Anthem developer BioWare isn’t giving up on the online cooperative shooter. Studio boss Casey Hudson posted a blog post on Monday in which he confirmed the studio plans to bring the game back with some major revisions. And that’s something BioWare could pull off — especially with new consoles coming this holiday. But is Anthem worth the trouble of saving?
Here is the key passage from Hudson’s blog:
“We recognize that there’s still more fundamental work to be done to bring out the full potential of the experience, and it will require a more substantial reinvention than an update or expansion. Over the coming months we will be focusing on a longer-term redesign of the experience, specifically working to reinvent the core gameplay loop with clear goals, motivating challenges and progression with meaningful rewards – while preserving the fun of flying and fighting in a vast science-fantasy setting. And to do that properly we’ll be doing something we’d like to have done more of the first time around – giving a focused team the time to test and iterate, focusing on gameplay first.”
So BioWare has a team working to create a new version of Anthem. The current game will continue to run as-is until then. When the new Anthem arrives, EA is hoping it will win over new players as well as anyone the original release left feeling burned.
This could work. We’ve seen publishers turn games around multiple times now. Ubisoft stuck with Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege, and it’s now a huge competitive-shooter hit. Square Enix spun the disastrous Final Fantasy XIV into massively multiplayer online gold.
EA also may have more confidence in an Anthem reboot simply because of the timing.
Anthem Next may launch as a PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X game
BioWare has had its Austin studio working to rebuild Anthem for a while now. And the timing affords EA and BioWare an opportunity.
While Hudson notes that the current Anthem team is getting more time to prototype and iterate, it seems likely that any sort of reboot would show up at some point over the next two years. In 24 months, we will be in 2022. And who is still going to care about Anthem if BioWare has done nothing with it by 2022?
But if the developer can get an updated version out by this holiday or holiday 2021, it could end up in a strong position to succeed. And PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are the reason for that.
Over the next few years, millions of people are going to upgrade to the next-gen consoles. When they do, they will probably buy some next-gen games. But consoles are expensive, so gaming fans looking to stretch their cash as far as possible may turn to games they already own.
This is where an Anthem Next could come in.
BioWare could relaunch a much better game with upgraded visuals and features built around PS5 and the new Xbox. And players who may already own it (but don’t have a lot of other new stuff to play on their shiny boxes) may give it another shot.
Is reviving Anthem worth it?
I’m still skeptical about Anthem. I believe that EA and BioWare want to make a good game. They want to restore some of the lost reputation. I even believe that both companies are willing to spend a lot of time and money bringing Anthem back from the dead.
But EA’s internal development tools don’t seem like they are up to the job.
If you’ve paid close enough attention to EA, you likely know about Frostbite Engine. It’s the powerful suite of tools that developer DICE uses to create its stunning shooter games Battlefield and Star Wars: Battlefront. But years ago, the company switched almost all of its big-budget games to the same tools. Need For Speed, Madden, and FIFA all use it now. As does, of course, Anthem.
But Frostbite is unreliable for anything that isn’t a first-person shooter. You can see evidence of its shortcomings throughout Anthem. Frostbite’s animation tools are cumbersome. That would seem to explain why almost every NPC in Anthem seems still and lifeless.
BioWare is not, however, doomed to repeating past failures. While switching engines seems highly unlikely, nothing is stopping EA from investing in Frostbite and building the tools it needs going forward.
Or why couldn’t a revised Anthem just play to its strengths while cutting out the weakest links? If filling a world with lifelike NPCs is difficult, drop it. Put the emphasis on the shooting and flying and loot.
Still, with EA studio Respawn having massive success with Unreal Engine (Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order) and Source (Apex Legends), you wonder if it gets to a point where it wants to pull the bandage off of Frostbite.
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