Bioware started the decade with the momentum of a spaceship.
Mass Effect 2 became arguably the defining Action-RPG of the 7th generation of consoles, less than three weeks into the new decade,when it launched in January 2010.
Now at the end of the decade, the Edmonton, Canada developer are staring down the barrel of hubris and over ambition.
Their latest game Anthem is hitting shop shelves and online distribution on February 22nd, but you couldn’t tell that based on its invisible marketing campaign, the lackluster reaction to its recent Beta weekend, and the initial first reactions pointing to a solid, if but not genre-defining game.
Anthem will be, with any luck, the last dying gasp of the “games as a service” model that Destiny popularised in 2014, yet utterly failed to change the video game landscape for the better as the hype implied.
Readers may fondly recall Evolve ruining its developer Turtle Rock Studios in 2015, or Fallout 76 destroying what was left of Bethesda’s reputation last November.
By 2019, the games as a service model has gone through more reiterations than Star Wars, yet not one of them has achieved same cultural notoriety as Halo did in original Xbox era or the
Infinity Ward Modern Warfare games at their peak.
The sad thing here is that the game is about three years too late.
Video game development takes a long time, and trying to hit the cultural zeitgeist at the right moment is like trying to hit a moving target.
In the time Anthem has been in development, the battle royale genre has become almost mandatory for every Triple-A action franchise today – even Call Of Duty, once the biggest name in gaming, had it’s most recent iteration launch with a battle royale mode.
And on the other side of the coin, there has been a robust single-player revival.
The overwhelming success of Red Dead Redemption 2 last winter showed that a considerable portion of gamers doesn’t care about ever-evolving game environments or micro transactions.
Give them a good, engaging single-player storyline and a map they can get lost in, and set them off.
Twenty-three million copies and a multiplayer mode still in beta later, Rockstar show once again why they’re the James Cameron of video games.
Horizon: Zero Dawn, Zelda: Breath Of The Wild and God Of War are perfect examples of single player games still mattering – and that’s where Bioware lost their way.
Did Bioware lose their philosophy of tightly-crafted, lore-driven games because they didn’t want to pigeonhole themselves, or because EA told them to?
Anthem is trying to co-exist with the persistent online world model and single-player driven experiences, which is like trying to cook a Saturday morning fry-up for a vegetarian, and it will end up pleasing no-one.
Remember when Mass Effect 2 had an online multiplayer component that you had to pay to win?
Pardon me – that was Mass Effect 3 and EA ruining what was an artistic and ground-breaking franchise just to make more money from teenagers with access to their parents’ credit card.
A year from now, Anthem will be just another footnote in gaming history, and worst case scenario, it will bring down Bioware and its legacy along with it.
And we can thank the company that tried making SimCity an online-only game and turned FIFA into a gambling simulator for that.