2017 was an interesting year for BioWare, to say the least. Mass Effect: Andromeda came out in March to a resounding thud and a few months later, their new flashy IP was revealed to the world during E3. Its name was Anthem, it ran like silk on an Xbox One X and in about 7 minutes, this action/RPG/3rd-person shooter with reminiscences of Mass Effect and Bungie’s Destiny captivated viewers and cemented the promise of being something different.
Now, everyone agrees that Andromeda was a gaming fiasco overall, for one reason or another. It did not bear well the touch of critics nor the Mass Effect community, it did not sell as expected and despite numerous patches, was unable to ever get its feet under itself. However, it also managed to bewitch us during all their teasers, reveals and even multiplayer demos. So when Anthem got revealed, my eyebrows flipped in surprise.
Anthem, with all its badass bounty-hunter crew in exosuits (they call them javelins) and jet-packs, its seeming gameplay freedom and multiplayer orientation, seems poles apart from the BioWare I know; and maybe too close to other titles I know. Anthem also looks big, expansive, and crazy ambitious. Whether you dig or ditch this type of game, you have to admit Anthem felt really amazing, in its gameplay reveal. The combination of all of this makes me wonder about BioWare’s plans and whether they’ll be able to induce that jaw-dropping effect when playing this for the first time. But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.
We want to quickly look back at this last year and everything that got confirmed around Anthem. We know there’s a playable demo coming to EA Play during this next E3 so we’ll also venture into speculation later on, giving our thought for what to expect.
From E3 to E3, a yearly retrospective
Part of our desire to see more on Anthem is due to the fact that, well… Nothing new has come out. BioWare has kept their silence tight around their baby, to the point that we have to look into other sources like Reddit, Twitter or external blog posts to scavenge for information. This concealment is a feat of consistency (for others, the sign of worrying things to come), considering that the first tease of BioWare Edmonton working on Anthem came already in E3 2014.
There is nothing wrong with this type of secrecy. In fact, I do believe it can work wonders against hype trains and expectation fevers before the final marketing campaigns kick in. But in the case of BioWare, a company that has recently remained under sharp public eyes ever since Mass Effect: Andromeda came out, could be a double-edged sword. In this particular case, players are left to chew over and over that famous E3 gameplay trailer, trying to make sense of what type of game Anthem actually is. This is where theory and reveals, but also comparisons, meet.
Is It Really Open World?
About 4 months ago, BioWare’s Technical Design Director Brenon Holmes was asked about the game’s open-worldness. The analogy with Destiny and its area partition surfaced straight away. “We’re taking a different approach (we have different tech),” wrote Brenon. “Our areas are a fair bit larger… But there will likely be some loads between some of the areas. We’re still figuring out the exact details on a lot of this stuff.” The hectic scenes we saw in the reveal trailer showed what looked like one cohesive, connected playground. I am imagining here that the market hub we saw at the beginning could be of those “loading” areas. There will probably be similar connecting points scattered across the Anthem universe. But the specifics to them still linger in the air.
Free Movement and Exploration
Another aspect that is connected to this expansive universe is the freedom of movement. In the gameplay reveal, the characters spend big chunks of their time surfing around with their jetpacks. The whole movement feels of course staged but it also looks very unconfined. Again, you have to turn to Brenon Holmes and his bits of information on Reddit to delve deeper into this topic. “We really want you to feel a sense of freedom with our exploration mechanics,” he stated when asked about this. “There will be some amount of progression and skill expression with flying, which will affect how far you can go and what you can do in the air.”
Single Player and Story
We also know that, despite what it may seem, Anthem also has a single player component. We still don’t know whether this means there will be a campaign or whether it will be possible to play the game in lone-wolf mode. It’s also unclear what will happen with characters and narrative. General manager Casey Hutson promised they were focussing on story and world. “It will be unlike anything you have played, but if we do it right, it will feel very distinctly BioWare,” he wrote.
To my eyes, this could be a pivotal point. If done right, it could reunite BioWare fans with new audiences, those more interested in shooting and competition. If done wrong, BioWare could potentially lose a chunk of that player base more interested in story and RPG mechanics.
Anthem as a Service?
EA vice president Patrick Soderlund mentioned last year that Anthem is “the start of maybe a 10-year journey for us.” If this is truly the case, it means that they are heavily investing in building a live online service. An online world that is profitable and expansive via DLCs and downloadable content.
Now, nothing about how Anthem will operate on that front has been confirmed. So we won’t go into those murky waters now. Suffice to say, everyone is very eager to discover what kind of loot system will Anthem feature. And what position will EA follow here, considering all the controversy that accompanied Battlefront II.
When is this happening?
Last but not least, what about Anthem‘s release date? Originally planned for this fall, the game is looking now to an early 2019 release. EA announced the delay back in January. According to EA’s chief financial officer Blake Jorgensen, this was not a setback but rather, a strategic move for the upcoming months. As we know, the new Battlefield is slated for October. So it makes sense EA does not follow a cannibalizing route here for two of their multiplayer games. We still have not forgotten what happened to Titanfall 2, after all…
Anthem at E3 – What to Look Out For
All things considered, I am positively sure that Anthem will have its own spotlight during EA’s official conference. About its contents, we can only speculate though. I imagine we are getting new gameplay footage mixed with brief cinematic scenes. But since this would repeat the formula they started with, BioWare should deliver some fresh news. As I said before, there are still a lot of questions about Anthem‘s identity. So going about more concrete features would be a good start.
For instance, take customization and crafting options. It’s obvious that part of Anthem‘s core loop will revolve around meddling with our armor and weapons, upgrading them over time. We got already a small glimpse of how wide-ranging our arsenal will be but we are lacking showcases on battlegrounds and abilities.
On a personal note, I would also like to see more about the story that fuels Anthem’s setting. Yes, we know it’s all about bounty-hunters cruising their way through a dangerous world. But who are they, who are their masters, and the planet they live in? BioWare is notorious for creating complex universes that expand beyond the reach of their games. Will Anthem be different? I am not expecting anything too specific during E3 though. But it would certainly put my fan heart at ease.
However, the best way of experiencing the game will not happen on stage but actually behind it. As you may know, EA decided last year to create an extra space for community engagement during E3. This EA Play is basically a player-oriented area where visitors can play their game demos. This means there will be tons of folks trying out Anthem and sharing their experiences about it.
In this case, I would imagine BioWare will let us play a single mission. With a little bit of luck, this will be the beginning of the game. Most likely though, one side assignment that does not incur into spoiler territory. In any case, this will be the real testing ground for BioWare. Far away from screen sparkles and in the hands of their fanbase.
There’s no doubt that a lot of eyes are fixed on BioWare and Anthem right now. In that sense, I don’t believe E3 will leave us indifferent. The echoes of Andromeda‘s disappointment are strong but BioWare has exceeded in keeping expectations at bay this time. Knowing that the game is slated for an early 2019 release, I cannot wait to see how BioWare and EA will handle the reins from now on.
As always, we’ll make sure to be there and tell you everything about it.