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Level Up: Anthem’s demise paints a bleak future for live service games

Electronic Arts officially closed the book on Anthem this week, ceasing development of the troubled Bioware project only two years after its original release. For a live service game, this is downright cataclysmic. 

Recent months had seen Electronic Arts and Bioware working on Anthem NEXT, a proposed reboot of the troubled title that would bring it back into the limelight. Such a project would be ambitious without the development troubles brought upon by the global pandemic, and such obstacles seemingly proved too difficult to surpass. 

Speaking in a blog post earlier this week, Bioware’s Christian Daley said “we’ve made the difficult decision to stop our new development work on Anthem (aka Anthem NEXT). We will, however, continue to keep the Anthem live service running as it exists today.” This means that Anthem has been left to decay, existing in its currently unfinished state and nothing more. 

Given that millions of players likely purchased the game back in 2019 hoping for something that matched the depth of Mass Effect and Dragon Age, this is a hugely disappointing conclusion. Not only are fans being robbed of something they’ve paid for, their hopes have also been dashed of something better, and what Anthem NEXT ultimately could have been. 

Live service games are designed to exist for decades, with Destiny and The Division showing how developers can build upon a launch experience and craft it into something truly special. The road can be bumpy, and the genre has become undeniably saturated, but standing out amongst the crowd isn’t impossible. 

Anthem had the ingredients to become such a success, but a rushed development cycle and distinct lack of a clear vision stopped it from achieving greatness. It felt like Bioware was trying to force its usual combination of characters, combat and storytelling into a mould it simply wasn’t built for. As a result, the finished product felt fractured and unsatisfying. 

But I feel for Bioware, since it tried unbelievably hard to make Anthem a success, pushing for additional resources and the breathing room to create something that adhered to its creative vision. Unfortunately, the pressure proved too much: “I know this will be disappointing to the community of Anthem players who have been excited to see the improvements we’ve been working on. It’s also disappointing for the team who were doing brilliant work,” explains Daley. 

Work will now be focused on Dragon Age 4 and the next chapter of Mass Effect, with the former now being shifted into a fully solo experience instead of one with live service elements. This will be a huge relief for fans, and perhaps a harsh lesson for Electronic Arts on the huge appeal single-player games still have on the gaming landscape. 

But ultimately, the sad fate of Anthem could be one that also awaits other games in the genre. Regardless of how much time, money and emotion you invest into a live service experience, it exists purely because of the economic benefit it brings to its creators. Once that well dries up, there is little reason to keep going. In the end, players will have to say goodbye.

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