The Soapbox: I have a bad feeling about Anthem

    
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As I watched Nick Tarabay stand on stage hype up the audience in the Main Theater for PAX West 2018, I thought it was pretty cool that Anthem was able to get find a celebrity to introduce the game. I know Asher from Spartacus. He was great in that series. I didn’t know he was a gamer. As it turns out, he isn’t; Anthem is actually his first video game. Bummer, right? He’s the voice of Haluk in the game, but if he had no real connection to gaming, why was he there?

So I took a breath to listen to the rest of the presentation and panel. I watched the video that we featured on Monday the same as everyone else, and I was hoping to hear what the story was about. I was hoping to get a better understanding of what we were actually getting into, but the video it really didn’t provide it. No, I’m wrong, it did tell me something: The story part — the most important part of the game for a lot of BioWare fans — will be limited to Fort Tarsis.

Anthem is a very pretty game. The world looks amazing, and it might be one that I would want to live in like Mass Effect and Dragon Age. But I have concerns.

It should be great!

I want Anthem to succeed. Truthfully, I want almost all games to succeed. I like games, and even if I don’t like a specific genre of games, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t something valuable in the game’s design. I cannot play MOBAs well, and I don’t do click-to-move with any kind of skill. But just because I don’t like that genre doesn’t mean that I want, let’s say, Torchlight to fail.

But Anthem is my genre! It’s multiplayer. It’s sci-fi! It’s BioWare! If you mention those three things in a row regarding the same game, I don’t care if it’s called Littlest Petshop’s Springtime Funtown, I’m playing that game! Similarly, I already know I’ll be buying and playing Anthem – but that doesn’t mean that I think it’s going to be good.

I wasn’t at E3 last June, but I have read the articles from those who demoed it there. Most talked about how fluid the action is and how much better everything felt over the previous third-person shooters that BioWare has been in charge of. And regardless of anything else, I believe that the mechanics of gameplay will likely hold up. I am genuinely interested in how Strongholds are going to work, and I’m concerned that, as in Destiny or Star Wars: The Old Republic, players are going to quickly run out of things to do.

Concerns

Why would you call something a mistake that wasn’t actually a mistake? During the gaming pre-panel session, one of the members of the press asked what lessons were learned from SWTOR that helped with Anthem. And the answer that the developers gave was “the ability to have to vote on the choice you make.” They went on to say, “That’s where ‘my story’ came from. We didn’t want to do that. We found that players didn’t like when the group decided on choices that didn’t work with how they were trying to play their character.”

For me, that was a fundamental misunderstanding of how the group content in SWTOR even worked. You did vote on how the story played out in the flashpoints, but it didn’t affect the overarching story at all. In fact, the only impact those choices made was on your dark- or light-side points. And the players did like the voting! What was most frustrating to the players was having to wait for those who wanted to play through the story when all they wanted to do was run the dungeon.

Why would you get rid of a BioWare staple in storytelling? BioWare has always had romances in their games. Granted some of them were really, really terrible, but it’s become a staple and frankly a reason many fans play BioWare games. BioWare games were some of the first Western RPGs to actually have compelling love interests.

BioWare, do you even know how to BioWare anymore? That’s like me saying that I don’t like Star Wars anymore. During the panel, it was even played off as a joke. They played it off as if romances would somehow create generic characters, that it’s better to get to know the characters without adding the romance interest.

Why are key people leaving Anthem? We know for sure that two writers and a producer left BioWare Austin over the last couple of months. We also know that two BioWare writers who were instrumental in the creation of SWTOR will not be back. Drew Karpyshyn and Hall Hood left a few months ago, and James Ohlen left about a month ago.

Other than minor rewrites, it’s most likely that Karpyshyn’s and Hood’s work was done on the game a year ago, but that means that the continued story that Producer Mike Gamble was talking about being so important to the game during the panel will be written by someone else.

With the departure of Ohlen, that means that all of the BioWare old-guard with maybe the exception of Casey Hudson (if he’s considered old guard) have left the company for other work.

And I don’t know if it’s widely known, but Alexander Freed would periodically come back to write for BioWare because he’s really good at it. But now that he’s joined former BioWare Lead Writer Daniel Erickson at FogBank, I suspect we will likely never see him on a BioWare writing team again.

Those are the people that we know about. Who knows how many others have stepped away under the radar.

To sum up

I want Anthem to work, and I want it to be good. But during this convention season, the only people who have seen the game in action are a select group of press sites and the people who are creating the game. The game launches in less than a year, and there is really not much seen other than tightly controlled viewings. Usually, when we see such tight control, there has been trouble with production. Given BioWare’s recent history with Mass Effect: Andromeda, and the other things I mentioned before, I have concerns.

What are your thoughts? Tell me that my worries are unfounded in the comments below.

Everyone has opinions, and The Soapbox is how we indulge ours. Join the Massively OP writers as we take turns atop our very own soapbox to deliver unfettered editorials a bit outside our normal purviews (and not necessarily shared across the staff). Think we’re spot on — or out of our minds? Let us know in the comments!
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xpsync

Two words…

GENERATION ZERO

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Necromonger

After Destiny 2 i cant stand these boring run around the world events and get +1 item level upgrades.

It is at its core the most boring kind of gameplay you can give gamers.

Funny thing is that the game who wins this in my humble opinion is Warframe wich is free to play and doesnt charge you 20 euro for a 5 hour DLC every month.

Nah i cant wait to see how independent youtubers are going to rip these cashgrabs apart.

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mysecretid

I’m still completely in “Oh yeah? So show me” mode with Anthem. The hype just bounces off me.

I have no intention of buying the game at launch, and I’ll only give it a look if I hear good word-of-mouth about it from gamers I trust who’ve actually played the game (i.e. YouTube influencers, and other compensated hype-monkeys, won’t impact me).

EA as a publisher of games is on very thin ice with me, personally, after years of skeevy, bullshit behaviors which interfered with the fun of my personal gaming.

I’m not raging, and I don’t boycott — but it’s been a while since a game I loved came out of EA.

And Bioware? Bioware has been “mostly dead all day”, unfortunately, just like Westley in The Princess Bride.

Anthem is an EA thing, and I’m still not inclined to sing along.

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Paragon Lost

You should have concerns, they’ll screw it up if it’s an mmo.

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Tee Parsley

Bioware does exist as a concept. But Bioware is not a game design crew anymore. Except in name. Sadly, it is the shambling zombie remnant that is still there (at least for a while).

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rafael12104

Well, Larry, your fears are justified. We could be seeing the last gasp of a legendary studio.

And, I’m quite sure many would argue that Bioware has already departed with EA at the reigns. After all, EA taints everything and any decisions made about a game like Anthem aren’t the stuff that made Mass Effect great.

But specifically, Bioware’s description of the game is cause for concern. The idea that story will be driven in one area and missions etc in another area doesn’t’ make for a cohesive story, IMO. Look, it is supposed to be a journey. As such story should occur where ever it needs too.

The biggest problem though is the turmoil in Bioware and the loss of credibility. Bringing Casey Hudson back helped. But it doesn’t solve the fact that many Bioware fans have lost faith because of the MEA debacle. No, MEA was not horrible. But it could have been, should have been great. Shelving it made things even worse.

As a Bioware fan, I certainly won’t defend the studio anymore. That is hard for me to say because I have been with Bioware for a long time and they have provided hours upon hours of entertainment. It wasn’t that long ago that anything with the Bioware name was an instant buy for me, no questions asked. But now, I am suspicious and sadly pessimistic.

Meh, it is what it is. Bioware may still redeem themselves, but if they don’t, they will litter the EA boneyard. And I will just move on.

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Schmidt.Capela

I got used to it, unfortunately. Among the studios and franchises I loved that were killed by EA you have Origin (Ultima, Wing Commander), Bullfrog (Dungeon Keeper, Populous, Syndicate), Westwood (Command and Conquer), Black Box (their main franchise, Need for Speed, continues, but technical advances apart I still consider the older ones to be the best in the series), Pandemic (made the original Star Wars Battlefront games), Maxis (SimCity might as well have been killed), etc.

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rafael12104

Oh yes. All of the studios you mention bring back fond memories. Loved them all and what they brought to gaming. Man, those studios put out some great games.

Mewmew
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Mewmew

“He’s the voice of Haluk in the game, but if he had no real connection to gaming, why was he there?”

Because he’s the voice of Haluk? Because he’s a Celebrity? Do we really think Matthew McConaughey drives those cars he gets out of choice and not because they give him to him for free? :P

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Estranged

BioWare, do you even know how to BioWare anymore?

Long gone.

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Ashfyn Ninegold

Other than Warframe, which I really like, I’ve not played any of the other currently popular looter shooters. I’m curious about Anthem simply because it is such a departure for BioWare. If it has decent combat and something of a story and reasonable progression, it might be worth a look.

But no way would I pre-order it or buy it until reviews are out and I’ve seen some YouTubes of it. There are just too many unknowns.

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Rees Racer

Despite the fact he’s not a “gamer”, in a game like Anthem, it might be best to associate actor Nick Tarabay for his excellent portrayal of the mercenary/spy character (Cotyar Ghazi) he’s played much more recently in the fabulous series The Expanse (which might make a really great MMORPG property in it’s own right)…