EA’s decisions with Anthem shows that they’re more interested in making games based on what’s popular and financially good now, instead of making games fans of their franchises want and it’s killing BioWare.
EA might be the most hated video game company in the world, and for years I didn’t think they were as bad as their reputation suggested. While I hated that Madden didn’t improve much each year, BioWare was one of my favorite developers. I had no problem defending BioWare when people complained about them giving players the option to have homosexual relationships and thought Mass Effect 3 was a great game despite it’s horrible ending. Unfortunately, my days defending BioWare ended the moment I cancelled my Anthem preorder.
Despite disliking and never finishing Mass Effect: Andromeda, I was looking forward to Anthem. Anthem is the game that BioWare’s best developers were working on instead of the B team that made the glitchy and poorly animated Mass Effect: Andromeda. Watching it’s E3 debut, it looked like the natural evolution of Mass Effect’s gameplay and I loved the idea of being able to play the entire campaign with my friends. As more information about the game was revealed, I was disappointed to learn they were dropping the unique choice and relationship based story that made BioWare’s games must play events since Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic in order to make a Destiny clone, but I was still willing to buy the game.
While I’m not a fan of Destiny, Borderlands 2 is probably one of my top ten games of all time and it’s part of the looter-shooter genre that Anthem will be joining. What lead me to cancel my preorder was my experience playing the demo.
The special vip demo of Anthem for people that preorder the game was a glitchy mess. Paul Tassi did a great job detailing all the issues with the demo, but the biggest problem I encounter was being unable to play the game due to it freezing during the loading screen. I definitely spent more time on the loading screen than playing the game, but the less than an hour of actual gameplay I played, I liked. Flying was fun and different from the movement in any other first or third person shooter and I always loved Mass Effect’s combat and Anthem is basically the same thing. Frame rate and performance wasn’t good on my day one Xbox One, but it didn’t destroy what I liked about the game. What destroyed it was playing it more and realizing I didn’t like it as much as I thought I did.
What made BioWare games special was their story, and the little bit of Anthem’s story I experienced was underwhelming. It seemed like generic sci-fi nonsense that only existed to give the player a reason to shoot enemies at point A then shoot more enemies at point B. The main reason I never finished Mass Effect: Andromeda and Destiny 2 was getting bored by the repetition of shooting the same enemies, the same way, without any story or atmospheric reason to push me forward. I was so engrossed in playing my role as Commander Shepherd and the relationship I build with my crew mates, that I bare noticed I was going through the same gameplay loop over and over again. When I say atmospheric reason, I’m talking about the experience of playing I get playing the new Resident Evil 2. Resident Evil 2 would be a terrible game if all I did was shoot bullet spongy zombies with my slow moving by video game standards character. What keeps RE2 from becoming boring, is the dark environment that keeps monsters hidden until you shine your flashlight in their direction and the need to focus on how much ammo and items you have left or need to carry to survive.
At the time of writing this, Anthem is 60 percent on Metacritic.com—which averages several different reviews from around the world into one score—shows my negative impressions were correct, and I can’t help but believe they could’ve gone in a different direction.
I understand they want to make money from microtransactions and the games as an online service is one way to do that, but EA and BioWare could’ve developed Anthem the same way Take-Two Interactive allows Rockstar to develop Grand Theft Auto 5 and Red Dead Redemption 2. Anyone that has played an NBA 2K game within the last five years knows that there is no company in the video game industry that loves microtransactions more than Take-Two Interactive, but they allowed the microtransactions heavy online modes in GTA5 and RDR2 to be separate from the solid single-player experience that made Rockstar the famous development studio they are today. Both GTA5 and RDR2 were released with unfinished multiplayer, but still went on to be loved critically and make billions of dollars thanks to both games having a single-player that made their fans happy. I didn’t like GTA 5’s online, but I loved the single-player so much, I’m happy I bought the game despite never liking half of it.
Anthem was in development for six years and still released in a broken state, so asking them to develop a single-player only game and a multiplayer only game in the same package in a similar way to Rockstar is probably asking for too much. But if EA decides not to close BioWare and are committed to making all of their game have online and microtransactions, they should try copying the Rockstar formula instead of the Bungie Destiny formula.