And We All Fall Down
A long time ago in a console generation far far away, BioWare was a name that implied exceptional quality. For years, they were known for creating revolutionary single player RPGs. There were some missteps to be sure, but BioWare never made a game that was outright terrible. Someone somewhere then had the brilliant idea of telling a developer who specializes in singleplayer RPGs to create a multiplayer looter shooter. Thus, Anthem was thrust into the world, presented to an audience that was already weary of looter shooters.
Unsurprisingly, many of Anthem's reviews echoed this sentiment. BioWare was no longer a developer who created games that you must buy on release day. Even the most favorable reviews of Anthem acknowledged that the game was making mistakes that other developers made years ago. If you dug deep enough, you could find people who compared Anthem to games that are outright awful, such as Fallout 76. Like so many other titans of their fields, BioWare was seemingly slain not by competition but by their own incompetence.
The influx of negative reactions to Anthem does raise quite a number of questions though. After all, there is no way that a game that features beautiful cutscenes, solid gameplay mechanics, cheesy but acceptable dialogue, and a unique story would or should ever be compared to a game that has none of those features. This is doubly true when the latter game's sole positive aspect is that it features fun but licensed music from half a century ago. Things get especially fishy when you look at how tribalism seems to rear its ugly head whenever certain gaming companies are mentioned.
Perhaps the greatest contributor to Anthem's mediocre reception has nothing to do with BioWare at all, or at least not directly. Over the last decade, one mediocre AAA release after another has destroyed the illusion that AAA games are automatically good. The flipside of this is that the standards for what is considered a good game has raised drastically. For example, Overwatch has proven to be such a success that it has influenced modern culture via the Overwatch League. Red Dead Redemption 2, God of War, and Metro Exodus are amazing games that have virtually no faults to them. Fortnite and Apex Legends offer dozens of hours of multiplayer gameplay for free. There is simply no way to compete with that—not without some blind luck anyways. If every game has the potential to be a trendsetter from out of nowhere, it is impossible to play catch up.
Amusingly enough, the cost-efficient nature of games seems to have worked against Anthem as well. It's not inconceivable that some people put dozens of hours into the game only to say that it's bad. It's equally possible that others wanted a game that couldn't exist. As it stands, Anthem takes more than 10 hours to complete. That is assuming that you don't skip all of the cutscenes, dialogue, and side quests. Could the game theoretically have a much longer campaign with more characters, locations, and so on and so forth? Absolutely, but then more resources would have to be thrown into the product. Those resources have to come from somewhere, not to mention the development time that comes with adding new features. You really don't have to look much further than Star Citizen to see an extreme example of why deadlines are a necessary evil to curtail endless promises.
Presumably, that is a huge factor of why Anthem follows the "games as a service" model. BioWare knows that people are going to say that the game doesn't have enough content. They have to know that statement is the bane of looter shooters. Years upon years of looter shooters have demonstrated that the lack of content is a central theme to all of their failures. It would be sheer insanity for no one to have realized this at both EA and BioWare. On the other hand, to say that the game's content is coming "soon" via a decidedly unpopular business model is hardly going to win any favors. It may solve the content problem over time, but that's not fast enough in this era of instant gratification.
BioWare is hardly blameless in Anthem's less than stellar debut either. The game has some annoying technical issues, especially in regards to load times. Some of the quests and the objectives are uninspired at best. Beneath its shiny exterior and gameplay mechanics, Anthem is a fairly standard third-person shooter. That perhaps is BioWare's greatest crime, releasing an average game when everyone is looking for the next big thing. Given the historically poor performance of every looter shooter, especially now that everyone has caught on to the failures of the genre, average is the best that BioWare can hope for. Ultimately, it is hard to deny that Anthem may very well be BioWare's weakest title, but it would be misleading to say that it isn't a fun game.