Opinion: Anthem’s Cataclysm event is just more squandered potential

On Tuesday, August 6, BioWare released the long-awaited 1.3 update for its struggling sci-fi shooter Anthem. The update is notable since it also kicked off Anthem’s first major post-launch event, called ‘Cataclysm.’ The Cataclysm event introduces, among other things, a small number of new story missions, new seasonal currency and an accompanying store to spend it at, and a new repeatable score-based game mode called Echoes of Reality.

On paper, everything about Anthem’s 1.3 update and accompanying Cataclysm event sounds great and exciting. In practice, Cataclysm just forces players to suffer through more of the same frustration and disappointment they’ve already endured since Anthem’s launch earlier this year. Players obviously didn’t expect the Cataclysm update to fix all of Anthem’s inherent problems, but they were at least hoping for some improvements upon which they could pin their hopes for the game’s future.

Sadly, the Cataclysm update couldn’t even clear that low bar.

Eye of the Storm

In fairness to BioWare, the new Cataclysm additions do show some potential. A new melee weapon gear slot allows players to further diversify their character builds, and Anthem’s social infrastructure has gotten a nice boost thanks to changes to the in-game Alliances system and a mobile app for guilds.

The Cataclysm update’s new story beats would be worth investing in if the larger story they were building off of wasn’t so mediocre and forgettable. A new villain called Vara Brom is attempting to wield the power of Anthem’s central mcguffin, the Cenotaph, essentially doing the exact same thing that the main storyline’s villain, The Monitor, tried to do. In order to stop Brom, players have to team up with Dominion defector Dr. Harkon and venture into the raging elemental storm which Brom’s meddling has summoned.

After a trio of story missions in which players essentially do the same exact things they were doing in all of Anthem’s previous story missions, the Echoes of Reality activity awaits. Echoes of Reality is a repeatable activity in which players work through a series of standalone encounters before reaching a final boss fight against Vara Brom herself.

The encounters leading up to Brom range from forgettable to frustrating, and of course there’s no dialogue or directions explaining how to complete each encounter, players are just supposed to figure it out on the fly. One encounter which involves players transporting a series of four echoes down into an underwater sanctum to unlock a fifth echo before transferring all five echoes back up to the surface is causing no small amount of headaches for matchmade teams.

Echoes of Reality is at least a good source of consistent loot since teams earn a loot-filled chest for each encounter completed, and it’s also the main way through which players earn the event’s new seasonal currency. This currency can be spent at a new seasonal store on unique cosmetic and gameplay items like armor decals, emotes, and even masterwork melee weapons (in case your gear score needs a boost).

The Final Countdown

Echoes of Reality is structured as a score-based activity with a strict 15-minute timer. Players can add time to the clock by completing individual encounters, but if the timer reaches zero before Vara Brom has fallen the activity immediately ends. The final score a team reaches in Echoes of Reality ultimately determines how much seasonal currency they earn, and there’s a leaderboard for players who care about that sort of thing.

Unfortunately, other than grinding for seasonal items or leaderboard placement, it’s hard to see what the entire point of the Cataclysm event is. The meager story elements the event introduces don’t end on a satisfying note (again, mirroring Anthem’s core story campaign), and Anthem’s ongoing performance issues can quickly derail an otherwise promising Echoes of Reality run.

Lower level players can participate in the new Cataclysm content as long as they’ve completed a specific mid-game story mission, but that just ups the odds of getting matched with players who have no idea what to do during the poorly-constructed Echoes of Reality encounters. Again, much of the new Cataclysm content sounds good on paper, but adding new bells and whistles onto an inherently broken experience doesn’t do much good in the end.

Harsh Realities

I’m not going to use Anthem’s Cataclysm event as an excuse to climb up onto a soapbox, but I will point out that the event’s poor implementation is indicative of the larger problem at Anthem’s core: BioWare.

To be clear, this isn’t me attacking or demeaning BioWare. I still have a lot of love for the studio that gave me Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age, and the original Mass Effect trilogy. However, Anthem’s Cataclysm event is yet more proof that something needs to change if BioWare is going to pull itself out of the seemingly perpetual tailspin it’s been in.

I understand that BioWare isn’t exactly in a great spot. It can’t just step away from Anthem to catch its proverbial breath and reassess things because that would likely drive away the game’s already meager playerbase. Plus, chances are the studio is also under pressure to complete upcoming projects like the rumored Dragon Age 4. Prior industry reports have made it clear that BioWare’s been burning the candle at both ends for quite some time now, and Anthem’s Cataclysm rollout is proof positive that little, if anything, has changed.

What I’m trying to say here is that I hope BioWare finds an opportunity to step back and refocus. My guess is that the studio is pushing ahead with Anthem’s continued development because it’s obligated to, and its lack of passion shows.

I’m not saying that BioWare should just cut its losses and abandon Anthem, but I’d bet any dedicated fan would agree that the Cataclysm update did a lot more harm to player confidence than good. If BioWare truly does want to right Anthem’s listing ship, it needs to right its own ship first. Otherwise I fear that Anthem’s playerbase only has more disappointment to look forward to.