Anthem Reveals the Problems with Making Games as a Service
After Anthem's tumultuous launch, are loot shooters in trouble?
At E3 2018, I had the pleasure of previewing Anthem, BioWare’s first foray into the loot shooter genre. Coming out of that small room, I was stoked. I really enjoyed the vertical slice they presented as it showcased its fantastic gameplay, a facet BioWare isn’t really known for excelling in. Even with the lack of storytelling shown, which was most concerning considering BioWare’s reputation, it was a preview that I came out incredibly positive on and the anchor for my excitement up until its launch.
Since that time at E3 last year, I’ve played a fair share of Anthem post-launch now and the concerns I had at that event came true. Anthem’s gameplay is second-to-none; it is the best-playing BioWare game that they have released yet, particularly the flying. However, it is the story and some questionable design decisions that leaves much to be desired with the final product. Despite its intrusive flaws, I’m still having a pretty good time.
However, looking at several comments and talking with others who have played Anthem, it seems that the majority of players are not having a good time with it, and rightfully so. There are some major problems with BioWare’s latest which covers the majority of this mess of a game, but there is also a misunderstanding that “games as a service” like Anthem or Destiny are plagued by.
This got me thinking: are loot shooters doomed going forward? Games like The Division, Destiny, and Anthem have all had rocky starts. However, the first two have found ways to appease their audiences and garner a crowd that plays in its respective worlds for hours on end. On the other hand, they’ve also never performed well critically and many, like our own Max Roberts, have fallen off because of the monotony.
A lot of the negativity for Anthem comes down to BioWare’s clout. The studio is known for creating some of the most influential games in history. Remember, this is the same studio that brought us Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Dragon Age, and most notably, Mass Effect, all of which are known for their storytelling.
So, when Anthem comes out swinging with this sci-fi terminology with the smallest explanation of what the Anthem of Creation is and the roles of the people are, it comes off as convoluted. And with dialogue choices feeling inconsequential, it didn’t have the same spark as previous BioWare games, which is disappointing.
That being said, if Anthem, with all of its strengths and weaknesses, were made by a smaller studio, the hubbub surrounding it would not be as prominent. It’s even possible that people would applaud it as a “nice effort” or something they would like to see improved for a sequel. But it isn’t by an unknown or smaller dev; it’s by BioWare, the people who brought you some of the best story-driven experiences in the history of gaming.
To some extent, this was the same situation when Bungie announced Destiny. Everyone was excited to play a non-Halo property from the studio. But when it released, some players, including myself, found it underwhelming. That didn’t really stop me from playing hours of it thanks to its excellent shooting mechanics and the promise of a raid. However, it did feel like there just wasn’t enough content to keep that “living” world alive.
Where is the Content?
I cannot stress enough the importance of consistent quality content when it comes to the multiplayer loot shooter. Heck, that notion can be spread to anything considered a “game as a service” (I’m going to abbreviate it as “GaaS” from here on out because I think it’s funny). This not only includes games like the aforementioned Destiny and Anthem, but also Rainbow Six: Siege, League of Legends, Overwatch, World of Warcraft, and the like. It is important that these types of games keep your attention until that next content update or expansion hits.
If you ever listened to Drop In/Drop Out–and if you haven’t, check out our latest episode–then you’ve probably heard me sing the praises of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. The popular MMORPG has flaws of its own, even with its most recent expansion Battle for Azeroth, but I have always seen it as the epitome of success with GaaS titles. I mean, it has been around for almost 15 years now.
World of Warcraft’s world is constantly evolving. Whether it’s a major evolution of the land like adding an entirely new zone or something small like the monthly Darkmoon Faire, it always feels like there is something happening in the world. The only time I ever felt like I had nothing to do is when I was raid-ready, which can take hours and hours of play to get to that point.
The most prominent problems with these console loot shooters is that evolution always comes to a halt way too quickly. These games are unabashedly inspired by MMOs; daily quests, raids, leveling, and item categorization by color are all features that I first saw in games like World of Warcraft and beyond. However, they are streamlined to be more approachable to a wider audience, and this usually leads to shorter questlines and monotonous gameplay.
That isn’t to say MMOs don’t have their own share of monotony; I would say about 80% of what you do in World of Warcraft is grinding and fetch quests. But when you do finally get to do high level instances and raids, there really isn’t anything quite as enjoyable and satisfying in gaming.
Since Anthem hasn’t really been out for long, let’s look at Destiny’s legacy. The first day I played Destiny, I finished the story. Not only that, but just after a couple of days, I was ready to raid. However, the Vault of Glass wasn’t out for another week. So, what was keeping me in that world? Nothing. Sure, it had a multiplayer mode that I would play, but there wasn’t anything of substance that kept me there.
That was not the only time that happened either. After playing through the Vault of Glass and finishing it, then what was I supposed to do? The raid was great and was the best content I had seen from the game at that point, but it was short and not too challenging. So, what next? It took three more months to get something new with The Dark Below. Like vanilla Destiny before, it was also short. This was the same with Destiny 2 and Curse of Osiris. These felt like free content updates, not full-fledged expansions.
It is ridiculous to say because it seems so simple, but the lack of content is what kills these games for me. I love them in the moment, but once I can’t interact with that world for an extended period of time, I’ll forget about it and move on to something else. When something does actually release, more often than not, it’s a disappointment as it hardly adds any substance to a world I find genuinely interesting.
Are loot shooters in trouble? Probably not. If anything, Destiny, The Division, and Anthem show that there is definitely an audience for these games. I do think companies should put into account the faults of some of these games and implement solutions to those problems. Too many times do we come across these games and run into the same problems every single time.
Destiny itself has improved tremendously since 2014, and I feel like it will continue until that series inevitably dies. On the other hand, we’ll have to see what direction Anthem takes. Maybe it’ll be an entirely different game six months from now. Who knows?