Before we begin, the relevant videos are all the way at the bottom. If you’re not interested in anything I have to say, feel free to scroll down.
Still here? Bless you.
Let’s start by breaking down everything we know thus far about Anthem.
Everything we know about Anthem from E3
This is Bioware’s brand new IP, the one that no one knew anything about until a few days ago. It’s built in the Frostbite engine and is easily the most gorgeous goddamn thing to ever come out of Bioware. If you thought Andromeda was good looking, holy shit, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
“Our developers at BioWare have been creating something special,” said Patrick Soderlund, Executive Vice President of EA Worldwide Studios. “We’re pushing Frostbite to new heights, developing a game unlike anything EA has ever made before. We’re telling a new story, creating a social, co-operative experience, and putting it in a contiguous open world that is dynamic and will be ever-changing for years to come.”
Players take on the role of Freelancers, a name that has a bit of a mercenary ring to it, leading me to hope that we won’t be playing a character that has the soul of a saint and is perhaps only in the business for the money. The world of Anthem is one that seems to have been overtaken by monsters, and humanity is protected by a wall surrounding (what I presume is) the last safe city. (Attack on Titan, anyone?) There’s been no word yet on what planet Anthem is set on (e.g., Earth in the distant future or a world in a galaxy somewhat far away) or how the world came to be overrun by monsters.
To the best of my knowledge, virtually nothing else is known about the story, setting, or characters.
What we know of the gameplay is that it’s a third-person shooter in which the co-op experience seems to be the focus. The latter of those two features is probably what’s driving all of the Destiny comparisons – despite the fact that the ‘highly customizable’ exosuits and third-person shootery would probably make Warframe a better reference point.
Anthem seems to support up to four players within a single squad; as shown in the gameplay trailer, players simply drop out of the sky in their Javelins, thwonk themselves on the ground, and begin shooting things together.
The business of shooting things happens in an open world, which is remarkably reminiscent of Avatar’s Pandora. It’s lush, it’s vibrant and, like I said, is the most gorgeous goddamn thing that’s ever come out of Bioware. The world looks and feels alive in a way I just haven’t seen in a videogame before it, simply because of the world design itself and the presence of wildlife.
But, really, at this time, that’s all we know about Anthem.
What I think of Anthem
Now – why is no one comparing Anthem to Warframe? Every single piece of content that I’ve seen has referenced Destiny in some way but no one seems to remember that Warframe exists. That’s sad, because Warframe is a bloody good game.
But for all that people are comparing Anthem to Destiny, I don’t know how far the comparison is justified. Not because I think Destiny or its sequel will be better, but because Anthem represents exactly the kind of risk I’ve wanted Bioware to take for some time now and I think that alone deserves acknowledgement on its own merit.
Andromeda was a colossal disappointment, as you’ll know if you read any sort of review or watched any sort of video about it. I even wrote two pieces on the subject although I couldn’t be bothered to do a review. Bioware hasn’t really done anything new since Dragon Age II and that was way more polarizing than anyone probably expected. For what it’s worth, I enjoyed DA2 because of how intimate the story was, how personal to my Hawke, and how it didn’t really involve saving the world. It was flawed, sure, but I thought it was pretty terrific.
The Anthem gameplay reveal was, for me, like playing through DA2 all over again. It was Bioware attempting to break the mould that they’ve been trapped in for far too many years now. It was an attempt at risk-taking, probably a much scarier prospect after the reception that Andromeda got. But I’m impressed that they’re doing it anyway.
I’m slightly less pleased with how they’ve gone about doing it. The combat looked like it was drawn from Mass Effect. The world looks like it was inspired by Avatar. The crowded streets made me think of every Assassin’s Creed game ever. The big stompy exo-suits made me think of Warframe with a smattering of Titanfall thrown into the mix.
I’m heartily sick of hearing ‘open world’ tossed around like it’s some sort of grant selling point, because Bioware has yet to prove that they can do open worlds in a way that’s compelling to play through, not merely interesting to look at. Players joining a game by smashing dramatically into the ground made me think of what Bungie showed off for Destiny in their first E3 reveal, which never actually made it into the final game – players seamlessly flying in on their ship and dropping into a friend’s game to join them on their adventure. That one extremely stressed out dude who offered up a (sub?)quest made me feel like he was there just so Bioware can say, “Look, facial animations don’t suck now.”
Anthem has the potential to be so much more than the sum of its parts. The world alone has me excited to get my hands on a beta, simply so that I can jetpack around in it on a stompy mini-mech and oooh and aaah at all the trees. If Bioware manages to get their storytelling back on track – for both central and supplementary storylines – then Anthem could be the benchmark against which all other action-adventure/RPG hybrid games as measured. Heck, given the original Destiny’s appalling lack of story and the fact that Destiny 2 isn’t the great leap forward that many of us were hoping for, if anyone can replace it as the go-to looter/shooter for players around the world, it’s Bioware.
But if Bioware’s track record over the last few years is anything to go by, while jetpacking around the world of Anthem I will probably be interrupted by some manner of space-kobold who wants me to gather a handful of space leaves for him so he can make a space poultice to grow his hair back or something. And if that’s the case, the only difference between Anthem and Andromeda will be that the former will become a prettier disaster than the latter.
Trailers below. Approach with cautious optimisim. And think long and hard about Andromeda before you pre-order.