“Anthem” isn’t quite dead — yet.
Bioware launched the highly-anticipated online loot shooter nearly a year ago, and it hasn’t been pretty. What was planned to be the next “Destiny” — or “Destiny” killer as some overzealous individuals labeled it — has been anything but. The only thing it’s managed to kill is what remained of the reputation of Bioware after longstanding issues popped up in the ending of “Mass Effect 3,” the downright boring “Dragon Age Inquisition” and “Mass Effect Andromeda.”
“Anthem” was supposed to be the game that turned everything around. Instead, it became a comedy of errors. Pre-release gameplay footage that showed impressive social areas packed with NPCs, creating a living and breathing world, turned out to be fake. The massive exploration areas filled with random enemies, massive bosses and a cool and interesting atmosphere were a complete fabrication. Even the gameplay, which looked smooth and intense, was a shell of what was promised. It’s as if the entire game was rebooted with little time to put it back together before release. If a report from gaming news site Kotaku is to be believed, that’s exactly what happened.
As players dug deeper into the gameplay, they discovered weapon and armor stats — the basics of loot shooters — were broken and didn’t work as they were supposed to. Bioware promised a lot of major upgrades and fixes in the weeks and months following launch. Those never came. The roadmap of content that the studio had laid out went unfulfilled. It seemed as if “Anthem” was dead. Its price dropped to the single digits on Black Friday; and even that couldn’t encourage enough people to buy it. As some sort of testament to Bioware’s failure of maintaining “Anthem,” Christmas decorations still remain up in the game this week.
But Bioware maintains the game is not dead. In a blog post Monday afternoon, studio head Casey Hudson, the man behind “Mass Effect,” announced that the studio was going to “reinvent” “Anthem.”
“Over the coming months, we will be focusing on a longer-term redesign of the experience, specifically working to reinvent the core gameplay loop with clear goals, motivating challenges and progression with meaningful rewards — while preserving the fun of flying and fighting in a vast science-fantasy setting,” he said. “And to do that properly, we’ll be doing something we’d like to have done more of the first time around — giving a focused team the time to test and iterate, focusing on gameplay first.”
That’s a lot of words without many specifics, which essentially sums up the entire lifecycle of “Anthem” to this point. It’s still good to see the studio hasn’t abandoned the game and is at least trying to salvage something from the mistakes of the past. There’s a lot of potential in “Anthem,” but it’s obvious the game, as it was released, was not what the studio had anticipated when it first began work.
Good news for Bioware, and for the few “Anthem” fans still out there, is there is a good precedent across the industry for salvaging these maligned titles. “No Man’s Sky” remains the posterboy for such reinvention.
The game was a complete disaster at launch — missing many of the key features discussed in marketing and lacking any sort of real gameplay loop. Developer Hello Games went silent for months. Many thought they had simply taken the money and left. But when “No Man’s Sky” reemerged several months later with its first major content update, there was hope. Nearly two years post-launch, “No Man’s Sky” has surpassed its original pre-release vision and has become something truly special.
Even Bungie has managed to claw back some legitimacy for the “Destiny” series, only to throw it away time and time again. Somehow, Bungie has managed to release compromised initial games, only to fix them through expansions and updates later in the lifecycle, only to screw them up again later. It’s an exercise in self-destruction and self-discovery. But Bungie, a similar sized studio to Bioware, has proven it is possible to salvage an online loot shooter. It just takes a lot of time and a lot of patience from the fanbase.
It’s too early to tell whether “Anthem” will undergo such a phoenix-like transformation as “No Man’s Sky” and “Destiny.” There is potential in the structure — more potential than “Destiny” ever had — to be something special and unique. Bioware was almost assuredly in over its head in trying to craft such a massive and ambitious project. Now that they’ve had a year to collect feedback and examine what (little) worked and what did work, they have the chance to turn “Anthem” around into the game fans hoped it would be.
Josh Rouse lives in Lawton.