Anthem looks as though it could be one hell of a game. Its creators, BioWare, are saying all of the right things. It’s got multiplayer which isn’t essential, there’s a strong emphasis on characters and there already seems to be fun content in the works. There should be a buzz in the air for its release next February, and yet BioWare seem to be stuck in a lose-lose situation, and it isn’t even their fault.
BioWare are one of the few developers who are just too damn good at their jobs. They have set the standard for role playing games. Dragon Age leads the way for fantasy games and Mass Effect was the sci-fi trilogy that set the tone for science fiction media across mediums since it was launched. Mass Effect 2 is still regularly talked about as one of the best games ever. BioWare have been a victim of their own success, however.
While the popularity of BioWare products has soared, the fandom who have put the developers on a pedestal also like to pull it from underneath their feet from time to time . One of the most defining moments of gaming culture came when fans largely trashed Mass Effect 3’s ending and BioWare took the (then) unprecedented step of changing the trilogy’s ending for the fans. The fandom still didn’t like it, because it wasn’t really about the story itself but because there wasn’t a fairytale ending for Shepard to be rescued and ride off into the sunset with his/her love interest. It was a jarring moment which has set the tone for BioWare’s relationship with the fandom: it tries to deliver good content but often fans are too quick to criticise.
“BioWare tries to deliver good content but often fans are too quick to criticise”
This was arguably the problem with Mass Effect: Andromeda, a game released last year that was largely criticised. The noise around Mass Effect: Andromeda was unbearable. The fandom was vibrating with anger at the game.
Yet, a year on and away from the criticism, the game actually stands up on its own two feet. The biggest problem Andromeda had was shrugging off its predecessors. Andromeda wasn’t going up against one game, fans were comparing it to an entire trilogy which seems completely unfair. If you go back to the first Mass Effect game, it sure has its flaws. The characters – besides the humans and Liara – weren’t written well enough or given enough content. Shepard too feels wildly inconsistent when it comes to dialogue (his/her personality only really seems cement from the second game). Andromeda though is a much better first game.
The characters are given a lot of time. It feels as though they almost get too much focus, as though BioWare is trying to repeat the glory of the second game by focusing on loyalty missions but that only worked with 2 because the lore and story had already been established. Andromeda does need a better balance between story and characters. You get a damn good squad but the main missions feel a bit lacking so that it’s difficult to really feel swallowed up by the story which can hamper the emotional investment. Ryder doesn’t particularly stand up well when compared to Shepard, but as a leader in his/her own right then Ryder is fine, but it would be better to see more emotional investment at points than just jokes and snark – although the comedy in the game is great.
One of the biggest issues is the combat, which feels heavy and clunky and the graphics in combat scenes feel like something out of a comic-book, which doesn’t really fit in well with the way Andromeda is otherwise styled. The other is that the concept still needed more work. It’s understandable BioWare wanted to move away from the Milky Way and it does handle the process of colonisation better than expected. Humans aren’t the saviour (except for the pathfinder), they’re allies at best and most humans in the game are actually massive problems and presented as so. Ryder can also try and understand the impact of them landing on new worlds, but this just isn’t emphasised enough and it needed more critical examination from the writers.
For many, saying Andromeda is a good game would be a crime to the industry given how many bugs there are. Jaal at one point ended up with two heads, and Ryder couldn’t get out of Peebee’s room as it randomly locked and wouldn’t open. The graphics are great with the scenery too but the characters have the wrong textures (which is a comment I’d make about most games, in fairness) and worst of all, every single asari looks exactly the same now. However, these really are minor issues. As a game? It’s masses of fun. It’s great. It’s one of the most quirky and fun sci-fi games since, well, the last Mass Effect game.
Yet, the reaction to fans was so extreme and so quick that BioWare quickly shifted focus to Anthem. Andromeda doesn’t even get DLC content which is rare for any game these days. BioWare wanted a product people could be excited about and yet across forums and groups fans are lamenting that Mass Effect has been put on the back-burner. They want a new Mass Effect game. The problem for the fans is, they demanded to be heard on Andromeda and they were. The problem for BioWare is that any good content it delivers will always be compared to the glory days. When the new title, Anthem, is released in February, BioWare will have to show they have a strategy to cope with the dangers of nostalgia so that their new game can be judged in its own right.