The Basics of BioWare's Anthem
BioWare’s Mark Darrah recently held a Ask Me Anything About Anthem event on Twitter, and generated a flood of answers for those looking for the inside scoop on Anthem.
Let’s start with the obvious for those who have somehow not heard of it: Anthem is an action-RPG (roleplaying game) hybrid in the vein of recent BioWare games (think more Mass Effect and less Dragon Age) in which up to four friends can take to the land, air, and water of the ever-changing (and decidedly hostile) world of Anthem as a team of Freelancers in Javelin exosuits.
Ranger, Colossus, Storm, and Interceptor Javelins are the four available – at least at launch, Darrah did allow for the possibility of adding suits down the road as downloadable content (DLC) – which stand in as class selection from more traditional RPG games.
The Ranger is the first Javelin players will receive, and acts as an all-purpose suit that’s good at everything but not really specialized – Darrah repeatedly called it a good suit to use while learning the game. Despite the name, the Ranger Javelin is perhaps most comparable to the classic Fighter from Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) – a well-rounded character that can soak up decent damage, deal out decent damage, and is great for learning how things work. You’ll still rely on ranged weaponry to be successful though, as there are no melee-only suit builds that are viable “right now” according to Darrah. He also revealed that all Javelins have a melee move, but it sounds more like a last-ditch ‘they’re too close, hit them with something’ attack than the start of a combo chain.
Like in D&D when you want to branch out, it’s time to pick something a bit more specialized. Those looking for more damage mitigation will go for the Colossus, while the Storm Javelin is a Mage-like glass cannon with high damage output and paper-thin defensive capabilities. The Interceptor Javelin remains a bit of a mystery, but Darrah’s suggestion to ‘think rogue’ indicates mobility, high burst damage potential, and maybe even a bit of stealth? Darrah indicated players can acquire the later Javelins in different orders, depending what missions they chose to do, so players shouldn’t have to worry about waiting too long to get the Javelin they want to play as.
The speed and strength differences between Javelins will also play a role in what weapons they can use, though Darrah didn’t get into specifics. Given the size differences between, say, the Colossus and Storm, for example, it seems likely to be as simple as ‘one gets rocket launchers, the other gets snipers’.
Javelins can be both personalized and customized, with Darrah explaining that personalization means making it look the way you want, while customization makes it play the way you want. He also made it clear that upgrading your Javelin wouldn’t need to ‘ruin’ the way it looks, as personalization is separate so there’s no need for the ‘patchwork armour golem’ moments from other RPGs when you’re halfway through upgrading an armour set and look like you’re wearing random mismatched bits from a flea market.
You’ll also be able to personalize your Freelancer, though Darrah indicated the Javelins – as you’d expect – are seeing much more effort on that front. He also noted that all personalization options will be able to be earned through gameplay, though there will also be microtransactions available. Freelancers are vital to the experience however, with a progression system that includes unlockable perks for abilities like reducing your heat generated while flying. In addition, loot drops are keyed to the level of your Freelancer and while they’re biased a bit towards it, they aren’t specific to the Javelin you’re using at the time so there’s less chance of your Colossus falling behind just because you’re playing your Storm a lot.
Anthem prioritizes playing together, if not with friends then via the matchmaking system, so – based on the friends I play with – it’s a major positive that there’s a revive mechanic if someone gets knocked out of the action. It was also nice to hear that everyone can choose whatever Javelin they want, so there’s no rush to choose favourites at the start of a mission before they’re locked out. Rounding out the good news was confirmation that loot is instanced, so everyone gets their own and there’s no fear you’re going to get stuck with a random player who’s a loot vacuum picking up every single drop and claiming it’s an upgrade…
Those who don’t want to team up can go it alone in story missions and have success but will find a roadblock at strongholds – optional missions that require four-person teams to take on. I was incredibly happy to hear that progression will be shared by anyone on a mission, provided they’re at the same part of the story, allowing friends to progress through the story together. You’re also able to choose to replay missions you’ve already done, whether that’s to help friends through or to try and get rare drops from specific encounters. Some of those encounters might be from unique monsters that spawn as stronger versions of creatures typical to the region – Darrah confirmed the game would have these ‘notorious monsters’ like from Final Fantasy XI and XIV.
Between mission, players will return to hubs – single player experiences where you’ll see the results and consequences of your actions in the outside world. Characters in bases like Fort Tarsis can be interacted with, and those interactions will evolve and grow relationships over time. Making the bases single player only was a deliberate choice, to allow gamers to experience the character interaction at their own pace without pressure or interference from others.
Once you’re out of the bases, though, there’s all kinds of pressure and interference. The world changes at the drop of a hat, with over the top storms rolling in and threatening to wipe out everything in the region. Darrah said the world condition – like storms or time of day – is shared even with people you’re not directly playing with, an interesting idea given that it might then hit some people at the start of a mission while others get hit by it near the end. Sharing stories with friends who were playing at the same time in a different party – thus playing alongside, not with – could yield some wildly different experiences.
Moving through the environments looks like a mix of running, swimming, and flying, though Darrah said a heat generation mechanic on the suit’s jets will keep people from raining down death from above indefinitely. Gameplay footage from E3 showed the heat meter, as well as at least one method for cooling your jets while staying aloft, with flying through the spray from a waterfall bringing up a [COOLED] notification in the upper left of the screen. I’d expect to see an oxygen meter for underwater action, though I didn’t spot anything during the gameplay sequences.
You’ll want to explore, as Darrah confirmed there’ll be rewards hidden in out of the way places. With the ability to explore vertically as well as plumbing the underwater depths, the lure of hidden loot should keep people busy for a while. Loot plays a major role in the longevity of games like Anthem, and it seems like the team is gearing up to reveal more about the loot and crafting systems soon.
For every question answered, there’s a dozen more waiting… We’ll have all the answers February 22, 2019 when Anthem is slated to hit shelves.