I still remember when I got Knights of the Old Republic. This was well before I was deep into games coverage/releases, was a big Star Wars fan and I’d read a review, maybe on IGN that got me excited. I picked up a copy on a Friday night and played it till well into Saturday morning despite my girlfriend’s complaints. I loved Knights of the Old Republic and was completely blown away by the twist, the game was absolutely right place and right time for me.
I remember being excited for Jade Empire, knowing it was from the same studio, but I didn’t rush out to buy it. Actually, I’m pretty sure I ended up getting a used copy after I went to trade a bunch of games after a break up (with the girlfriend mentioned in the above KOTOR story) and got it and a new copy of Psychonauts. I didn’t finish it till years later after I became a “BioWare fan.”
That fandom of BioWare started with Mass Effect. I’d only gotten an Xbox 360 months prior to its release and it was the game I had my sights firmly set on. I picked it up and devoured it falling for the characters and the universe. I decided to go all in here, I picked up the novels and made it my mission to get as much of Mass Effect that was within my means (I was a student at the time, so this wasn’t a lot). I played through Mass Effect about five times working through all possible permutations of story that I could, it was my game, a game I felt understood exactly what I wanted from the medium.
Of course, I was in at this point, I got the special edition of Dragon Age: Origins and adored that game despite elements I felt were a slight step back from the strides of Mass Effect (what do you mean my character doesn’t speak?) and Mass Effect 2 straight up blew my mind. I was in for BioWare at this point hard. I mean, get this, my girlfriend even gave me her old DS and my immediate reaction was to go out and buy a copy of Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood which I played and finished despite having had only the most passing interest in Sonic. Around this point was also where I finished Jade Empire.
It was Dragon Age 2 and Mass Effect 3 that gave me pause. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed those games, and wasn’t at all someone who raged about the ending of ME3 online, but there was something about both that didn’t quite click with me the way their predecessors had. Maybe I was starting to grow out of it? Actually, that’s probably a big part of it. I’d dropped off the outside fiction at some point after Mass Effect 2 because the books just really weren’t doing it for me. Then Dragon Age Inquisition just pushed me away with its decision to go to a gameplay format that I just wasn’t into with the open world landscapes over designed dungeons. I still finished it, it was just a struggle to maintain interest in the plot where the gameplay kept pushing me back. Of course, among other issues with the game, this design style was compounded in Mass Effect Andromeda, a game I had to fight myself to finish while working hard to give the remotest damn about the story.
That brings us to Anthem, a game I’m struggling to have even a shred of excitement for. I find the world and character design incredibly bland and anytime the story has been presented I find myself quickly tuning out. I’m just not buying what they’re selling here and unless there is a review that convinces me otherwise, Anthem will be the first (should note that I put some time onto The Old Republic) BioWare game I skip in 16 years.
Which makes me question what I do want from BioWare and the answer to that is probably something they can’t actually deliver. Simply put, I want a throwback RPG of the kind that made me fall for their games. Give me four planets/dungeons/levels (to be completely reductive), a hub to speak to my party and bookends to all that. It was a formula that worked for me in a way that these big open world spaces with large amounts of busy work present in their last two games didn’t. I also felt that this game style really got in the way of me enjoying the story that was presented and story had been a huge part of why I came to their games in the first place. Which isn’t to say breaking the mould presented above hasn’t had its success, Mass Effect 2 is great, Dragon Age 2 does interesting things despite feeling rushed out the door. At this point though, I’m just going to be selfish and ask them to go back to something simple and work forward from there. But like I said, that’s not realistic.
I don’t even know how Anthem fits into all of this, it probably doesn’t which is fine, they shouldn’t be tied down to a formula or game style if that stops being interesting to them. Weirdly, despite my lack of interest, I actually hope Anthem is a success for them as it feels like a genuine underdog at the moment. It just crystalised for me this 16 year journey and connection I’ve had with the company is really coming to a hard end. Maybe I’ll be back for Dragon Age 4, but if their end goal is to make a bigger DA:I, I probably won’t bother.