I'm the type of BioWare enthusiast that, while I've acknowledged the flaws of past games, has defended the studio's most polarizing titles (yes, Dragon Age II was not a Bad Game and Mass Effect 3 had many great moments, okay). Since I've been such a staunch supporter of the studio and its products, I was surprised to feel so cautious and skeptical about Anthem following its first teaser at last year’s E3. All hands on deck have been put on this new IP from the studio, and its importance to BioWare following the controversial launch of Mass Effect: Andromeda is evident in EA’s substantial marketing of the game at this year's EA Play conference. It’s also evident in the twenty minute demo we were able to see, for the demo was nothing short of the impressive slice I needed of this game to finally feel some excitement for it.
The demo starts in the base of operations for the protagonist, who is part of a group called the Freelancers. This group can consist of just you as a singular Freelancer or consist of a party of four. You can invite friends or guild mates to join your party, so guilds have been confirmed to be a feature of the game. At its core, Anthem is a social co-op RPG game so although you can definitely play the game alone, it’s best enjoyed when experiencing it with other people.
However, that’s not to say that Anthem is missing what has made BioWare such a popular studio for years, which is a strong story with well-developed characters. In Anthem, the world has been abandoned by its Gods. As a Freelancer, you are in conflict with a group known as the Scars as you try to keep this group from harnessing the ancient power of the Anthem. Since this world is an unfinished product made by the Gods, you'll see ruins and broken structures among the beautiful landscapes and gorgeous colors the game has to show. It's a dangerous world to live in, thus you must wear your exosuit armor at all times in order to survive in this world.
Mark Darrah, BioWare veteran and Executive Producer of Anthem, confirmed on his Twitter that there will be fleshed out and important characters you will return to throughout the story. Despite the fact that your party will consist of no NPCs, you can count on the main NPCs in the world of Anthem to be crafted by BioWare’s high quality writing. In the demo, the player was in constant communication with someone named Owen, who operated as a guide throughout the mission and offered commentary every so often. He has also confirmed that, unlike in past BioWare games, there will be no romances at launch; perhaps later on as DLC, but there are currently no romances.
As a Freelancer, you operate a Javelin, which works as your class. You can choose from four types of Javelins — the Colossus, the Interceptor, the Storm, and the Ranger. The Colossus sacrifices agility for strength; the Interceptor's long legs indicate a specialization in speed; the Storm possesses elemental magic and operates most closely to the classic mage class in RPGs; and the Ranger is a balanced class that is able to do a little bit of everything. You are able to customize your character, your Javelin's appearance, and the way your Javelin operates in a gameplay sense. We were able to see every class besides the Interceptor, which has been confirmed to be shown later on.
The world of Anthem is interactional, as well. Your jet pack has a cooldown until it overheats, but you could walk under a waterfall to cool it down and prolong your flight. At night, there are more dangerous creatures that lurk in the world than during the day. There are also emergant World Events -- random events that happen sporadically throughout your exploration of the world, leading to a gameplay experience that is supposed to feel unique every time. In the demo, the World Event we experienced was an encounter with a Titan, which was shown in the gameplay featured at the press conference. There was no engagement because the player character was undeleveled, but it was still a fascinating sight to see that will help this world feel alive.
Anthem's gameplay was a visual spectacle. The player character and their squad embarked on a mission titled "Scars and Villainy" to eliminate some Scars and silence a relic, for relics have been left by the Gods and are abandoned, volatile, and dangerous. Bright colors and sparks are frequent in combat, as in addition to your own attacks, you're able to combine attacks with your friends and create massive combo attacks that are both visually stunning and incredibly strong. This makes the co-op experience feel cohesive, as it's fun to imagine all the combinations you can form with friends who may use different Javelins. You're not just traveling and exploring this world together; you're also dependent on each other to help humanity defend it from the Scars.
From what we saw in the demo, the player character -- who had a Colossus Javelin -- had three main abilities: a melee ability that took two seconds to cooldown, another ability that took about ten seconds to cool down, and finally a powerful explosive attack that took thirty seconds to cooldown. You also have access to an Ultimate, a powerful ability that is unique to every Javelin and needs time to charge up. Despite the many aspects to the combat that we saw in the demo and are yet to see, it all feels easy to comprehend -- especially because the game's UI is sleek and minimalistic, allowing you to really be immersed in the combat and exploration this world has to offer.
We walked out of the demo feeling cautiously optimistic for Anthem. The short teaser we saw last year and the tidbits of information that accompanied it left us feeling skeptical. Many of us at RPG Site are avid fans of BioWare and the products they make, but Anthem is a massive departure from BioWare's style and comfort zone. The trailer left us hopeful, and after our viewing of this twenty-minute demo, we're excited for how the game turns out and will be covering any further information that is revealed about BioWare's new IP until it releases next year on February 22nd.