Anthem Reminded Me Why I Loved Destiny, But Also Why I Quit
From Guardians to Javelins, EA and BioWare have a lot of work to do to make Anthem stand apart.
I love Destiny. I was a player and fan from the get-go during the PlayStation exclusive Alpha all the way up to the launch for Forsaken last year. Destiny is arguably one of this generation’s definitive series, whether you like it or not. It’s fusion of buttery smooth FPS gunplay, MMO-lite design, sholootin’ and a passionate community created a franchise with numerous ups and downs. Some of my fondest gaming memories happened with a fireteam while exploring the solar system Bungie created.
Destiny also seemed to set the stage for other developers and publishers to create their own versions of these always-online, co-op loot-based shooters. Ubisoft released The Divison in 2016 and the sequel, The Division 2, is out next week. EA just released their response too, BioWare’s own Anthem. I skipped out on The Division, but I’ve been helping our Reviews Editor Logan Moore review Anthem.
Playing Anthem since it’s launch, BioWare’s latest reminds me of my 356 hours spread across Destiny and Destiny 2: both the good and the bad. I may have recently laid down my Guardian duties, but I consider myself just above the average player. Anthem clearly has taken note of Destiny over the last five years and still has much to learn.
My main take away is the mission structure similarity. Voice partner/assistant says the gist of the mission, a waypoint appears on screen, the player goes to said waypoint, activates some item, shoots some baddies while waiting for a meter to fill, follows another waypoint, shoots more enemies, grabs a thing, kills a final wave of enemies, and then the mission ends. Rinse and repeat. This is eventually what wore me down with Destiny, when you get down to it.
Anthem’s strongholds are just Destiny’s strikes. Both games’ freeplay modes are similar, at least Destiny’s beginning freeplay is. It’s a vast, all too empty world with materials to harvest and random world encounters to partake in, even at ridiculously low levels.
The obvious advantage Destiny has over Anthem is time. Destiny has been around for five years with two numbered games and seven expansions. Bungie has developed the franchise by listening to the fans and trying out new things. When stuff doesn’t work, they usually respond in some capacity down the line. Bungie has experimented, revised, invented, and reverted the world and game of Destiny to where it is today, a place I hear that is the best the core game has ever been. It seems that BioWare did not heed these lessons or—more likely—EA did not give them the time to.
Two quotes from a report by Jason Schreier from Kotaku captures the way I think Anthem feels at launch. The first simply captures that, at the time of publication (January 2018), the likelihood of Anthem being delayed again was slim to none.
“…it appears unlikely to developers that publisher EA will allow BioWare to delay the game any further than March 2019, when the company’s 2019 fiscal year comes to an end.”
This second quote though claims that BioWare was paying attention to Destiny 2’s launch, its community, and Bungie’s response. It makes sense to do so! Destiny was and is arguably the biggest game of its kind on consoles.
“Most recently, sources say, Anthem’s developers have been watching the ongoing anger in the Destiny 2 community over the state of that game.”
I think when looking at this report with the state the game launched in, it’s clear BioWare did not have the time to fully flesh out and polish Anthem. This has led to a launch that appears to be underperforming in the market, and certainly with critics.
Further to Anthem’s detriment, Destiny’s own shortcomings frame my own lens for EA’s take. Take for example the story: Destiny’s story, especially the first game, is a patched together mess. Over time, some expansions got stories right, but usually, you don’t play Destiny for the stories. The mission dialogue fades to the background behind fireteam chatter and gunshots. It does not take long for that same behavior to happen in Anthem.
Anthem spouts out sci-fi terms BioWare just wants you to accept with no real explanation. After cutscenes, we try to piece together what it is we are actually trying to accomplish between all the campaign padding like fetch quests and meaningless milestones. Sure, the lore can be found in the game by talking to people in the fort or reading logs, but that puts the brunt of the work on the player. If BioWare wanted me to see a specific story, the wouldn’t have buried it behind optional logs of text. It’s not an entirely fair shake to Anthem, but when the gameplay is mindless and the story feels slapped together, it’s hard to give it a chance.
The lines between Anthem and Destiny get pretty muddled the more I play BioWare’s version of this genre mash-up. Anthem has little to differentiate itself from its predecessors, which is a shame. Competition is great for the industry. It pushes developers forward to create new, engaging experiences. It gives players choices (unlike Anthem) to spend their time with a game that they enjoy the most.
The beautiful possibility about this generation is that a game released now can evolve over time. Sure, the sting of a poor launch can haunt a game for its lifetime, but Anthem can become better. Destiny most definitely became a better game throughout the years. It also went back to a bad one. Just because Anthem launched in a marred state doesn’t mean it can’t recover. BioWare has an uphill battle with the future of Anthem. We will all just have to see if the can take it to new heights or if the game will be grounded.