BioWare is slowly turning Anthem around. That process certainly hasn't been easy for the studio, but it is at least making good on its commitment to continue supporting the game. In an effort to get Anthem where it needs to be, the studio was forced to admit that it isn't going to achieve all of its Act 1 Calendar goals, pushing back the introduction of elements such as the Cataclysm, Mastery System, Guilds, and phase 2 of the Legendary Missions, along other highly requested features from the community.
BioWare understands that its end-game content isn't where it needs to be, which means it can't possibly begin to take the next steps towards Anthem's evolution – the undercurrent to all of this is that we shouldn't expect to see any story DLC for a little while. And, to be perfectly honest, that probably isn't a bad thing.
Before BioWare even thinks about expanding out the story of Anthem, it should really consider looking at the failings of the base game's narrative and of the instances of male ego that drives the story forward – toxic masculinity which ultimately works to the detriment of the story's core development and resolution.
Bereft of suspense
If you've played Anthem through, by now you should be aware that it has three ego-driven characters, all of which are integral to the story – driving it through its most expected and signposted twists and turns. If you haven't yet completed Anthem, well, get prepared for a good number of spoilers.
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As a result of this decision, the story is easy to read way ahead of time – stripping it of surprise and anticipation. Frankly, we deserve better. BioWare has always been one of the market leaders in storytelling and world building, and to have Anthem full of these annoyingly cookie-cutter characters – characters that do exactly what you expect them to do – all throughout is disappointing.
I am, of course, talking about Haluk, Owen, and The Monitor. The characters are all predictable in different ways, but they all drive the story from point to point with their egos. And to be frank, the male ego isn't inherently a bad thing. Ego is useful for lots of things in day to day life as long as it's kept in check. After all, ego is generally tied to confidence and confidence is good as long as you know your limits. If you don’t believe you’re capable of something then you'll probably never try. So, ego isn’t bad in and of itself. An untamed ego, however, allows pride to get in the way of progress. If left unchecked, an untamed ego can be dangerous.
When hubris replaces common sense
Let's start with Haluk. He gets his squad killed because he's too prideful to back down. This is one of the primary reasons that contempt towards the Freelancers even exists in the first place. In his first attempt at quelling the Heart of Rage – after watching his squad dying off one-by-one in front of him – he still refuses to leave the battle and regroup. Why in the hell would somebody risk the lives of those around them when everyone is telling you to turn tail and get your people out of there? Either, Haluk thinks he knows better, or, he's too proud to admit that he was wrong. He remains stubborn until Faye eventually talks him through it several years later. While he is happy to work with you from this point onwards, he never acknowledges the fact that much of what went wrong is on his shoulders – because of his hubris, his unchecked and untamed male ego.
Despite being exposed to the Anthem of Creation, something which has driven many others mad, Faye remains one of the most reasonable characters in game. She sits in stark contrast to Haluk, who couldn't see past his own pride in order to do the best thing for his team. To be clear, this isn't some mild character quirk – it's a fatal flaw in his personality, one that he doesn't refuses to confront on his own terms much to the detriment of those that surround him.
His over-confidence in his own abilities leads him to believe it was never his fault, because of course nothing ever is. His failure weighs heavily on his conscience, but only because he believes he failed himself, and not because he failed everyone else. His hard-headed nature means he never realises that it's on him and that he should strive to do better. His uncontainable self-belief means that we have to endure yet another half-hearted story of self preservation and self-reflection from a male character suffering with an overblown ego. BioWare is known for delivering complex characters and development through its games, and this is something I'd be eager to see the studio return to as it looks towards expanding out Anthem's world and characters inside Fort Tarsis as it turns its attention to DLC.
Betrayed by crushing insecurity
Sadly, Haluk isn't the only instance of male-ego derailing Anthem's story. Just look at Owen, he's guilty of a different sin of the ego. Where Haluk's downfall was his pride, Owen struggles to confront his crushing insecurity. Owen starts off as one of the most charming and earnest characters Bioware has ever written. Initially, you might worry that he's going to be annoying, but it's done so well that it never reaches that point. He makes jokes, he is carefree, and he is your partner. He's your Cypher. His job is to handle things like hacking, tracking, and cracking (on with research). He is an integral part of you being able to do your job and is literally a huge component of keeping people safe. He's not happy with this though. It's not good enough. Which is fine, to be honest. Ambition is incredibly important, without it, people accomplish very little. You need to know when it's appropriate though. You can't try and do something that is dangerous if you aren't ready, it's foolhardy.
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He doesn't care, he wants to be the hero, he can't accept that he isn't ready, the idea of being a cypher isn’t acceptable to him. He thinks that anything other than being on the front line isn’t good enough for him. In the mission where you meet Princess Zhim he dons a Javelin and nearly gets himself killed because he panics. It's just one mistake though and you'd learn from that, right? Wrong.
Owen doesn't just not learn from this but acts like a child when called out on it. He causes issues and strips off a few times but it's clear that this is eating him up. He can't let it go, even though he clearly isn't ready. He's in training to use a Javelin, but he's just not there yet. It's at this point that he betrays you and joins The Monitor. He steals the only Javelin that can save the day, joins the bad guys, then gets his face burned off and crawls back. Then, despite literally all of these problems he's caused, still doesn't give you back the Javelin, and just disappears. What an asshole.
The classic villain returns
Finally, there's The Monitor. The very epitome of a classic villain, and also the epitome of sheer arrogance. His only interactions with you are entirely him judging you and finding you lacking. He believes he is so far above you that you're not a threat. Not only this, he literally believes he is powerful enough to control the Anthem himself and believes he is worthy of becoming a god. Now, this isn't unusual in video games, in fact, it's pretty much a cliché. His ego is so over-inflated that he genuinely believes he can control creation itself. How much must his mother have told him he was special to reach that stage of ego? After all his posturing he dissolves his body and binds his consciousness with the Anthem. This then winds up being the final boss fight, obviously. The thing is, it controls him as much as he tries to control it, and he gets warped around by it unwillingly. He is at its behest because he isn’t strong enough to control a force of nature. Then just when you think he is going to make his final stand, he gets taken out by a falling strider (think AT-AT). Come on, it's naff.
All three of these characters are one-dimensional ego beasts that run afoul of the most predictable story arcs in recent memory. All because they all represent the exact same flaw. They can't keep their egos in check, and they pay the price as a result. It's not good enough to have this one thing driving the entire story forward, Anthem is a game desperately crying out for more complex characters – a more interesting and challenging narrative.
The idea that men are so driven by their own ego as to wind up failing because of it is outdated. We can have better characters than this, surely? And if any studio will deliver them, it has to be BioWare.
Thankfully, given that Anthem has been built to steadily evolve and expand over the years, BioWare still has time to show us that it is capable of building complex characters and developing interesting, surprising stories. It has a lot to fix before we get our first major narrative expansion, but here's hoping the extra time allows for a little nuance to slip into the conversation.