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