to lampoon, it’s a comeback story. “Anthem” was poised to be the new “Destiny” in more ways than one. If Bungie Studios could go back and “fix” “Destiny,” which is an admittedly questionable development, surely Bioware could do the same. All the studio needed was its own “The Taken King” expansion to smooth over some of the biggest issues and add content. After all, the gameplay structure of “Anthem” was solid and fun. There’s still nothing really like it in the market today, with its emphasis on heavy armor combat with flying capabilities. The skeleton is there, it just needed to be finished.
For the last two years, Bioware has dedicated a staff of about 30 people to work on fixing the game with what would be called “Anthem Next.” This includes refining the campaign, overhauling the loot system, fixing the absolute bare bones post-game content and essentially relaunching the game in the state that it should have been at launch. If you think that sounds like a massive undertaking for such a small team, you’re right. According to the report, the team would need to be “at least” tripled in size in order to fulfill its vision. That combined with the increase in budget that would be needed, the fate of “Anthem Next” looks grim.
There’s still reason to hold out a little hope, though. “No Man’s Sky” is perhaps the posterboy for disastrous launches. That game was an absolute shell of what was promised. Nearly five years later, it’s not only one of the most feature complete games of its type, it’s one of the most enduring and addicting titles on the market, and continues to sell well.
If Bioware and EA could capture just a little of the magic that rebuilt “No Man’s Sky” and somewhat salvaged “Destiny,” “Anthem” could really become something. But the major difference is those two developers were focused solely on fixing their broken products. EA and Bioware don’t need “Anthem” to be a success.
This past year has seen Bioware announce major progress on the already-announced “Dragon Age 4.” The studio also announced full production on a new “Mass Effect” title that will serve as a sequel to the original trilogy, rather than a spinoff, like “Mass Effect Andromeda.” Both of those titles serve good chances selling extremely well — should they be quality launches — and could put Bioware back on the map. “Anthem,” which regularly sells for $5-10 right now, seems more like an albatross around the neck of its developer and publisher. It would be nice to see the game resurrected to showcase its full potential, but it seems the industry and the public have moved on from “Anthem.” It might be best served as a cautionary tale for developers and publishers trying to carve out their own “Destiny” or live service game, without the discipline and dedication to make it work.
Josh Rouse lives in Lawton and writes a weekly gaming column for The Lawton Constitution.