Microsoft’s Xbox showcase at this year’s E3 can easily be described as “everything happens so much, all the time.” The company stopped at nothing to deliver fresh details on upcoming games, and left the live audiences and viewers at home nearly breathless from the rapid-fire announcements. Between Sea of Thieves footage, a Cuphead announcement date, and a spooky new look at the Dark Souls-styled game Code Vein, Microsoft pulled the veil back on BioWare’s Anthem. And what fans saw in the gameplay footage was quite surprising: facial animations potentially good enough to remedy the missteps of Mass Effect: Andromeda.
The slice of Anthem fun shown at E3 2017 may have been small, but what stood out were the clean, human-looking faces. An opening shot featured a middle-aged man; he boasted accurately textured skin with a barely-there five o’clock shadow, wrinkles, crow’s feet, and scars that all became more visible in the sun. His mouth, eyes, eyebrows, and jaw moved smoothly and realistically. His expressions mimicked real life.
Things only got more impressive as the Anthem gameplay footage rolled on. A second character appeared on screen, her facial design just as sleek as the man who came before her. With slight lines beneath her eyes and a groove between her brows, the female character was starkly life-like. Before she closed the mask on her Javelin exosuit to begin her next adventure, she made a half-snarl, half-smirk expression. The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment was so nuanced, it brought about images of the early footage of Mass Effect: Andromeda and its high-quality facial animations.
But everyone knows how the Andromeda tale unraveled. When Mass Effect: Andromeda was released back in March 2017, the reaction was one of confusion that quickly turned to mockery. Andromeda‘s awkward facial animations were what many would consider abysmal, and certainly not what was advertised in early announcement trailers and sneak-peek gameplay footage. Players were anticipating realistic expressions, intuitive movement, and a slew of customization options for the faces of their characters, but were left disappointed to say the least.
A few months post-launch, BioWare employees spoke to gaming historian Liam Robertson to explain that BioWare outsourced facial animations for Mass Effect: Andromeda. The allegations expectedly caused a stir, adding more confusion to the mix, as it made little sense for a triple-A game like Andromeda to focus so little on characters and animations. Since then, updates have scrubbed up facial animations a bit, though they’ll never reach the level of design BioWare initially promised.
But that might change with Anthem. Are the facial animations in the upcoming title BioWare’s sly way of apologizing for what happened with Andromeda? Could Anthem‘s seemingly sharp-styled characters make players forget the past disappointment? Can BioWare actually redeem itself on the facial animation front with Anthem? Though no one can say for sure, it seems likely.
By the looks of the gameplay footage, the faces of Anthem are exactly the type of quality gamers should expect from a big-budget title released by such a noted developer like BioWare. Fingers crossed the facial animations can stand the test of time and retain their expert subtleties through to launch.
Anthem is expected to release in fall 2018.