You thought this was going to start with a joke about Infinity War, didn’t you? Be honest. If you are, then I will be and admit that the first couple drafts of this did indeed start that way. As it turns out trying to link Doctor Strange’s line into a conversation about the controversy surrounding Anthem’s launch state is harder than it seems.
See how I did that? Nice, right?
Anywho, let’s talk about the latest whirlwind of, I won’t even call it a conversation, as it is really just a bunch of people screaming into the void about the newest death knell for Anthem.
We’re not going to start out talking about it immediately, it’ll take a minute but trust me, we’ll get there.
First off we may as well take a moment to explain exactly what that is for the curious but unfamiliar and to do that let’s go over some general info. Video games are broken down into some broad categories which over time have been parted out even more into various sub-categories. The number of these is easily into the dozens so you’ll forgive me for not listing them all here, we’ll stick with just the relevant ones. Anthem is most often referred to as a Looter Shooter which combines elements of Action/RPG/First or Third-Person Shooter games into one package. We can credit the existence of this genre to games like Hellgate: London and the short-lived Tabula Rasa. Two years after those games released Gearbox’s entry Borderlands would finally cement the Looter Shooter as a staple in the gaming industry. Titles like Warframe, Destiny and The Division were not far behind, as well as numerous indie projects. All of these games, while also being looter shooters, share similar monetization schemes ranging from subscriptions (Hellgate: London), DLC, and microtransactions.
I’m going to take just a small detour here to explain the distinction between games as a service versus DLC. It may not seem important but for our purposes, the distinction does matter. DLC or Downloadable Content for games, for the most part, exist as distinct content additions to a retail product. Usually, they are additional chunks that build on the core experience of a base game either tangentially to the story or directly related to it. Most of the time these pieces of content can be completed in the <10-hour range and costs anywhere between $5 and $20.
A Games as a Service/Live Service style product will generally package a set of microtransactions along with annual or bi-annual DLC content and seasonal events. All of these are designed to keep players engaged over multiple years of content and microtransaction releases. In effect, these games don’t want to give you the opportunity to stop playing and go elsewhere between DLC.
This is where the design of endgame content starts to matter. When the big bad is vanquished and you stand triumphant while the credits roll, what do you do after? Traditionally in linear story-oriented games, this is when you take a break and then move on to some other title. In the world of monetization that we now live developers instead want to keep you right where you are, playing their game and investing your hard earned money in keeping that experience going. By all accounts, it’s not a bad business strategy as it directly addresses the worst part of finishing a great piece of entertainment, you want more. This is where the RPG in the Looter Shooter game design really shines as one of the core aspects to many roleplaying games is the equipment. With the addition of milestone challenges, rare gear to collect, and even bits of hidden lore to uncover these are the building blocks of the all-important endgame.
Which brings us to…
Disclaimer – I was going to make a “Bump N’ Grind” joke here until I realized much to my dismay that R Kelly sings that song and because fuck that guy, you get the gif instead, enjoy.
If you’ve ever wondered what work feels like in your leisure time I encourage you to immerse yourself in the grind of any game mentioned in this post or your choice of MMO. The more Korean the better. Ideally, it won’t feel like work because as a fan of the game you’ll enjoy what you have to do regardless of its repetitive nature.
Skill-Up on YouTube had one of my favorite descriptions of it when it came to the most recent updates for The Division.
If you watched a couple minutes of that you might end up agreeing with Skill-Up that it doesn’t seem like that was very repetitive at all and you would be right. What you have to remember though is that it took almost two years for the game to reach that point. Think about that, the endgame of a major IP didn’t come together fully until nearly two years after it’s initial release. To be honest, I was almost positive that it would never really get there after playing at launch but to their credit, they stuck with it and built a game they could be proud of. One that ended up being so good I came back to it with a friend and we poured a ton of hours into it, a lot of which was a second run for me.
So how does all this tie in with Anthem? The current picadillo that Bioware seems to be in is that no one believes their endgame is up to snuff. I’ve heard everything from it’s “light” to “non-existent” and everything in between.
Today Bioware posted part 2 of their This is Anthem video series about the endgame, it’s worth a watch.
Everything said in the video pretty much lines up with what we’ve come to expect from other live services with a healthy spread between daily, weekly, and monthly challenges. In addition to world events like the shaper storms and cataclysms, the developers have also said that things like weather and time of day will also affect available activities. You also have other codex challenges like using different equipment to unlock more advanced crafting recipes for a given gear type.
The questions I asked myself while reading through all the criticism, some of which is in the comments of that video, was how much endgame is really needed at launch? Does the min-max grind count once you’re there? Anyone with any experience in the various gaming communities, or any rabid fandom really, will tell you how little time it takes people to blow through content. As recently as a day ago a world first race for new World of Warcraft content concluded. Gamers have built careers on how quickly they can knock down incredibly complex content upon its release. People plan their days off so they can binge new titles, we’ve built conventions around speed running and are still finding decades-old secrets in games most of us barely remember anymore. Whether it’s out of sheer passion or the drive to be first fans will find a way to consume content or do things faster than was ever intended. Its become a bit of an amusing arms race between developers and their communities as they try to stay one step ahead and provide new, more challenging gameplay.
Anyone remember the No Man’s Sky launch? Even Destiny 2’s community has had heated discussions since its launch about whether or not the developers should be catering more towards hardcore or casual fans. Do you do it via a majority vote? Player statistics? Squeakiest wheel? Dartboard? Guess there is always this but it just seems cruel and wasteful.
So what do they do? Bioware has been working on Anthem since at least 2012 so that is already six years worth of work just to bring the game to this point, two weeks and change out from release. From everything I have seen the game is sporting a respectable amount of activities for a new, ambitious IP at its launch and what appears to be a rather extensive future roadmap. Striking the balance between “having enough” and “ever launching your game at all” is no easy task but at some point you have to end development and go live. What’s funny is that they haven’t even really ended development on Anthem as they have already had teams working on post-release content for months to get it ready. It’s always possible that Anthem will end up like other live service games that take months, if not years, to reach their full potential. The silver lining to that possibility is that three of the most prominent titles in this genre all suffered from this at launch and since then have all gone on to rather amazing success. Bungie actually managed it twice now with Destiny 2 following a similar fate as their first game. In spite of what you might have heard Destiny 2 outsold the first and was Activision Blizzard’s largest PC launch. Far from a failure in spite of Activision being disappointed in its performance.
It’s entirely possible that this is just par for the course for this genre of games and that no amount of endgame content at launch will ever be enough. I don’t think that I’m quite ready to declare that the set in stone reality but the evidence does seem to be pointing in that direction. As I said in my last post I feel like Bioware has proven that Anthem has all the ingredients to be amazing which leaves only a couple questions up to the community.
Do you want to be there from the potentially rocky, buggy launch?
Are you okay with feeling like you’ve caught up and have nothing new to do but grind and explore until new content drops?
If you answered yes then barring any cataclysmic problems I’ll be there with you to ride the launch-day rollercoaster. It’ll be frustrating but fun I’m sure.
If you answered no then that is fine. If the game is still here and kicking out content in six months to a years time you can pick it up on sale and join in. If not then you were right all along and it was a good thing you waited.
The question of whether or not there is enough endgame content at launch is, I think, a bit of a false dilemma. The questions we should be asking is whether or not the game is done. If the story is interesting or engaging. Is the aesthetic interesting? Are the graphics good? Does it feel like the Bioware we’ve fallen in love with in the past?
I honestly don’t think I care if there is enough of an endgame grind out of the gate to keep me busy right up until new content is released.
I just care that what is there is worth playing in the first place. I can always look forward to more if it is.