A moment of silence from all, please, for an unfortunate passing has finally come: Anthem is no more. Yes, EA’s disastrous live-service game has bit the silver bullet as news of Anthem 2.0 (or Anthem Next, as it was otherwise called) demise finally hits. The live-service shooter had been in limbo for well over a year after its disastrous launch in 2019 while EA continued to ponder its fate.
EA and Bioware may have hoped that a franchise revival was possible with the correct work and adjustments, but in the already rough battleground of the live-service genre, Anthem was always doomed to fail, so EA finally put the limping looter shooter out of its misery.
While not many people may be grieving over this news, there is potentially a very pivotal insight to be gleaned from Anthem’s failure and EA’s decision. Might Anthem prove to be more important than any of us ever thought?
What Went Wrong with Anthem?
Ever since its beta trial, Anthem has been a dead game walking. Bioware and EA put a lot into pushing the looter shooter as the next big thing. Finally, EA had their rival to Destiny and The Division. But signs quickly pointed to the contrary as the beta access showed a game that was awash with issues—and not just the early buggy kind.
For a game that aspired to seamless multiplayer play and fun flying and shooting with your friends, Anthem had a hell of a lot of long loading screens even within missions. Entering a room merely to shoot one thing and fly off again became a laborious task when everyone in your squad might load into the fight at different times. To say the least, it was utterly baffling how a multiplayer game could be so hindered by something as simple as loading. While you were stuck in a loading screen, your squad mates could get in ahead of you and clean the entire room of objectives. Oops, too late for you I guess. No fun to be had in this room anymore. Better hop back through that door again and go through another loading screen!
While the flying mechanics were relatively fun, the rest of the game was just, well, bland. The gear was uninspiring and the weapons uninteresting. For a game that revolved around accruing loot, Anthem didn’t offer any real reason to do so. Game activities hardly rivalled anything that other live-service looters had to offer. In fact, they showed a distinct naivety in Bioware’s first-time approach to such a genre.
With little to keep players entertained, the population drop-off for Anthem was steep and quick, and Bioware had few inspired ideas to draw them back. Talk of a large-scale reboot akin to what No Man Sky went through was last-ditch stuff, especially considering the barebones team tasked with such a hefty demand consisted of only about 30 staff. If anything, it felt cruel to keep tickling fans (what few there were) and the development team with tantalizing promises of grandeur. The plug had to be pulled eventually, and try as it might, Anthem 2.0 could not hold on anymore.
The Live Service Is Dead. Long Live the Live Service.
Back in December 2020 I wrote about the ailing launch of Square Enix’s Marvel’s Avengers and the damning condemnation this might, and should, have for the growing live service/MMO-lite strategy favoured by studios over the last few years. My point in that article was that the history of this short-lived genre was already smattered with cautionary tales and failed titles, and it surely could not last (and probably shouldn’t either from a consumer perspective).
The live-service genre, with such titles as Destiny and The Division, signaled a worrying shift in industry thinking whereby it now looked more attractive to studios to favour micro-transaction heavy multiplayer titles over thoroughly engaging and polished single-player experiences. This has been the clear strategy of studio behemoth Electronic Arts (EA) for quite some time now. In 2019, talking about the growing use of multiplayer, gear-centric titles and the dreaded “games as a service,” EA CEO Andrew Wilson stated that such an operation was now “foundational to our industry.”
Now, however, with the death of Anthem, EA may have finally given up on that strategy and embarked in a new direction that may prove far more favorable to players looking for the simplicities of inspired single-player gaming. Anthem’s cataclysm is now the branching point in a domino effect originating from several places.
With Anthem defunct, the Bioware team will now attach to Dragon Age sequel, which is already in development and is a former Bioware single-player property. This title has been in the throes of a developmental tug-of-war for quite some time, but Anthem may have just helped tip the balance.
Despite Dragon Age historically being a thorough single-player series, EA was reportedly pushing for a heavy multiplayer component to the fantasy RPG in line with their strategic loot box and microtransaction focus, seen in such titles as Star Wars Battlefront. This shift in series direction caused internal issues between EA and the Bioware development team. Bioware’s leads, for the most part, didn’t want to push multiplayer to the fore. After all, Bioware are known first and foremost for their narrative heavy single-player experiences. But multiplayer spells continued monetization for EA, so they persisted, causing creative leads to leave development on Bioware’s end while a struggle still raged against EA’s demands.
Now Anthem’s failure has given EA food for thought. That, along with the huge success of another recent EA single-player title, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, has finally convinced the publisher to relent. According to Jason Schrier, Dragon Age will once again become a single-player title as the multiplayer components are stripped away again to focus once again on producing one of Bioware’s trademark narrative epics.
With the stink of Anthem’s failed experiment drifting away, Bioware is once again free to return to what they do best rather than forcing through an entirely economic-based strategy that they evidently could not handle. This is a substantial victory for everyone who enjoys effective narratives over multiplayer money grabbers. Hopefully, it is also a major victory for the realignment of the industry at large if EA allows single-player goodness once again. The live-service and loot-box strategy may finally be waning if one of its biggest proponents is willing to relent somewhat.
So, Godspeed, Anthem. You may not have been the best of us, but your worthy sacrifice might just save us all. Goodnight, sweet prince.