Not So Massively: A eulogy for Anthem and Defiance

    
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Last week was a bloodbath. In a single day, we saw Electronic Arts consign one game to eternal maintenance mode, and Gamigo announced closures for not one, not two, but three different MMOs.

Of course, two of these doomed games — Anthem and Defiance — are near and dear to myself and the Not So Massively column. I’d like to take this moment to remember these fallen shooters and mourn their loss.

Anthem

Of all these losses, Anthem is easily the one that hits hardest for me personally. I’ve been a fan from the start. It has a great setting, endearing characters, and some incredibly fun gameplay.

Seriously, Anthem has all but ruined me for other shooters. Whenever I play one now, I’m like, “Well, this is good, but Anthem is better.” The combination of crazy powerful abilities and quick cooldowns makes combat thrilling and empowering in a way few games have equaled, to say nothing of the joy of flight.

Aside from being a game that I had a lot of love for as a player, Anthem is also personally significant for me as a writer. A lot of my early Not So Massively columns dealt with it. In fact, when I first applied for the NSM position, I mentioned a strong interest in Anthem as part of my pitch. I don’t know if it actually factored into Bree’s decision to hire me, but part of me has always felt that Anthem was at least in part responsible for my landing this job.

Of course it isn’t without issues. The game world is too small and samey, the main story focused on easily the least interesting part of the lore, the tech side of the game can be unstable, and it could have used a broader endgame on launch.

But none of those needed to be fatal flaws. I’ve played far more successful games with far deeper issues. All that could have been fixed with time. Indeed, Anthem quickly saw many positive changes to address quality of life issues and make loot more rewarding.

What few content updates it got post-launch were very promising, as well. Cataclysm was a lot of fun, and the new direction of the story seemed extremely promising. With Icetide, they reskinned the entire game world to reflect the seasons, something I’m not sure has ever been done by another game of Anthem‘s scale. That really should have earned more recognition than it did.

The trouble is once again the community went into a triple-A release with sky-high expectations and immediately turned on the game at the first sign of trouble. Anthem had loads of potential and every chance of growing into something truly great, but the “dead game” meme had already hijacked the narrative, and the community refused to give it an honest chance.

That’s not to say that BioWare and EA are blameless. It’s clear there was significant mismanagement behind the scenes, and we can also cast blame on a corporate culture that cares only about making a fast buck rather than investing long-term in virtual worlds and online communities.

If the development had been managed better before launch, Anthem could have made it. If the executives at EA were more willing to invest in the long term, it could have made it. If the community were not so eager to fall prey to a mob mentality that tears down games at the slightest sign of trouble, it could have made it.

There’s a difference between a game with some issues and a total dud. Anthem was the former, but it got treated like the latter. It deserved better, from everyone.

At least we can take some comfort in the fact that — for now, at least — Anthem remains playable, even if it has been put into permanent maintenance mode. How long that lasts is anyone’s guess, but at least for now, we can still enjoy it, such as it is.

Defiance

The news of Defiance‘s impending closure is less disappointing, or at least less surprising. The game’s been on life support for a very long time now, and frankly Trion and Gamigo deserve kudos for keeping it around as long as they did.

That’s not to say that this isn’t sad news. It’s just sad news that we’ve known was coming for a very long time.

Unlike Anthem, Defiance was quite fundamentally flawed from the start. I’ve already analyzed its failings in detail in a previous column, but in short, its “transmedia synergy” failed to fully deliver, it was much too grindy, and it simply never fulfilled the potential inherent in the setting.

Despite all that, it still managed to provide some decent entertainment value. Arkfalls were exciting, and the story was good in a pulpy sort of way. With its (mostly) seamless world and large scale battles, it was also arguably the most MMO-ish of all the looter shooters. It just didn’t have the depth to achieve any real longevity. It wasn’t worth staying around once you’d finished the main story.

I think the main problem is that the original developer, Trion, just didn’t have the resources to do justice to the setting, and upon acquiring Trion, Gamigo didn’t do much to rectify that. If you watched the show and delved into the lore, you know the New Frontier is a lot more than just another post-apocalyptic sci-fi setting, but you could be forgiven for not realizing that whilst shooting your four hundredth mutant in a bombed out building that looks like every other bombed out building in the game.

As I said in my last column, it’s not so much Defiance the game I mourn as it is Defiance the setting. Whatever flaws the game and show may have had, it was a rich setting with fresh ideas and fascinating cultures, and I wish we could have explored it more deeply.

At the least, I’ll always have fond memories of cruising between Arkfalls with EGO chirping happily in my ear.

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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monster_jky

If the executives at EA were more willing to invest in the long term, it could have made it.

Anthem was in development for almost 7 years before hastily thrown together in the last year preceding release. How much longer was EA supposed to invest?

EmberStar
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EmberStar

The “dead game” meme happened entirely because of mismanagement. Bioware released the game, and immediately put out a massive roadmap of all the stuff they were going to add to it. This was their first strike, since it gave a lot of people something concrete to point to when they said the game felt unfinished. “See? Like two thirds of the features aren’t even *in the game yet!*”

The second strike was when Bioware immediately started failing to hit their own markers on that roadmap. And then didn’t communicate well (or possibly at all) when they missed goal after goal after goal.

Until their third strike, which was to delete the roadmap entirely. I know that’s the point where the people I’d been watching who were still enthusiastic checked out. By the time they did add Cataclysms, the only people left were the ones with a sarcastic axe to grind because they felt so badly let down. So of course the first thing they did was compare the in-game Cataclysm with the fake one in the reveal trailer. This was not a favorable comparison for the version that made it into the game.

People did give Anthem a chance. Bioware just failed to make good on that chance so completely and repeatedly that it almost felt like they were *trying* to disappoint people.

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Sorenthaz

Defiance was a trainwreck of bad decisions for a game that was honestly pretty fun but could’ve been so much better. It was pretty much a rushed mess pushed out to meet SyFy’s timing on the TV series (which was pretty good but only lasted three seasons) and it badly showed. Didn’t help that they also gutted the dev team and then tried to figure out how to actually add new content. Also didn’t help that Trion Worlds was trying to take on so many projects at once and their only successful game (RIFT) wasn’t successful enough to cover their failures with Defiance, End of Nations, and the Warface localization. Trove didn’t come out until they were already sinking and trying to keep their head above sea level. 2050 was just a bad idea all around and a lazy attempt to cash out on a sloppy HD remake that added more invasive F2P practices and basically showed that Trion didn’t give a care about longtime customers.

Anthem isn’t really a surprise. EA keeps trying to use Bioware for stupid projects that go outside of Bioware’s historical strengths, and they really need to just let Bioware work on another Star Wars singleplayer RPG.

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Tee Parsley

Kinda agree with the requiem here. Got Anthem six months after release and it played fine for me. Was a great pleasure til all the content ended. Of course, I hadn’t paid much attention to the pre release hype, and paid a lot less for the game. It shouldn’t have been a GaS game, shouldn’t have been built on Frostbite, and shouldn’t have ignored hard won institutional memory. Etc.

Agree that it’s meme-hood pretty much killed the game’s chances to recover, as the illusion was more powerful. Even if EA was going to redo it, they’d probably do it best by deep sixing the name. Too much association.

Also had a lot of fun on the Defiances, but they were sadly just crap mechanically. Every game session would lead to crashes, server jitters, and a panoply of other issues. When the second version launched with exactly the same problems, they both got the boot from my hard drives….

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stormheim

“Unlike Anthem, Defiance was quite fundamentally flawed from the start.”

Implying that Anthem wasn’t fundamentally flawed from the start? I am sure a lot of people would disagree. I am sad about it and really wished they’d revamped it and make a memorable comeback. I really am, because the core gameplay with the flying and shooting was tons of fun, especially with other people (i don’t mind playing with strangers either in games like this). However, every other system and world building, looting, itemization, main hub, npc’s , dialogues, story, post-campaign content… everything was deeply flawed.

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monster_jky

Don’t forget crashing consoles so that the players had to rebuild the database

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Phil Gillespie

“the community went into a triple-A release with sky-high expectations”

So >5min loading screens, constantly vanishing enemies mid-combat, health pool boucing around like a pin ball from one excursion to the next (nothing to do with gear), the starter gun being the best gun in the game (to name a few issues that directly affected me, but the list is damn near endless), expecting not to have those game breaking bugs is “sky-high” huh?

I mean I was following Anthem Next from a distance because I also loved the core gameplay and was hoping for a it to succeed, but damn that launch was an absolute disaster and the response was 100% deserved IMO.

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Rob Hagaman

Gamigo gonna Gamigo.

EmberStar
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EmberStar

For myself, the “joy of flight” in Anthem never existed. The heat buildup system is incredibly limiting, and the controls using mouse and keyboard were literally vomit inducing.

I personally never cared for the combat, because of how the shields and armor were set up. I could empty clip after clip into a shielded enemy, and because of how shield functioned they would essentially regenerate entirely in the time it took to reload. At least at the level of missions I was playing (trying to finish the story, but not even attempting endgame) it was an absolute waste of time and ammo to shoot at anything with shields if my “shield breaker” ability combo was on cooldown. Ditto for armor, although not quite as bad since armor didn’t regenerate constantly.

I did like some of the suit designs, with the Interceptor being a favorite. But the lore was a mess. Was it sci fi or fantasy? Yes. Were the suits powered by technology, or magic? Yes. Was the Anthem and its backstory something they’d actually planed, or just random word magnets they threw at a fridge at the last minute in development? Yes.

To the handful of people who really enjoyed it – I’m happy you could find the fun, really. I was never able to, and never even got more than about halfway through the story.

PlasmaJohn
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PlasmaJohn

Blame the customer is never, ever the right answer. If your demographic has turned against you that’s on you.

Alyn
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Alyn

We all hate to see game that had appeal to some be sun set and left in the archives of history. It hurts that monetization does this. I am torn. I understand the side that says we can’t make improvements if the population numbers fall too low. It does take lots of money to make a game, but I think many forget that it takes even more money to keep games running.

So, for you fans of Anthem and Defiance, I am so sorry to see this happen to you game world. I do hope you made some friends while playing along the way. At least you can keep in touch and, who knows, maybe you and your friends will find yet another game you can enjoy together.

“Goodbyes make you think. They make you realize what you’ve had, what you’ve lost, and what you’ve taken for granted.” – Ritu Ghatourey