Strap into your Javelins, Bioware’s lat­est is ready for take off – clear skies ex­pected

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START CONTENTS - Austin Tay­lor

Pub­lisher EA De­vel­oper Bio Ware For­mat Xbox One ETA 22 Fe­bru­ary 2019

It’s not the first mul­ti­player squad-based shooter out there. It’s not even the first sci-fi one. But An­them def­i­nitely has one thing the oth­ers don’t: jet-packs. Specif­i­cally, mech suits called Javelins that are cov­ered in jets. Don’t think this is just some slapped-on ad­di­tion to make the game unique, it’s ac­tu­ally this con­cept that the whole game has been built around: the mys­tery be­hind this planet of left­over tech.

“Kind of where it started with An­them was just think­ing about ‘what’s the evo­lu­tion of a Bioware game?’” ex­plains Casey Hud­son, Bioware’s gen­eral man­ager. An­them is “not an MMO, not a mul­ti­player game with a story sort of bolted on the side, but some­thing new and dif­fer­ent”. Hud­son has a long his­tory at the stu­dio, per­haps most promi­nently known as the di­rec­tor of all three orig­i­nal Mass Ef­fect games. An­them shares a sci-fi theme, of course, but in many ways An­them couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent from the space epic that launched Bioware to the stars with the last con­sole gen­er­a­tion.

Even aside from the much greater fo­cus on mul­ti­player and com­bat mis­sions, An­them’s sci-fi world is much more fo­cused. In­stead of ex­plor­ing a galaxy, you’ll be ex­plor­ing one world – a world ab­sent from its own cre­ators, and one that is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing more per­ilous for the hu­man com­mu­nity who have found them­selves aban­doned be­hind The Wall. Queue the Free­lancers, hu­mans who don Javelins to push out be­yond The Wall, quell threats, and get to the bot­tom of the dis­ap­pear­ance of the planet’s mak­ers. While scav­eng­ing plenty of tech, of course.

World shapers

Where Mass Ef­fect’s hu­mans had en­gi­neered space travel them­selves, An­them’s sci-fi is dirt­ier, more boot­son-the-ground – tech­nol­ogy we don’t quite un­der­stand com­pletely but can re­verse-en­gi­neer to use. That “An­them is ‘not a mul­ti­player game, but some­thing new and dif­fer­ent’” scrappy sci-fi look is in­te­gral to the world de­sign, and the de­sign of the Javelin suits them­selves you can cus­tomise how you see fit, both in terms of aes­thet­ics and func­tion­al­ity. Even within the four main classes – Ranger (mixed), Colos­sus (tank), Storm (en­ergy), In­ter­cep­tor (quick) – there’s a huge amount of room to spec and cus­tomise your Javelin. Con­sid­er­ing you’ll be play­ing in squads of up to four Free­lancers, that gives a huge amount of room for team tac­tics.

Not that you’ll ever be locked down be­hind cover be­ing forced to get too strate­gic if you don’t want to. An­them is all about free­dom, and the way it gives it to you is all through the Javelins. The whole world you ex­plore, in­clud­ing com­bat ar­eas, is all de­signed with your ver­ti­cal­ity in mind (whether that’s reach­ing the tops of huge trees, or plung­ing un­der­wa­ter). At any point you can jump into the air and just soar. Push­ing in one stick will shoot you off like a jet, and the other will have you hover in place with ac­cess to your weapons as nor­mal, only up in the air.

On the ground? Of course, even the dash but­ton in­volves boost­ers, as you pro­pel your­self with a de­li­cious sense of weighty metal-ness, ready to crack some skulls with your melee at­tack or blast away. Add in a but­ton just to evade, and things like ex­tra boost jumps, and you have a whole

heap of op­tions when tear­ing around the map. Rarely will you be stuck be­hind cover at all, as stay­ing on the move is usu­ally the favourable op­tion, whether that’s bar­rel-rolling out of the path of tur­rets, keep­ing far away from creepy crawly spi­ders, or just mak­ing a con­trolled de­scent as you out­flank groups of en­e­mies far be­low.

We only got hands-on with a Ranger class Javelin, but that gave us an ex­cel­lent sense of the free­dom at play as we ran through a mis­sion with the rest of our squad. It’s the sort of game that takes lit­tle things and makes them ex­cit­ing. On top of hav­ing an in­sane amount of move­ment op­tions for a third-per­son shooter like this, it even seems like the guns will have lots of va­ri­ety and spe­cial ef­fects. Our ri­fle cre­ated a lit­tle shock­wave on ev­ery tenth bul­let that wedged its way into the bod­ies of our foes, and we were able to combo el­e­men­tal attacks to­gether to max­imise dam­age in big flashy ways, like freez­ing goons in place with our ice grenade, then zap­ping them with our en­ergy can­non.

Bio ware­house

Just be­cause squad-based mis­sions in a per­sis­tent world are the or­der of the day, doesn’t mean that Bioware is step­ping away from what it’s best at, and what fans love about its games. “A great story for Bioware is re­ally about char­ac­ters you can have a con­nec­tion with, choices you get to make, and feel­ing like the story is about you,” Mark Dar­rah, the game’s ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer, ex­plains.

There will still be plenty of clas­sicfeel­ing Bioware char­ac­ters to in­ter­act and build re­la­tion­ships with (though, con­trary to the more RPG-cen­tric Bioware ti­tles, ro­mance just isn’t part of the An­them DNA). You can in­ter­act with your crew be­fore you strap on your Javelin suit to go off on a mis­sion, and even take on unique char­ac­ter mis­sions af­ter cer­tain in­ter­ac­tions with An­them’s range of in­ter­est­ing per­son­al­i­ties.

“We’ve de­signed it in a way where we can add more story for years to come”

Free­lancers will be ex­plor­ing the same per­sis­tent world as one an­other, but it’s in re­turn­ing home to a camp like Fort Tar­sis that con­se­quences from your own de­ci­sions come into play to change your own per­sonal space. Help and en­cour­age some­one to set up a shop, for ex­am­ple, and they’ll be able to sell you some unique items. “We’re able to com­bine that im­pact and agency of a sin­gle-player story, with the fun of team­ing up with your friends to play co-op,” says Dar­rah. For Bioware, it’s not a one or the other choice, but both things they can do the Bioware way.

A com­bi­na­tion of clas­sic Bioware sto­ry­telling, fre­netic com­bat and dizzy­ing ex­plo­ration makes for one tantalising pack­age, and it’s def­i­nitely ex­cit­ing to see Bioware change things up be­yond its usual for­mula (though we’ve been promised that more games like its tra­di­tional RPGs aren’t go­ing away). The crit­i­cal path will see play­ers fol­low­ing an en­thralling mys­tery in just why the world’s cre­ators dis­ap­peared, and play­ers used to Bioware’s sin­gle­player fare will find the matchmaking easy to get into. Hop­ping in and out of games is just as much an op­tion as hav­ing to trawl through your friends list and com­mit en­tire evenings. Just like the free­dom of the Javelins’ move­ment, you’re free to en­gage with the mul­ti­player how­ever deeply or su­per­fi­cially you want.

Cath­leen Root­saert, the game’s lead writer, ex­plains that “we’ve de­signed An­them in a way where we can ac­tu­ally add more story for years to come.” Be­cause of the worlds they cre­ate, Bioware fans fre­quently want to ex­plore even more, and that’s some­thing they’ve been keen to con­sider from the be­gin­ning with cre­at­ing An­them. They’re leav­ing the door open for this kind of game to flour­ish as part of Bioware’s fu­ture, and in­deed for An­them it­self to be­come a sup­ported plat­form for some time with more story and more things to do.

Our hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence with the game has made it clear that An­them isn’t just try­ing to crib on other pop­u­lar mul­ti­player games, nor is it overly re­ly­ing on sim­ply play­ing to Bioware’s strengths. It’s a new thing al­to­gether. We can’t wait to jump into our Javelins, and re­ally spend some time in that world.

Be­low You’ll be able to cus­tomise Javelin suits.

Be­low The vis­tas in An­them are in­cred­i­ble — we’re tin­gling to get into our Javelins and just ex­plore the world.

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