Dear EA and BioWare, ‘Anthem’ deserves a second chance

BioWare’s maligned looter-shooter hangs in the balance – but should it get an overhaul or a new lease on life?

Anthem may or may not be getting rebooted. That’s the news according to a Bloomberg report, which stated that the game’s fate hangs in the balance this week. As we speak, higher ups at EA are deciding whether to invest into Anthem 2.0 or drop it entirely.

The unfortunate story behind BioWare’s short-lived looter shooter Anthem has led the game’s title to become shorthand for a wider concept. When it appears in conversation, it’s usually used as an analogy. “I hope this game doesn’t end up like Anthem,” consumers will say, as another service game that may or may not deliver on its promises approaches release.

The ambitious but ultimately lacklustre game was a bold new project for BioWare, and the victim of widely reported development woes. My own interpretation is that it was also a consequence of genre fatigue.

As the concept of the looter shooter was born, hated, masticated and spat out into what we have today with heavily iterated, player-feedback driven games like Destiny 2, Anthemputtered along in development. It was trying to find a sense of purpose – where would it fit within this landscape that changed dramatically between the start and the end of its development cycle? Like many games, Anthem was truly in flux alongside the expectations of its audience – if it had come out earlier, it might have gone down a lot better.

But it didn’t, and when it launched in 2019, it felt dated on arrival. Post-launch updates showed a sense of commitment to the project, but was it ever going to be worth the wait? Many games have experienced successful redemption stories – Destiny, No Man’s Sky, Final Fantasy XIV – but they all had more solid systemic foundations, and a more fervent community to back them. BioWare will be fighting an uphill battle to win back its player base regardless.

Anthem
Anthem. Credit: EA

But there is a nugget of great game design in the way Anthem feels to play.
I still remember soaring through the air in the game’s open beta, blasting goons and piercing through the lush green environments as one of the freelancers (a relatable concept for me…)

It was frenetic and full of adrenaline. But you’re soon brought down to Earth by the shoddy framework that’s built around it. I can’t get into all of the complaints here, but it felt totally unintuitive by modern games-as-a-service standards, with its fetch quests, odd hub, busted loot system and tedious menus.

I would endorse the return of Anthem if BioWare could graft this great-feeling game into a framework that deserves it, taking into account recent successes in the genre. The art direction and combat design in the game is fun, it’s just the gameplay loop that needs warping into something that’s actually enjoyable.

However, we also have to consider whether the work would be best used elsewhere. BioWare could quite easily cut its losses, and the smarter systems debuted in Anthem could be adopted and implemented into a new project that’s far more compelling than Anthem’s faceless premise. Whatever happens this week, I just hope that BioWare’s work doesn’t go to waste. Anthem has some good ideas – I think they just deserve a second chance, with a fresh and thorough coat of paint on top.

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