The future could be brighter for BioWare’s next game but there are some caveats.
It’s official – Anthem Next, BioWare’s much-anticipated revamp for Anthem, is dead. Executive producer Christian Dailey recently broke the news and revealed that the events of last year impacted the developer’s productivity. As such, resources will be going towards the next Dragon Age and Mass Effect along with Star Wars: The Old Republic updates. Anthem services will remain online for the time being, even if the player base is beyond dead.
There’s a lot you could say about this. For many fans, it felt like an inevitability. Anthem was a fundamentally flawed game at launch, from its story-telling, loot and combat to its lackluster endgame and multiplayer. Despite being shifted to BioWare Austin, which has done very well with improving Star Wars: The Old Republic over the years, the Anthem Next team was only composed of some 30 people. A report by Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier indicated that overhauling the project and adding new content would require a team three times that size. EA clearly decided it wasn’t worth the cost.
However, this feels like the latest in a long line of failures for Electronic Arts’ live service model. The publisher got off to a rocky start (and that’s being kind) with Star Wars: Battlefront 2 in 2017. Though things would improve for it in 2018 and beyond, Battlefield 5 would then face backlash for the lack of content at launch, delay for modes like Firestorm, questionable balance changes and yes, halting further development to work on its next project.
Anthem would release in February 2019 and further salt the earth. Flawed launch aside, all kinds of new features and story content on its content roadmap were subsequently pulled. The game then shifted to a seasonal approach with updates like the Cataclysm (which was also a far cry from the E3 2017 reveal). For many people, this feels like the epitome of live service gone wrong – promise the moon before launch, provide a “roadmap” to assuage fans and then subsequently renege on everything.
For BioWare itself, however, this feels like a long time coming. The studio has been struggling with issues like crunch and poor management decisions, relying on the now-routinely mocked “BioWare Magic” to get things done. This overall style of thinking could be seen impeding the likes of Dragon Age 2. Anthem was the breaking point though – it began development in 2012 as Dylan and floundered for years until properly beginning development in 2017. Taking everything together, BioWare’s credibility as a studio should be at its lowest.
Of course, the operative word is should. Following Anthem‘s release, BioWare has been steadily working towards other efforts like the next Dragon Age and Mass Effect. There’s also Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, a long-requested remastered trilogy which will likely serve to ease new fans into the franchise for the upcoming sequel while also reconciling with older fans. The departure of studio general manager Casey Hudson, known for his work on the Mass Effect trilogy, and executive producer Mark Darrah, who worked on the next Dragon Age, along with the promotion of Dailey indicates a more forward-thinking direction for the company.
After all, if Dailey and his team were doing good work on Anthem Next, why not allocate those resources and talent to a future project, that too one with a more positive outlook? From EA’s perspective, Dragon Age is going to be a much bigger deal than Anthem in the coming years. It will likely release before the next Mass Effect and serve as not only a showcase for Frostbite on next-gen consoles but also as proof that BioWare can still deliver high-quality story-telling.
There is another dimension to all of this. At first, it seemed that Dragon Age 4 would incorporate live service elements (according to Kotaku’s report on the past and present of Dragon Age 4). However, in a follow-up report by Schreier, it seems that it will now only be a single-player RPG. Anthem’s failure is one factor but so is the success of Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order – a single-player title which ended up selling over 10 million units since launch.
And while this recent report may sound too good to be true, it makes sense in a way. Why devote resources to having BioWare work on a multiplayer title that’s long-past dead? Why repeat those same mistakes? Why not have it return to its roots and create single-player RPGs, something it excelled at? It should seem so obvious and yet, it’s taken a high profile failure like this to truly pivot in that direction.
At this point, the BioWare of Baldur’s Gate, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect fame is long gone. Whether it’s the talent and founders who helped put it on the map or the individuals who had a hand in some of its biggest titles. You could lament the BioWare of old and how it will never return. However, with the moves made over the past several months, coupled with a renewed focus on its best IPs, BioWare is seemingly moving away from the pall that’s followed it since the days of Mass Effect 3’s ending controversy.
We’ll never truly know what’s going on internally – how many times Dragon Age 4 has changed or even how many iterations Mass Effect 4 had to go through before being green-lit. We may never know the extent to which EA is now involved with BioWare, especially following Anthem‘s failure, and whether it has any checks and balances in place to prevent the same mistakes.
But for those who aren’t sure whether to trust BioWare, EA or either going forward, there are plenty of good reasons. Despite what seems to be big changes at the studio, it’s still without a general manager (Gary McKay is currently acting as interim GM). EA’s chief studios officer Laura Miele said the search was underway back in December but there’s been no update since. Those who purchased Anthem for full price at launch won’t be compensated for its terrible launch. There may be hype for the next Mass Effect and Dragon Age but we’ve seen no gameplay from either. And given that Anthem’s initial demo was largely faked, one couldn’t be blamed for not believing everything they see.
Finally, lest we forget, even if BioWare is back to making single-player RPGs, it’s the flawed development processes, crunch and mismanagement that ultimately led to its decline. We could debate on whether having an open world will be the game’s downfall or not. But if the development process behind it is still reliant on “BioWare Magic”, hoping that things will magically come together at the last minute while churning and burning developers, it’s already doomed.
Whether Bioware can live up to its past legacy, forge a new one or regress to its old ways remains to be seen. The studio is decidedly not the same as the one of years past – time will tell if this is ultimately for better or for worse.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.