Disclaimer: I realize that all we’ve seen of Anthem so far is one fifty second teaser, but the purpose of such teasers are just that, to tease, to get us excited for what’s coming. And as I’ll elaborate on shortly, this spot utterly falls flat.
I admit I wouldn’t have such a cynical take on Anthem were it not for the fact that we’re living in a veritable golden age of triple-A disappointment. Destiny, For Honor, Evolve, CoD: Infinite Warfare, and BioWare’s own Mass Effect: Andromeda all for different reasons and to different degrees, fell into the trap of bounteous budgets and unfulfilled promise. The brief glimpse that we’ve gotten of BioWare’s next franchise already presents some red flags that cast long shadows over the game and its potential to live up to the studio’s reputation.
The visual impression we get of Anthem is that it’s a bit Mass Effect-y, a tad Halo-ish, it’s got a future-post-apocalypse vibe reminiscent of Horizon Zero Dawn with a touch of Fallout and Far Cry. This is a game that could have been conceived by focus groups. There’s something to appeal to everyone without exciting anyone, and not a single original idea on display. Very curiously, the game will be using the Frostbite engine which is known to have caused massive headaches for the development of Dragon Age: Inquisition and more recently Andromeda. It’s possible that this game will go in a more action-oriented direction to better accommodate the technology, or that BioWare simply failed to learn their lesson and that Anthem will suffer from similar issues as a result.
It’s possible to shed some light on the nature of Anthem by looking at its history as the project code-named “Dylan”, the details of which first surfaced in EA’s May shareholder report. The little information to come out is that Anthem/Dylan (so-named because it’s intended to be a touchstone in gaming for years to come) is a quasi-MMO similar to Destiny or The Division with a sci-fi setting, and it’s also the most ambitious project BioWare has attempted to date. The run-up to Andromeda’s release saw a number of high-level shakeups at the company, including the departure of Casey Hudson, the creator and project lead for Mass Effect, who was supposedly heading up Dylan’s development. This could signal another troubled development cycle like Andromeda’s, hamstrung by its own ambition, or a more fundamental change in BioWare’s MO. If the whispers about Anthem are true, it could mean that BioWare is moving away from the story-heavy, character-driven RPGs that made it famous and in a more action-heavy direction. One thing about Andromeda that’s seldom faulted is the combat. If that served as a test-bed for the ideas that will find new implementation in Anthem, it might not be such a big disappointment after all, lack of creativity or not. The big question then is whether long-time BioWare fans will follow them into this new territory.