After an abysmal launch, months of technical difficulties and the outright failure to inspire any enthusiasm in its player base, it looked like the writing was on the wall for BioWare’s Anthem. For the duration of 2019, both game and studio failed to deliver. First was the studio’s inability to stick to the Anthem’s published roadmap, which was quickly followed by several minor controversies surrounding the game’s loot and monetization practices. In June, BioWare took down said roadmap in favor of following the seasonal model for new content, with only the big “Cataclysm” event remaining as a point of hope for players. Unfortunately, that too would wind up being underwhelming in the end, resulting in more disappointment for players and more bad press for BioWare.
In the end, Anthem was unceremoniously dumped into EA Access, where it failed to add any meaningful numbers to the player base. Many though that would be the end of the story for Anthem, but it seems that’s not the case. In a post on the BioWare Blog, Casey Hudson confirmed that Anthem is far from dead and that the studio is working on a complete overhaul of the game. Once this is finished, Anthem may indeed emerge as a legitimately good game, but even then it might not be worth the effort.
Hudson sounded serious about turning Anthem around, but one can’t help but wonder if that can really happen in a reasonable amount of time, especially since all of BioWare’s efforts in 2019 yielded almost no appreciable improvement. The apparent dedication here is admirable, but it’s looking like the studio’s going to need more than a year to transform Anthem into something worthwhile. In the meantime, the current iteration will be receiving only obligatory support, meaning it’ll more or less be static while the new-and-improved version is in development. Essentially, BioWare is asking what’s left of the fanbase to wait around for what will likely be a very long time until “Anthem 2.0” is finally ready. Given the pace at which the game industry moves, it seems unlikely that many will actually do so.
It is, of course, possible for an under-cooked game to make a comeback. No Man’s Sky is probably the best example of this. Hello Games could have abandoned their game after its disastrous launch and the absolute beating they took in reviews and internet meme, but they didn’t. They got up, dusted themselves off, got to work and transformed No Man’s Sky into a legitimately good game. Its players came back too and Hello Games wound up coming out ahead in the end. All that said though, Anthem’s situation is different from that of No Man’s Sky. It is, and likely will remain, a live-service game that lives and dies on its active community and the money they spend. Even if BioWare does manage to turn it around, there’s a good chance that it won’t attract enough players to support itself.
There are bigger and newer live-service games coming out all the time that are already fighting for player eyeballs and dollars, making things even more difficult for a tarnished IP to gain a foothold. We’re also sitting on the cusp of a new console generation too; it’s only a matter of months now. Once console players make the jump, much of Anthem’s audience will go with them. In short, it may already be too late to save Anthem, regardless of how massive the overhaul they’re planning is.
BioWare is taking a big gamble by doubling down on Anthem like this. What they’re planning is almost certainly going to take too much time and has a good chance of going largely unnoticed even if their efforts to fix the game are successful. The studio would be much better off leaving Anthem to its fate and focusing their staff and resources on a new game that will stand a much better chance of attracting gamers’ attention and enthusiasm. Fixing the game is an admirable thing to do, but it likely won’t earn them the return they and EA are looking for. Such an outcome could end up setting BioWare on the path of closure and no one wants to see that.