Could Anthem Be BioWare’s Redemption For Andromeda?
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Mass Effect: Andromeda. It’s hard to even type that name without cringing a little bit. Five years of waiting for the fourth installment of the universally acclaimed Mass Effect franchise only to be completely disappointed in a couple of days. From the game’s incredibly bland and linear storyline to its agonizingly repetitive missions and goals, Andromeda could best be described as a gigantic missed opportunity and an enormous blow to BioWare Montreal’s credibility, and by extension, BioWare as a whole.
Unfortunately, we’ll never know what the game could have become with a little more care and attention. Shortly after its release and abysmal reception, BioWare announced it would be putting the franchise on hiatus, with no future single-player DLC or patches to be released, as BioWare Montreal merged with EA’s Motive Studios. This was done in favor of focusing their resources being dedicated fully to its other IPs.
Slated for a February 22, 2019 release, Anthem puts the player in a world “left unfinished by the gods”, rife with cataclysmic phenomena and dangerous beasts pushing humanity to the brink of extinction. The player assumes the role of a Freelancer, a member of a group that uses exoskeleton suits – Javelins – to explore their savage world and tries to tip the scale in humanity’s favor.
There are currently four suits in total (Ranger, Colossus, Interceptor, and Storm), each of which can be upgraded and customized at the player’s discretion. The player will also be able to upgrade their pilot, which will help with attributes and abilities not tied to any particular Javelin. While simple in nature and application, there’s a great deal of depth in terms of progression that’s going into this game. This could offer a reasonable level of depth and complexity to the game without overwhelming the player with too many options.
With Andromeda, there were times where it felt like there was a little too much in regards to how you could upgrade your Pathfinder. I found myself longing for the simpler, more direct paths of the game’s predecessors, which in turn allowed me to focus on the story and gameplay rather than the points and stats of my character.
In terms of the setting and story, it feels like there’s a melding of the Dragon Age and Mass Effect franchises. One of Andromeda’s biggest hurdles was providing the player with a compelling story that felt comparable to previous installments in terms of satisfaction. Same universe, different characters, horrible execution. By leaning more heavily on a fantasy trope and gently weaving in the sci-fi/tech aspects, Anthem could provide players with the immersive story they’d hoped to find with Andromeda.
As for the world, Anthem will follow the open world trend which has taken the gaming scene by storm in recent years, with major titles like God of War, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild receiving high praise for such application.
Developers have described the game as a third-person shooter and action role-playing game that takes part in a “contiguous open world,” where there will be no visible loading screens or wait times. A player will be able to run from one end of the massive map to the other without any interruption. Likewise, you and the friends you team up with will experience everything in real-time. If it’s night in your game, it will be night in theirs; if a storm kicks up on your screen, it will be tearing it up on theirs, too. They refer to this as “Our World.”
The thing to note here is that BioWare isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel with this IP, which typically ends in disaster. They’re looking at what’s worked for them in the past, what’s working now, and adapting to stay relevant. That’s something not enough publishers do.
Here, the developers also appear to be trying to learn from what hasn’t worked, which is just as important. One of the major criticisms of Andromeda was the facial animations in-game on launch, which came off clunky, awkward, and spawned a legion of memes that mercilessly ridiculed the studios’ competency. It was an enormous embarrassment, especially for a game that had a reported 50 million USD budget.
This entire video is captured from in-game footage. You can see that there’s a lot of detail being paid to the facial expressions of every character on screen, which lets us know that they’ve listened to the criticism and they’re taking it to heart.
According to the developers, there will also be a lot of emphasis on character choices and the impact they will have on your personal story in the other major area opposite to the open world, Fort Tarsis (your home base, essentially). The choices you make as a player will alter your interactions with NPCs and their factions in either major or minor ways, positively or negatively. This will be exclusive to each player, giving us each an experience unique to our individual playthrough while in Fort Tarsis (which is the opposite of the social hubs in games like Bungie’s Destiny franchise).
This is a stark contrast to the ME franchise which was heavily criticised for the “illusion of choice” meaning that your character choices hardly influenced the series – as a whole – in any meaningful way. Whether you were exclusively Paragon, Renegade, or a healthy mix of both, you arrived at the exact same point: a choice between three static endings at the trilogy finale. While it hasn’t been confirmed that our choices will affect the main story of Anthem, which is something that players have raised concerned about, it’s nice to see that they will at least have a dramatic impact on how we go about it.
Another redeeming note concerning the game is that the developers have made it abundantly clear that Anthem will be a complete product on release. The main story will be playable from start to end, but leave room for a long list of additions in the form of DLC expansions (which is what downloadable content is meant for). Executive producer Mark Darrah is quoted as saying, “You would be able to play for months and months, even if we weren’t then layering a live service on top of it. So, I think it’s an excellent value right from the start.”
However, before you go thinking that BioWare has become completely altruistic, that’s not to say that Anthem won’t have microtransactions at all. It has already been confirmed that there will be cosmetic items players can purchase – more than likely for Javelins – and, depending on sales, I wouldn’t be surprised if you find more and more items being poured into the shop over time. That’s a slippery slope, and we’ll have to keep a close eye on how they traverse it.
The video above is the longest Anthem gameplay video to date, coming in at nearly twenty minutes long. The developers demonstrate much of what I’ve talked about, but the video also shows the power of cooperative play and how seamlessly players can switch their styles, giving us a very good grasp of all the things the different Javelins can accomplish. It’s pretty comprehensive as far as teaser gameplay videos go.
All reports and conferences taken into consideration, it seems that BioWare is banking a lot on their current IP. While there have been concerns regarding the departure of lead writer Drew Karpyshyn and who would fill his space, a number of delays, and the fact that this is another product being pushed by EA, the developers don’t seem to be taking the launch or future of this IP lightly.
With the ME franchise on hold, and nothing more than rumors circling an upcoming Dragon Age release, Anthem might be able to carry the increasing weight of an uncompromisingly demanding community. If the developers prove able to deliver on their promises, Anthem could very well be BioWare’s next crown jewel for years to come.
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