Anthem is kind of a mess, and now we know why. A new report sheds light on just how BioWare, once one of the most beloved video game developers in the industry, ended up releasing a clunker like Anthem, arguably their second misfire in a row after Mass Effect: Andromeda. Some of the details in the report you've heard before, while others are quite shocking.
Today's report by Kotaku revealed the troubled production of Anthem, BioWare's online loot shooter. Or maybe pre-production is a better word, as Anthem seemed to have lingered in that particular phase of development for years. In fact, Anthem was in pre-production for over four years as the studio struggled to iron out the final story, gameplay elements, and overall design of Anthem.
None of this is more apparent than with the inclusion of jetpacks, arguably Anthem's most popular feature. According to sources, flight was "removed and re-added to Anthem several times," and was at one point more akin to gliding than flying. At some point in development, flying was out for good. Or so it seemed.
According to the report, EA studios present demos to be taken home and played over the Christmas holidays. Ex-EA executive Patrick Söderlund played a flightless version of Anthem then and returned unimpressed. "This is not what you had promised me as a game," Söderlund allegedly said according to a source present during his meeting with BioWare.
After six weeks of crunch to create a demo that would impress Söderlund, including bringing on EA DICE developers to help make Anthem look prettier, BioWare decided to reinstall flying into the game. Some members of the team weren't even sure whether flying was going to be in the game permanently, or just to show off to Söderlund. But the flying demo was a success. According to two sources who were present during BioWare's new flight-enhanced demo of Anthem, Söderlund "was stunned."
"He turns around and goes, 'That was fucking awesome, show it to me again,'" after seeing a QA member flying and landing in Anthem. "He was like, 'That was amazing. It's exactly what I wanted.'"
The back-and-forth on flight is just one part of the indecisions that plagued BioWare throughout the development of Anthem. Other flashpoints that hurt Anthem's development included a rotating door of new writers coming in to try and iron out Anthem's still vague story; a feud between BioWare Edmonton and BioWare Austin where the Texas-based studio often felt belittled and ignored during the development process; and of course, problems with EA DICE's Frostbite engine—the same engine that almost torpedoed Mass Effect: Andromeda.
So, if you played Anthem and came away wondering why it felt incoherent at times, that's because Anthem's final version of itself didn't really come together until less than a year before launch. And even then, Anthem was shipped almost as a work-in-progress.
Luckily, the live-service model is conducive to work-in-progress games, and some at BioWare are confident that given more time Anthem can pull a Destiny-like turnaround.
For more, read Kotaku's full report or check out our Anthem guide for our coverage.