Back at the start of 2019 the world was a simpler place. COVID-19 wasn’t a thing, Bungie and Activision got a divorce, and every major game publisher was looking for their own Destiny-killer. EA’s take on the online persistent world live service looter shooter genre was the eagerly anticipated Anthem, the new game from Mass Effect developers Bioware. Despite plans for multiple years of story and content, Anthem famously bombed and within a few short months there were talks of gutting the game and starting again with a massive update. Bioware recently announced the overhaul was cancelled, so I thought I would jump back in for the first time since those early days so full of promise, before EA pull the plug on the servers.
Working with the cloud as I do, I’m no stranger to consuming things as a service. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) have long since been normalised, while the likes of Spotify and Netflix have done the same for the music and video industries. Compared to those, Games-as-a-Service is still fairly young, at least in the mainstream. Stadia was a bold move but potentially too soon. xCloud is only just finding its feet.
While the “live service” model has been around on PC for years, mostly in the form of MMORPGs, it’s only really since the success of Destiny that shared world live service looter shooter games have become popular on console. Following Destiny we saw a slew of titles aiming to replicate its success, such as The Division, Fallout 76, Marvel’s Avengers, and recently of course, Outriders.
We’ve seen major players like Amazon try to launch into this space and fail. It’s clear that making a live service game with a rewarding, balanced grind and replayable endgame content is hard. In fact, looking back at the number of supposed Destiny-killers that have emerged over the years, it really goes to show how successful Bungie have been to keep Destiny going from relative strength-to-strength even 3.5 years after the release of Destiny 2.
Live service games seem to end up in one of two categories: either they carve out a niche and hold onto a dedicated following, or they keep players interested for a while but die off due to lack of endgame content and/or balanced weapon and gear grind.
Anthem sadly seemed to fall into the latter. Despite some favourable early feedback on the core gameplay, it became apparent that once the campaign was completed, there just wasn’t much reason to keep going back. Numbers dwindled, and Bioware eventually announced they would have a dedicated team working to completely overhaul the game. It quickly hit the EA Access Vault, and things went quiet. Despite the occasional update, there wasn’t really any sign of Anthem “Next” breaking cover, and just a couple of months ago it was announced that development of the revamped Anthem would be halted, and teams diverted onto other titles.
EA, with their seemingly infinite resources, appear to have cut their losses with Anthem.
So, onto my experience of Anthem lately. It’s quiet. Really quiet. Hopping into Freeplay still tends to see at least two other players zooming about, so there are at least people to team up with for World Events and general map exploration. However the campaign mode is dead. When loading up a campaign mission, I find myself flying solo maybe 85-90% of the time. Anthem is definitely a game meant to be played with a fireteam, and some of the set pieces and bosses are quite a challenge without backup (at least, they are for me).
The game is still fun, but there’s definitely something missing when you’re on your own. There just isn’t as much enjoyment in playing, and I find myself getting bored after only a couple of missions. Short bursts seems to be the way to wrap this up.
I’d like to attempt a Stronghold at some point, but given these are an endgame activity meant to be on a par with Destiny’s raids, there’s no way I’m doing this without a fireteam.
The game still looks great, plays well, and has some interesting mechanics, but without any long-term support or fresh content to come, it’s pretty much one to complete and then move on.
At least Bioware’s next release (Mass Effect Legendary Edition) is one I can definitely get into solo.