Recent silence and a couple of high-profile departures from BioWare have led fans and pundits to speculate that the studio has abandoned its most recent game, Anthem, but the opposite is true. For the last few months, BioWare and parent company EA have been planning an overhaul of the online shooter, according to three people familiar with those plans. Some call it “Anthem 2.0” or “Anthem Next.”
Many of the details are still in flux, and there’s no clear timeline for the Anthem Next project just yet. In fact, from what I’ve heard, the developers at BioWare haven’t even decided how it’ll be distributed. They’re still figuring out whether updates should be released all at once or over an extended period of time. Anthem could be overhauled through a series of updates, a la No Man’s Sky, it could get a game-changing expansion like Destiny’s critically acclaimed Taken King. Most of Anthem’s biggest systems – its mission structure, its loot, its world – will change drastically, but the developers have not yet figured out exactly what that will look like. They’re even considering releasing Anthem Next as a brand new game, although those who work on the project said that could take a lot of forms (and it’s unlikely they’ll charge full-price to Anthem players).
The one thing that’s for sure is that BioWare has not abandoned Anthem, despite recent breathless declarations that the game is dead. (There are few better ways to get views on YouTube than declaring Anthem to be dead.) Right now, dozens if not hundreds of developers at both of BioWare’s offices – in Austin, Texas and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada – are quietly working on plans to overhaul the game.
“We spent a few months just tearing it down and figuring out what needed to change fundamentally (a lot),” said one person on the project. “And we’ve been rebuilding for another few months since.”
A representative for EA declined to comment on this story.
Anthem, which launched in February 2019, was a big change for BioWare. The studio made its name on heavy role-playing games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect, so fans were surprised when they saw BioWare trying to take on the likes of Destiny with an online shooter. Thanks to a messy development process plagued with technical issues, vision struggles, and many other stresses, the game flopped. It was buggy, tedious, and lacked the long-term appeal of its competitors.
In the coming months, BioWare would delay Anthem’s endgame Cataclysm event, and on September 17, the developers said they were moving away from previously announced update plans in favour of long-term fixes. “We hear your concerns on core issues in Anthem and are acting on it,” wrote BioWare head of live services Chad Robertson in a blog post. “Those systems require a more thorough review and re-working versus quick fixes. We’ve got a team working on that now, and early results are promising.”
A month and a half later, Robertson had quit, following in the footsteps of lead producer Ben Irving, who’d left in August. The optics of these departures combined with EA’s vague messaging about Anthem’s future have led to non-stop speculation. “Bioware Ditches Anthem For Good,” proclaimed the YouTube news show Inside Gaming Daily on November 1. Around the same time, Forbes journalist Paul Tassi wrote: “I no longer really care about hearing about future plans for Anthem because I simply cannot imagine they will be anything beyond the bare minimum of keeping the game alive on life support, if that.”
But the reality is that BioWare is still putting a lot of work into Anthem. Details on Anthem Next are hazy, but among other things, the game’s developers plan to overhaul the loot, the quests, the social aspects of the game, the difficulty, the progression system, and the world map. One person on the project said they’re planning to change the game’s entire structure. Right now, the entire world of Anthem is set on a single contiguous map; separating the map into segments would allow developers to tweak and play around with those segments without worrying that they might create bugs and glitches all across the world. “We’re also looking at breaking up the need to go back to [Fort Tarsis] after every mission,” said the person, “and what a mission technically is. That was always a weird disconnect. [We’re] trying to integrate the disparate parts of the game together.”
A second person on the project told me yesterday they were still doing “lots of testing things out and experimentation but still nothing concrete.”
With so much in the air, it’s impossible to know what will and won’t change, but it’s safe to say that Anthem won’t suddenly transform into a brand new franchise – we still expect to see Freelancer mercenaries, Shaper artifacts, Javelin exosuits, and all of the other core ideas that the game has established. BioWare’s plan is to zoom out and overhaul the gameplay systems that most players have agreed don’t work. How and when this plan will come to fruition remains to be seen.
Anthem was developed by both of BioWare’s offices, but the plan had always been for BioWare Edmonton to pass the baton to BioWare Austin once the game went live. That has been happening slowly, sources said, which is exciting to members of the Austin team who think they can improve the game. (As detailed in our piece about the development of Anthem earlier this year, there were tensions between Edmonton and Austin all throughout the game’s production, many of them the result of disagreements on how to approach a live game.) As of right now, there are people in both studios working on Anthem Next.
BioWare, meanwhile, is still invested in role-playing games. In addition to the much-anticipated Dragon Age 4, which BioWare teased last year, a new Mass Effect game is in very early development at the Edmonton office under director Mike Gamble, a longtime BioWare producer.