After more that two decades of producing RPGs BioWare is now making what looks like a Destiny/Warframe style story driven shooter and it can be a bit of a surprise until you stop for a moment to think about it.
A lot of people might have spent a fair portion of this year's E3 scratching their heads as to why BioWare is suddenly abandoning RPG development in favour of making a shooter game.
In spite of operating within the confines of the often mechanically impenetrable RPG genre BioWare has managed to make most of its games accessible to a wider audience. This would often be accomplished by making turn-based combat appear as if it were unfolding in real-time, handling a lot of the convoluted mathematics necessary to accommodate RPG mechanics somewhere in the background, invisible to the player unless he chooses to pay attention to them more closely or through competent and approachable user-interface design.
This process of streamlining was most strongly felt in the differences between the first two Mass Effect games. Moving from the first to the second entry of the series, inventory management, equipment variety and detailed character creation, along with the first game's more detailed skill system were cut for the sake of a more fluid gameplay experience. Further reinforcing BioWare's well earned reputation for competent writing, Mass Effect 2 was more often praised for its story-telling rather than its role-playing.
Wearing the disguise of an RPG, but in reality being a story-heavy cover based shooter, Mass Effect 2's was arguably the game that put BioWare into the field of view for a lot of demographics. After all, the majority of gamers enjoy some good shooting and at least as many enjoy a good story, so Mass Effect 2's success was almost guarantied by design, especially when you consider the sorta like watching an interactive movie from your couch gaming preferences of the console crowd.
Mass Effect 2 has sold around 7 million copies since launch, and according to the data I could scavenge off the internets, it accounts for more than half of the series pre-Andromeda sales figures.
My instincts tell me that somewhere, during some shareholder meeting, right after the routine animal sacrifices and offerings to The Lord of All Worms, someone remembered what made the second game in the Mass Effect series such a success. In essence, Mass Effect 2 was a highly polished, for its time visually appealing, story driven shooter game. The only thing it lacked to be a console publisher's wet dream was multiplayer, along with a microtransaction/loot box gold mine that inevitably accompanies modern shooters, and a controversial ending. Both of which were provided by Mass Effect 3.
But Telxvi, I thought we were going to be talking about Anthem. Is this you just bashing BioWare again?
Well, those of you who haven't just been skimming through the article might already see where I'm heading with this overly long introduction.
Anthem will most likely be what Mass Effect 3 couldn't, because it was tied to an already established IP and all player expectations that go along with it. Anthem will be exactly what EA any by extension BioWare want it to be - a story-heavy PvE focused multiplayer shooter, because money. And that is fine, I have no intention of bashing a game that we barely know anything about at this point. It might be the best thing ever once it launches, but it is important to try and understand what the reasoning behind making it might be.
There is already speculation flying left and right, calling Anthem BioWare's take on Destiny or Warframe, and those claims don't seem to be too far off. What EA probably realised was that they are sitting on a developer renowned for story-telling, and a game engine famous for being able to provide a visually stunning and mechanically sound shooter experience. Mash the two together; add the fact that multiplayer is a get out of risk free card from a marketing, microtransaction, and mainstream gaming preference aspect; and the decision to start development on Anthem pretty much makes itself.
The E3 trailer wasn't subtle either. The presumably professional voice actors bantering during the footage left me wondering whether I'm listening to a scripted approximation of player voice-chat or actual in-game dialogue, and that was exactly the point. Trying to blend emergent player-driven narrative with multiplayer co-op shooting. They even have the robo-suit people chatting casually about XP and new gear they just got their hands on, in case you are looking for more hints at the fact that this endeavour is multitransaction motivated.
All of this leaves a single question unanswered. With everyone now more or less in agreement regarding Andromeda being a disappointment, and no official news for a new Dragon Age in spite of a few rumours popping up from time to time, when will BioWare go back to making RPGs? I can't really know for certain, but here are two words that might hint at the answer - money and nostalgia.