Considering the reports of Anthem being delayed till 2019 and the revelations about the gaming industry in particular EA, I have some thoughts on the development of Anthem and the Edmonton Studio. The Edmonton Studio produced Dragon Age and Mass Effect, arguably two of the top RPGs in gaming history. One essential aspect to the success of the Edmonton Studio was their ability to listen to feedback, feedback from us. They improved each game by listing to us and gained a fan base that supported their games, and in turned their bottom line. In this article I would like to explore some of the elements that made those two games a success as it pertains to Anthem.
First let's look at the Frostbite 3 engine. There are numerous articles discussing the Frostbite 3 engine and its difficulties in the development of an RPG style game, as opposed to a multiplayer FPS game which it is associated with. Mass Effect Andromeda (ME4) developed by the Montreal studio used the Frostbite 3 engine, were Mass Effect 1-3 developed by the Edmonton studio used the Unreal Engine. This switch could account for some of the look and gameplay problems ME4 had in its development, release and updates. Dragon Age 2 developed by Edmonton was on the Eclipse Engine, also known as the Lycium Engine. In 2013 EA announced that all future games by BioWare would be on the Frostbite 3 engine. The next installment in the Dragon Age franchise, Dragon Age Inquisition (DAI) was the first game developed using the Frostbite 3 engine by Edmonton. DAI was a single player RPG, and if any of the reports are factual there was a lot of development time around adapting the Frostbite 3 engine to the franchise. The Edmonton studio is developing Anthem as a Shared World RPG, not a single player RPG. The studio may be familiar enough with the Frostbite 3 engine for a single player RPG, but Anthem is something entirely different from their previous games. That difference may cause problems in development that could dictate the scope of the development teams imagination and capabilities. This may limit them conceptually resulting in a underdeveloped game in scope and gameplay. Anthem needs to be a well polished game at launch, it can't repeat ME4 in any shape or form. The one bright spot is the development in the co-op four player mode in DAI, which could help in Anthem’s development. Time may be a factor in corporate earnings, but it can make or break a game and that will truly impact the bottom line. The engine a game is built on can create problems or solve them. I encourage BioWare to take all the time they need on the development of Anthem on the Frostbite 3 engine. BioWare needs to resist corporate deadlines in their development of Anthem. The Edmonton studio knows how a good game should perform and they should deliver nothing less. We expect it from them and they from themselves.
BioWare needs to recreate their style of RPGs in a shared world that feels like a single player game, I believe this will be their challenge in Anthem. They had successfully made a four player co-op campaign in Dragon Age Inquisition that has overtones in Anthem. Although it had none of the deep storytelling of its title it was still well received and can be used as a template. What made BioWare RPGs so dynamic was the scope and breadth of their worlds. The storytelling was some of the best in the industry. Lore and backstories so thick you could cut them with a knife. Your character was woven into the narrative that immersed you deeper into their worlds. You were apart of the adventure, not separate from it. Will we be able to define who we are, why we are there and what purpose we have in Anthem separate from our friends. We can be Lancers or guardians or other generic named/looking characters with a limited backstory in a limited world that seems flat and empty, or provide a role for us to play.
If BioWare can give each of us an identity, a character we customize and has a backstory that is woven into the world of Anthem. They may have just achieved something new in a shared world. We need to be able to track down storylines separate from our friends or squad mates. We should be somebody not just a suit of armor with a weapon shooting bullet sponges. We need to customize our Exosuit and upgrade parts we like and discard parts we don't, not pick from four (4) generic styles or classes. A Titan in a cosmetic shader will be no different than the rest of the Titans in Anthem. No individual customization, no individuality, no immersion. In the end not an RPG but a generic shared world FPS. BioWare has a history of great RPGs, continue that history. Don't destroy it.
A dynamic world is not just a day and night cycle or changing weather conditions, but a more interactive environment which BioWare has made so important in their previous games.
Environmental customization in particular Skyhold in Dragon Age Inquisition, gave players the chance to dynamically interact with the environment. That level of customization needs to be implemented in Anthem at the bare minimum. If Anthem is going to be a dynamic world with evolving NPCs not mannequins, then this needs to be the rule not the exception. NPCs need to be part of the fabric of Anthem not window dressing. We need to grow our understanding of Anthem and how it is evolving through our interactions. It is a custom in BioWare's games to be pulled in by the NPCs, to see where we go next in the adventure. To watch the story unfold and be apart of a evolving world. That I believe needs to be the case in Anthem, not grinding after a limited campaign until Anthem 2 comes out. We should at the end of gameplay have a story to tell, either separate or collectively about our time in Anthem. Make my time in Anthem well spent and meaningful in a dynamic world that deserves my time and attention.
A key feature in the BioWare franchises was exploration. In keeping with their traditional gameplay this needs to be a core feature. In the course of exploration we will naturally run across hostile forces or in the course of a guest, which in turn will give XP and loot. There will be set pieces in the world to be sure, that we will visit many times over in the life of Anthem. To explore a heavily inhabited location to find hidden items, chambers, loot, resources creates another dimension in a set location. As a single player a more challenging offering. Today's engines can offer a number of permutations for a set location refreshing that location with that sense of discovery. Our natural curiosity should always be at play in an RPG. Anthem should always keep us guessing in what will we find, encounter or experience in the course of gameplay. The smallest of changes in any location can keep the gameplay fresh and allows us to look forward for the next discovery. All locations should be explorable and not walled off or reserved for a raid or some other design mechanic, that will be repeated time and time again. Repetition doesn't make you better, it numbs you and overtime can kill a game. Exploration should be in the forefront in the minds of the development team at BioWare as it has in the past. Continue that tradition.
In Anthem we should be looking at a epic journey, like the journey that BioWare took us on in Dragon Age or Mass Effect. I believe gamers are not looking for a SERVICE but a SAGA. A saga of discovery and exploration in a intriguing world that creates the sense of wonder that keeps us coming back. BioWare gave us a world to explore in their games, not a arena. When we step foot into Anthem there should be in a complete universe of history, lore and characters. A saga in a shared world RPG, not a FPS with a limited campaign masquerading as a RPG. If BioWare can deliver and RPG, a true RPG, in a shared world they may have cracked that nut and sends us on a epic journey. It is my belief that the Destiny model is coming to an end, the Division has reworked its concept to extend it life with gamers. Much to its credit. BioWare needs to think hard and long at the Destiny model of this ten year plan of repetition, greed and non transparency. EA has already dug a hole for BioWare and cautious optimism for Anthem. BioWare Edmonton studio needs to deliver what it is known for, a great RPG. Nothing less.
Jonathan Warner gave an intriguing interview at E3 in 2017, and a hopeful look into Anthem. This coming E3 in 2018 I hope will give us another hopeful look into Anthem. That the delay, no matter how far they push it, will only improve what we will see at E3 and what we ultimately experience in the final game. A visually stunning world filled with wonders, exploration and discoveries in a hostile environment that will keep us gripping the controller in I don't have time to blink experience. A shared world RPG that will confirm our faith in BioWare and create another franchise by the Edmonton studio in Anthem in the lineage of the likes of Mass Effect and Dragon Age. I am cautiously optimistic.
DLC vs Expansion and PVP
DLCs should be for free. Shaders or weapons or other small collection of items should be downloadable for free. A goodwill gesture to the players who bought the game. Expansion packs of entirely new content, not walled off, should be offered for a charge depending on the size. I encourage BioWare not to include pvp in Anthem, at least not at launch. They should offer this as a separate offering set in the world of Anthem but not apart of it as they did in Dragon Age Inquisition co-op, for those who want pvp and enjoy it. This will give the RPG team their independence to develop a great RPG. Thus not having to always resolve the conflict between the two styles of gameplay. Not resulting in PVE vs PVP. But at the end of the day do what you do best, that is developing an RPG.
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