Anthem: A Victim of EA?

Is Anthem a victim of EA? Victor Cardoso takes a look at the development behind the much-anticipated title.

There is no question about it, we should all dampen our excitement and expectations for the newest BioWare IP: Anthem. This is not going to be like any other game that they have published, this is most likely going to be an experience that will feel a lot more like EA than any game BioWare has ever released.

EA hasn’t been secretive about their new IP, we know what the game is and what EA wants it to be. We also know that the development process has not been smooth.

Games like The Division and Destiny are games that are hugely successful, but they do leave their player base wanting, there is definitely something missing from those games. If there was any developer that you would want to fill in those missing pieces, it would be BioWare.  However, 2017 showed us that instead of being excited for a Destiny competitor from EA and BioWare, we should be incredibly concerned about what this game will become.

As much as it hurts me to say, the decline of BioWare as a development studio has been a very public and very obvious occurrence, a staggering degradation of quality and creativity.

Seeing a BioWare label on a game used to mean that the player would be treated to a great experience, one that you could engage and invest yourself in. The cracks in the armour started to show when BioWare released Mass Effect 3. The ending went against everything that the company stood for and unfortunately it wasn’t just the ending of the game that was problematic, it was the money grabbing multiplayer in a single player RPG – a trend forced upon BioWare by EA in their insistence to move away from single player games. This would set a trend for the studio as every other game released by them, included some form of multiplayer micro-transaction.  Dragon Age had loot boxes that allowed the player to progress without actually experiencing the game. A core mechanic of an RPG was simply discarded for a money-making scheme.

EA moved the team behind the Mass Effect trilogy onto a project that we now know as Anthem.

Unfortunately, the development of the game has been rocky. Pre-production of the game began as soon as Mass Effect 3 was finished, meaning that the developer has spent 6 years trying to get Anthem up and running. However, they have suffered major setbacks throughout this time, not only did Anthem lose its lead designer – Corey Gaspur – due to an unfortunate passing, BioWare’s General Manager and lead director on the project, Aaryn Flynn, left without warning and clear reason in 2017.

Development shakeups, this late in the process of a game are never a good thing, regardless of the cause for the changes, however, EA decided to use the situation to talk more about the game. What became clear is how little Anthem shares with past BioWare projects and how similar the game is to Destiny.

The problem with the game being a ‘Destiny clone’ is that EA’s history with online releases has been nothing short of dreadful, and with EA repeating Bungee’s 10-year Destiny plan with Anthem, things start to look dreary.  EA’s 10-year plan means that the company is looking at Anthem’s future, without the game even being ready for release. Which means: DLC plans, micro-transactions and any and all monetisation plans imaginable.

The bigger reality of this sort of ‘game as a service’ is that it allows EA to release the game even if it is not ready for launch, not that they are hesitant with that (looking at you Mass Effect Andromeda) as it gives them an excuse to fix it as they go. Something we have seen with games like Destiny and The Division.

“The story doesn’t end here, It’s just the beginning”

(A direct quote from the teaser trailer for Anthem. Just to prove the previous point.)

BioWare games had a very distinct identity, player agency was at the very core of all of their games. If there is one thing that is notoriously difficult to introduce in an MMO style game, it’s player agency. Shared experiences almost completely negate decisions made by individuals, as to account for every possible scenario and every possible choice is virtually impossible.

With the launch of Star Wars: Battlefront 2, we saw predatory ‘pay to win’ progression systems that fundamentally affected the game, so much so, that even before the game got its full release, EA was forced into pulling down in-game purchases due to consumer backlash and, in some cases, government bodies threatening legal action. Even despite all this, EA only temporarily pulled these micro-transactions from the game, with a clear intent to bring them back at a real-world

We can expect those same loot box rewards systems in Anthem, with the ability to spend real world money in order to boost your progression and give you an advantage within the game, over the environment and other players.

EA seems adamant to continue moving forward with their games as a service approach, not because they truly believe that its what gamers want but because it is what makes the company the most money. This approach throughout the years has claimed many IPs and development studios, and Anthem along with BioWare seem to be headed down the same path.

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