How to Make Anthem Better
A couple of days ago, Bioware announced that they would now be working on a “longer-term redesign” of Anthem over the coming months. It’s no mystery that Anthem had a rough start and was often touted as one of the most disappointing games of 2019. While it had all of the spectacle one could expect from a game featuring mechanized battle suits, it lacked substance and staying power. This issue, among numerous others, is probably at the top of the list to be resolved.
Bioware is no stranger to backtracking their game development after poor public perception. Mass Effect 3’s notorious color-selecting ending was one that left many players with a sour taste to cap off an otherwise epic trilogy. While the adjustments they made to the ending weren’t groundbreaking, it did seem to have an overall better reaction from the gaming community. With Anthem, however, the issues run much deeper and encompass even gameplay elements.
It has been a while since I played Anthem, so it’s hard to tell what issues may have been addressed since that time. After completing the campaign and a bit of side content over around 30 hours, I had little motivation to continue. Contrary to previous Bioware games, the story was forgettable and the world-building seemed poorly implemented. Most of it involved a slow and uninteresting shuffle through a cramped village talking to the same characters repeatedly. The first step in the process of improvement would be streamlining this near-pointless endeavor.
The next issue would be cutting out the numerous transitions – mainly between the game space (Bastion) and your home base (Fort Tarsis). The load screens were one of the most frustrating aspects of the game, but even if they were fast, the number of times you transition was also a problem. Loading into the game world, then into the mission area, then back to the main base, then to the equipment management area was unpleasant. This was made much worse by how short many of the missions were.
Mission times, especially relative to other activities, were woefully short. You could spend 30 minutes to an hour talking to NPCs, equipping items, and traveling only to complete a mission in five to ten minutes. Whether the issue was scaling difficulty or intentionally having short missions, this made one of the strongest parts of the gameplay one of the things you experienced the least. It would be necessary to make these mission locations longer or larger, but it would also help to make it possible to stay in the game world indefinitely.
Being forced to leave the Bastion to equip gear (or even see what you’ve picked up) is counter intuitive to nearly every ARPG ever made. Sure, Diablo had you popping back to town to have Deckard Cain figure out exactly how sharp and magical your latest find was, but you also had scrolls to do that for you. Anthem had you picking up numerous mysterious items and railroaded you back to Fort Tarsis to identify and equip them. That doesn’t work. Players should be able to stay in the core gameplay loop for extended periods if that’s what they want to do.
While by this point I hope they’ve expanded upon and diversified your weapons and gear, it still needs to be addressed. The best ARPGs offer you a variety of choices that all have strengths and weaknesses for each environment. Rather than always shifting you to whatever does the highest DPS, you’ll have a choice of relatively equal tools that have situational purposes. Area of effect weapons for swarms, precision weapons for long-range, and various status effects to counter specific enemies are all common practices. You can still have quality improvements in these, but changing on the fly with an inventory instead of chasing the “biggest boom” means variety in gameplay. That’s something Anthem lacked.
With positive changes like these and expanding on the good aspects of the game (combat mechanics and strongholds), Anthem could redeem itself and have a second launch reminiscent of The Division. Of course, The Division also had expansions that vastly improved the breadth of gameplay as well, but with time, Anthem could too. All we can do is hope that Bioware can hang on and dig a diamond out of the dirt than is Anthem. I’m sure plenty of people that believed the hype and bought the game on release will appreciate the effort even if it’s a year (or more) too late.