We got our first serious look at Bioware's Anthem at EA's E3 press conference today. It was introduced with a CG trailer that, sadly, gives you little idea about the game beyond an aesthetic of weathered mechs and a serious Bungie vibe. “We have the best fans” said Bioware's Casey Hudson on-stage, with the air of a man tied to his chair.
Anthem is playable in both singleplayer and in online co-op, with a central hub (the name sounded like ‘Port Arthis’) “where your story lives and breathes.” That is to say, there's a singleplayer area where the story progresses, while all the multiplayer action takes place out in the ‘world.’ Anthem has apparently been designed so that stories can be added ‘for years to come’, which is also something Bungie said, and the question is really whether Bioware have a compelling enough loop here, so many years after Anthem began development.
You can't dodge it: Anthem looks incredibly influenced by Bungie’s work. Obviously there's a huge influence from Bioware's previous thirdperson games, with a Mass Effect N7 armour skin showing up to ram home the point, but outside of some admittedly spectacular air-to-sea transitions and special effects this all seems a little familiar.
One of Anthem's big selling points is the mech suits, called 'javelin exo suits' in-game. The player character is a 'freelancer' (a noble calling) meaning they can switch between the four classes of mech easily: the ranger, the colossus, the interceptor and the storm. The Ranger suit is a generalised suit able to do many different things in combat, for example, while the Colossus is heavy and has big weapons. Not the wildest ideas in the world but there we are.
EA's press conference did show gameplay but kept it to the end, filling up most of the time with unbelievably boring lines like “Our ancient rivals the Dominion have discovered a way to weaponise the anthem of civilisation!” More interesting was when a question about monestisation was raised: Casey Hudson said "No loot boxes, no ability to pay for power, no ability to spend on gameplay advantage at all." The words ‘ongoing service’ were then used.
The gameplay shown off isn’t doing anything off-the-wall for thirdperson games, beyond an extremely nice transition underwater from flying in the air. Whether it’s something you’ll be doing often enough to be a big factor is another question. One nice aspect of the game is its use of comicbook-style damage counters that sync when shots hit multiple enemies, so there’s a huge collective bounce of ‘combo!’ signs. It’s a nice touch. Does it elevate Anthem?
It's too early to say but... everything plays out like you'd expect: grunts, a relic, a snarky voice in your ear saying "let's get a closer look", you complete the mission 'objective' then (uh-oh!) a giant monster comes up and the whole thing stops. It left me feeling distinctly underwhelmed. Bioware has been working on this for long enough that my expectations were very high. I enjoy a bit of co-op as much as the next blue-blooded gamer, but there are so many options these days and nothing Anthem showed seemed... new? Great effects. Amazing armour detail. That seemed to be about it. I've seen cities being sunk by a giant worm a decade ago, you know?
Anthem will be released on February 22 2019, on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.