Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

What Went Wrong With Anthem

There was once a time, not long ago in fact, that a new BioWare game was cause for the near-entirety of the gaming world to rejoice in celebration. Sadly that hasn't been the case for a couple of years, especially since Mass Effect: Andromeda failed to set the world on fire the way the studio hoped.

Unfortunately, history seems to have repeated itself with Anthem, but in far more dramatic fashion than before. The game has dropped on the gaming populace with a resounding thud and is already raising concerns for what EA might do to poor BioWare if it doesn't pull itself out of freefall and fast.

How exactly did we end up here? Well, without a doubt, just like Andromeda, the full story might not come out for a long time, but we can still offer a few good ideas as to what exactly went wrong with Anthem.

No second chance to make a first impression

Really, there was trouble the very day BioWare showed the first gameplay footage at E3 2017, with a gameplay demo that certainly shows off what everybody agrees is one of the few objectively cool things in the game — the flight — but also showed off, well, the rest of the game.

There's a recurring motif as to why Anthem hasn't really connected with gamers, which is that none of the things that folks love about BioWare's games is in it. To wit, in this case, the first presentation showed a whole lot of Scars getting blown to bits, but no story. What we got instead was some painful, stilted, scripted team chatter, and a few generic guns. Mind you, this was shown during the same presentation as the first fantastic Metro Exodus trailer, and the reveal of Assassin's Creed: Origins. They already had their work cut out to make Anthem stand out and the game just ... didn't.

No lovers in a dangerous spacetime

More than the actual gameplay, however, many of BioWare's fans were into their work because they are the purest and most reliable source for character shipping in mainstream games, accept no substitutes. It's just kinda what happens when you're good at crafting likable characters and take the time to get players attached to them. If there is more than one awesome character in the same story in any medium, someone is hard at work inventing ways for them to hook up, and bless them for it.

So, naturally, that was one of the first things BioWare shot down when discussing the game.

Certainly, romance isn't the only way to get players invested in your universe in any way, but considering how little the finished game really cares about relationships that aren't between you and the three other people screaming in your ear while you play, it's a hook the game could've absolutely used, and one that could've at least kept a good portion of BioWare's biggest fans happier than they are.

Destiny, Destiny, no escaping that for me

By all accounts, development on Anthem started in 2012, not long after Mass Effect 3. It's unclear whether the game in its current form is what BioWare had in mind to begin with, but what is abundantly clear is that Bungie beat them to the punch by announcing Destiny in 2013.

Now, the way game development works, there's going to be things that, once you start, you can't stop. But there's plenty of leeway for things to change. All that's to say, it's hard to imagine a scenario where EA/BioWare didn't look at the messes Bungie got themselves into between 2014 and now with some measure of self-awareness to try and avoid them. But nope, on multiple fronts, from the narrative bottleneck of the later parts of the game, to the obtuse lore relegated to an in-game encyclopedia, to the bullet-spongy nature of the tougher enemies, Anthem is repeating a slew of Bungie's mistakes. It does very little to stop inviting constant comparisons, and aside from the nice perk of having a protagonist who actually talks, there's not much Anthem does that improves on Destiny either.

The rEApers are coming

As mentioned, it's unclear what exactly Anthem looked like as a concept, and if it was always this, but that hasn't stopped folks from making the assumption that a lot of what Anthem currently is can be placed predominantly at the feet of Electronic Arts.

It's not an unfounded blame. For starters, EA foisting the Frostbite engine on Mass Effect: Andromeda is a major factor in the infamous bugs that game had. EA absorbing one of BioWare's studios after Andromeda flopped is also a worrisome look. But mostly, EA's ravenous appetite for that sweet, sweet live-service revenue has been a growing rash on BioWare's work since Mass Effect 3's multiplayer. Whether Anthem started as a live-service game or not, there's a level of distrust that many of Anthem's design decisions had less to do with BioWare legitimately wanting to create an open-world loot-based shooter and more with EA chasing down a lucrative white whale at their expense. Given EA's brutal history of swallowing beloved developers whole then spitting out the bones, this also hasn't assuaged the worry of what EA will do should Anthem truly fail.

Free solo

Regardless of how one might feel about the loot shooter craze, one of its small blessings is the idea that lone players aren't beholden to a team to experience the game. You might have a harder time of it in Destiny, but you can pretty much solo everything in that game except Strikes and Raids. Even then, it hasn't stopped intrepid (read: crazy) players from trying.

Anthem is in a much weirder situation, though. Naturally, being a live-service, there's a push to get people to team up on every mission to share the load. Ironically, teaming up in Anthem often turns into the worst possible way to experience it. Many of the game's flashier attacks fill the screen with so much particle-effect clutter that it's hard to actually know what it is you're trying to fight, and that's on top of so much of the mid-mission narrative being interrupted by teammates.

So, many players are finding that playing solo is the best way to fly. It's what BioWare's good at, and it shows. Which, also ironically, exposes just how uninspiring the enemies, gameplay, and setpieces are. There just isn't an easy way to have fun in Anthem.

False starts

Despite some warning signs at the outset, there were still plenty of players who were interested in Anthem in the weeks before its release, including those who pre-ordered it. Hype can be a powerful thing, and legitimate excitement can surely paper over a game's flaws for some folks. One of the key components of that hype, however, is knowing the day that hype can pay off. And EA couldn't even get that right.

EA's way of getting loyal fans ready for Anthem was releasing a chart detailing the staggered release, which looks like one of the sides of the Lament Configuration. The long and short of it was that folks who pre-ordered or had EA Access on PC or Xbox One had around a week's head start, one that PlayStation folks had no access to whatsoever. That's bad enough. The punchline to this, however, is that those players who got to experience the game before the "actual" release date of Feb. 22 experienced the game in its worst possible form, riddled with bugs and balancing issues, many (but not all) of which would be ironed out by — you guessed it — a Day One patch. The damage had already been done, though. A lot of players' perceptions of the game were shaped by that mediocre week in the hands of the hyped.

Not ready for prime time

Once upon a time, Anthem was supposed to be released fall of 2018, and it was eventually moved to February. As much as it'd be nice to believe that this was so the team could have more time to work, it was actually EA hedging their bets, and hoping to make some cash in a quieter part of the fiscal year.

According to sources within BioWare in a Kotaku article, however, fall 2018 was considered "unrealistic" anyway. Delays with high-profile games are nothing new, but typically, a three-month delay means "it's mostly done, it just needs a bit of polish." Anything more, and a good developer will push it back as long as it needs. Just look at Nintendo completely going back to the drawing board because Metroid Prime 4 wasn't working out. For a game to be "unrealistic" in October and ready by February seems iffy, and the game releasing in a state where even a Day One patch doesn't fix its problems points towards something that's essentially still being made while it sits on shelves.


Most players pretty much know by now exactly what they're signing up for when they've thrown down money for an always-online open world multiplayer shooter, but Anthem made a mistake in the outset that rankled even its most dedicated players. After a fairly major story beat, players are forced into a series of trials in which they must complete a laundry list of gameplay related tasks before they are allowed to continue on with the narrative. For the most part, these are all tasks that will happen over the course of normal gameplay, and the Day One patch made it so that the game tracks these tasks immediately after the prologue. It didn't fix the bigger problem where there's no easy way to track these tasks without constantly retreating into the menus.

More than this, the folks who were able to play the game before the Day One patch only had the ability to play for ten hours. So imagine you're the type who eats these games for breakfast and breezed through most of Anthem in a few hours. Those players were essentially bottlenecked into a tedious checklist that ran out their pre-release clock. Artificial padding has always been a problem in these games. Anthem is just the most blatant about it.

Dead on arrival

Really, if Anthem had made all the mistakes above, and had just one above-and-beyond factor to differentiate itself from its shooter brethren, it would have its defenders. Even the much-maligned Mass Effect: Andromeda managed to garner some praise for its combat, its ideas, and a unique exploration loop that less resembled the original trilogy's planet scanning than a sort of gun-heavy No Man's Sky.

Anthem, on the other hand, has all the innovation sanded down into dust. Reviews from both gamers and reviewers alike are reflecting this. The closest the game comes to a universally praised feature is the flight. Even then, the overheat mechanic means that you spend most of the game only able to spend a scant few seconds in the air before having to recharge. All the things that make BioWare games interesting are nowhere to be found. The combat is competent but also outclassed by the far more complex — and completely free — Apex Legends. And while EA may have grand plans for Anthem's future, its hard to imagine many gamers will remember the game exists for that long, let alone those who even bought the game to begin with.