Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Predicting Anthem & Bioware's Future

Bioware has gradually given up on making role-playing games, not just the brilliant games they used to create. They are now a husk of what they once were and EA are using them like a sock puppet until the industry wears it out and nothing but dust remains. When they announced Mass Effect: Andromeda, I was skeptical, but hopeful. When they started to release gameplay footages and boasted about their engine and graphics over story and characters, I knew what Mass Effect: Andromeda was to be and I did warn them, I warned the internet wherever I could like a madman. Me, the guy who was so impressed with Mass Effect 2 and with the marketing for Mass Effect 3 that I decided to pre-order it, as I rarely do. Not only that, I pre-ordered Mass Effect 3's collector's edition for that damn N7 patch. I am a fan of both Bioware and Mass Effect in particular, yet I knew better than to buy Andromeda.
Bioware has been pulled from creating more content for their "promising" Mass Effect: Andromeda, you know, at least to justify paying full price for an obviously rushed travesty of a game. I don't need a confirmation to know that Anthem isn't Bioware's thing and that they've been given an ultimatum. You'd think that Andromeda was successful enough, right? But is it ever enough for the greedy board of shareholders who want more, more, more and even more? So EA pulled out the whip on Bioware.

The plan?
Building an "MMO light" game because this is the popular genre right now. Games like Destiny (and its less successful sequel), The Division and Warframe are all the rage and are fairly profitable. All you need is a basic role playing system, a semi open world and a low enough difficulty to attract both the casual market, but also not to upset the hardcore shooter fans. With a simplistic progression system similar to freemium games (except it won't be free-to-play, no, it might even cost more than the 60 bucks we've been used to, if we're to look at the way big names in the industry are trying to bullshit us), it's hard to pass on the opportunity to nickle and dime customers for money after they already purchased the product, or some of it at least... or, sorry,  should I say "service" instead? In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they will "offer the option" to paying customers to watch advertisements for bonus xp or if they implement fifteen types of in-game currency. At least I can understand Warframe, since it's free-to-play and a very amazing game at that.
Anthem doesn't have to be an MMO in any sense, but multiplayer will be its main focus, make no mistake about it. Building squads of three or more players with friends or strangers, tackling various missions together or jumping into someone else's battle seamlessly to help them out, raiding dungeons, gotta have those, the whole shebang and it all sounds great... yet too familiar. So what makes it better? Does it have anything original?

What would the story be about?
Bioware assured their longtime fans and all single-player enthusiasts that they won't be disappointed. I, however, am not sticking my hopes up. It's pretty obvious that Anthem is Bioware's chance to prove EA's shareholders that they can still make profitable products after the failure of Mass Effect: Andromeda. Of course, some corners of the industry have proven that single-player games can be profitable AND amazing experiences (I'm referring to God of War in particular, though not exclusively), although there's very little to monetize about a linear story beyond the initial purchasing price and perhaps a season pass for upcoming downloadable content. Sure, that hasn't stopped Warner Brothers and Monolith Productions from shoving useless and even game-breaking microtransactions into a heavily story-focused single-player campaign (Middle-earth: Shadow of War), but in the end they proved to be kinda fruitless and the devs decided to eventually remove them... long after everyone stopped caring. Stories are not very lucrative on a long term, so Bioware is practically being forced to do a multiplayer focused experience first and foremost all built around selling a buttload of microtransactions and virtual currency on top of seasonal expansions, if they get there.
Anthem will feature a barebones plot taking backseat to grinding and farming for experience points and loot. There will be a story, but extremely linear, I don't expect Bioware's signature dialogue wheel to make an appearance, lots of repetitive side missions to pad the length of the campaign and it still won't be longer than 6 hours, my personal bet. I'm okay with a shorter ride if the experience is enjoyable, but I'm more than skeptical about Anthem. Destiny had an amazing premise from the very first reveal, an epic tale about a mysterious alien thingy that chooses special characters and gives them special powers to be able to stand a chance against an unstoppable force. The actual game proved to be good, but not amazing, while the main campaign was underwhelming, to say the least. If that overhyped behemoth managed to upset so many gamers and critics alike, I don't think Anthem has what it takes to maintain much momentum, not after the disaster of Andromeda and the dip of confidence in Bioware's talents. I also find it a bit suspicious that we were shown next to nothing in terms of story or characters, in comparison to their Mass Effect games, all of them. There's most likely a customization screen at the beginning and the rest, well, "you make the story" said the lazy writer. So you won't be a hero, the heroes would be quest-handing NPCs. No, you'll play as a grunt donning a robot suit and fetching for the masters like a good boy, 'cause that's never been done in games before... Enemies will be mindless fodder, the main enemy boss will most likely be a giant snake thing or something similar, while the world maps (3 at best, jungle confirmed) I expect will be surprisingly disappointing to explore.

All that's gonna keep players engaged will be looting and upgrading to be able to kill enemies with even more ease than what they're showing in gameplay videos. If that's too repetitive for ya, there will surely be raids or some kind of co-op or public events. Bioware better be sure to include some sort of PVP mode, since that's the best way to get people hooked on microtransactions and loot crates, and don't you think there won't be some kind of RNG type of "reward" system. Basically, Anthem will have a derivative and shallow systemic design with a thick scope to fool players into paying more than any game is worth. But then again, worth is subjective, so if you want to pay hundreds or thousands of bucks on a single game, who am I to judge?! It only sucks that customer behavior has pushed creative and talented story weavers like Bioware into making a run-of-the-mill multiplayer romp. 

I'm not gonna say the development is smoother than in the past or that games haven't become more detailed, more amazing. I know what kind of exhausting work goes into them, the way developers are treated especially towards the end of development. I love games, I see them becoming more than just entertainment and every year I'm anxious to see what new adventures await me, to be witness to creative worlds and wonderful, immersive journeys I wouldn't otherwise experience in other mediums, that is to actively take part in them and be the hero or villain of the story.

In conclusion...
Anthem will be released lacking content and polish, while the people at Bioware already know their game is caca, but they'll push it out anyway in hopes that it'll be successful enough to keep them afloat for a few more years, one more game. Unfortunately, I don't see the bright light in this endeavor of theirs. My prediction is that EA will shut Bioware down before the summer of 2019, as they did with many other developers. I can only hope to eat my own words.

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