Anthem is shaping up to be the final nail in BioWare’s coffin
In the last week YouTube has been flooded with Anthem videos detailing the experiences of various players and outlets with the timed demonstration. Watching these, I couldn’t shake the feeling of apprehension. I felt as though I was watching a general rehearsal for Anthem’s, and BioWare’s funeral.
I am not going to lie, as intrigued as I am by Anthem, I am also acutely aware of the baggage it carries. A game published by Electronic Arts, one of the worst publishers in the industry and made by a developer that had more misses than hits in recent years. Add to it that it tries to enter a crowded niche that already has several prominent titles to compete with such as Warframe, Destiny 2, The Division and with The Division 2 just around the corner. All of these make for a difficult start.
The demonstration itself didn’t help things. The myriad of technical issues from logging into the servers and instances of lag, random disconnects and characters getting stuck on scenery marred an experience that frankly, as an observer, didn’t exactly wow me. In all fairness, as nice as Anthem looks and as interesting some of its mechanics are, the feeling I got was of a heavier Destiny with a tad more aerial maneuvering. Worse yet, from all reports, it lacks even the basics of social interaction required to give a bit more life to hub world. This is the point where a difficult start slides into very challenging, and sadly the hits aren’t stopping.
2018 was a terrible year for Electronic Arts, and like many gamers, I am not shedding tears about it. The company lost a great deal of its share value, caused legislators world wide to look into loot boxes and micro transactions and even had several European countries demand, and succeed in removing them from games. It managed to rile up large segments of the gaming public with its poor launch of Battlefield V, a game that also caused controversy in various ways which could populate an article of its own. This of course, coming on the heels of the horrible monetization and mangling of Star Wars: Battlefront II, a game that was supposed to be Electronic Art’s apology to those that purchased its predecessor and received a rushed, half baked product then.
Not surprising, the gaming community at large is carrying a grudge against Electronic Arts, quite justified considering the long list of crimes it committed against gaming as a whole. However it does mean that anything associated with it, even remotely, will be under a cloud of suspicion and outright hostility. This is already putting Anthem in such a disadvantage that I scarcely believe it could overcome, not even with an 80’s montage. So damaged is the image of Electronic Arts, and to a lesser extent, BioWare’s.
People seem to forget thanks to the relative success of Dragon Age: Inquisition just how damaged BioWare truly is. The studio that brought us classics such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect also produced some of the greatest duds in those same franchises. Dragon Age II pretty much single handedly killed my interest in the entire series after being nothing but a poorly written, lazy, repetitive and obvious cash grab of a game. People may rightfully pillar Mass Effect: Andromeda, at best a mediocre game with atrocious writing that was further dragged down by a plethora of bugs that served to immortalize it but it wasn’t a true BioWare game. That said Mass Effect 2 was, and it also served to alienate me from another franchise by the same developers. The stripping out of many role playing elements, the plot holes and obvious retcons, not to mention the transition into a mediocre squad based third person shooter all contributed to create a disappointing sequel. Had it not been for the characters themselves and some of the side stories, I would have written off the entire game.
Which is why I was surprised when people were shocked at the original ending of Mass Effect 3 and some of the other issues that cropped up with the horrible downloadable content carve outs Electronic Arts had experimented with in the series. The seeds had already been sown in the previous title and were finally blooming into a great big flower of disappointment and crushed expectations. I have to admit I did enjoy sitting on the sideline watching the entire fiasco go down. That said BioWare at least addressed some of the issues, but the fact remained that the overall trend had not been reversed. In some ways it was accelerated.
Departures of prominent staff members are not uncommon in large companies, doubly so in the computer game industry which is relatively young yet extremely profitable (if you hit it big). Yet when the people that were considered the heart and soul of the company call it quits, you should take notice. Add to it the constant pressure from Electronic Arts that had been riding the loot boxes and microtransaction high from its sports games and slowly polluting the rest of its products with that toxic garbage, and you have a recipe for disaster.
First and foremost, Anthem is a departure from BioWare’s usual style. BioWare is known for creating universes from whole cloth with deep character writing and in the past, interesting and complex stories. These experiences were always delivered in a single player game. Now Electronic Arts is making the studio create an online experience, where players cooperate together to grind missions for equipment and loot in what is known as the looter shooter genre. Basically a style of gaming that can be considered anathema to the studio. Though it does have some experience in the massive multiplayer online field thanks to the Star Wars: The Old Republic title, in reality that game still played more like a regular BioWare role playing game.
BioWare only has to look at Bungie and the mess that is the Destiny franchise to realize just how dangerous this leap of faith is. Unlike BioWare, Bungie had a lot more experience with compelling shooters. After all, its Halo trilogy is still held as some of the best first person shooters in gaming history. Yet even with all that experience, Destiny had a lame start and an okay finish, with a sequel that was somehow even worse than its predecessor. Bungie also had a 10 year contract for the game. Does this ring any alarm bells yet?
This would have been bad enough if it weren’t for one last horrible fact; Electronic Arts needs Anthem to succeed. It had burned so many bridges, lost so many sales that the company is desperate to have one huge financial success. That means it will put impossible expectations on the game that will ultimately disappoint. We saw how shareholders react when a game fails to make 10% more profit than its predecessor a la Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. What will happen when a game falls far wider off the mark? I shudder to imagine.
At this point some of you will be certain that I want Anthem to fail. I’ve been ragging on and on about BioWare’s many failings, the hurdles it must jump over and other difficulties. You couldn’t be more wrong. The reality is I want Anthem to succeed because I don’t want to see a developer that created some of the best games that I truly enjoyed and was even were inspired by go under. I don’t hate what I saw from the demonstrations. I don’t think that the hard work of hundreds of developers should go down the drain, considering their passion and abilities. That said, looking at all things objectively, I just can’t see Anthem succeeding. The deck is stacked against it to such a degree that its just plain tragic.
I wish circumstances were different. I wish Anthem had been given more time to be polished and had a much better demonstration. I wish I could care about a BioWare game like I did when I was a teenager. I wish Electronic Arts didn’t own and control BioWare. I wish and I wish and I wish. But as Gurney Halleck said, if wishes were fishes, we’d all cast nets into the sea. Reality is, there is nothing I, or anyone else outside of Electronic Arts and BioWare, can do to make Anthem not just successful, but worthy of that success.
Thus, after seeing all of this, I can’t help but reach the conclusion that BioWare is doomed. Anthem will not be a smash hit. Electronic Arts will once again fail to meet shareholders’ expectations and the consequences will be dire. Sadly, a lot of good people will lose their jobs due to the greed of a few who refused to see the damage they were inflicting up to the very end. Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel the urge to open a bottle of whiskey and down it.