If you’re here for my thoughts, a breakdown, and a collection of what everyone else is reporting, read on!
February 22, 2019.
No lootboxes, but there are ‘cosmetics and vanity items’ available for purchase. Basically, there will a store, it will have stuff in it, but you can choose the items you want to spend cash money on. No buying loot boxes and praying to RNGesus, blessed be His name, that you’ll get the cosmetic whatever that you want. No ability to pay for power or spend any money on anything that will give you a gameplay advantage either.
Mind you, this is a statement about the state of the game at launch. I think that’s worth noting. There’s no guarantee that the whole microtransaction system won’t get completely and utterly buggered up in the way Destiny’s Eververse store evolved over the last 3 years. But hey, at least Bioware’s starting off right and I’m willing to give them points for that. Let’s see if they can stick to the straight and narrow, eh?
Gods in the world of Anthem left the world kinda sorta unfinished and buggered off to do who knows what else, but left behind their enormous tools. Those tools are in constant conflict with a mysterious force called the Anthem of Creation. This conflict is responsible for producing weird and wonderful things, like the Shaper Storm we saw in the very first Anthem gameplay reveal back in June 2017, as well as the massive creatures we’ve seen in the old and new trailers. The suits of powered armour, called Javelins, are required simply to be safe in the environment and also presumably because there’s stuff out there that wants to eat your face and armoured suits have big guns. The Dominion – the game’s antagonists – have found a way to weaponize the Anthem of Creation so, naturally, you need to strap on your biggest guns and shoot some things to save the world, etc., etc., etc.
If you’re thinking that this sounds an awful lot like a natural evolution of the Mass Effect trilogy Reaper storyline, you’re not wrong. Anthem is beginning to look and sound increasingly like the Mass Effect sequel we should have gotten.
Freelancers and Javelins
The player character will be a Freelancer, who is ‘uniquely skilled’ to pilot the Javelin exosuits, although why we’re uniquely skilled wasn’t discussed during the press conference. Four Javelins will be available when the game launches which I find mildly ridiculous because, hello, has no one at Bioware heard of Warframe?
The four weaponized dungarees you’ll be getting are the Ranger, the Colossus, the Interceptor, and the Storm. From what I can tell, Ranger is all-purpose, does a bunch of different things, focuses mostly on up-close, one-on-one combat. The Colossus is more specialized, seemingly more tanky and with bigger, more devastating weapons. The other two weren’t talked about but I assume that Interceptor will the sniper/long-ranged whatever; and the Storm sounds an awful lot like space mage. Nothing ground-breaking or revolutionary here.
Javelins can be customized with gear, weapons, and paint jobs.
Storytelling with multiplayer
This is a very Monster Hunter World-ish approach. Basically, out in the wild, you can team up with other Freelancers but the base – like Fort Tarsis, Anthem’s equivalent of Destiny’s Tower or MHW’s Astera – is instanced off to a single player. Monster Hunter World handles the hub exactly like this and, personally, it’s never either added to or broken my immersion. On the contrary, in World, as a member of the Third Fleet, I’d prefer to see other Hunters running around so I’d feel like I came to the New World with a small army. I’m not very happy with the way Bioware’s handling this because I’d prefer people to be running around with NPCs in Tarsis.
As far as the multiplayer portion of the experience goes, it will be possible to solo the entire game, but there was a fair bit of talk about the importance of teaming up and hoping people try out multiplayer. The solo experience was said to be ‘a little more challenging’ which sounds to me like the game has been balanced around two to four player co-op. But, if the fairly light-on-details gameplay footage was any indication, ‘challenging’ equates to tanky creatures and bosses, not activities that are mechanically challenging in anyway. If you need friends, it’s probably for the guns and to soak up damage which you crouch in a corner and drink a space potion.
My comments on balance are all speculation, though; hopefully more details will arrive in the weeks and months after E3.
Making Anthem feel alive
Quoted straight from the press conference video I linked up top – “The world is always changing, weather, storms, seasons” and “it gives us the opportunity to drop into the world, almost in real-time, a dramatic event that changes the world for everyone and that could be anything from gameplay to lore.”
Ehhh, I don’t know how I feel about this. I’ve heard this living-breathing-evolving-open-world spiel from a bunch of developers over the years, Bungie being the worst of the lot on delivering on their promises, so I don’t know how seriously I take anyone from Bioware saying this right now. The fact of the matter is that making new things available to do after roughly the first month and a half or two from launch is what will define how effectively Anthem sustains a playerbase. Given that the game isn’t shipping with PvP, I assume that questing and PvE will the only available gameplay options – so Bioware had better have come up with activities a heck of a lot better than ‘gather 10 space goat pelts’ or I. Will. Be. Pissed.
Post launch content
There was, during the press conference, talk about an ‘ongoing service that provides new content for a long period of time – new story, new experiences for everyone’. This is basically DLC and event talk and I’m mildly disappointed that nothing further was discussed. Frequency and novelty of updates are going to be pretty important and unless Bioware can put out a roadmap and offer fairly substantial content drops, I can see Anthem being just like any other Bioware game – play the campaign, if you’re a completionist, go through all the optional stuff, and then go play something else.
I’m also perfectly happy to pay for these content drops, provided they introduce new, meaningful things to the experience – I don’t think post launch content needs to be free; Capcom and CDProjekt Red are just really bloody generous.
What everyone else is saying
Variety is talking about the thrill of flying, Forbes is concerned – rightfully so – about story and characters; VG24/7 seems sad that you can’t do the sex with aliens; Gamespot reports that Anthem is always online; and GameRant talked about the lack of NPC squadmates. Kotaku has a super handy breakdown of everything they know so far, including a lot of Mark Darrah’s Twitter responses to questions Bioware fans have – I recommend this one very, very highly.
So, should you get excited?
I dunno, I’m not comfortable telling you how to feel. I’m not excited though. This sounds nothing like a Bioware game. This is the offical blurb on the Anthem preorder page:
On a world left unfinished by the gods, a shadowy faction threatens all of humankind. The only thing that stands between these villains and the ancient technology they covet are the Freelancers.
Join with up to three other players and assemble high-tech, hand-crafted, uniquely powerful exosuits. Explore vast ruins, battle deadly enemies, and claim otherworldly artifacts. With every mission, you and your Javelin exosuit grow in power. Fight the dangers of an ever-changing world. Rise united to defeat evil. Triumph as one.
It sounds and feels terribly meh. Anthem feels like yet another shared world shooter because everyone wants to make either shared world shooters or battle royale games in this day and age. There is nothing about this game that feels uniquely Bioware. The environments are gorgeous; the world looks absolutely beautiful – but that’s really it. There’s no draw for me here.
Warframe did exosuits well. Destiny does co-op shooting really well. The Witcher 3 set the bar for immersive, complex storytelling a while ago and I don’t think Bioware has the capacity to meet that standard, let alone exceed it. We know nothing about the story. The questing. The NPCs. Loot. Levelling. Customization. Inventory screens. Quest journals. Maps with hundreds of tiny question marks. The details of the world and the experience that will make it matter to us. We’ve haven’t really seen any substantial gameplay footage.
My only recommendation, even if you find yourself embracing all the joyous hype that comes with E3, is to wait. Wait for details, wait for months closer to February, when we’ll have a better idea of what makes Anthem a Bioware game, a game that is actually worth caring about.
You see, right now, because they haven’t shown us anything worth caring about in Anthem, I don’t particularly care about Anthem.