BioWare, ‘Anthem’, and the anxieties of the single-player RPG fan
By Bex Peterson, Editor-in-Chief
There was a bit of a kerfuffle in the gaming world after PAX West from the BioWare corner of things after it was lightly suggested during a panel that BioWare’s upcoming title Anthem might affect the direction of BioWare’s well-known single-player RPG properties, Dragon Age and Mass Effect.
Michael Gamble, lead producer at BioWare, was quoted from the panel as saying, “For Anthem, where we’d all like to see us head, is the ability to tell new great stories throughout the years, throughout the months after launch.” Somewhere along the line this quote was interpreted as a sign that future Dragon Age and Mass Effect titles would take inspiration from Anthem—an MMO that so far seems to be a departure from BioWare’s usual narrative style.
Dragon Age and Mass Effect are well-known for their narrative structures, featuring world-altering choices and character interactions ranging from building steadfast friendships, bitter rivalries, and even loving relationships with NPCs. Anthem, by comparison, has so far been advertised as a far more impersonal multiplayer third-person shooter in line with popular titles such as Battlefront and Titanfall. While there will be some RPG elements to Anthem, it will not be the structured story game that many might expect from BioWare. This different format, in an age where single-player RPGs are becoming increasingly rare and it seems as though many triple-A companies seem to want to follow the money to emulate successful titles like Overwatch and Fortnite, has made BioWare fans increasingly nervous for the future of their favourite franchises.
The reporting of Gamble’s comments seemed to confirm these fears and the internet reacted as it usually does—by catastrophizing to the extreme.
This prompted Casey Hudson, game developer at BioWare, to respond to this wave of anxiety with the following statement on Twitter: “Some weird stuff going around about how our future games will be influenced by Anthem. Of course when we do a Dragon Age game it will be designed from the ground up based on what Dragon Age should be. Same with Mass Effect… Anthem is a specific thing that’s unique from our other IPs in many ways. What carries forward is what we learn about game design, which is a constant evolution.”
BioWare is clearly in a tricky position right now as a company. Simply looking at metrics, it could be easy to extrapolate from the lukewarm response to Mass Effect: Andromeda that the safer investment would be in titles with broader player appeal like Anthem. However, the reaction from many BioWare fans regarding Anthem so far seems to be pure anxiety. It’s hard to imagine being in a position where many of the diehards in your fanbase are so incensed about a game they haven’t even played yet that the slightest suggestion that future franchise continuations may take inspiration from the new model can set off a social media-wide panic.
At the same time, I understand that anxiety because I feel it myself—I will admit that when those first somewhat-misleading articles about the PAX West comments made the rounds, I felt my heart plummet. Visions of finally playing Dragon Age 4 only to find that the best items and NPCs could be trapped in randomized loot boxes danced through my single-player RPG-loving head. I realized that I’d already decided I didn’t like Anthem or what I felt it stood for without giving it even a modicum of a chance.
Bemoaning the future of BioWare because of a game that won’t be out until next year is at the very least a bit self-defeating. While I understand firsthand how badly so many of us want to hear any kind of news or sign that we’ll get to continue building stories in our favourite game universes, it’s never healthy to be the kind of fan who restricts your favourite creators to doing the same thing over and over again.
While writing this article, I read up more on Anthem myself. So far it doesn’t really seem like the kind of game I’d pick up, but there are aspects of it that intrigue me. I’m willing to keep an open mind, if only to keep my own anxieties under control.