A science-fantasy world where superheroes are real, and they’re incredible.
Anthem is a smorgasbord of water cooler moments. At least, that’s how I felt when we were invited to BioWare Edmonton to spend a day with the development team, learning as much as we could about Anthem. I’ll be honest, I know pieces of what Anthem is going to become when it’s finally finished and released on February 22, 2019 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC. But like everyone outside of BioWare, the whole that all those parts amount to is still something of a mystery.
But here’s what I know. Anthem is an incredible buffet of stuff you know and love from the past decades of games and movies, realized in this cryptic, shared-world shooter. It’s part Iron Man, I thought, as I jetted around and barrel-rolled in a super-powered rig with the kind of locomotion that would make Insomniac Games (Sunset Overdrive, Marvel’s Spider-Man) give a knowing nod of approval. It’s part Halo — a science-fantasy story about “the Gods” who started the planet and disappeared, leaving their mystifying and errant construction tools lying around to the welfare and woe of the inhabitants.
It’s such a weird, interesting mix of gameplay, story, setting, know-how, and ambition, that it can be almost overwhelming. When looking at a studio like BioWare, which is so well known for story driven, character-driven games that invoke a sense of personal journey, why make a shared-world shooter and how does that fit into the DNA of what BioWare is?
Well, in addition to playing a portion of the game, I spoke with game director Jon Warner and lead producer Mike Gamble about what to expect from BioWare’s next big game.
Here are a few basic pillars of what we know about Anthem:
What is Anthem?
Anthem is a shared-world action-RPG. That’s a weak term these days, for sure, but it’s a pretty perfect description of the experience. In Anthem, you are a freelancer. Someone who has cobbled together enough parts and tech to create and pilot a superhuman exo-suit called a Javelin.
Javelins allow players to explore the world, essentially turning you into superheroes. Not everyone can pilot Javelins. And Javelins aren’t ubiquitous. Nothing in the world of Anthem is mass-produced. Everything in this world is painstakingly handmade so Javelins are a finite resource and therefore those who pilot them are the few who can step outside the walls of Fort Tarsis – humanity’s bastion of safety and society.
You can think of the Javelins as “classes” if this were a typical RPG. Anthem has an array of Javelins you can pilot. Each Javelin fulfills a certain role in the standard group dynamic. The tanky but slow one, the all-around balanced one, the powerful but fragile one, and the fast but vulnerable one. Each of these suits can be upgraded with its own skill tree independently of the others.
There’s also a meta-character: the pilot. Your pilot is essentially your character, though you’ll rarely ever see them. Don’t think of your pilot as an extension of yourself, think of your Javelins as an extension of you. Though your pilot has a separate skill-tree, and each Javelin has its own separate skill tree, your pilot affects all Javelins. For example, if you put points into your pilots jump jets, letting you hover longer, all Javelins reap that benefit. But if you put points into your Colossus’ Mortar damage, that doesn’t carry over to other Javelins. So consider your pilot like a tree, from which each Javelin is a branch, with its own branches.
In the world around you, which you can share with up to four players, you’re a third-person wrecking crew popping shot after shot off with your two weapon slots, and perform incredible abilities with your two equippable skill slots and ultimate. But let’s talk about Javelins.
Anthem’s Javelins (The Superhero Exo Suit)
By now you know Javelins are scraped-together technological marvels that exist to protect those who encounter from the horrors of Anthem’s world beyond the wall. But what do they do?
There are four classes of Anthem’s Javelins. Each one is designed to fill a specific role, or class, in your four-person squad. But they’re also designed to overlap one another so you can be flexible with how you play each class.
For example, the heaviest of the bunch, The Colossus, is the tanky, slow-moving Javelin. The Ranger, is the all-around balanced class. But you can also customize your Javelins through independent skill trees. So a Colossus you build to be faster and less tanky could compete with a heavier, more powerful Ranger. And so on and so forth. Each Javelin fulfills a specific archetype, but you have wiggle room to create the kind of exo suit that fits your prefered playstyle within the confines of the intended class structure
Unlike other shared-world shooters, you don’t have to start over to change your experience types. For example, if you’re really not feeling the tanky class (Colossus), no worries. Simply hop into another Javelin and fulfill another one. Bottom line, when you’re inside a javelin, you should feel awesome. All of them facilitate this. You can fly, dive into the water and swing, jump through the air, or sprint through the world. They can all do it all, but what you want to do as a group depends on which one you hop into.
Now, let’s get into the definitions of each Javelin:
Anthem’s Ranger Javelin
The Ranger is the “all around” Javelin. Like every “balanced” video game thing ever, it doesn’t excel in any one realm, and isn’t penalized in any either. The Javelin is your all purpose exo which has good speed airtime. Granted each Javelin can be customized, but the one I played fired ice grenades as one of its abilities, and a ricocheting explosive from the other. Its ultimate was a salvo of mini-rockets that can lock onto enemies. Best of all this ultimate can be fired while jetting through the air giving you a ridiculous bombing strafing run-type ability.
For mobility, the Javelins utility move is a dash. Which is ridiculous. Strictly speaking as I played the Ranger I was able to jump, dash, double jump, then take flight. And the ability to change directions mid-action means I had unprecedented freedom stringing together motion movements to the degree that I honestly felt like no matter what situation I was in I could get out of it and get the upper hand. That’s how good the movement of the Ranger feels.
Anthem’s Colossus Javelin
The Colossus Javelin is the slow-moving tank. The variants I saw and played had a mortar on its back that fired salvos of super-destructive missiles at the enemy. One variant had a grenade launcher, while one other variant has a flamethrower, illustrating the differing approaches you can choose depending on what gear and skills you gear for.
The Colossus’ utility is a shield, as opposed to the Ranger’s dash, that soaks up damage. When the stuff gets real, you can pop out your shield and soak up the brunt of the damage. This is well illustrated by the Colossus popping out its shield and running through a tunnel full of mines, taking the brunt of the explosions and protecting its squad behind it. This is your powerhouse and shield. It’s awesome.
Anthem’s Storm Javelin
The Storm is a mysterious figure. As you’ve seen by now it cloaks itself in a bubble of energy and moves through the air a la Magneto (of X-Men.) While BioWare didn’t reveal too much about it to us, and it wasn’t playable, it most certainly fits the mage role of the group. It’s more fragile but can pack devastating elemental and unnatural abilities.
Anthem’s Interceptor Javelin
The fourth and final archetype of Anthem is the Interceptor. BioWare was very tight-lipped on this Javelin, but its long legs and springing disposition make me think it’s going to be the fast-paced, nimble, swift, and agile Javelin. Perhaps an assassin. We’ll have to wait for more information to know for sure, but this could fill out that final role in traditional RPG sense.
The Story of Anthem
Anthem takes place on a world seemingly similar to Earth. But it’s not Earth. BioWare isn’t ready to crack open the vault containing story details about the origin of the planets current state, its natives, and the many enclaves of humans struggling to survive. But suffice it to say this is not our known world.
“This is not Earth,” Warner said. “It’s not connected to Earth. It’s not a colony of Earth. It’s like humans in Star Wars, right? They’re human beings, but they’re not Earthlings. It’s not a new world. It’s been around for a long time so it allows you to explore and uncover ancient mysteries.”
Here’s the general run down. The Shapers, or “the Gods”, set out to create the world of Anthem in nine days. But on the third day, they vanished. Yet they left all their tools in place — the archaic technologically superior relics we found throughout the world. While these wondrous, massive objects were used to create the world using The Anthem of Creation, left alone, they’re unpredictable and destructive.
Think of it like this: If you look at a construction site, a bulldozer is a tool that helps construct a building. It has a purpose. It has a function. But left unattended, and more importantly, left alone and powered on, a bulldozer can create all kinds of havoc as it smashes and mashes and generally causes a mess of the area.
The same can be said of the Shaper’s tools. They’re pieces of untold power that were used to create the world, but they also do things that are beyond the scope of mortal understanding. The don’t just move dirt, or create forests, or gush out water. They do all manner of things we just don’t understand.
“These aren’t exact examples,” Warner said. “But the Shaper’s tools can do anything. One of them could spin up and start spawning endless wolves. Or one could just turn anyone near it inside out. They’re unpredictable and dangerous.”
The story of Anthem reminded me of Arthur C Clarke’s famous laws. In particular, the third law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
And so the story of Anthem is one of uncertainty. Humanity, behind its walled enclave of Fort Tarsis, is struggling to survive against the incredible power of the Shaper’s tools, the mutated creatures that have succumbed to it, and the Dominion, a militaristic faction that’s bent on using these relics for some nefarious purpose.
Anthem is BioWare’s Most Ambitious Game Yet
BioWare is known for story driven games. To be more specific, BioWare is known for story driven games where you’re the hero with a cast of memorable characters, make the necessary choices to save the world, or the universe, or all of existence. So it’s somewhat strange that a studio so well known for the singular story experience would branch out into the unproven space of cooperative, online shooters.
It’s a fair question considering the reaction to BioWare’s most recent outing, Mass Effect: Andromeda, which changed the mold of what a BioWare game is as much as it has ever been. But as game director Jon Warner tells it, this is the game they’ve been building toward all along.
“[BioWare has] made a few games and we’ve gotten to be pretty good at them,” Warner said. “The base of our games has always been around stories, telling stories, characters, interesting adventures, and building compelling worlds. And there’s a progression we went through as we learned how to do this.”
“So we went from Baldur’s Gate to [Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic] and then jumped into 3D going into Dragon Age and the Mass Effect series where we really started to explore branching dialog and different aspects of that.”
“We put out [Dragon Age] Inquisition which was our first real attempt at a more open-world setting. [Mass Effect] Andromeda carried that forward. Of course Star Wars: The Old Republic was really our first online service — our MMO. So you can kind of see the progression of where we’re coming from. So as we were thinking of Anthem, it wasn’t just an exercise of what’s a new IP, or what’s a new story or setting.”
We’ll have much, much more on Anthem over the coming days of E3, and the weeks and months ahead. For everything E3 related, check out the IGN E3 hub!
Anthem Standard Edition will be preorderable for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
Anthem Legions of Dawn Edition will be preorderable for PS4 and Xbox One.
Brandin Tyrrel is IGN’s Xbox Editor. You can find him on Unlocked, or chat over on Twitter at @BrandinTyrrel.