I am worried about BioWare and Anthem. The studio’s GaaS-fueled MMORPG shooter is fastly approaching its February 22, 2019 release date, yet audience perception has been mixed since EA’s underwhelming E3 2018 presentation. The demonstration both lacked gameplay and did little to distinguish Anthem from Destiny beyond some dull dialogue sequences typical of BioWare’s other games. It did little to assuage those of us wary of MMO shooters and the “live service” business model that all too often accompanies them.
EA and BioWare, however, are attempting to appease those of us who remain unconvinced. Over the past week, more and more news surfaced regarding what players can expect from Anthem when it opens for business in February. This includes details on an upcoming open demo as well as a gameplay trailer introducing us to Anthem’s post apocalyptic sci-fi world where the player pilots flying mech suits called Javelins.
The trailer and the announcement of an open demo, unlike the E3 presentation, are a step in the right direction. Combined with combat that harkens back to classic Mass Effect and Destiny-style customizability, the Javelins’ fluid maneuverability and flight capabilities finally makes Anthem seem more unique and fun than it previously had. More importantly, a demo will allow players unconvinced by the new footage to see if the game is more than it initially appeared to be.
Transparency is the key reason why they’re running the demo from February 1 to 3. (A VIP demo will run from January 25 to 27). On Twitter, Anthem Lead Producer Michael Gamble acknowledged that the studio needed to win people over still. “Had a few people ask why we are doing an open demo. This is why: your money is hard earned. Games are an investment. We think it’s fair to try before you buy.”
I’m still concerned, though. Past multiplayer shooters including Destiny, The Division, and Evolve all looked good in trailers and even in beta tests — in sharp contrast to Anthem’s drab previews — yet they disappointed anyway. Destiny, The Division, and Evolve lacked compelling content to keep players coming back. Destiny’s story was bare bones, The Division’s endgame was terrible, and Evolve gated off too many playable monsters for future DLC. Anthem could fall prey to all of the above.
Betas and demos, by their very nature as samples, only offer a hint of a game’s full character. GaaS games, fueled by myriad small transactions through the live service, don’t show how much content is carved out up front; a demo certainly won’t show you what hidden costs wait in the final game. That EA is producing the game doesn’t inspire confidence. This is the publisher whose live service business model has severely damaged the Star Wars franchise in recent years.
That’s why Anthem will continue to be met with skepticism until it’s released. While the game looks incredible, there is only so much we’ll know about what will be in the finished product at launch. Between EA’s disliked business models and BioWare’s spotty track record in recent years — I’m looking at you, Mass Effect Andromeda — distrust may be a deadly obstacle for Anthem.