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As was stated in the November report, BioWare is attempting to reanimate the husk of 2019’s most disappointing game, Anthem, and strap some new boosters on it. It’s a lofty goal and one it owes its fans as the game was short on fuel when it released almost one year ago. But there’s a lot more riding on the success of Anthem 2.0, as BioWare’s fate as a studio seems inextricably tied to this revival.
BioWare has obviously had trouble maintaining the reputation it had in the late 1990s and early to mid 2000s. Despite its bizarre and troubled development, Dragon Age Inquisition’s quality and The Old Republic’s ability to stay alive (and make over $1 billion) didn’t quite stave off the other hardships the studio has faced in the last two decades.
There was a lingering quality to the kerfuffles surrounding Dragon Age 2’s repeated levels and Mass Effect 3’s ending. And they even seem quaint when juxtaposed against Mass Effect Andromeda and Anthem’s stunning failures that put the whole team’s prestige status into question. The nearly unabated string of missteps and defeats without many respites of success has put the studio in a troublesome spot.
Following up Anthem with… Anthem
Memories of a great studio begin to fade when there is little to remind people why they liked said studio in the first place. That’s why there is a lot riding on Anthem’s upcoming relaunch. It’s coming right off the coattails of Anthem itself. BioWare hasn’t put out a game since to remind people that it still has some of that fabled “BioWare magic” and the most recent memory of the developer isn’t a good one.
That makes sense. BioWare couldn’t have put out another game in the last year because of the scale the team usually goes for. Waiting to develop another game before saving Anthem wouldn’t have been smart. But the realities at hand mean that BioWare’s most dramatic stumble has to turn around and be the game to rescue the studio from floating adrift in space.
It’s not impossible. Reporting has revealed that time and crunch have damned not only Andromeda, but also Anthem. BioWare’s blog post paid lip service to its stunted development and promised to remedy that going forward.
“And to do that properly we’ll be doing something we’d like to have done more of the first time around – giving a focused team the time to test and iterate, focusing on gameplay first,” said BioWare General Manager Casey Wilson.
A few helpful reminders
Having more time to hone in on what games Anthem good is key since the game has something there. Flying around like Iron Man was a joy and one of the only ubiquitous positive qualities found in almost every review, but crunch didn’t allow for the team to fully explore that. Hopefully, taking more time will let BioWare work under normal conditions and be able to focus on more than just the tiniest glimmer of promise in its most basic mechanic and help the developer carve a path back its glory days.
BioWare will need some help gaining back player trust, which is a gradual process that can’t happen overnight. A Mass Effect remaster (which has been teased) is the easiest way to do this as it could ease players into remembering the good ol’ days of Mordin, solid RPG-tinged third-person shooting, and engaging, well-written dialogue.
The rumored Knights of the Old Republic remake/sequel would also a be decent reminder of BioWare’s best days, as it likely would build off of or heavily include material from BioWare itself. The team’s past is its biggest selling point in the current age so trudging it back up would be a cheap but effective way of reminding people of its greatness, despite the changes in leadership since.
A tough road ahead
But while this could prove that BioWare can return to prime with sufficient time and resources, it also has the chance to kill the team and show how its best days are long in the past. Even though Anthem’s core flying mechanic was promising, the game still had a lot of other more damning problems that will require some serious overhauls.
Giving better rewards is a huge endeavor and is key for a game like this to survive as that urge is what keeps people coming back. Loot is the lifeblood of living games (as is a consistent fanbase) and is easier said than done, especially when other established games like Destiny 2 already have people hooked. Better missions will also have to house these improved loot drops, which is also a big undertaking since it is a fundamental part of the game. Declining to address these central pillars could easily result in a repeat of past errors: smooth flying mechanics that are surrounding by rotten, boring mission design.
BioWare’s blog also didn’t mention that it was making any updates to the game’s story. Even though that’s likely the least feasible thing to upgrade and might even be too late, the developer made its name on narrative and forgoing it or at least sidelining it in this reimagining is discouraging. People want to be reminded of the old BioWare and focusing on just the gameplay wouldn’t signal that the developer is fully back. This is especially true in the absence of a signature BioWare single-player game, as Dragon Age 4 is still nowhere to be found. Players need their BioWare story fix and are not getting it so Anthem has to fill that void, too.
Fixing the gameplay loop would normally be enough for most games and might even be enough for Anthem 2.0, but not addressing every bit of the game just shows how sticky the situation currently is for BioWare. Diablo 3, Final Fantasy 14, No Man’s Sky, The Division, and more have all turned it around but under different circumstances. There’s a lot riding on Anthem 2.0 and failing on the same game twice would be sad and ultimately something a studio might not come back from. But a proper rebirth that’s given enough time could have exactly the opposite massive effect of demonstrating how a team took a fragment of a troubled game and turned it into something special. There’s a lot riding on this so hopefully this Javelin’s thrusters are strong enough to carry such a burden.