BioWare has announced it will not be overhauling Anthem as previously stated. The news is unlikely to sit well with the handful of people still playing the game and it indicates that the trend towards games that are “too big to fail” may be a little less entrenched than we previously thought.
Anthem is BioWare’s troubled third-person looter shooter / role-playing game that was roasted on release for repetitive play, poor design choices, and for what one reviewer called a “tediously repetitive grind.” Despite all of this, Anthem apparently sold well — back in 2019, the NPD Group reported it was the 5th best-selling game for 2019, though they don’t appear to have released the actual numbers. Estimates have ranged from 3-5 million copies moved, and that was several years ago. The game may not have met publisher expectations, but 3-5 million in sales certainly isn’t bad.
The idea that BioWare could turn Anthem around isn’t crazy. Titles like No Man’s Sky and Fallout 76 launched in rotten condition, but have received a steady stream of improvements and additional content. No Man’s Sky has gone from a title I wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole to a game I’ve bought and spent some time in. My significant other plays it more than I do, but I’ve watched it evolve from over her shoulder as well as covering it for ET. The game has been built out and expanded to the point where it’s a fundamentally different title than what Hello Games launched back in 2016. Fallout 76 hasn’t made as many changes as NMS, but it also wins credit for significant improvements since launch. Anthem was expected to be the next major title to win accolades for a wholesale post-launch revamp.
The writing may have been on the wall since Casey Hudson left BioWare last December. When Hudson launched the revamp in February 2020, he promised BioWare was “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.” 10 months later, Hudson departed BioWare, along with Dragon Age 4’s executive producer, Mark Darrah.
Jason Schreier of Bloomberg posted a story on Feb 8 declaring that Anthem’s future was under serious review by various EA executives. At the time, some 30 people were reportedly working on the game, with expectations that the staff would need to at least triple in order to finish Anthem Next in a reasonable period of time.
BioWare’s blog post is straightforward. “[W]e’ve made the difficult decision to stop our new development work on Anthem (aka Anthem NEXT). We will, however, continue to keep the Anthem live service running as it exists today.” The rest of the post mourns the situation that brought this decision about and declares BioWare will instead focus its efforts developing Mass Effect and Dragon Age titles, while also providing “quality updates” to Star Wars: The Old Republic.
BioWare’s pledge to keep Anthem running as-is may or may not be the kiss of death for the game. It’s not clear how large the active player base is, but anyone still playing n the hopes that Anthem Next would dramatically overhaul it for the better is likely to quit at this point. The phrase “as it exists today” implies there will be no future content releases or DLC for the title, since those plans had been put on hold back in 2019 to create what BioWare eventually called “Anthem Next.” BioWare’s blog post does not mention any plan to release the full DLCs that were originally planned and given that the game’s player base is thought to be low, there may not be a financial incentive to develop the content in the first place.
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