It’s been a rough couple of months for BioWare and their struggling new IP: Anthem. Concerns started floating around as soon as the game’s first beta went live and it’s been getting dragged through the proverbial mud ever since. That’s not to say that Anthem doesn’t deserve it though, because it absolutely does. The game released in an unacceptable, unfinished state and the reviews rightly reflect that. Still, one can’t help but wonder what it is about the game that’s earned such a high-level of backlash. Anthem is just a boring, painfully average game, and that should have been the end of it. That would have been the end of it if it wasn’t a BioWare game, but sadly that isn’t the case. Anthem is the latest game from BioWare and for it to launch in such a state is massively disappointing.
For a long time now, BioWare has enjoyed a reputation as a top-tier studio. Their games have never exactly been the pinnacle of gameplay, but always more than made up for it with fascinating worlds, well-crafted stories and multi-dimensional characters. To play a BioWare game was to step into another world and to really feel like one was an important part of it. This has not been the case with BioWare’s two most recent games. Mass Effect: Andromeda suffered from just about everything a game could suffer from, but its chief problem was its writing. Its characters were uninteresting; the Andromeda galaxy felt like it was built on plot convenience and its story suffered greatly as a result. As one might expect, fans were more than a little disappointed.
There was hope, though. It came to light that Mass Effect: Andromeda suffered from a slew of development issues and wasn’t even made by the company’s home office. The BioWare everyone knew and loved could still be out there working on their next big title. Eventually it was announced that that title was going to be Anthem and first impressions were at least promising. The reveal trailer promised a massive and bustling world fans had never seen before, a world where they would take on the role as a mech pilot tasked with exploring it. The emphasis on multiplayer and loot was concerning, but BioWare had incorporated both into past games, so most fans felt that there wasn’t an immediate need to worry; they were wrong. Putting the focus squarely on those qualities would prove to be the game’s ruin.
Anthem suffers from most of the same problems as Mass Effect: Andromeda. Both games play well on a surface level, quite well actually. Andromeda’s Ryder felt much more powerful and versatile than Commander Shepard and Anthem’s “freelancer” is even more so. In both games, however, that polished and powerful feeling comes at the cost of just about everything else. Mass Effect: Andromeda had little of interest for players to do with their power and Anthem has even less. Andromeda’s story felt rushed and nonsensical, while Anthem’s is barely even there. Both games wound up being the opposite of what fans were hoping to see from one of their favorite studios and Anthem is arguably the worse of the two thanks to its insistence that loot and cooperative play can somehow make up for it all. It actually might have been able to too, but the necessary substance just isn’t there.
Anthem’s loot grind and cooperative elements have none of the support they need to carry the game in place of their normal pillars of story and character. The end-game is a shallow grind of the same three activities played on the most basic of difficulty settings, demanding nothing of the player except the willingness to keep grinding. The rewards for doing so are boring; they’re either the same, overly plain-looking, guns one’s been getting the whole time or what amounts to an icon that’s never seen in-game. As for the borderline-forced cooperative play, all it accomplishes is shoving a bunch of strangers into a group with little-to-no desire, means or even reason to talk to one another. Such systems couldn’t possibly hope to compensate for Anthem’s lack of BioWare’s traditional focus on storytelling, complex characters and world-building, and it was shipped anyway.
Anthem is an utterly average game that’s earned an above-average negative reaction from the majority of gamers. It’s not because the game is especially bad, but rather because it’s terribly disappointing. Anthem was going to be the game that showed us all that the old BioWare we knew and loved was still there. It was going to show us that they can still craft a great story and hook us with interesting worlds and well-rounded characters. Instead, fans got a game that did none of those things. Its focus was on shooting, looting and cooperative play instead of any of BioWare’s usual tenets, and that focus was implemented in the most basic manner imaginable. Anthem feels like a shallow attempt at chasing the live service trend, something the BioWare of the past never would have done. It all makes a strong case for the idea that gaming’s most accomplished storyteller is well and truly gone, and that might just be Anthem’s most disappointing quality.