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. Right 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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Grave Knight

[Insert joke about traveling back in time to make good game here.]

Was trying to write a joke but realized I was joke typing out what I rather have seen with better stuff. There is something not on this list they need though, and that’s make a decision on if this is a game about aerial combat with some ground stuff, or a game about ground combat with some aerial stuff. If they want it to be ground combat then they need to make the ground more interesting, with more cover to take advantage of (honestly, the game just needs more cover in general, they really should take a look at Dark Void, bad game but had some interesting ideas on the cover shooter genre) and make the Jet Packs more like Jump Jets. If they want it to be aerial combat than change how overheat works, overheat should only be an issue with using overdrive (or whatever they call it), they should also let you fire your weapons and abilities without being forced into hover mode, and put in more aerial targets.

(Also, like to point out this is the only game I know of where the aerial combat is actually worse than the aerial combat in Warframe.)

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Lonn Collins

Another great thing they could do would be to implement a much more involved crafting system. Right now their really is no point in crafting because you can get legendary gear fairly easy, so the crafting materials serve no purpose unless your trying to craft something with very specific stats. If they made certain rare crafting components drop from bosses in dungeons this would allow more people to farm dungeons in an attempt to get that rare component. These components could be combined with existing materials to do virtually anything. Maybe add a specific stat to a piece of gear or weapon. Maybe replace a stat on a piece of gear or weapon. Enhance the damage etc… the possibilities are too numerous to mention but you get my point. This would increase the population in dungeon runs. Those end-gamers would be farming the dungeons for different specific materials and the newbies would have people to run dungeons with.

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Robert RavenWolf McCloud

What about adding a sub-class system.

You mentioned Diablo in your article. Which has 7 classes. But each class can be built for specific roles. Take me and my two brothers.

We each have a crusader. Mine is firmly built as a self healing tank. Brother one I built for laying out damage over large areas and brother two is our boss killer.

True we started with the same base. But our gear and skills are organized to specialized roles. To help convert my idea to Anthem.

Imagine three Colossus Javelins.

Mine would have gear (and hopefully some skills) set up to give me high health and aggro. So I could draw attention and hopefully draw fires from my brother’s.

Brother one would select weapons to deal area damage and increase his ammo gain.

Brother two focused on gear and weapons more suited to so targets.

I know you could reach this effect with a Colossus, a storm and a ranger. But I’m just suggesting that specialized Javelin sub classes might be a viable solution to both customizing your own suit. But also offer a more robust dungeoning experience.

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Aiun Tanks

What they need to do is get the critical post-launch story missions divorced from that ridiculously underwhelming exercise in monetizing a grindy-as-hell appeal to FOMO.

“You didn’t play during that particular month? Well I guess you’re out of the loop, Freelancer.”

Don’t be that guy, Bioware. That guy is an asshole, to start with, and you don’t have the cachet to pull it off (any more). You should be BEGGING people for whatever scraps of attention they’re willing to give, not driving them off.

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sophiskiai

I had high hopes for Anthem, because its launch looked very similar to Warframe’s early days (fairly barebones content and some monetisation mis-steps, but great core gameplay feel, and an easy way to add new gameplay options through adding new Javelins as mentioned in this article) and Warframe’s turned out great.

But to grow that tender shoot into a glorious full grown game you need a passionate and committed dev team and solid long-term support from management, which I always feared EA would never provide.

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Ben Willows

How to make Anthem better. Take all of those ideas, shut down the game.

Combine Anthem with the next Mass Effect game.

Fix the management issues that have been plaguing Bioware for the past few years.

Focus on a stable, quality, story driven experience.

Release the next Mass Effect game.

oldandgrumpy
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Kickstarter Donor
oldandgrumpy

I would rather play Warframe’s. These are my experiences so far with Anthem as it has been included with an Origin basic subscription.

I have played all of 2 hours in Anthem so far and there is nothing compelling that makes me what to continue playing. Maybe I will give it another go but you know there are a lot of these types of games that I could be playing.

Story, what story, I didn’t notice any during what passes as an introduction/tutorial. Maybe I will have to play a little longer to find it :)

I agree that they could do with more variety of Javelins but then warframe’s spoils me with choice.

Itemization is key to a good looter shooter and I am afraid that Anthem missed the boat. Try starting a new account/toon and see what the initial experience is like. Initial loot was underwhelming and forgettable.

Oh and there are very few around at my level and in my time zone. Matching always times out and I do the content solo. Guess I missed the wave and everyone is max level.

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Kickstarter Donor
NeoWolf

More content is a definite must, what content it had was good but after the first week there was literally nothing but achievements left to go for. It launched WAAAAAY too soon.

Considering what Anthem’s development cost other much loved franchises for them to bungle this just adds insult to injury. They NEED to turn it around asap.

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Bannex

Personal opinion time: More story!? God no, the story is easily the worst part of the whole game and also the only explanation as to why fort tarsis sucks so freaking much.

I am so fucking sick of hearing about how great bioware stories are. They haven’t written a good story since the mass effect series.

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Kickstarter Donor
NeoWolf

The story was fine I guess, but in a Bioware context Anthem is pretty much story lite as its just people telling you things there is no real interaction or relationship building with the NPC’s you could pretty much care less about them or their plights because of that.
But I agree with you in so much as Anthem as an example of Bioware story-telling is a terrible example of what they can do lol

Bereman
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Bereman

I think the real draw to BioWare stories has been the player agency – that ability to feel like you had some varying degrees of control over major plot elements and character developments. Talking your way through the Landsmeet to get everyone on your side in DA:O, beating the Orlesians at their own political game in DA:I, working across multiple games to finally achieve peace between the Geth and the Quarians, and through it all making friends, enemies, and lovers.

Even going back to KotoR and Jade Empire.

Their settings have generally been creative, though the story itself hasn’t always been the most solid…but I’d hazard that what drew most people in was that bit of control over which version of the story they got to experience.

And I think that’s what people are talking about when they talk about how great BioWare stories have been…they had a great time going through them, getting to make choices and pair up characters or even lose them.

Which makes Anthem’s lack of such choices incredibly stark by comparison.

Especially when it was billed as being the kind BioWare story we had all come to expect.

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Bannex

Im not saying they never had good stories. Im saying they haven’t had good ones basically since the mass effect series. Dragon age was ok but inquisition was more annoying than interesting.

Anthem has a blizzard quality story with pointless forced interactions and a stupid rpg hub that feels like it belongs in a completely different game.

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Koshelkin

Let’s wait and see if that big update(“long-term changes”) they’re working on behind the scenes will be a step in the right direction.

What is next for Anthem