Anthem Doesn’t Care About its Own Story

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Feb 27, 2019

Filed under: Column 79 comments

I know the chasm between gameplay and story divide is normally pretty wide in the AAA space, but Anthem feels like a game where these two halves are at war with each other. My column this week talks about how the Anthem gameplay casually tramples all over the story bits. I realize that the original Destiny had a similar problem, where all of the worldbuilding stuff was dumped into web pages outside the game. I realize this genre isn’t known for its storytelling, but still…

  1. Just because Bungie did it doesn’t make it okay.
  2. Why make this a story about a hero character when that goes against the gameplay? If we’re an observer and muscle for the real main characters, then just embrace that as part of the story.
  3. Isn’t this the whole point of having BioWare make one of these things? I thought the idea was to set this game apart by injecting BioWare-style storytelling into a genre where story is usually neglected, but instead we’ve injected Bungie-style story apathy into BioWare. This game doesn’t elevate the genre, it drags down the developer.

So sad.

But fine. This game is all about the gameplay and the story is for dumb nerds. Accepting that, why is the gameplay so vague about the systems? This is a game about getting loot to make the numbers go up, except the interface designer didn’t want to pollute their pristine interface with dumb boring numbers. So here are some questions I have about the mechanics of this game:

After an expedition, each player is given a title…

I’ve seen Executioner and Artillery, but the vast majority of players are just called Soldier. What is this title, where does it come from, and what does it affect? Does it change from one expedition to the next? Is it based on your loadout or your performance? The screen wastes several seconds animating this nonsense like it’s important, but the game never bothers to explain it to us.

Speaking of that screen…

What are all of those little medals? There’s a lot of them! It looks like I should be able to mouse over them for more info, but since console players don’t have a mouse, the game designer doesn’t know about these outlandish devices for pointing at things on the screen when we want more info.

Again, the game animates all this stuff like we’re supposed to care, but it never explains what these symbols mean. It’s just visual noise and a waste of time.

Also, how does money work?

I see I get bonuses based on having friends within the game. What’s that $1,870 in the corner? Is that how much I’m going to be paid in the future, or how much I have been paid recently? I see the “Alliance Status” resets in 2 days. Is that payday? Will I be reset to 0 Alliance rating and have to grind it up again from scratch? There’s a loading screen that talks about getting paid every week, but I’ve never gotten a notification about being paid and I notice my money is going up slowly over time.

I can’t even tell what this mechanic is supposed to encourage. Is the designer trying to make sure I log in every day, or are they trying to get me to log as many hours as possible in a week?

Just… baffling.

The instant you kill the final boss in a Stronghold, a 5 second timer pops up that will eject everyone from the dungeon and out to the result screen. I ASSUME that the game takes the loot that the boss drops and gives it to me automatically, because 5 seconds is NOT enough time to run over to the boss and physically claim it. Sometimes you can be on the other side of the arena fighting some mooksOr you could even be in a down state., and you’d never close the distance before the timer runs out. It would be super-evil to have players miss the final loot drop if they happen to be a little too far away. (Also, if this was the case then I imagine players would have rioted by now.)

But if the game automatically takes the boss loot and puts it in my pockets when it kicks me to the loading screen, does it do that for all the other loot, too? Is picking up loot purely a cosmetic activity and you get all the loot regardless of whether or not you pick it up?

And finally…

Why is there no stats screen? Like, I can see that upgrade A gives me +300 armor and upgrade B gives me +250 armor, but I can’t ever see a listing of what my TOTAL armor is right now. I have no frame of reference for any of this. The little bars just show if this gizmo does more or less of a thing than another. But if I’m choosing between “more armor” and “more damage”, then I need some sort of context for that decision.

I can’t believe BioWare has made a looter shooter where both the looting and the shooting are confusing and poorly explained.



[1] Or you could even be in a down state.

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79 thoughts on “Anthem Doesn’t Care About its Own Story

  1. Coming Second says:

    I know the chasm between gameplay and story divide is normally pretty wide in the AAA space, but Anthem feels like a game there these two halves are at war with each other.

    Think you meant where.

  2. Poptartmini says:

    I am not seeing a link to your article in here. Could you add one?

  3. Gargamel Le Noir says:

    There is an ouchie in the title : Anthem Doesn’t Care About it’s Own Story

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Hmm. I think it’s correct as presented. “it’s” would be a contraction of “it is”. Yes, it’s confusing because usually apostrophe-ess denotes posession, and an ess at the end denotes plurality, but that doesn’t apply to “it.”

      1. Chad Miller says:

        The title had “it’s” when it was first posted and has since been corrected.

  4. Chris says:

    I think diablo did it best. In D1 the worldbuilding was in the manual and the story itself was just you were a random adventurer going into the depths of hell to get rich and defeat evil. You could talk to the villagers if you wanted some extra story.

    Diablo 2 made marius the main character and only showed him in the CGI cutscenes, you were just on cleanup duty.

    Also In regards to the escapist article. I don’t think people just were angry at bioware for recycling the hero’s journey. They often repeated the same few central plotpoints over and over. Like how youre some kind of super agent (spectre, grey warden, jedi knight) that allows you to act like an RPG protagonist without it looking out of place. You always have to visit a few points of interest, and you find the relics of an ancient civilization.

    You’re right they fill out their stories with different kind of worldbuilding dynamics. But constantly going over these plotpoints in addition to the heroes journey feels cheap. You can see this clearly in dragon age. Where in the interviews with the writer the writer talked about how they missed a central enemy so they invented the darkspawn, even though they couldve hammered out a political plot out fine. Or in MEA where they add some baddies that want to transform everyone, instead of just making it about immigrants (you) clashing with the established factions.

    1. Asdasd says:

      You’re right that a lot of the criticism was rooted in the repetitive, formulaic structure that cropped up from NWN onwards. Bioware games became too recognisable as Bioware games, which made immersion in their (generally well written) stories and worlds harder, which was a problem because, well, that’s what everybody was showing up for.

  5. Mephane says:

    This game is all about the gameplay and the story is for dumb nerds.

    Hyperbole aside – I usually care about the story in games a lot, but in this type of game all I really need is a servicable, not too dumb setup, i.e. stuff like where are we, who are we fighting and why. And while the Anthem story is not spectacular as a story, I find its delivery quite good, only surpassed by the Borderlands series, and far above that of Diablo (I still don’t know what a “nephalem” is, but assume it is some cringe-worthy chosen-one style garbage) or Destiny (when in doubt, invoke “The Light” with a capital L as your deus ex machina) anyway, not that it is hard to top these.

    I’ve seen Executioner and Artillery, but the vast majority of players are just called Soldier. What is this title, where does it come from, and what does it affect?

    The title is like a summary of your overall fighting style. It’s very coarse and basically meaningless, and seems to mostly look at how you did most of your kills. If your primary means of killing was guns, you get the “soldier” title. Artillery I think is for killing mostly with AoE abilities. Execution should be for when you do a lot of melee kills.

    What are all of those little medals? There’s a lot of them! It looks like I should be able to mouse over them for more info, but since console players don’t have a mouse, the game designer doesn’t know about these outlandish devices for pointing at things on the screen when we want more info.

    The medals are called feats. When inside a mission or freeplay, you can check them out by pressing I (for “inventory”, as it also lists all the unidentified loot baubles you have collected), there you can at least mouse over them and see what they all are about. These are your source of XP, as kills don’t grant XP directly – I have no idea why the devs designed it that way, but what’s how it works.

    I see I get bonuses based on having friends within the game. What’s that $1,870 in the corner? Is that how much I’m going to be paid in the future, or how much I have been paid recently? I see the “Alliance Status” resets in 2 days. Is that payday? Will I be reset to 0 Alliance rating and have to grind it up again from scratch? There’s a loading screen that talks about getting paid every week, but I’ve never gotten a notification about being paid and I notice my money is going up slowly over time.

    I am not sure how it works in precise numerical terms, but basically at the end of each mission or freeplay expedition, everyone gets some amount of alliance XP that seems to be a function of the regular XP (and is still applied even at max level). This goes into the pool seen at the top of the “weekly alliance status” screen, which levels your status up and the higher it is the more coins you get at the weekly reset, and then some or all of that spills over to people on your friend list.

    However, the system is bugged insofar as while everything is recorded, the coins are never attributed to the players’ balance. We had 2 weekly resets now and no coins receive, a dev on Twitter confirmed that they can apply it retroactively though, and even gave a deadline when it would happen, which went by yesterday with some people getting their coin, many still nothing at all. Myself included, which combined would amount to something like 10000 coins I am supposed to get.

    But if the game automatically takes the boss loot and puts it in my pockets when it kicks me to the loading screen, does it do that for all the other loot, too?

    Not explained in the game (like so many other things), but masterwork (orange) and legendary (yellow) rarity items get picked up automatically at the end, regardless whether you manually collected them. Other items are lost. The Stronghold boss loot is different, it is always automatically collected, you usually see the diamonds disappear from the world and the loot notifications on the right side of the screen shortly before the countdown is over.

    Funny thing about this is that originally, the boss didn’t drop loot directly precisely because it would be stupid with the short (or any) timer that boots you out of the instance. But players complained semi-justified that the boss was pointless as it gave no loot, when actually it did but only by silently adding it to your inventory, so it was natural to assume the boss didn’t give any loot. In response, Bioware decided to have this stuff visually drop from the boss, but mechanically it is still the same, immediately goes to your inventory anyway.

    Why is there no stats screen?

    Full ack, there is no excuse whatsoever for Bioware simply forgetting about (or deliberately omitting) a stats screen.

    1. Gargamel Le Noir says:

      Diablo’s story is pretty cool when you get to know it, especially in 1 and 2. And no a Nephalem isn’t a chosen one. I think story wise Diablo does it the best because the story is only there if you want to interact with it. You can go into the lore, talk to everyone in town, read the quest log, or you can just blast through it.

      1. Mephane says:

        Fair enough. I didn’t play 1 or 2, maybe the story there is much better than in 3.

        1. Hector says:

          Yes and no; there is very little storyTELLING, but there is a heavy emphasis on atmosphere and the unknown. When playing it for the first time, you could, and probably would, be genuinely scared about what lay around the next corner. Diablo was basically the original RogueLite, but in contrast to most of them today, it was something of a horror game.

          Diablo 2 had much more storytelling, and it was the “Aliens” to the Diabo 1’s “Alien”. Much more action-oriented, but still of high quality.

          1. RFS-81 says:

            When you turn they will be gone, whispering their hidden song…

      2. Ronan says:

        In the Diablo III campaign, at some point people start calling your character “Nephalem”,.
        I’ve re-played through it several times, looking for a the moment where it is revealed that your character is a descendant of whatever the original nephalems were supposed to be.

        I never found it. Suddenly people call you Nephalem, no reason is given and it surprises no one.

        1. Joshua says:

          There’s a manor where a Guardian Spirit of some kind calls you a Nephalem, your character denies it, manages to clear out the manor’s guardians, and the Spirit says something to the extent of “Now, do you believe that you’re a Nephalem?”.

          That’s the extent of the reveal. It’s very understated, but perhaps that’s because your characters aren’t allowed any moments of introspection or actual personality to discuss what that means. My wife and I just started playing this in the past month or two, and just finished Act IV. We’re obviously late to the party, but Shamus wrote an article about Diablo III’s story back in 2017 where he pointed out how dull the PC characters are, so that’s part of the problem.

          Oh, and the above
          2. “Why make this a story about a hero character when that goes against the gameplay? If we’re an observer and muscle for the real main characters, then just embrace that as part of the story.”

          applies to Diablo III completely. Here are the actual MAIN characters (NPCs like Cain, Leah, Tyrael). You’re just playing the cocky but bland jerk that’s actually going around getting things done.

        2. Sartharina says:

          If you dig into the lore, and remember the post-Diablo 2 speculation and hype – The Nephalem were the original humans. They were so powerful (Stronger than Demons and Angels, as offspring of both), that the angels created the Worldstone to somehow be a curse/regulator on their power. At the end of Diablo 2, that Worldstone goes kaplooie (There’s a big fancy cutscene and everything). The Guys upstairs were really pissed at the guy who did this, and kick him out in the intro to Diablo 3, then you spend a while hanging out with him.

          Your character is born after that Big Kaboom. Without the Worldstone as a governor on his soul, they’re a goddamn juggernaut. What isn’t explained is where all the others are, because either being Nephalem is inexplicably rare and arbitrary (When it should be ALL humans younger than the death of the soulstone), or our character is the youngest person of significance. Then again, our above-average power could be because we’re actually going out and doing shit, but that’s not backed up by Act 3 and 5, which has humans (Mostly young) getting slaughtered by demons (And later angels) with ease, instead of the demons getting absolutely rolled by attacking a stronghold of demigods. (Which, IMO, could have been really, really cool to see, even if the young human guards were obviously untrained and inexperienced)

          Frankly, having most of the Young Soldiers in Act 3 be crazy-awesome badasses like the hero would have been fun to see. They’re defending because all the officers are non-Nephalem and don’t have faith in their soldiers’ ability, and the young soldiers aren’t as badass as the player character because they haven’t had two full acts of practice… but we should still see crazy abilities firing off occasionally, and individual soldiers being complete BAMFs where they really shouldn’t.

          Then again, they may have slipped something into the dialogue somewhere that made the window of people being born as Nephalem in the wake of the worldstone’s destruction be extremely narrow, like they were afraid to commit to the “Humans are going to be unstoppable badasses” ending of Diablo II.

          1. Hector says:

            Nothing about the end to D2 had anything to do with the eventual plot of D3. Plus, it can’t even be that younger people are affected. Definitely the Barbarian, and maybe more of the D3 characters are older than the Worldstone breaking.

          2. Bubble181 says:

            All the pitje Nephalem are the other player characters – it’s the explanation of why there can be dozens of superpowered warriors running around.
            It’s not based on age, though – some humans with the proper amount of Neph blood just started getting stronger after the destruction of the Worldstone.

      3. Phill says:

        Nephalem sounds like a reference to the Nephilim from Genesis in the Bible /Torah. (Obviously there isn’t a correct English spelling since this is transliterated from the ancient Hebrew alphabet). They were the offspring of angels and human women, who were the mythical heroes and great warriors of the past.

        1. Chad Miller says:

          You’re pretty close; Diablo III’s Nephalem are humans descended from the offspring of an angel and a demon:

          1. Rack says:

            Huh, never knew that.

            That’s much worse. I really liked the idea your character was a Nephilim, Nephalem just feels dumb.

    2. Kavonde says:

      Glad to see someone else who’s satisfied with the game’s story. I mean, and I’ve said this a few times–and gotten yelled at by people who really need to read Shamus’ retrospective–but while it may be simple, it’s at least more competently constructed than the main plots of the last three Mass Effect games.

    3. Ivan says:

      Yeah, as evidenced by the other replies here, if you wanna talk about Diablo 3 in some regard, the name of the game is Diablo 3. Thank you, this has been your pedantry update for the day.

      Also, Diablo 3 is not remotely a similar game to 1 and 2, so the distinction is actually very important and not pedantic at all.

    4. adam says:

      “Other items are lost.”

      Where did you get this info? I remember reading a Bioware dev saying everything except IIRC whites and greens are automatically collected for you. I am almost 100% sure that purples, at least, are collected for you.

    5. Boobah says:

      In Judeo-Christian mythology, a nephalem is the child of an angel and a human.

      In Diablo‘s verse, a nephalem is the child of an angel and a demon. And it turned out that nephalem have the powers of both parents, making them really, really scary to the low-level demons and angels that had been fleeing the war between the heavens and hell. So the magic rock that caused the world of Sanctuary was modified to suppress nephalem powers. (If their powers were the combined powers of a demon and an angel, why didn’t it suppress them separately?) In the Diablo 2 expansion, the world stone was destroyed and so now, twenty years(ish) later (and during Diablo 3) the power suppression is starting to fail.

      (If one effect of the world stone’s destruction is only just now manifest, what about the other? Since Sanctuary didn’t end when our hero destroyed it to stop Baal everybody seemed to think they’re good. Nobody really brings it up in D3.)

      Mind, the human race on Sanctuary was the result of angel/demon pairings, so technically all humans are nephalem, but apparently you only really count as nephalem if your powers have awoken.

      Is any of that ingame? Heck no, it’s not like we can have books, scrolls, or NPCs explain this stuff. No, they just packed this stuff in out-of-game novels and assumed anybody who cares about this kind of thing already read it. Or did what I did, which is randomly run across it in the wiki.

  6. Tizzy says:

    I don’t think I’m usually like this, but… would you look at the mech suit crotches on the screenshots? That’s quite a bulge that requires an explanation. I can’t believe I never noticed it before!

    1. Mephane says:

      There is a lot of thick padding underneath the armor, there is an animation where you enter the suit before selecting a mission where you can see it.

    2. Lino says:

      that requires an explanation

      Unfortunately, an explanation would require an Adults-Only rating. But if you really want one – just visit a Rule 34 website in a couple of weeks – I’m sure they’ll have you covered!

      1. Tizzy says:

        They’ll have me covered in more ways than I can imagine, for sure! ;-)

    3. Geebs says:

      It’s like the legs, they have an extra joint in there somewhere

  7. Lee says:

    Isn’t the “My column this week” part normally a link? I had to type go to the escapist’s site manually, like a caveman. ;)

  8. Jenkins says:

    I was going to write a witty comment about Bioware’s next project being an MMORPG given the company’s proclivity to chase (and subsequently mistime) trends, but then I realised Bioware had already done that eight years ago with Star Wars: The Old Republic.

    I can’t give any critique of the game itself because I haven’t and will not play it (shooter-looters just ain’t my jam), but from an outsider’s perspective the timing of Anthem definitely seems unfortunate considering battle royales are the flavor of the month, and the hugely successful Apex Legends was released just a few weeks prior. Not to mention the fact their target audience (hint: it’s not those of us still gathering our party to venture forth) has had a glut of looter-shooters to play in the time Anthem has been in development.

    Despite Mass Effect: Andromeda and the apparent mediocrity of Anthem, I’m still looking forward to the next Dragon Age game. No doubt Bioware will stray ever further from Gygax’s light, but I still believe there’s a number of talented and passionate artists who are capable of writing good stories and sympathetic characters. And if that game bombs then that’s okay: franchises like Pillars of Eternity and Divinity: Original Sin show that the classic RPG genre still has plenty of life, while games like The Last of Us and Red Dead Redemption 2 are pushing the envelope for cinematic storytelling in video games. There’s a lot of good stuff out there for those of us still fond of Ilos and Korriban and Athkatla.

    1. Lino says:

      Since BioWare are apparently working on a new Mass Effect, I thought how funny it would be if the new game was Mass Effect: Battle Royale. I thought it was funny. I laughed. Then I saw this comment:

      given the company’s proclivity to chase (and subsequently mistime) trends

      I don’t think I’ll be laughing anytime soon….

      1. BlueHorus says:

        Get Ready Players…
        3! 2! 1!
        YOU FIGHT…or YOU DIE!!!!

        1. Lino says:

          And if you die too much, why not consider buying some of our loot boxes? LIMITED TIME OFFER: TWO FOR THE PRICE OF THREE!!!

    2. Yeah, I’m still somewhat hopeful for next Dragon Age, and Patrick Weekes (last I heard, the Dragon Age lead) has some SERIOUS writing chops. The DA novel he wrote was a GOOD NOVEL, not just a decent tie-in. If you’d handed me that novel cold having never heard of the series, I would still have binge-read it and have been glad you gave it to me.

      And, if Anthem has demonstrated anything, it’s that they’ve at least learned how to use the damn Frostbite engine now, because the game looks amazing and runs amazing (better than DA: Inquisition on the SAME MACHINE) and feels amazing to play. Put an amazing story in there and you actually have an amazing game. Plus at the end of Inquisition (if you played the expansions) they basically took the entire anthill of established setting lore and kicked it over, so they can do some seriously crazy, subversive stuff in the next game if they want to. They set up some HUGE, HUGE twists that they can now pay off.

      1. CloverMan-88 says:

        You really have a noticeably better performance in Anthem when compared to DA:I? Because I can’t even get to stable 15 fps – on Low settings on a fairly powerful machine that runs Inquisition on highest with no problems. Something’s seems to be broken in my case.

        1. Kavonde says:

          Broken or some kind of driver compatibility; I’ve also had great performance on it, though I’ve noticed more frame drops since the patch that fixed the loading times. Dunno what trade-off they had to make there.

          1. It may also be that since the patch went out the official launch day, the system suddenly jumped hugely in population so it’s all taking more strain now.

        2. I had a persistent problem with particle effects in DA:I causing crashes, so I had to turn off a bunch of stuff in Inquisition and even then it would get bloated and slow after a few hours. And in busy fights (against dragons and casters) it’d slow down. Contrast Anthem, where I haven’t had a single problem with graphics, and I have everything turned up as far as it will go.

    3. Agammamon says:

      It certainly doesn’t help that Warframe is F2P and has 6 years of actual improvements to it (not whatever the heck Bioware’s been doing for that 6 years to release with something that *barely* merits being called an MVP), Destiny finally became a good game (Destiny 2 . . . not so much), the Division is finally a good game – and TD2 looks like it might actually *build* on the lessons learned with TD instead of (like Destiny 2) discarding everything, giving the development team amnesia and brain damage, and starting over from scratch.

      Oh, and Borderlands 2. Still great even if the mere existence of that damned pirate DLC keeps me from going back to it.

  9. BlueBlazeSpear says:

    I’m not a particularly big fan of looter-shooters and I’m definitely not a fan of online play, but I was willing to entertain the idea of getting this game. I was just waiting for the reviews to come out and I was looking for one thing: “This feels like a Bioware game.” I would’ve been in. But all I’ve heard from the various reviews is that it feels precisely not like a Bioware game. And there have been just enough corporate shenanigans in this game’s release that it’s my impulse to say “This is an EA game through and through.” It barely looks like a narrative experience, and nothing like an RPG.

    I’m pretty sure that hiding the stats from the player is very much a deliberate choice. Because this sort of game is all about the grind – about hours invested. One of the most surefire way to keep players playing is to make the levelling and reward systems just obscure enough to never let the player know what’s actually going on while simultaneously creating the illusion that some big payoff is constantly on the horizon. But the fact is, it’s their goal to reward players as little as they can get away with while still showing some sort of progression. If they made a system that was explicit in showing how slow the progression actually is and how little it actually pays off moment-to-moment, it would break the illusion. The success of this sort of game rests on that illusion.

    1. Agammamon says:

      Thing with that though is that players aren’t as dumb as the suits think they are.

      They will break it down. They will datamine the files. They’ll find the numbers. Quickly. Often before you implement the next update (as item data is often added to a game one or more patches before its allowed to go live). Give it a month and it will be damn near automated (like FO76’s weekly nuke code resets are available on Reddit within hours).

      Any suit who thinks obfuscation is effective is the sort of suit who thinks removing content *already shown to the community* (all those cosmetic armor pieces for example) or cutting up the story and moving things out of place to sell it back to them later . . . shit.

    2. Bubble181 says:

      I play quite a bit of Diablo 3 still. I’m perfectly happy finding a .5% improvement. If it was without numbers, I wouldn’t be playing. “Slightly better” doesn’t tell me anything.

  10. Geebs says:

    The characters you meet no longer reveal the world through their backstories. Instead they tell you about the melodrama in their past.

    I know you’re actually talking about later Bioware games, but this perfectly expresses the reason why I can’t stand either Carth or Kaiden*. Especially since I had to drag their woe-is-me backstories out of them piece by piece, when they clearly want to spill their emotional mess all over me from the start.

    The thing that’s really depressing is that I can’t shake the feeling that those dweebs are specifically written to appeal to the writer’s idea of what women want. Like, he’s so manly but also so troubled but also so mysterious? Gag me with a spoon.

    * also Thane to a certain extent but at least he has some motivation to get to the damn point already.

    1. Kaiden at least reveals how humans got ahold of biotics and how things between humans and turians shook down after the war. Carth . . . um . . . not so much.

      1. trevalyan says:

        I don’t think that’s fair. Carth is your first companion and he does an acceptable job of telling you about the Republic and Sith. The level of background knowledge you gain is pretty amazing, considering the game takes place thousands of years before the movies, which means few players will be familiar with the lore.

        1. Geebs says:

          You can tell everything you actually need to know about the Republic and Sith via a cursory comparison of their clothes, accents, and vehicles to those in the Original Trilogy. Everything outside of that is a bunch of names, places and dates that don’t actually matter a jot as far as the story is concerned. Carth was just moody because big general man bad. Kaiden was even moodier because big general man bad and make bad headache.

          1. Nimrandir says:

            You left out when big general man hurt pretty girl.

          2. Liessa says:

            Carth wasn’t so bad when he wasn’t whining about how he didn’t trust you because blah blah tragic betrayal. The problem was that when he whined, he REALLY whined. It was actually worse when playing a female character, because he’d constantly try to flirt with you and then go right back to bitching that he didn’t trust you. And yeah, it really annoyed me how Bioware assumed all their straight female players found that stuff attractive, and kept putting essentially the same character into each game (frequently even voiced by the same actor).

    2. John says:

      Poor Carth.

      I think that the problem, if there is one, is not so much with Carth himself as with the structure of the story-telling in KotOR. Conversations with party members can happen in one of two ways. Either the player initiates the conversation himself or else triggers a conversation opportunity by walking through one of various scripted trigger points. If the player trips a trigger, the game tells you that one of the accompanying party members “looks like he has something to say”. They introduce the mechanic with Carth as you explore Taris. The problem is that the initial Carth conversation is all about how Carth doesn’t want to have a conversation. It would make sense if the player had initiated the conversation, but makes Carth seem like kind of a weenie given that the game has just told you that he wants to talk.

      1. Philadelphus says:

        Having played KotOR after KorOR II, I couldn’t get over the characters who would REALLY LIKE TO TELL ME that THEY REALLY DONT WANT TO OPEN UP TO ME AND TELL ME ANYTHING. Like, if you’re going to have your characters constantly moaning about how they don’t trust you and dont want to say anything, either have them initiate the conversation or have it start when I initiate a conversation of my own free will (which if your characters are well-designed
        I’ll want to do), don’t force me to start a conversation with someone who really doesn’t want to be having a conversation because I feel like you’ve just wasted my time.

  11. Darren says:

    Bungie’s storytelling is not great, but they’ve got a solid lore foundation and have come to lean on it surprisingly heavily. As an example, the Whisper of the Worm is one of the most powerful exotic sniper rifles in the game, and there is a clear lore reason for its existence that is tied to both a specific enemy faction and the actions of the player character(s). They don’t do enough with their characters or cutscenes, but at times Destiny approaches Dark Souls-levels of background lore, and that’s not nothing.

    1. GoStu says:

      I’d like to point out that Bungie is also fantastic at making a first-person shooter, with online competitive elements, and a decent enough story-lite experience. The lore is present, it’s even pretty good, but if you have no interest in engaging with it the experience is still quite playable. You can rip through the Campaigns bypassing every terminal and trying not to think about who’s who and what they want and still have a pretty good time.

      They made Marathon (very ahead of its time) and then the Halo series more-or-less defined a lot of console FPS mechanics for ages. Halo 2 was a definitive online shooter and Halo 3 was an improvment on that and pioneered a lot of community features. As a studio, they were well set up to try a somewhat different co-op shoot & loot style game. It was a little out of their wheelhouse (competitive was more their thing, and no RPG/statgrowth elements in their last works) but not impossibly so.

      Meanwhile Bioware was great with story and worldbuilding, and Mass Effect 1 scraped by with a C- in combat. I’d say Mass Effect 2 made it up to about a B- and Mass Effect 3 refined further to about a B+. This is not the team to try to chase Destiny after Destiny already exists and has been iterated on. If Bioware employees want to stay employed long-term they should probably team up and arrange a lynching for the EA executives mis-managing their talent. Otherwise EA’s gonna grind them into the dirt and throw them away like disposable trash.

      1. Viktor says:

        Yeah, the Halo series’s* single-player campaigns are very good examples of the spectrum from “forgettable/cliche, but workable story” to “minimal story just to get you from fight location to fight location”. Nothing they do writing-wise is award-worthy**, but it lets the gameplay carry the game and takes up an absolute minimum of the player’s time and focus, which is better than a lot of games can do.

        *Before the studio change, to be clear
        **except the Flood reveal level in 1, and that has more to do with atmosphere/pacing/level design than the actual writing touches

        1. Geebs says:

          Personally, I think the plot did actually manage to negatively affect the gameplay in the Halo series; the Brutes weren’t as much fun to fight as the Elites. The original Halo had this concept that you had to catch an Elite at a disadvantage and try to do enough damage as you could, as quickly as you could, in order to kill them before they killed you. Later Halo games lost that unique angle and weren’t as much fun for me. Honestly, I think that’s why Bungie made Reach into a prequel, and also explains why Reach is the third best Halo.

          1. Sartharina says:

            I can agree to that. Brutes were just frustrating bullet sponges with obnoxious weapons. Elites played by the same rules as the hero, but a bit better stats. Then again, I think the Flood ruined all games they were in because they were so un-fun to fight.

            The writing, though, was better than the tie-in novels that actually detracted from the game lore AMD writing (especially the final prophet’s death.

          2. GoStu says:

            I’ll concede that. Brutes weren’t quite as solid as the Elites in their job. Nonetheless, the Grunts, Jackals, and Hunters each retained their own unique natures and filled out the sandbox pretty well. Brutes even had a few of their own tricks (they could order all subordinates to grenade you at once, leading to waves of explodey death, a trick Elites never had), even if a few were lame/annoying (berserking).

            It definitely explains why in Halo 4+ the Elites are back to fighting against humanity; something I don’t think the games themselves bothered to explain. The Covenant just needed that unit again to be interesting.

            1. Sartharina says:

              I think they really, really made a mistake of having the Elites be completely outcast, instead of merely having them schism between those who continued to believe in the Great Journey, and those who saw it as annihilation (Being religious fanatics, they could see “What seems to be Annihilation” as “Rapture”)… It’s one of the things that ticked me off about the books – they made the Prophets into cartoonishly evil manipulators, instead of genuinely believing in their righteous crusade (Which the games sold VERY well, especially with Truth’s death.)

    2. Asdasd says:

      Bungie is the studio that gave us the Marathon trilogy, after all. They were giving shooters strong narrative grounding almost before the technology really allowed for it.

  12. OldOak says:

    Aww, c’mon Shamus, you’re really an old grumpy gamer :-D

    You’d really want to revolutionize the industry with old fashioned ideas like, providing local network based multiplayer options (we all have the fast local networks nowadays, and multiple rigs cabled in), or even fixing the stories or story issues they might have?

    For the latter, citing only from BioWare Mass Effect releases:
    – without Arrival (paid for DLC in ME2), you couldn’t make too much sense of ME3 beginning
    – without Leviathan (paid for DLC in ME3) you couldn’t get to the “perfect” (hah!) ending single player only (couldn’t get enough war assets)
    – the “un-clearable” menu options in Mass Effect: Andromeda: the scourge codex entry becomes locked (you cannot mark it as read) after one of the missions, similarly some specific missions won’t clear their status even after being finished (mostly those that also _won’t put a marker on the map_ for their next step). Sometimes even resources entries would become bugged this way (didn’t happen in 1.10 yet, though). And the skills menu will stay tagged for an entire game+ experience, because your team came with their skills maxed up, and you cannot spend their XPs — nuts!

    I guess you’ll have to understand that early release (of just a sketch of the whole game world) is the way of the future, polish it only if there’s enough interest in the game (and revenue brought in as a result), or move to the next trend, and don’t mind the suckers that paid for the newest and shiniest toy if they are just a few.

    1. Nimrandir says:

      Thanks for clearing up the journal thing. I’ve methodically scrolled through that list half a dozen times trying to find the quest that has updated. I also think I ran into a sidequest on Voeld that didn’t even show up in my journal (the whole thing starts and ends at one location, and I can’t find it in the completed missions tab).

      I gave up on the skills check mark when I decided I didn’t want my sniper to have a melee attack sending him into the thick of a gunfight, so Jaal almost always has skill points unspent.

  13. decius says:

    Is Bioware trying to buy themselves back, and the first step is to devalue their brand? Or are key players trying to get out of noncompete clauses in the layoff?

    I don’t think design that bad could be accidental.

  14. Lun says:

    Ok, ok. Listen up everyone. I’m going to say something shocking. Something outrageous. Something offensive.

    Are you ready?

    What if…… follow me here, try to keep an open mind….. what if Bioware was NEVER really that good at storytelling? I remember Obsidian doing some good storytelling in rpg games. But I think I’ve not played a Bioware game with a good story, except Dragon Age: Origins (which in fact felt to me like an Obsidian-developed game but with Bioware’s romances).

    Of course, maybe I just don’t get their games.

    Bioware aside, I think Anthem had so much potential. I played the open beta, and it was quite fun. And yet all that potential was wasted with something that feels unfinished and lacking. I just hope they’ll support it until it feels like a complete and less expensive game – because I’d like to play it.

    Unfortunately all this Anthem bashing left and right is already driving away from the game many people who would’ve probably liked it. Not that it’s a bashing without fundament, but I think maybe it’s too harsh for what would be a fun game at its core!

    1. BlueHorus says:

      I’ll also say something offensive and controversial.


      Regarding Bioware, a few people have already said similar to Lun: that what Bioware do/did well was characters, instead of worldbuilding. The plot itself wasn’t always marvelous,* but the presentation was engaging. To me their stories have always been mixed: ‘utterly generic’ alongside ‘ what is this nonsense’ alongside ‘oh, that’s an interesting idea’.
      I’ve never completely loved a Bioware story, but there’s almost always been interesting ideas in them, and it’s often been presented well. I even respect the plot of ME3 in places- well, place.**

      I just hope they’ll support it until it feels like a complete and less expensive game – because I’d like to play it.

      What, like they did with ME: Andromeda?

      *I’m not sure I could think of a way to make the Darkspawn any more generic a concept. Like, maybe if you just called them Orcs and didn’t even bother to change the name?
      **The Genophage plot. It even – to me – delivered on the promise of having previous game’s decisions affect the third game. YMMV, naturally.

      1. Rack says:

        By and large Bioware’s main plots have evolved from simplistic to idiotic and with Anthem seem to have settled on “offensively boring”. They were most self assured in the KotOR period when the plot was “Bad guy does bad thing”. Simple but it let the characters breathe.

  15. Stuart Worthington says:

    I just picked up the game myself (against my better judgement) and I’ll admit I’m actually having fun. Agreed that the story is basically empty, though, and the exact mechanics are frustratingly vague.

  16. Olivier FAURE says:

    Everything I hear about this game reminds me of The Writer Will do Something. I think Anthem’s development probably had a lot of the same problems depicted in TWWdS.

    1. Ivan says:

      Well, that was interesting, thank you for bringing it up.

    2. Stuart Worthington says:

      Man, that was a journey.

  17. The Nick says:

    “How does money work?” seems like such a terrible, ridiculous question for a player to ask and not have easily answered that somebody needs to be fired.

    The concept of money simulates and summarizes so many different systems. It’s every parlance built into everybody’s concept of survival. For a game to use “money” and then make it confusing is childish.

    1. Well–in Anthem LITERALLY the only thing you can do with money is to buy crafting materials and cosmetics. You can’t buy, sell, or trade gear. The ONLY thing you can do with gear you don’t want is to dismantle it for crafting ingredients. This game is pretty unusual in my experience for literally NOT HAVING AN ECONOMY. And you almost never buy crafting materials because, well, you don’t need them, you can get endless amounts just by running around in the outside world. Also, the shop interface for buying them is so dumb it almost gives me a seizure every time I use it. Shamus probably hasn’t used it AT ALL otherwise he’d probably go on a full-blown rant about how stupid it is.

      See, you can only buy items ONE at a TIME. And the way you buy them is to select the item. That opens a pop-up screen. Then you have to hold down the mouse button to complete the sale. Then a little ANIMATION plays, and you get ANOTHER popup screen. And if you want to buy ANOTHER item, you have to do it all AGAIN.

      Would you want to buy TEN of something using this system? NO. Plus, it’s just a waste of cash that you could be using to buy cosmetics (assuming you want cosmetics).

      I wonder if the bare-bones-ness of a lot of the systems is because they were really, really, REALLY trying to avoid making yet another toxic-community-shooter. They don’t have their own discussion forum, it’s all on Reddit. There’s NO chat aside from voice chat that nobody uses and is only accessible DURING missions, so we’re all deprived of contact with gold spammers and 14-year-olds calling people fags. There’s no economy, so you can’t really indulge in the other major gamer pastttime–cheating. All you can really do is A.) play the game, and B.) play the game some more.

      1. Ciennas says:

        Destiny doesn’t let you trade any gear with other players either. And in D2, it also had a really annoying item system that you could only move an item one by one (in this case, it was those fucking cosmetic shaders they stole from us and tried to turn into a cheap attempt at monetization. Trying to dismantle one you don’t want if you didn’t stay on top of it was a nightmare and a chore, to be honest.)*

        I find it Curious that both Destiny and Anthem both actively go out of their way to avoid having a player economy at all.

        Then again, I looked over the Fallout 76 Debacle that was its economy and…. I can see the appeal of locking it all in a bin.

        *They fixed it, kinda. No ‘Delete All’ Button, but they did make it so you could dismantle ten at a time in a clunky way, which is still leagues better over having to discard them for glimmer one by one. Still. One of the features I’m hoping gets streamlined out of the game and into the bin is the current shader system. A hybrid of D1 and D2’s shader system would be just lovely.

        1. shoeboxjeddy says:

          Destiny 2 has an economy. It’s just all about the different resources the player gets and how the system is willing to give out those resources. Currently, there’s Glimmer, Legendary shards, bright dust, silver, enhancement cores, weapon parts, mod components, and then you could consider every planetary resource a currency as well, plus resources only tradable with the Black Armory vendor. With Forsaken, they even added in a vendor to change one resource into another (finally) on a fairly usable basis.

  18. Redrock says:

    Yeah, I think this’ll be the first Bioware game I’ll be skipping entirely. I played a couple of hours of Destiny 2 because I got it for free via Humble Monthly, and I occasionally play Warframe on the Switch because, again, free, and it’s a cool third-person shooter on a platform where that genre is almost non-existent. But I can barely see a reason to buy Anthem. Maybe once it becomes an Origin Access freebie, which, at this point, looks as if it might happen sooner rather than later.

  19. Carlos García says:

    Bioware has turned into lazy writing, I guess. Its reputation is a leftover from its past. In SWTOR for example (though it’s an MMO and I guess writing is way harder for that, but it’s still a single player oriended MMO, wth), the stories are fine; but while they’re not the caricature Rustkarn? made it out some time ago with the jedi councilor class (“hahaha it’s about how you go around planets and find the master in charge has vanished, always the same”, because apart from that being the first handful of planets, it’s not about “what an incredible casuality, whenever you arrive to a planet the master has decided to go evil, are you sure you aren’t Jedi Ms Fletcher?”, it’s that you find there is a plague that has infected surely a more or less big number of jedi masters, you know some requirements of the plague that means the masters who can be infected are narrowed down to a limited group, you’re sent to check on them, but you know also that by the time you’re sent to look for them they have already been infected. Okay, you can object that it feels repetitive and you can ask that those planets should bring some more variety to the class story: for example, you arrive to such planet and this master has not been infected, then you try to find out why, whether he’s not been infected because not all candidates were and just didn’t get it inoculated or he has something that vaccinated him so you have the choice to go into a path to investigate it so you don’t need to keep sapping your own energy… Something different than arriving to the planet where you know the master is plagued and have to hunt him down again. Another issue is that when you talk to the mission giver, a choice is to act like you didn’t know the master could be infected, which is stupid. I think it’s four planets of hunting down a plagued jedi master. Repetitive, yes. Lazy, yes. Ridiculous, no.
    There is also plenty of moments with stupid technobabble, though I think none reaches the heights you point out in the last Andromeda post. And some moments of laziness in writing that I find very grating, as I’m tired of “hahaha, I quoted a Star Wars character”. I swear to you if I find any new SW or anyone trying to be funny by saying “I have a bad feeling about this”, for example, I will end up in the news :P. In the last patch to SWTOR there’s a scene where the Empire is going to bombard a settlement and the Republic arrives in the nick of time to launch their fighters to intercept the bombers. Then you hear something like “keep on this attack run”, or something similar which is a direct quote from EpIV trench run and only makes sense if you’re the ones doing the bombing, not the intercepting, goddammit. There’s also in Ossus there’s meant to be a settlement of jedis fleeing the wars to keep the order alive, but while you do see plenty of jedi knights around when you do the dailies, the story part is in the cutscenes telling a story according to which you get the idea they’re all poor farmers with a doc and just two jedis, one is the new character whose name I don’t remember and the other is a companion from the Jedi Councilor that returns at this point. I spent most of the time asking where the hell were all those jedis that were supposed to be the ones doing the settling?
    But the worst part is not that Bioware has turned so lazy with its writing, it’s that having seen other MMORPGs who are praised for their story, I still think SWTOR beats them up. With all the laziness, I don’t get to roll my eyes as much or as hard as I do with Guild Wars 2 or Final Fantasy XIV. The only that I find story wise to be up with SWTOR is WOW.
    As a side note I like of WoW how they manage to have made a MMORPG that can fit joking stories and characters and quest as well as serious ones, it can deliver the drama and the funny and the ridiculous without breaking. Other games I see something like a silly mount that in WoW I accept fine and cause me to feel very jarred (or grated, I’m not sure yet about the differences between jarring and grating). I think a very important bit for it is the art style where both the serious and the silly can fit well. But seeing, I don’t know, a fluffy giant bunny mount in a photorealistic MMO just breaks any immersion and makes me to stop playing it.

    1. Boobah says:

      The difference between ‘jarring’ and ‘grating’ is that a ‘jarring’ experience is one that acts as an abrupt shock that happens once and it’s done, even if its results linger. A jarring experience isn’t necessarily unpleasant, but it probably requires some time to come to terms with.

      A ‘grating’ experience is one that, as it repeats (or continues) it feels worse and worse.

      Yes, yes mental analogues to physical experiences.

  20. GloatingSwine says:

    For loot-em-ups the story is always going to be deep down the priority list because most of the player’s engagement is going to come after it’s already finished.

    Like I’ve played all the way through the story acts of Path of Exile a good dozen or so times, and I can only give you the vaguest description of what the story is because I don’t pay attention to it.

    Beyond the barest justification of “Go there, shoot that, it’s got shiny things” the story would mostly get in the way.

    1. GoStu says:

      So here’s a curveball: maybe Anthem’s story wasn’t far ENOUGH down the priority list. Lots of writing and voice acting was bought and paid for, but it’s just not landing.

      One of the better shoot & loot experiences out there, Borderlands, has never taken its story that seriously. They don’t pay to have big graphically intense cutscenes made in photorealistic detail, the voice acting is “calls over radio” for the most part, and they’ve picked a cheaper art style.

      Also, you can totally happily chew through the levels on your own; the content you really want/need others for is repeated endgame raids and such, for which there’s naught but a handwave of “yeah go fight him again I guess”. You’re therefore not being hauled through (or missing) stuff like dialogue/cutscenes or getting pulled along by the nose to go see where the other players are.

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