We’ve been here before. In 2012, BioWare released Star Wars: The Old Republic, an online role-playing game modelled closely on World of Warcraft. At the time it was the most expensive video game ever made: a mammoth, high-stakes undertaking in a genre BioWare, which specialises in epic storytelling for a solo player, had no experience of and didn’t seem entirely comfortable with. Its fully voiced dialogue and multiple branching storylines clashed awkwardly with the streamlined social play of an online world.
Seven years later, it feels like BioWare’s publisher EA has once again directed it into hostile territory with a huge war chest but no map. This time, Destiny is the target, a “loot shooter” that hooked millions of players by bringing the infinite grind and social dynamics of WOW to the first-person shooter. Once again, the genre doesn’t seem to play to BioWare’s strengths. And once again the studio’s answer, Anthem, has snowballed into a colossal, eye-wateringly expensive project that consumed all of BioWare’s development teams as it rolled towards last week’s release.
The outcome is different, though. The Old Republic was copybook stuff, a studious and polished imitation of Blizzard’s game that did little interesting and got little wrong. Anthem takes more risks, is more original – and makes more mistakes. Much more. It seems not just unfinished but only half-started, a game caught in the act of figuring out what it is supposed to be.