Bungie had a rough 2017, solely attributed to Mass Effect: Andromeda. There were several warning signs over the years that its development wasn’t going well, but those who enjoyed the previous trilogy and general fans of sci-fi games wanted to believe it would turn out well.
But its development hell issues took their toll on the final game, as it was buggier and glitchier than even a Bethesda game at launch, and the poor animation was difficult not to notice. The story about exactly what happened behind the scenes has been well documented, and the fallout was vicious all around. The game ended up selling below expectations, which resulted not only in EA cancelling the Andromeda sequels and story-based DLC, but also putting the Mass Effect series on ice for now. EA also shuttered most of Bioware’s Montreal division, which handled the game, and kept a thin team for multiplayer updates. The rest of the staff was either moved to Bioware’s main Edmonton studio, EA Motive, or had to find employment elsewhere.
Despite this rocky development, the future for Bioware was shown to be a little brighter. Anthem, a new IP the main Bioware development staff between Edmonton and Austin, Texas have been working on for a while, was revealed at E3. This will be a Destiny-like shared-world online service game, a title that can be played in single-player or multiplayer co-op that will be updated with features and expansions for years, with core gameplay that channels the aforementioned Mass Effect. There’s been contention over a developer that mainly worked on single-player-only games working on a multiplayer game, which raised several questions about the direction of the entire video gaming industry, but some longtime Bioware fans are looking forward to it.
This past week, Kotaku posted a report on how deep Bioware is going into Anthem. Outside a small segment of the studio that’s focused on comparatively less important works, the entire company is all in on this one game. There’s a massive amount of pressure on the studio to deliver a quality title, and it’s stressing out the developers. That’s not solely because of how cutthroat the AAA industry can be, since Andromeda another example of how one failure can mean the end of the studio, but due to everything that happened last year with EA.
The Andromeda situation mentioned above was only one issue, as it’s tough to forget about the controversy generated by features in Star Wars Battlefront II — especially given how often I posted about it. It contained loot boxes, roundabout ways in which characters and in-game bonuses could be purchased with real money, and insane character and item-unlocking requirements that needed hours and hours of play. It’s explained in the Kotaku article that Anthem’s monetization schemes haven’t been finalized yet (though they’ll potentially revolve around cosmetics — not that this is encouraging), but they’re under pressure to implement something that both impresses EA and doesn’t result in an uproar from the gaming audience and press. They’ve also been watching the reactions to Bungie’s Destiny 2, which is currently “not in a good place.”
Anthem has been in development since 2012, meaning a small team has been ardently working on it since Mass Effect 3 released. Its development languished for a while at the Edmonton studio, and there were talks about it potentially being cancelled. It didn’t happen, though its development had some rough sports.
In addition to considering and reconsidering what the team wanted the game to be, they also ran into trouble with EA’s Frostbite engine. This trouble was already well documented through reports from the Andromeda team and Ragtag Star Wars team at Visceral Games, the latter of which was cancelled and the studio shuttered when development ran into too many issues. The engine was designed for first-person games like the Battlefield titles, but has been a struggle to use with third-person games. But they’re slowly figuring it out.
We should see Anthem again soon, but they might wait until EA’s conference in June. The Kotaku report mentions how it’s been delayed until early 2019, and that the “fall 2018” release timeframe from last year was never realistic.
The article also mentioned that a new Dragon Age game is in development, though the project was rebooted last year. It will be a “live” game, which people took to mean that it will be yet another shared-world game that involves one or multiple players venturing through to experience the story. It’s still presumed that EA cancelled the single-player Ragtag for this reason, despite their denial of it. But Bioware studio head Casey Hudson said this won’t be that kind of game, and that it will be story and character-focused. The “live” part refers to how the game will receive story-based updates over time, he claimed. Bioware and EA likely won’t show this project until Anthem is near release at the earliest.
Time will tell if Bioware can get their situation together, even if they’re taking a direction that won’t be to everyone’s liking. Look forward to Anthem resurfacing sometime within the next six months, and hopefully no developers will have to work to their literal deaths while finishing it.