Yesterday’s big news that Anthem’s development was far rockier than anyone could have known (and yet should have been really obvious) has begun a wider discussion about problems in AAA game development. But it’s also started a conversation about Anthem itself. It’s now clear that Anthem was a game created out of necessity. It was something that came at the behest and direction of people in suits after the creatives couldn’t agree or make things work within the extremely limited Frostbite engine. After the entirely messy foundations on which Anthem was built, should BioWare keep up Anthem support, trying to cobble together fixes to get it into a good place? Or should they simply cut their losses and walk away, focusing on the future and their next project?
Anthem was in development for a long time, which means EA’s spent a lot of money on it. Right now, the publisher has a vested interest in seeing it succeed, even if their attitude during the development process didn’t exactly help that. BioWare also wants it to do well. I mean, despite the difficulties of development—and perhaps because of them—I imagine that many on the development team want to see the game succeed and do well. Imagine pouring your everything into a project and seeing an end result that just ends up abandoned.
Likewise, fans are invested, interested, and legitimately want Anthem to be a good game, no matter how angry and upset they may be about the game. That anger comes from a place of caring about the game, otherwise they’d just move on. There was a genuine excitement that swirled around the industry, not the least of which came from BioWare’s own intention to make the video game equivalent of Bob Dylan’s music, hence Anthem’s original codename, Dylan. The benefit of games these days is that they can be changed, updated, adapted, and fixed, so why shouldn’t BioWare attempt to correct issues from a forced and rocky launch?
Let Anthem Support Continue to Ring?
The benefit of continuing Anthem support is that they’ve at least got a foundation in place to work off of. Now that the game is launched, that sets a baseline for them, as well as providing the studio with plenty of public beta testers that are providing heaps of feedback about the game they are playing. Now there’s no more guesswork about what fans will and won’t like—or at least there’s a lot less guesswork. There’s no more going back and forth on the gameplay mechanics (now there’s flying, now there’s not, now there’s flying, now there’s…). Anthem as it stands may be a critical failure, sitting at a paltry 55 on Metacritic, but as a living game, it has a lot of room to grow and improve too.
Other studios have done similar things with games that launched to heavy critique. Ubisoft completely revamped The Division’s endgame. Destiny 2: Forsaken brought the game back to a more hardcore audience that wanted to play the game as a hobby. So it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility for Anthem to become a good game and fix the many issues that plague it. On the other hand, a first impression is a hell of a thing, and Anthem has already made a bad one.
Even if BioWare pours time and resources into fixing Anthem and turning it into the game players want it to be, it might just be too late. The Division 2 has captured a lot of attention and has a full year’s worth of free content updates coming. Destiny 2 players like myself are still madly enamored with that game and can’t be bothered. Borderlands 3 was just announced for September, which will fill a lot of people’s loot shooter needs. There just might not be a place for Anthem no matter how good it gets, which is interesting considering it was once supposed to be the game that put pressure on Destiny and The Division.
We know that BioWare is also hard at work on Dragon Age 4, a proposition that scares many of us after hearing the horrors of Anthem’s development. We also know that it will be built on Anthem’s codebase, so they were at least able to find some steady footing within the Frostbite engine that they feel (relatively) comfortable building a new game off of. We’re nearing the end of a console generation, where Anthem’s current gen release is soon going to fall by the wayside in favor of the new hotness of next gen. How much life support do they intend to give the game before cutting it off?
So what is BioWare to do? As someone who already owns Anthem, I for one wouldn’t mind them continuing to stay the course and fix the issues, trying to make the game better. I’d be interested in going back and playing it again if some of the complaints are addressed. Would they be enough to entice new players to come into the game though? Outside of a massive overhaul, new content, and big marketing push like Destiny 2: Forsaken did for Bungie’s game, I can’t really see any one update moving the needle and driving Anthem sales and/or interest in a big way again. That ship feels like it has sailed.
Honestly, it may not even be a decision that BioWare has to make. It’s entirely possible that EA will make the decision for them as they run the numbers and report to investors. While other games have certainly launched in a bad place, I don’t think there’s been a living game that’s had the kind of cresting excitement and plunging disappointment that Anthem has. There’s plenty of redeeming qualities about the game, and the concept is great, but the very broken foundation of Anthem comes from an awkward place that may not even be worth cobbling back together with popsicle sticks and chewing gum.
I’m of two minds. I see the fantasy that Anthem was trying to achieve. I can see the proof of concept. But it just never coalesced for me. I would love for BioWare to inject the game with the kind of passion that a game like this is capable of having, rather than feeling like a corporate boxed product that checks all of the boxes to keep investors happy. If they can improve the game, I’m willing to give it another shot. But I also don’t want BioWare to waste their time. If Anthem’s rocky development is indicative of how support for the game will go, then I’d rather they just leave Anthem in the rearview mirror and hit reset to fully focus on a more healthy development of their next game.
Either way, I just want to see BioWare get back to the kind of passionate creativity I know they are capable of. After two critical flops, it’s time to reevaluate their creative processes. Whether that means saving Anthem or betting it all on something new is entirely up to them.
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