THE WASHINGTON POST – Even in failure, Anthem by BioWare got a few important things right. That’s what makes the announcement by publisher EA and developer BioWare to cancel plans to refine and reinvigorate the live-service game in favor of focussing on other franchises so disappointing.
The proposed revitalisation, dubbed Anthem Next, was going to overhaul the entire game, much like the process Final Fantasy XIV underwent in 2013 when it was relaunched as an entirely new game. Final Fantasy XIV is held up as the example to rehabilitate a once-failed game, but you have to remember that Final Fantasy is publisher Square Enix’s marquee franchise. Director Naoki Yoshida has said that it was important to the company that a mainline Final Fantasy game isn’t regarded as an abject catastrophe.
Anthem holds no such sway, not with EA, BioWare, or the looter shooter player base it hoped to steal away from Bungie’s Destiny games. The game failed to hit the expect six million sales mark by March 2019, and the company reported not making enough money from its microtransactions.
Essays upon essays have been written about the failures of Anthem. Watched 2.6 million times, ‘I Hate Anthem’ by YouTube channel I Hate Everything portrays a game full of narrative, structural and motivational problems. And Kotaku’s 2019 article How BioWare’s Anthem Went Wrong illustrates what led to the game’s high-profile faceplant.
Even so, there were some glimmers of positivity, and some clear elements that made “Anthem” a project worth believing in.
The skeleton of “Anthem” was always strong because it seems that BioWare actually got the hard parts right. Anthem feels really good as a shooter, and more importantly, flying feels amazing. This is no small feat for a studio only known for making slow, single-player role-playing games.
BioWare’s experience with the wildly successful Mass Effect trilogy probably contributed to how good Anthem felt as a shooting game. Mass Effect 3 and Mass Effect Andromeda had solid controls, despite the third game in the series eschewing much of the role-playing aspects that’s made BioWare famous. That experience developed well into Anthem. The game’s combat system of setting up “primers” and “detonators” felt snappy, similar to the one-two combination punches of the Mass Effect cooperative system.
Anthem is still the best Iron Man game out there. It’s been tough for developers to stick the landing when it comes to controlling human-shaped flying objects. The public attempts at making a Superman game are proof. Yet BioWare nailed it out of the gate. The game’s only mistake in this regard is limiting the flying to a meter. There needed to be more confidence in allowing players to have fun with the tools given.
The game struggled to set up interesting, engaging challenges to do while flying and shooting; that’s where Anthem starts to fall. But at the very least, BioWare developed an excellent framework for adventuring.
Anthem may be dead, but it’s worth pledging allegiance to some of its better ideas.