While playing Anthem, I had to repeatedly remind myself that I was playing a BioWare game. It’s the first new IP from the veteran RPG developer in a decade, and although it falls into that particular style of role-playing and third-person shooter hybrid the studio honed with the Mass Effect franchise, this is the hardest it has leaned into that concept. With Anthem, we’re seeing a major shift in what BioWare is capable of. Although it still exhibits some of the studio’s role-playing pedigree, it’s the vast online open-world that sets Anthem apart.
In the vein of Bungie’s Destiny and Ubisoft’s The Division, Anthem is a shared-world online shooter focusing on groups of players taking on new challenges and chasing new loot. But in familiar BioWare fashion, your particular Freelancer will make important narrative choices throughout the game’s main campaign, altering their relationships with allies and other factions. While this sounds pretty standard, this is all housed within an online world where other players are making similar or conflicting choices in their own story.
As of now, we only know what the story is about in the broad sense: humans on a hostile alien planet, a powerful ancient presence of some form, and major world-altering events. While BioWare wasn’t ready to share just how those choices will be reflected in the game for others to see, it did say they’ll be surfaced in some form. With that said, the general narrative feels much more of a nebulous concept right now, and I am intrigued to see how the developer will be able to inject that familiar BioWare-style storytelling into Anthem.
During a hands-on session with the game at EA Play, we got to check out one of Anthem’s missions while getting a feel for the Javelin exo-suits and their unique powers. We played the Scars and Villainy mission, which took the game’s Freelancers on an operation to take out an ancient weapon: a Relic held by the imposing Scar forces–one of the many groups on the planet fighting for control. While this mission was shown during the EA Play press conference, we saw an extended version of it, exploring some of the surrounding areas and fighting against the Swarm Tyrant boss. Though it’s usually difficult to get a sense of the game’s scale from standard vertical slice demos (as they aim to show a little bit of everything), I was impressed with the sense of scale and verticality–which felt particularly fresh for a BioWare game.
As Anthem is an action-RPG, you’re given a lot of options in how you’ll fight against enemies. With a primary weapon, side-arm, and special abilities–like the Ranger’s case, Frost Grenades–you’ll be able to fly into combat and utilize your skills in quick succession. Coordinating with your team will also open up opportunities to use combination attacks which offer bonus damage to groups of enemies. For instance, you can use the Ranger’s Frost Grenade and the Colossus’ slam skill together to destroy frozen enemies, which sends shards of ice into surrounding monsters.
I was impressed with how punchy and tactile the shooting mechanics were, which made getting a feel for the new systems fairly easy. While the Mass Effect series had largely serviceable combat–which gradually got better as the entries went on–Anthem shows some major growth on BioWare’s part thanks to its fast, responsive combat, which made many of the fights I played thrilling to take part in.
Your Freelancer’s most valuable asset is their Javelin exo-suit, which allows them to survive the world’s hostile environment. Movement is a core part of Anthem, and each Javelin can use their booster packs to fly through the world and glide underwater at great speed. Regardless of their archetype, each Javelin has a wonderful sense of velocity and mobility while zipping through the air, which recalled some exciting moments from films like Iron Man. While you’re not able to fly indefinitely (as your suit’s thrusters will overheat) flying through environmental elements like waterfalls will offer instant cooldowns and keep you going for longer distances.
As you complete jobs, you’ll acquire more resources and new gear for the exo-suits. While you’ll focus on one Javelin early on, you’ll eventually be able to switch over to other suits. So far, Anthem has four unique Javelins: the all-around striker Ranger; the Hulk-like Colossus; the glass-cannon Storm, which uses elemental attacks; and the agile Interceptor. As you can tell, the Javelins are not unlike classes in a traditional RPG, fulfilling those standard archetypes needed to round out a group.
While the mission culminated in a battle against the large Swarm Tyrant boss, who summoned smaller spider creatures and other hazards against the group, the demo ended about halfway through the fight. What’s interesting about this battle is that it highlighted the game’s focus on online gameplay, as it required a lot firepower to whittle the boss’s health down. While the Mass Effect games had online modes, they were single-player games at heart. During the presentation, the developers stated that while players can go solo, they’ll eventually come across some fights that will be too challenging to tackle alone.
While there’s still plenty we don’t know about Anthem–narrative-progression, PvP, and just what the endgame can offer–this brief taste of the game offered a whole lot to look forward to. Though BioWare has already dabbled in the sci-fi space with Mass Effect, Anthem comes off as a major departure for the company, specifically in how it’s focusing much more on fast gameplay and dynamic battles. Still, we’re eager to hear more about the larger specifics of the game, and just what that means for the bigger picture of Anthem.
You can read more about Anthem and other news from EA’s E3 briefing in our recap of all the announcements from EA Play. For our full coverage of the big event, be sure to visit GameSpot’s E3 2018 hub to follow along with all of the biggest news from the show.