BioWare Anthem – Let’s Talk

Wikipedia link for easy reference.

Like Gangbusters

Like quite a few gamers, I cut my teeth on the early BioWare RPG staples.  Baldur’s Gate, Planescape, Icewind Dale… all of them hall of fame titles.  All based on the concept of character development, choice, and consequence.  Baldur’s Gate 2 remains my all-time best example of an RPG with hundreds of hours soaked.

Jade Empire was a neat twist on the genre, blending action combat with RPG pieces – which was the basis for Mass Effect if you think about it.  Knights of the Old Republic was a smash to play through, and dramatically opened up the possibilities for Star Wars stories.  Mass Effect 1 was a near revolution in the way RPGs functioned in the west – and I argue the reason that EA purchased the company in 2007.

Following the purchase, we received Dragon Age (Bhaalspawn anyone?), which was a massive sprawling RPG.  Mass Effect 2 was right around the corner, and another smash hit.  Due to long production times on games, both of these were well into development before the EA purchase.  I consider this the BioWare apogee.

The Downward Trend

Dragon Age 2 felt like an expansion, with the same recycled environments.  DA:Inquisition had interesting characters, but played like a solo-MMO with no healing.  Mass Effect 3 was technically sound, but threw it all away with a ridiculous ending.  So bad, that the fan feedback caused BioWare to change it after launch.  (Imagine being mad at the end of King Kong, and then on DVD he lives.)

SW:TOR launched in 2011, right at the tail end of the MMORPG bubble.  Two reboots along the way – F2P and KoFE. It solidified the trend to F2P conversion, in particular what not to do (hotbars for sale!)  It was tremendous in scale and took a couple years to find it’s identity.

The founding doctors quit in 2012.  At the same time.  Then the old guard started leaving.  Long time game directors, story writers, programmers.

Shadow Realms (4v1) was announced then cancelled.

ME:Andromeda launched to lukewarm reception.  So lukewarm, they shut down the studio that made it and put all future ME development on hold.

What’s Next

BioWare has only 2 active projects that we know of.  SWTOR, which has had slow but steady updates of the years.  The long term plans for this game aren’t clear, as most expected an expansion announcement by now.  Not sure how that really impacts the player base mind you, since there are still some mechanical changes underway.

And Anthem.  A game that appears to strongly follow in the footsteps of Destiny and The Division.

It’s fair to say that SWTOR isn’t exactly a cash cow, and Anthem must have an insane amount of pressure to deliver that the very existence of BioWare is in question.  Anthem is clearly an “all hands on deck” project.  Launching in 3 months.

Anthem Chances

People following the Destiny and Division clearly realize that making one of these games is extremely difficult.  The leveling process is easy, but keeping people engaged long term means a serious level of understanding of grind mechanics.  The good news here is that BW has some experience here with the end-game mentality in SWTOR.  The bad news is that the SWTOR model isn’t drawing all the kids to the yard.

The advantage for Anthem here is that there are two clear examples from popular games on how not to do it.  Destiny 1 was all about first out of the gate and learning with the community.  Division took months to learn that lesson, and paid a heavy price before providing a decent experience.  Destiny 2 took all the goodwill from the first game, and repeated the exact same mistakes, until a recent expansion.  I won’t say it’s easy, because it isn’t.  But good golly, do not repeat these same mistakes of others.

(Side Note: Activision’s earning call indicated that Destiny 2 undersold expectations.  It was one of the top selling games in 2017.  That’s where the bar is.)

PvE squad based games aren’t exactly popular right now.  PUBG/Fornite are dominating the market – and both are insanely popular in the mobile space.  That is a massive part of the market that is no longer available.  It is not possible to measure trends when making games… the dev cycles are so very long.  Timing is certainly key.

That said, there’s a whole lot in common with ARPGs like Diablo or Path of Exile.  You’re continuously running the same areas for chances of improved stats.  That positive feedback loop is the driver.  The concept of it never having an end is the carrot.  It’s the perception that the carrot is actually in reach that’s important.

If I was BioWare I would do everything in my power to avoid introducing PvP at launch.  The market for PvP is extremely small, given the breadth of options to gamers today.  PvP in Destiny/Division are side activities with the chance for rewards to be used in all other content.  Rare is the player who focuses solely on PvP.  Let them continue to play Fortnite/PUBG, or CoD.

The EA tarnish is hanging over everyone’s minds.  It’s surreal how people hate EA more than say oil, finance, or pharmaceutical companies who have actually caused real deaths. But they do hate EA.  And EA has a knack for exploiting every possible opportunity.  SW:BF2 took a massive beating due to micro-transactions, enough to get actual laws passed. They take great companies and turn them into a shell of their former selves.  Drug dealers have a better reputation.  People will criticize the smallest piece of Anthem just because it has an EA sticker.

The game launches in late Feb 2019.  It just posted about reaching Alpha.  It honestly does look like alpha, since they are in the “how the game responds” feedback phase.  In all honesty, that post is friggin’ solid.  It’s the sort of transparency that is missing in development.  But we’re also well past the time for a beta.  Beta is all about optimizing the numbers, bug fixing, stress testing… A good beta is 6 months.  A quick one is 3.  Had this post come out in the summer…

I do hope this game has success.  More than for the game’s sake, but for BioWare and the industry as a whole.  Quality co-op games are not common in the AAA field – we get PvP and solo.  Monster Hunter is top of mind right now, but then the list gets ultra short. Going to find out in a few short months.

5 thoughts on “BioWare Anthem – Let’s Talk

  1. Battlefield 5 early reviews are positive. The way they are updating and expanding that product plan is a new take to keep people playing. We’ll see what they learn there and if they can apply it to Anthem.

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  2. Ctrl+f: Warframe -> No results.

    what is this uninformed post on how to make a pve coop shooter right?

    Destiny is a bad rip-off of Warframe that failed because the end game, grind and itemisation were not well though.

    Also:
    “PvE squad based games aren’t exactly popular right now.”
    What?
    Warframe is #5 on steam at the moment.

    And you can find some coop PVP in #3 (CS:go) and #4 (TeamFortress2).

    These 3 games can be categorized as old (Most recent is warframe, 2013) yet they are well maintained and players are still dedicated to them. There’s a real market there, that’s why Anthem is developed in the 1st place.

    Now, If you ask me if Anthem will succeed or not…I feel like it will be ok at launch but will die quickly due to a lack of content. This kind of game have to have a perfect plan for the grind and itemization in the long run and this does not looks good. Let me explain why:

    Check: https://www.vg247.com/2018/06/18/bioware-talks-anthems-endgame-theres-always-going-reason-come-back/
    This sounds like a lot of bullshit PR talk to me and the story of a bad action movie, not a good plan for endless and rewarding grind that will grab players attention for a long time.

    The gameplay demos you can find on youtube are full of informations that hints at the direction the game is going to: More cinematic driven than “gameplay first” which is the antithesis of replayability and infinite but fun grind

    Slow movements. (except when you fly) Just watch the armored guy moving slowly… Going from point A to B should be engaging and not be an hassle, this is clearly not. This is bad because moving is what you will be doing 90% of the time as a player. Check Warframe: you got ninja-move, you can double jump, wall-walk, wall jump. You can move extremely fast but always gotta go even faster. The traversal is fun so you don’t mind having to walk through the same corridors for the 1000th times because you can try and go faster than the previous time.
    Quite cinematic heavy. Cinematics takes time to be produced, but are literally instantly consumed by players and bring no replayability.
    Slow paced: You have long downtimes with nothing else to do than walking during the missions. Goes hands in hands with the slow movements heh… Is this engaging in the long run? Not really. Downtimes should be chosen by the player, not by a narrative driven mission that will bore you to death after being played 2 times. You want to rest? You stay in the mission hub longer between 2 missions, or leave the game.
    Shooting: Since your movements are slow, you are acting as a turret, just spray and pray. Eventually there’s one melee attack to kill a small creature diverting you off the boss for 1 second.
    Large boss: Sure this is fun, but producing them (model/Animation/IA) takes a lot of time (=money) and if you are basing your game on boss you have to have a lot of them at the release and create some new boss regulary to keep players interested.
    The giant bug boss in the video is extremely well introduced, with nice animations of it going down the roof and walking on the rock spires. This is excellent for a one-run game. But all that stuff is totally specific to the area. Want to reuse that boss on another map? Well you have to create another set of animation and FX to let it enter the fighting zone with the same level of quality seen previously, which takes times! (= money) and videogame dev dont have infinite time nor money so don’t expect too much content with such high quality.

    You have a choice as a dev: Either a very well polished boss, introduced with a nice cinematic and flashy special effect. Or multiple boss, less flashy but bringing diversity and replayability for the player to kill. You can clearly see which way Bioware went.

    So that’s my conclusion so far.
    Entertaining game to play for one walkthrough in coop, with nice graphics and narration? Certainly.
    Lots of replayability and long lasting engaging gameplay to spend hours in? Certainly not.

    Successful release, but will probably die some months further, Should have copied warframe model instead.

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    • You’re right, I should have mentioned Warframe. I’ve made a fair chunk of posts on that game in the past few years. It does a lot of stuff really well, probably one of the better monetization models as well. No other game I’ve played has that speed of movement, but it’s also required since the maps are so large. That it’s #5 is more because it just released a major content patch. Objectively compared to other games, it’s not exactly ripping up charts.

      Anthem was started in line with Destiny. Destiny2 sold a crap ton of games and was still a disappointment – and that was before Fortnite. I really don’t see how that game can possible succeed as a box sale-driven game in today’s market.

      RE: videos. I’ve seen those. Which is why the alpha feedback is really the interesting bit. Responsiveness and controls seem to be top of pile. In one lens, great that they are paying attention to that. On the other, pace of gameplay is a major change. There’s a pile of stuff needed to get that fixed.

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