EA's Frostbite engine is apparently difficult to work with according to a new source in the form of ex-BioWare general manager Aaryn Flynn, confirming that the engine leads to a lot of issues during development despite offering quite a lot of power when handled correctly. The Frostbite engine is the tool that was used to create BioWare's Anthem, and in reports that surfaced following that game's troubled launch period, anonymous developers indicated that the mandate from EA to use Frostbite negatively impacted the ability for some staff to contribute to the project, creating unforeseen issues and more work than was necessary.
Anthem is certainly the highest profile instance of a game built using Frostbite, a game engine originally developed by DICE that also spawned Mass Effect: Andromeda and Dragon Age: Inquisition. While the latter performed well critically, Andromeda and Anthem represent two of BioWare's worst-performing games in terms of review scores, and Anthem in particular has been so bad that the developer recently announced it would essentially be tearing the game down to build something better on top of it. It's a process that has worked for other titles, most notably FFXIV, but the amount of time needed for a commitment of that magnitude is dramatic, and not something that EA or BioWare likely did lightly.
It's possible that there's no saving Anthem as long as it's still using Frostbite, however. Flynn was polite in his description of the engine - which he discussed during a presentation at Reboot Develop Red transcribed by GamesIndustry.biz - suggesting it was like an F1 car that was "very powerful, fast, beautiful, purpose built to do some really cool stuff." However, his description was also telling of the headaches the engine causes, as he also discussed the ways in which Frostbite demands an exceptional level of commitment from a larger-than-normal crew to get a good performance out of it. Flynn clarified:
"My experience with it was very much like this: you could do amazing things, go very fast in some elements, but very delicate and very hard to manage."
Having a "very hard to manage" game engine sounds like a recipe for disaster in games as complex as the ones that BioWare typically attempts to make, and Flynn acknowledged that, at least during his time working with the engine, that it increasingly became difficult to make what he wanted to make with Frostbite as a base. News that Frostbite is difficult to work with won't come as a surprise to those who have closely followed what happened on Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem, but it's also a rather discouraging thought, given the fact that Anthem's next iteration will still probably use the same engine.
EA has been struggling as of late, failing to follow through on the hype and promise of some of its most exciting titles this console generation. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is the first game to deliver on its promise in quite some time - and it notably didn't use the Frostbite engine. Perhaps this is a temporary problem, and the publisher will be moving towards a new build of the Frostbite engine or something else altogether once next-gen arrives, but for now, it sure seems like the Frostbite engine is incredibly difficult to work with and isn't producing the kind of results that would make that struggle worth it for developers.