Recapping Anthem’s messy road after launch

Anthem’s first few months have been rocky. From its troubled launch, to patches that broke the game, a variety of behind-the-scenes issues at BioWare, and now a sweeping round of delays, it feels like there’s a fresh piece of bad news about the game every couple of weeks. It’s often difficult to remember that four short months ago Anthem was expected to be one of 2019’s biggest games. But a lot has happened since then.

A Rough Start

The earliest signs of trouble for Anthem came hours after the game’s launch. Server issues plagued the game in the beginning, but BioWare resolved them quickly enough and those kind of issues aren’t a surprise for any big online game. What was a surprise, however, was Anthem’s now infamous “Tombs” mission.

The Tombs mission, so called because its objectives involve opening tombs spread around the world, takes place about three hours into Anthem’s story. Unlike most of the missions in the game, which require you to go to a specific place and complete an objective before moving on, this mission is a very long to-do list. Players are asked to complete a series of arbitrary and boring challenges around the world like finding treasure chests, killing enemies, and reviving teammates.

As one player put it on Reddit, “it’s like they are forcing you to do 100% collectible challenges to progress the main story, awful in my opinion.”

BioWare eventually patched the missions and changed the objectives, making it less of a grind. But, these patches introduced problems of their own.

BioWare/Electronic Arts via Polygon

The Scaling Problem

One of Anthem’s earliest patches aimed to improve how the game handled scaling difficulty based on a player’s level and gear. But once the patch was released, a few industrious players found a serious bug: Instead of adjusting the power of gear based on the content being played, the enemies were being adjusted based on the gun they were being shot with. This meant that the best weapon in the game was a level 1 assault rifle.

This issue got patched a few days later, but another scaling bug popped up. Players discovered that Anthem calculated a player’s power level by only using the equipment slots that were currently equipped. So, if you could unequip every piece of gear, except one weapon that was max level, it would give you the same average gear score and power level as if you had all max level items equipped. In the sporadic updates since, most of these glaring post-launch issues were eventually corrected.

Working at BioWare

After dealing with most of the post-release bugs, BioWare faced another issue, this time over the development process itself. On April 2, Kotaku published an investigation into what exactly went wrong during Anthem’s development. The story details issues inside the studio including internal disagreements, last-minute plan changes, and even “stress casualties,” or mental breakdowns from the stress of development.

BioWare responded to Kotaku’s report with a harsh statement that criticized the piece saying, “People in this industry put so much passion and energy into making something fun. We don’t see the value in tearing down one another, or one another’s work. We don’t believe articles that do that are making our industry and craft better.”

BioWare/Electronic Arts via Polygon

Following this response, BioWare’s communication around Anthem slowed down, leaving players in the dark causing concern from fans who were already unhappy with how often the development team updated them on what was happening with the game.

“Seeing what kind of posts are hitting this sub Reddit I don’t think there is a come back for this game. That’s also why the livestream didn’t put any effort in on addressing these issues. The game is on its death bed,” said one Reddit user on the game’s subreddit.

A Quiet Time

Loot is the main attraction to a game like Anthem, but players have had constant criticisms about the way that it’s doled out. Whether it’s that getting loot isn’t satisfying enough or that the rewards for hard content aren’t good enough, there’s been a constant conversation in the community around how it could improve. But BioWare has been quiet on the issue.

Another lingering question around Anthem is BioWare’s content release plans. Since Anthem launched, the only major completely new content has been a single Stronghold mission, which released last week.

On April 24, BioWare released a somewhat comprehensive update for fans to let them know the state of the game and content. While this communication was a breath of fresh air for the community, it also included the news that the content that BioWare has long been touting as Anthem’s “endgame,” called Cataclysms, was delayed.

BioWare/Electronic Arts

As an explanation of the delays BioWare said, “we have been prioritizing things like bug fixes, stability and game flow over the new features of Act 1. We set aside time for this work, but the reality is there are more things to fix and improve than we planned for.” It was a rare look into the development decisions made behind the scenes at the company.

In the same post, BioWare also mentioned players’ criticism of Anthem’s loot system and that the studio was looking for ways to improve it, but offered few additional details.

This underlines one of players’ chief criticisms of BioWare over the last several months: lack of communication. A common refrain from the community is that it reminds them of how the developer handled Mass Effect: Andromeda. That game also faced significant problems at launch. After just a few patches, BioWare stepped away from Andromeda and stopped releasing updates for the single-player part of the game entirely.

“This is exactly what Andromeda looked like before it died: Updates slowing down to a trickle. Increased levels of disengagement between the devs and the community. Prolonged silence. Then … nothing,” wrote one Reddit user.

Bioware via Polygon

Along with Cataclysms, other long-promised features like the masterwork system and guilds were also indefinitely delayed.

Changing the Guard

Along with these delays Anthem is undergoing leadership changes. According to a few tweets from Anthem executive producer Mark Darrah, it seems that he and lead producer Mike Gamble are no longer working on Anthem. Instead, the reins have been handed off to new lead producer Ben Irvo and the game’s head of live services, Chad Robertson. While this will represent a change to the game and how it’s updated, it isn’t clear what kind of change that could be.

What is clear is that the development of Anthem was troubled. With a laundry list of post-launch issues it’s easy to see why many players have fallen off of the game. The game’s recent change in leadership means that BioWare definitely has plans for Anthem’s future. What exactly those plans are, however, remains to be seen.

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