The massive showcase of Anthem at EA's E3 presentation this year covered most of the game's bases, but BioWare has already revealed a ton of information regarding the game since the conference, including major details on the story, some gameplay elements, and of course, pre-order details.
The story of Anthem takes place on a distant world where the gods have mysteriously disappeared, left mid-production as it was being formed. The only evidence of their existence is massive shaper machines with highly advanced technology. Humans barely understand the power of the shaper machines, and while they use a bit of it in powering the Javelins, the exo suits of armor the player pilots, most of that technology is hand-made. Mark Darrah describes the world of Anthem as "a world without microchips" and the sort of homemade, grungy look of most of the Javelins and tech evokes a space-fantasy style purposely for that.
The goals of the freelancers actually is to find these shaper machines and shut them down, as the technology and energy they produce has run amok and become dangerous to the human inhabitants. BioWare noted that humans are not just visitors in the world of Anthem, but rather part of the ecosystem in the fictionalized setting surrounding them. Machines periodically turn on and interact with the world in unpredictable and dangerous ways for humanity. Massive storms are just one example of that, but others mentioned include mutations and natural destruction that changes the shape of the planet if left unchecked.
Humans, for their part, have broken into various factions in the world of Anthem. The original protectors of the humans, the Legion of Dawn, played a vital role in the game's backstory but have since broken up into various factions over time. The freelancers, the player characters faction, is one of those groups. Freelancers act as precise operation specialists, looking to shut down the shaper technology and protect the main city, Fort Tarsis. Story missions will, of course, affect Fort Tarsis in major and minor ways, although BioWare has been tight-lipped on the specifics of what that can be. “There are still many twists and turns as part of the critical path of the game, and the sidequests that you do,” said lead producer Mike Gamble, in an interview with Game Informer. “Some of it is about world-building. Some of it is about learning about this unfinished world of Anthem. But things happen to characters that they’ll never come back from.”
The freelancers are not the only faction in Anthem, however. A major enemy faction, the dominion, serves as a foil to the player's side. The dominion is a splinter group of the freelancers, hoping to harness the power of the Shapers for their own devices. This provides a more tangible enemy to face in the wilds of the planet. Each freelancer group also comes with their own support crew, which serve as the primary NPCs found in the game. BioWare has confirmed that there are no player romances in Anthem, instead hoping to focus on the player experience and interaction with co-op play more.
This doesn't mean there won't be characters you interact with, however. Your crew and their interactions will serve as the glue in the main hub sections of the game. BioWare is hoping to combine co-op gameplay with single-player storytelling. One of the main hubs for this will be the Strider, a mobile player base where story missions will begin and end. Your crew, much like other BioWare games, will have memorable personalities and interactions that go beyond just simple cut-scenes. Player characters, of course, will be fully voiced, although there will be no options to change that voice in-game like Dragon Age: Inquisition.
There will be other factions found in Anthem, and each faction will have various political and interpersonal relationships to help flesh out the in-game story and world building. The hope, according to Gamble, is to provide an experience that is not simply black or white, but offer shades of gray in a hostile landscape.
Part of the goal for Anthem, in the end, is to make a fun experience where the player is given full empowerment in what is being called a "shared-world shooter" in the same vein as The Division and Destiny.
"When a player picks up Anthem, I want to feel like they're a hero" stated lead producer Mike Gamble. "I want them to feel like they're something larger than life, that with these Javelins, they can kind of overcome the danger of the world. And I want them to be able to do it easily, I don't want to put a lot of friction in place where they have to, you know, find different people to play with and have different groups and timelines for them to play. I want them to be able to get into the game easily and really start to realize what it has to offer."
Players will be leveling up their pilot during the game, gaining skills such as the ability to control their Javelins in flight. The meat of the progression comes from gear acquisition though, with each Javelin being fully customizable to the player's needs over a specific class. Each of them, of course, has strength and weaknesses to offer different styles of gameplay.
The Ranger, for example, is a jack-of-all-trades in terms of firepower and speed, the Colossus is more tanky and armored up, while the Storm acts as a "wizard" class of sorts, a glass cannon that can dish out massive damage with its unique abilities. Loadouts also further customize things; offering ranged, melee and close-quarters combat. Weapons such as rifles, flamethrowers, shields and mortars are just some of the options available for players.
Players are not limited by a "class" of Javelins, being able to use one of four different types of Javelins while tackling in-game missions. Darrah also hinted that more Javelin types will be available post-launch of the game as well, adding to the long-term plans by BioWare to support Anthem for the foreseeable future.
Javelins do have limitations though. Using weapons and flying on your jetpacks consume heat, which acts as a stamina mechanic to offer some more strategic gameplay for players. Some abilities and weapons need to be discovered or unlocked in the game, but the main mantra by BioWare is full player choice of their actions, right down to how the Javelins even look.
BioWare has confirmed that the game will contain microtransactions, but they are only for pure cosmetic pieces. Anthem will not have any loot boxes or premium purchases, or any way for players to buy power. The goal, according to executive producer Mark Darrah, is to make the game feel like it is complete at launch while offering massive content updates post-launch, including weapons, missions, and more cosmetic options.
The official release date for the game is February 22nd, 2019 for the Xbox One, PS4, and PC. BioWare is already offering several bonuses for players interested in pre-ordering the game.
The first is your standard edition, priced at $59.99, which nets you a VIP demo access, an in-game founder banner, a legendary weapon and the Legion of Dawn Javelin armor for the Ranger class.
The Legion of Dawn Edition for $79.99 will get all of the bonuses from the standard edition plus Full Legion of Dawn armor set for the remaining three Javelins, a digital soundtrack, and a Ranger Javelin gear attachment.
All in all, BioWare is confident in Anthem as a long-term project for the studio, promising multiple times to continue their support for the game for the foreseeable future. It is a massive change from what many BioWare fans may be used to, in particular, the lack of AI companions, romances or hard role-playing. For the company though, it is the culmination of nearly twenty years of change and innovation that is driving this confidence, while retaining their core values as storytellers and world builders.
"As you look back to what we’ve done over the last more than 20 years, there’s actually been change all the way along,” Darrah says in the Game Informer interview. “Moving from 2D to 3D, adding multiplayer, moving to an online live service. It’s been a story of evolution. Anthem is just continuing on that journey.”
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