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The Undeserved Optimism for "Anthem 2.0"

Roberts has been a games enthusiast since 1997, a reviewer since 2009 and a cynic since 2014. He has only just grasped full sentences.

The "Anthem" logo.

The "Anthem" logo.

The Bob Dylan of Generic PR Statements

According to a blog article by BioWare's Casey Hudson, Anthem is shifting from its current incoherent and barely existent model of delivering content to instead bring a "a more substantial reinvention than an update or expansion".

The article linked above is mostly non-committal guff, ticking boxes with generalisations such as "longer term redesign", "motivating challenges" and "progression with meaningful rewards", rather than stating exactly how they intend on fixing them. Even then, I would argue those are surface-level problems in comparison to their stress casualties and consistently incompetent management.

Personally I've held the belief that the "fundamental work to be done to bring out the full potential of the experience" involves a whole reassembly of BioWare, the eradication of the practiced downplaying of its horrific work culture, a completely different engine and making a good game before deciding how it should be hacked apart for monetisation.

Gameplay in "Anthem."

Gameplay in "Anthem."

Comparisons to Other Game Development Problems

A Realm Reborn

To address some players' desires, I'll begin by saying I don't expect A Realm Reborn. The work culture in Japan is different to that of most Western countries, however dire it can be for other reasons. Making and releasing such broken dross is treated a lot more harshly there than it is here, and the Japanese pay for their failures in more than bad press and low sales.

Final Fantasy XIV's remake was just that: Almost nothing of its core remained, including key members of staff and most interestingly to me, its subscription fee was halted until it was fixed. Anthem has done virtually nothing to improve its reputation, struggling to meet even what little its roadmap had confirmed, and yet it still charges. It's great the game's been on a week sale among much more desirable Electronic Arts titles for a week, but they're still asking for money. A Realm Reborn is not an apt comparison.

No Man's Sky

People's other go-to is a game made in the West, No Man's Sky. Hello Games' first attempt at a sci-fi game was disastrous, but had it not received the attention publisher Sony Interactive Entertainment gave them, it would have either faded into obscurity with no further mention, or it would have fostered a small and loyal fanbase, which it initially intended to. Sure, lead developer Sean Murray set expectations very high, but I doubt he's had much experience in selling his products to the world stage quite like he was, given his previous offerings were unknown platform games.

Journalists' unchallenging reveration of game developers didn't help either; however this is not exclusive to Sean Murray and his team (nor journalists; see "pre-order culture"). I don't recall Jim Ryan of SIE publically apologising for overemphasising the game's qualities either. Even so, the developers kept their heads down and made the game better in the face of constant belittlement and fanbois not exactly helping their image.

BioWare vs. Other Companies

Do keep in mind that Hello Games consists of 25 people and announced their game three years before its release, and they had a vision. Compare that to BioWare which hires a significantly greater number of employees (800 by 2010's count) and is owned by publishing giant EA. Casey Hudson & co. possess pedigree, experience and budget that Hello Games do not and quite possibly never will.

Hudson's statement precedes the lack of in-game anniversary celebrations, which I unironically would like to have seen: It's a miracle Anthem has gone on this long on Electronic Art's dime after years of meandering. Hudson mentions they'll be updating the game with the usual hitting of F5 for weekly events "starting with our anniversary towards the end of the month". By "revisiting past seasonal and cataclysmic content", they mean 'ending the extended Christmas event'.

Flight in the game.

Flight in the game.

Player Wishlists for Anthem

Returning to players' wishlists though, if all people want is a better loot system (whatever that means), melee weapons and a stat screen, that's not setting the bar very high. I have to wonder if the game can ever begin to be good if it isn't scrapped entirely and started anew. Even keeping flight is something I'd want BW to reconsider—it exists entirely because the map is too large. It's a pretty world, but it's not as though its beauty and functionality are mutually exclusive: one does not take from the other. In terms of budget this is correct, but when did that stop BioWare?

I get that flying is fun, but if there's going to be no reason to do it—and why would there be in an appropriately sized world—flight just highlights how poor the rest of the game appears and feels. I've said this many times already, but when you're being outmatched by Spyro the Dragon from over 20 years ago in terms of controls, mechanics and content relating to flight you've done something awfully wrong.

Expecting minigames from titles such as The Crew is not exactly ambitious, but it's realistic. And perhaps that's where my expectations should be along with everyone else's. Perhaps I'm asking for too much when I say Anthem's foundations are rocky by default, and anything built upon them has to be minor, manageable and by nature quickly consumed.

Scenery in "Anthem."

Scenery in "Anthem."

Will It Really Get Reborn?

I don't appreciate the optimism for Anthem Next or whatever this slurry of attempts are going to be called. I'd like the result of Final Fantasy XIV's relaunch to be the same if not better, but the circumstances are significantly different, I dare say to the point where it's impossible for Anthem to do the same. And while I'm the first to rally against the whole line of "EA bad", I don't think the publisher is going to allow it that kind of rebirth. Not after what's happened already, and they'll know far more of the inner workings (or rather, lack thereof) than myself or any other Johnny Forumgoer.

With Dragon Age 4 insisting its still in development and a cryptic #MassRelays tweet from the developers, I have to wonder what room there is for Anthem's rework. Perhaps we'll never hear the Anthem of Creation again.