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Anthem breaks the BioWare formula, but is that a good thing?

There was a lot of speculation around Anthem last year. EA told us it’d be a class-based shooter based on a Sci-Fi story cooked up in-house by the BioWare team, and gave us a vague 2019 release window. 

This year, EA opened the floodgates. We got gameplay videos, cinematic trailers and even a discussion panel starring the key developers answering fans’ biggest questions during the EA Play keynote. 

Now that we have more answers than questions, though, one thing has become abundantly clear: Anthem isn’t like other BioWare games. In fact, it’s not even close.

Whether that fact perturbs you or completely glances off the armor of your exosuit likely comes down to how well you know the brand and how willing you are to let a developer grow beyond its tried and true formula.

The case for old BioWare 

On one side of the planet are those that feel like Anthem is a straight Destiny clone. They both have shared worlds with class-based abilities. They borrow heavily from action RPGs in the past like Borderlands, but blend that action with the world of an MMO. 

The differences between the two include competitive multiplayer (a key component of Destiny but not Anthem) and the ability to play Anthem by yourself without the help from any friends – a fact unveiled at a theater session at the EA Play event.

Because the games appear so similar, it’s fair for some parts of the community to feel less than excited about the game’s February 22 release date. 

But, more egregious to me personally, is that Anthem just doesn’t feel like a BioWare game. 

What is a BioWare game?

BioWare games, historically, have involved complex, branching stories with tough moral decisions that push your character towards one faction or another, ultimately locking and unlocking different story content. 

Sometimes there are relationship aspects to these games that help you invest a bit of yourself into the character’s progression from the ‘unceremoniously chosen one’ to hero of the galaxy / kingdom / realm. 

Along the way you meet and befriend allies, all of whom grow with you in their worldview and personality. You’ll fight along side them – and sometimes against them – depending on the franchise. 

Each character plays a role in that story and you’ll come to enjoy their company even if there’s no flesh and blood player controlling them. 

This is a system that has worked for Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Neverwinter Nights and the Baldur’s Gate franchise. For the last two decades these design principles helped define the developer. 

And all of the above are missing from Anthem. 

If you love it, let it go

Faced with the fact that Anthem doesn’t have many of these integral BioWare components, you’re given two options: disavow the developer or accept that, over time, developers change to keep pace with the times. 

No, there won’t be any romance options in Anthem. But it is something you could play with your real sweetheart – a.k.a. the guy/girl you’re sharing your couch with.

You might also want to give up on the idea of a branching story path, or at least one follows the traditional BioWare formula of one good action equals one good response and vice versa with evil. 

There’s also no indication that you’ll be able to build a team of NPCs if you decide to play the game by yourself and, unfortunately, there’s really nothing to replace that. That means you could be more alone than ever if you don’t play with your friends.

The good news is that BioWare doesn’t want you to play by yourself, and won’t penalize you for not playing as much as your friends. To that end, a BioWare representative says that friends of any level can group up together and friends can join missions already in progress.

Will any of that make Anthem as good as the iconic BioWare games before it? Maybe, maybe not. But all of that is helping a world-class creative studio figure out its next steps in a post-Mass Effect world. 

E3 is the world’s largest exhibition for the games industry, stuffed full of the latest and greatest games, consoles, and gaming hardware. TechRadar is reporting live from Los Angeles all week to bring you the very latest from the show floor. Head to our dedicated E3 2018 hub to see all the new releases, along with TechRadar’s world-class analysis and buying advice about the next year in gaming.

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