Not So Massively: Four things Anthem can do to turn itself around

    
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I’ve been a cheerleader for Anthem from the get-go. I believe BioWare‘s multiplayer shooter is a good game with huge potential to become a great game. Cataclysm was a strong update that rewarded my faith in the game, but as I feared the remaining devs haven’t done a great job of maintaining the momentum from there. The Halloween event is just a slightly tweaked rehash of Cataclysm, and we have no idea when we’ll get our next big update.

I still don’t think it’s time to panic, but I am growing a bit concerned. Today I’d like to take a look at a few of the things Anthem could do to turn things around and win over the doubters.

More story

First and foremost, we need more content, and we need to advance the story. Storytelling always has been and always will be BioWare’s biggest strength; even if Anthem‘s plot is a bit on the weak side by its standards, it’s still far stronger than anything you’d see in any of Anthem‘s competitors.

Cataclysm gave us some nice teases, but we need more. Spoilers ahead for the story to date, including Cataclysm.

What we need is the Urgoth.

The main problem with Anthem’s main story was that the Dominion are fairly forgettable villains. Power-hungry space Nazis, woo. Haven’t seen that before.

The tease of a return by the Urgoth — the brutish aliens who once enslaved humanity — at the end of the main story was exciting, and we need the follow-through on that. The Urgoth have been built up throughout Anthem‘s lore as something truly scary, and unleashing them into the game has the potential to feel like a truly epic event.

Furthermore, Cataclysm gave us the perfect jumping off point. In Cataclysm’s story missions, we learned that the Dominion’s desire to control the Anthem was born of desperation, as they’ve been fighting a losing war with the Urgoth.

What I want to see is a major update where we learn the Dominion has fallen and the Urgoth are now turning their eyes to Bastion. It would be an exciting new frontier for the story, and it could also enrich gameplay by adding a new enemy type.

This may be more ambitious than BioWare is presently capable of, but I’d love to see that paired with new content set in and around Stralheim. A new Free Play map, perhaps. It could provide a new type of environment to give us a break from Bastion’s endless jungles. I’m picturing a Scandinavian-inspired landscape full of coniferous trees and snowy peaks.

More Javelins

Perhaps my biggest disappointment with Anthem is the limited selection of Javelins. With very little potential to customize the playstyle of each Javelin, having only four gives players very few options on how to experience Anthem. Every good RPG needs a robust selection of classes, and four is just not enough. Gearing up new Javelins would also add more replay value for endgamers with little else to do.

BioWare has said new Javelins are not a priority, but I think that’s a mistake. Look at the hype Warframe can generate by regularly adding new Frames. The more playstyles you cater to, the wider your potential audience.

The other option would be to change the current Javelins to give them a much greater degree of customization potential, but that would require a pretty much total overhaul of how the game works. I think new Javelins would be a simpler option.

There are plenty of potential playstyles BioWare could implement. There could be a Javelin focused on supporting allies with buffs or even healing. You could make a pet-focused Javelin that constructs drones, turrets, or both. We don’t yet have a stealth or sniping-focused Javelin, which seems an obvious choice for any shooter game. Or perhaps the studio could create a crowd control based Javelin that manipulates gravity similar to the biotics of Mass Effect.

Paragon Levels

Much criticism has been leveled at Anthem‘s loot. I won’t say that BioWare should stop attempting to address these concerns, but as I’ve discussed, a lot of these problems are simply endemic to any game that relies entirely on items for progression. Therefore, the solution is to add an additional method of progression that doesn’t have the same problems.

Right now, XP doesn’t have much of a use once you hit level cap. It can help you earn credits to spend in the cash shop via the Alliance system, but the trickle of credits is painfully slow.

I’d like to see Anthem implement an infinite leveling system akin in to Diablo III‘s Paragon Levels, which reward the player with small incremental increases to stats. This gives a better purpose to XP at level cap and helps to mitigate the issues with RNG rewards. Even if you don’t get the drop you wanted in a particular session, at least you earned some levels and got a bit more powerful that way.

The one downside here is that it does increase power creep, which is already at a fairly high level in Anthem. A possible solution to that is to replace the stat increases from “Paragon” levels with another reward, such as loot boxes. Perhaps this could be a better way to earn warchests instead of just making us grind Cataclysm until our eyes bleed.

You could even mix it up with different rewards at different levels. First level rewards a warchest, next level rewards an extra big chunk of credits, next level gives you a box with a random cosmetic reward, repeat.

A cash shop revamp

I admire that BioWare clearly made an effort to make Anthem‘s cash shop unobtrusive, but I worry it may have gone too far. As it is, the shop is so sparse I’m not even sure how BioWare makes any money.┬áRight now there are only a few items for sale at any given time in Anthem‘s cash shop, but they cycle in and out every few days. It’s not really a good system for anyone.

It’s not good for players because the limited time windows to buy things are stressful. It’s a clear tactic to drive sales through FOMO. And it’s not good for BioWare because most of the time I look at the shop, I see nothing I want to buy.

Anthem has enough cosmetics now that I think it can expend its cash shop into a full store, with everything available at all times. I think it could also drive more sales by offering Javelin skins piecemeal; you can already equip each piece individually to mix and match sets. If I only want the helmet from one skin, why can’t I buy just the helmet? The team could then offer the full set at a discounted rate.

BioWare should also keep trying to think of new things to sell. I don’t want to see it go too far, but the studio needs to make money somehow. If it also added Paragon levels as I suggested above, XP boosters are something it could begin selling.

At the same time, I’d like to see BioWare compensate for a slightly more aggressive cash shop by increasing the rate at which credits are earned in-game. Right now you can in theory get everything for free, but the rate of earning credits is so slow earning anything of note feels unattainable. If people feel that they can earn their way to the best cosmetics without completely selling their soul to the game, they’ll be less inclined to take umbrage with the cash shop, and paradoxically maybe be more willing to part with their money. I know I’m generally happy to reward generous developers with my money.

The world of online gaming is changing. As the gray area between single-player and MMO becomes ever wider, Massively OP’s Tyler Edwards delves into this new and expanding frontier biweekly in Not So Massively, our column on battle royales, OARPGs, looter-shooters, and other multiplayer online titles that aren’t quite MMORPGs.
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