Games only get one shot at a first impression, but that doesn’t mean that redemption is impossible. After all, we’ve seen many games-as-a-service titles recover from disastrous launches such as Tom Clancy’s The Division and Destiny. However, in the case of BioWare’s Anthem, it seems like salvaging the good parts of the action role-playing game’s rotten core is more work than it’s worth. Despite this, that’s exactly what teams at both BioWare Austin and Edmonton are reportedly attempting to do.
Currently codenamed “Anthem Next,” BioWare is working on completely overhauling the early 2019 release. It’s unknown how exactly it will manifest, as it has been discussed as everything from being multiple free updates to a brand new game. The latter might seem like a drastic measure if you haven’t been following the game’s troubled development cycle, which has spanned over seven years. The key difference between Anthem and many other loot-based games that launched in a disappointing state is that this one wasn’t fun to play on a base level.
Issues like brutal load times and interface bugs have all been addressed since launch, but unfortunately, they were the least of Anthem’s issues. The biggest flaws are the repetitive mission design, awful enemy artificial intelligence, and a poorly told story that don’t live up to the high expectations that BioWare has previously set. The only thing that Anthem truly nails is its movement and art design, as flying around the gorgeous open world is a delight.
Fixing Anthem‘s problems essentially means creating an entirely new life within Anthem’s framework. As a result, it makes more sense for Anthem Next to be a standalone expansion rather than an update to a disappointing release with a stigma already attached to it.
Once players quit playing a game, it is hard for a developer to tempt them back via a content update, and it’s even less likely when they’ve traded their physical copy in at GameStop. With Anthem regularly selling for less than $10, consumers have made it quite clear that they aren’t interested in the cooperative shooter. Plus, with the overhaul just a few months in development, it’s not going to be released until after the original game is over a year old. So, while a series of free updates that fix many of Anthem’s core issues would be great for the few faithful fans that stuck around, most would continue to ignore the dated release.
However, making Anthem Next a new standalone expansion would distance it from the original’s tarnished reputation. As a fresh start for the series, players wouldn’t have to buy and play through the original’s disappointing story and repetitive missions. And judging by how much BioWare is planning on changing, it appears the developer agrees that the original game can’t be saved in a recognizable form.
Beyond making Anthem actually fun to play, the biggest obstacle that Electronic Arts faces is making players excited for and willing to pay for another release bearing the Anthem name. However, there are ways to mitigate this issue such as offering loyalty discounts for players that picked up the original and launching Anthem Next at a budget price point even if it has more meat on its bones than the original. It could even be something akin to Killzone Shadow Fall’s Intercept expansion, which was cheap DLC for the original and a slightly pricier standalone release for those that didn’t keep the PlayStation 4 launch title in their collection. If marketed correctly and EA is up front about how disappointing the original was, the updated release could put the franchise back on the right track.
After all, EA has always had high expectations for Anthem as the publisher expected it to sell over six million copies in less than two months. The goal was to create a service game similar to Destiny that could be supported for years and keep players engaged the entire time. While the initial release clearly failed to do that, with EA CEO Andrew Wilson even publicly admitting that, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be achieved in the future. It’s difficult to admit failure, but BioWare has the feedback and manpower to turn the ship around rather than watch it continue barreling towards the crash it’s currently headed to.
Anthem Next is a new opportunity for both EA and BioWare, and a second chance for the series as a whole if done correctly. Both companies need to communicate to fans that their disappointment is recognized. Then they must make a title that lives up to Anthem’s initial promise, while simultaneously making it accessible to all gamers regardless of whether they owned the original. All of that is easier said than done, of course, but in a world where Final Fantasy XIV is now a beloved MMORPG, any title can make a comeback if enough work is done.