The rage of gamers is a force powerful enough to plummet sales, topple studio executives and make some game publishers file for bankruptcy. So, when “Anthem,” an experience hyped up to be so good it would pacify the screams of every dissatisfied gamer, actually turned out to be trash, anger ignited like never before. The failure of “Anthem” is the most recent instance in a long history of studios promising an experience that their game doesn’t deliver on.
To provide some background, “Anthem” is an online shooter-looter where the player inhabits an Iron Man-like mechanical suit on a distant planet populated by aliens and monsters. The game was developed by Bioware and published by Electronic Arts. The truth is there are redeeming qualities to “Anthem”: The combat is engaging, the graphics are polished and the flight mechanics are responsive. However, when you’re a studio like Bioware whose past projects include Game of The Year winning franchises like “Mass Effect,” you are held to a different standard. Like many great studios, Bioware succumbed to its hubris and expected gamers to swallow any explosion heavy sci-fi experience they could scrape up. Despite this, the failure of “Anthem” is not entirely Bioware’s fault. There is plenty of blame to go around, and while some can be placed on the forces that were out of the studio’s control, some can also be pointed at bad experimentation by Bioware.
It should not be forgotten that “Anthem” was published by Electronic Arts. The video game colossus dominates the market and, therefore, has a powerful hand in dictating what its studios can and cannot do. It’s no secret that Electronic Arts tries to squeeze profit out of every pixel in their games. Yet, in “Anthem,” this corporate greed translates into painfully annoying gameplay that frankly pisses people off. Not only are players constantly prompted to engage with “Anthem”’s microtransaction system (in-game purchases with real money), but the game feels like its purposely crafted to hold back content so the player either comes back at a later date or buys their fun with real money. If you take a look at pre-release footage of “Anthem,” the world looks vibrant, populated and dynamic. Once players got their hands on the actual game, it becomes very clear that the pitch that was sold to them was a lie, and most of the content was withheld by Electronic Arts for monetization. It can never be known how much Electronic Arts had its fingers in the development of “Anthem,” however, it does give Bioware a little bit of absolution since Electronic Arts tends to ruin any games it senses could maybe become a cash cow.
Though Electronic Arts did have significant influence in the making of “Anthem,” at the end of the day, it was still Bioware’s game. In my opinion, Bioware tried to experiment with features that just aren’t their specialty and paid a steep price for it. Past projects like “Mass Effect” and “Dragon Age” have always had an emphasis on narrative, branching story arcs and multidimensional characters in addition to fun gameplay mechanics. In “Anthem,” the story takes a backseat and puts multiplayer front and center. Bioware has never been known for it’s multiplayer and as a result, “Anthem” suffers for it. This isn’t to say multiplayer is a bad function to implement, but when you have a massive world and lots of emphasis on lore without a story to back it up, everything just seems flat. Accordingly, players are much less likely to stay, which in turn keeps multiplayer lobbies empty and renders the whole system useless.
The failure of “Anthem” is probably not the end of Bioware, but it’s definitely a wake-up call. Unfortunately, Electronic Arts will still be the money machine, and “Anthem” will barely affect its profits.