BioWare has found itself in a rare situation. A fair amount of doubt has slowly been creeping over the creators of Mass Effect and Dragon Age. This has largely been drawn from the recent stumble with Mass Effect: Andromeda and how publisher Electronic Arts has handled the studio since purchase. Furthermore, the announcement of BioWare’s upcoming multiplayer title Anthem has drawn almost as much skepticism as excitement.
While it is intriguing to see the studio try something new, it’s also a little alarming how many comparisons it seems to draw from the typical online shooters of today. The intricacies that made BioWare games so beloved before appear to be missing this time around. That has hardcore fans of the studio rightfully concerned.
During a PAX West media gathering, there was a clear focus on narrative. This coupled with the latest footage we were shown no longer having damage numbers popping out of enemies leads me to believe they are taking fan criticism during E3 2018 to heart. Can romance options, a long time staple in BioWare games, be far off from being integrated? That’s not likely, but the importance of dialogue in Anthem does seem more inspired for the shooter genre albeit tempered by the studio’s standards.
Character interactions appear to be more for flavor than function. Playing nice with one NPC and disparaging another does not shut out equipment or missions, but it rather acts as a way to make the Anthem experience feel more personal. Dialogue may open up and develop if you invest the time into certain characters. It may even have related characters react appropriately. The lack of divergence when aligning more heavily towards one character or another is still unsettling for a game by the studio that popularized that trend. Likewise on the fact that dialogue trees have been simplified to two options.
Considering the massive criticism from Mass Effect: Andromeda, it is good to see that facial animations look good so far in Anthem. It’s not at L.A. Noire or Until Dawn levels, but they’re more than acceptable for a game that favors tight shots when interacting with NPCs.
It’s important to highlight that BioWare is putting so much of their resources into Anthem. They’re clearly banking on Anthem to be a big turnaround, but a lot of that is determined by a couple of factors. How will they cater to their hardcore fan base, and will they be able to capitalize on the popularity of Destiny? It would seem that the former is the key to the latter as this is a title in need of its own identity.
If BioWare can integrate their brand of personal storytelling and relationship building, then it may be enough to draw people in. Same goes for having tight controls and an intriguing enough game loop, which helped Destiny when first released. If not, then Anthem may go the way of Titanfall and get lost in the shuffle. BioWare as a company cannot afford that to happen if it hopes to survive.
With Anthem set to release for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on February 22nd, 2019, there’s still quite a bit of time until we get our hands on it.