RPG Grind Time – Why I'm Glad BioWare's Next Game Is A New IP
Change is an inevitability that's necessary to grow. In this risk-averse industry, it's also approached with trepidation. Finding a winning combination is hard, and it's understandable why developers and publishers often don't like to stray from what's proven. Why not stick to what works, refining the little things? BioWare has always been an interesting studio to me, and one of my personal favorites. It has a knack for storytelling, creating compelling characters, experimenting with player choice, and crafting fascinating universes that pull you in with their inner conflicts. Last generation, the studio really hit its stride with Mass Effect and Dragon Age, appealing to a wider audience and showing firsthand the power of storytelling and letting players choose what avenues they want to explore. Both series were widely successful and put more eyes (and demands) on BioWare than ever before. This has come with its pluses and minuses.
Before Mass Effect and Dragon Age, BioWare was known for experimenting in the RPG space and moving on from a series after it had run its course in favor of trying something new. Baldur's Gate hung it up after two amazing entries, Jade Empire was one of BioWare's first forays into the action/RPG, and heck, it even took on a Sonic RPG with Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood. Not everything was a slam dunk, but it showed a studio willing to try new things and learn from them. I love what BioWare created in Mass Effect and Dragon Age. I know I'll look forward to whatever announcements it has in the future with those series, but I feel like now more than ever BioWare needs to take chances again and break away from the juggernaut franchises that have defined it for the past decade.
That's why I find Anthem so appealing. The game comes from veterans at BioWare's Edmonton studio who worked on the Mass Effect trilogy. Now it's time to see what they can without the confinements of that series, and it already looks much different than anything BioWare has done before.
Details are still scarce about the game, so I don't want to assume too much. The first showings at E3 invited comparisons to Destiny due to the sci-fi world, cooperative play, and hunt for the best gear. Anthem's official site dubs it a "shared-world, action/RPG" where you leave civilization behind and band with up to four friends to explore the unknown. You rock Javelins, customizable exo-suits all with their own unique weapons and abilities, which allow you to climb, leap, or fly through what BioWare is calling a "contiguous open world."
Anthem's focus appears to be more on discovery than anything, and if there's one area BioWare needs to improve on, it is crafting more intriguing play spaces. Both Dragon Age: Inquisition and Mass Effect Andromeda showed the growing pains of moving away from more linear world design, but it's a step BioWare needed to take to compete in the triple-A space. I don't believe that every RPG needs to be open world, but the standard changed when The Witcher 3 rolled around and proved you could have both a massive world and intricate storytelling. Destiny showed the power of combining gripping, RPG-based gameplay with a shared social space. The only way BioWare is going to get better at creating interesting larger worlds is to keep experimenting and working at it. I am already impressed with the Anthem footage, as the stunning visuals drew me in. I yearn to explore it, but time will tell the quality and quantity of things to do.
That being said, from all that we've seen so far from Anthem, gameplay looks like it takes precedence, which is a nice change of pace. That doesn't mean Anthem won't have a story; BioWare said it's crafting a narrative and characters around it with Mass Effect 1 and 2 writer Drew Karpyshyn at the helm – but this emphasis on combat and exploration allows the developers to zero in on this aspect, and hopefully produce a top-notch product. For the first time, I'm not seeing gameplay take a backseat to the story for a BioWare game and that's a necessary shift.
Sometimes you need a fresh start – to not be beholden to what you've done before. By making a brand-new game not connected to any of its franchises, BioWare is doing just that. It's easy to fall into a trap of trying to live up to series' expectations. Anthem wipes the slate clean, giving BioWare newfound creative freedom to get out of its comfort zone. Change is scary, but sometimes it's exactly what you need to get in a better place. For so long we've been wrapped up in the same franchises, it's time to see what else BioWare can do.