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It’s fair to say that BioWare has had a rough go of it this generation. After capping off its Mass Effect trilogy, the studio led with Dragon Age: Inquisition, a great game in some areas but forgettable in others. A return to the stars proved disastrous, as was the announcement of Anthem, BioWare’s loot-driven service game. Thanks to one prominent gaming journalist, we know that Anthem had a rushed and troubled development cycle, which led to a lackluster product when it launched earlier this year. Thanks to that same journalist, we know now that BioWare is pinning its hopes on a relaunch called Anthem Next. While it’s possible for BioWare to pull a No Man’s Sky, it doesn’t seem as likely this time around because of all of the baggage BioWare (and the game itself) have been carrying around.
What is Anthem Next?
If rumors are true, a lot of it is still up in the air. It could be game-changing updates à la No Man’s Sky or Destiny‘s Taken King expansion. It could be a whole new game that existing Anthem players get for a slight discount. Whatever it is, Anthem Next will drastically overhaul the game’s missions, loot, and world — everything important to this type of game. It’s clear that BioWare wants to turn things around as many other ambitious titles have this generation. But it’s hard to see that happening when looking at the big picture.
Think about your experience with No Man’s Sky or the original Destiny. Both games got massive hype before launch and were boosted by each’s big selling point: a procedural universe you can freely explore backed by Sony’s marketing machine or Bungie’s next game after creating the franchise that defined Xbox for a decade. There was massive hype surrounding both launches, which made their initial failures all the more spectacular. No Man’s Sky even broke through into the mainstream, with noted comedian and late night host Stephen Colbert marveling at its promised feature set. Players wanted these games to deliver, and they fueled their eventual updates with continued interest in their recovery.
Now, compare that to Anthem. Going in, many people didn’t even know what Anthem was going to be. It showed up at a couple of E3 shows and looked interesting, but gameplay demos were scarce. We now know that’s partially due to the designers not knowing what kind of game they were making upon its debut. Delayed past its big holiday window, the game appeared in early February of this year. By then, the shine was off Anthem. Many still gave it a shot out of morbid curiosity or loyalty to the developer, but there was no massive hype and no massive fall. People expected the original Anthem to fail and the game met that expectation or, in some cases, fell well beneath that low bar.
Will Anthem Next succeed?
So, what does this have to do with Anthem Next? Simply put, no matter how much work goes into rebalancing the broken loot system or creating engaging missions, the ship has already sailed here since there aren’t many fighting for it to succeed. You only get one chance at a first impression, and Anthem‘s came upon its disastrous launch. Games that succeed with reworks do so based on expectations set before their launch, but Anthem‘s E3 showings weren’t anything special. Its premiere even had “Ubisoft trailer speak,” meaning it had fake players talk to each other like robots. It inspired a wait-and-see approach, and then Anthem had nothing to see when gamers were paying attention.
It’s understandable why EA and BioWare would try to right the ship with Anthem. It takes an extraordinary amount of time to create new IP and new worlds. Having all that R&D shoveled into a game that lasts barely half a year in the public consciousness is a massive waste of resources. In a way, this same approach worked for EA with Apex Legends, turning the Titanfall universe into something perpetual that fans could latch onto. Then again, there was also an audience that wanted more Titanfall and got excited at the prospect. The only people that get excited about more Anthem are the YouTubers who make their money on controversial whipping boys.
Anthem isn’t beyond saving. Now that BioWare knows what players liked about the first game, the team can more than likely craft systems that let players enjoy the world. The idea of a squad of Iron Man-esque mercenaries tearing it up in an open world is solid. However, plenty of franchises make good on past mistakes only to suffer unjustly and Anthem has set up its hand to give players a hard choice. It’s impossible for this potential audience to not overly favor how poorly the team has performed as well as how Anthem already passed them by. Getting people back who already didn’t have much investment is only going to be that much harder. Even if BioWare can’t completely shake its baggage, rebranding and shifting to something else would at least wipe the slate clean as much as possible for a team in that position.
How can EA save Anthem Next?
If Anthem Next has to exist, perhaps EA could dig into its IP vault to give it a leg up. BioWare’s character design is reminiscent of Crusader, a pair of action games created by Origin Systems in a bygone era. You own the character, perhaps have this space-faring supersoldier drop in for a few missions, like how Ubisoft occasionally pulls out Sam Fisher in its other games. A shift in the name could also work, especially since we know that Anthem wasn’t BioWare’s first choice for the property. Audiences will likely be more receptive to any new name over Anthem at this point.
Anthem could have been a notable but unmemorable failure. It would sit on the stack of games like Dark Void, Too Human and Advent Rising, ambitious sci-fi worlds that never panned out. A sequel to any of those games would have been an equal disaster, and Anthem Next might just prove how important events like E3 still are to the industry. Unless you’re making a sports game or targeting kids, you need some amount of buzz. If you have it, you can recover from anything. If you don’t, it’s hard to see why you’d try when the deck is that stacked against you. And BioWare is trying so hopefully it can try hard enough to overcome the monumental amount of pressure riding on this revamp. Given that pressure sank its last two games, it’s difficult to think that this is the right direction.