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Science-Fiction Weekly – Anthem

by Andrew Reiner on Jun 20, 2017 at 04:50 PM

BioWare is once again turning its gaze to the stars; not for another adventure set in the Mass Effect universe, but a new intellectual property called Anthem. This surprising new title was not only announced during last week's Electronic Entertainment Expo, but we were treated to a six-minute gameplay demo. BioWare has made a name for itself through storytelling and letting players sculpt their destiny through choices. Anthem's footage showed little in terms of story, and instead focused on action – making it appear to be quite the departure design-wise for BioWare.

So what do we know about Anthem thus far? It's an action/RPG that will release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC in fall 2018. Up to four players can play the game cooperatively online, each joining the ranks of an organization called the Freelancers. These specially trained soldiers wear Iron Man-like exosuits called Javelins, which can be customized with gear that is earned or crafted. Much like Tony Stark's inventions, javelin's can fly or leap great distances, and can be used in any climate, including underwater exploration. In the footage shown, we see a Javelin effortlessly dart through the air at high speeds, and then dive into a deep river infested with alien wildlife.

Anthem does not appear to be set on Earth. Humanity apparently has established a new home on an alien world and lives behind a gigantic protective wall in a city called Fort Tarsus. A woman in the trailer says the wall is their "armor" that "protects us from what lies beyond." As sophisticated as the Javelin suits are, humanity appears to live a simpler life inside the wall. The footage gives us a brief glimpse of this life, with people crowding a bazaar, shopping for clothing and food. The market is poorly lit, allowing a few rays of sunlight to shine through the colorful orange canvases overhead. A closer look at the market reveals the infrastructure for technology, and a lot of it. The cloth that hangs overhead is sometimes interrupted by a network of wires. Some openings give a glimpse of huge metal structures, and even a giant robotic beast.

As our Freelancer walks through the market, she is stopped by a distraught man named Praxley who says he screwed up and endangered the lives of people who are "still out there." The Freelancer agrees to locate them. A few more steps into the market reveals a hangar bay with three Javelins standing on a launch pad. Workers are tuning them up. The world looks like its existed for decades, it's dirty, in disrepair, but it appears to be functioning at a high level. As we enter the hanger we get a brief look at what appears to be an armored police officer or protector of the city.

The demo then shows off two players playing cooperatively. One player enters a Javelin called the Colossus, a heavy unit equipped with a mortar. The other character enters a Javelin called the Ranger, a sleeker model equipped with a jet pack and shotgun. We watch the Ranger leave the bay and leap off of a cliff. Fort Tarsus is apparently built on a mountain that overlooks a lush jungle valley that appears to have overtaken an ancient society. We get our best look at this old world (or abandoned man-made structure) when the Ranger flies through a vast metal tunnel. The tube leads to the jungle bed, filled with alien fauna and flora. We see a herd of noisy, grey hippopotamus-like creatures stampede across a clearing. As dense as the jungle is, and as clear as the path before us is, BioWare says this is a "vast open world" that can freely be explored.

The next shot again teases an ancient society, this time with ruins made of brick. In the distance we can see more modern forms of technology; huge metal rings that appear to be rather new, but are falling apart. The ancient ruins are the battleground for a giant and highly mobile gorilla-like beast that has waged war against an army of lizards. The Ranger admires the carnage for a moment, but flees when the creature eyes her.

When the Ranger dives into a nearby river, she discovers a location called Deadlight Caverns, a feat that grants her 25 experience points, showing players will be leveling up in Anthem. The river is filled with fish and plants you'd expect to see in the deepest reaches of Earth's oceans, all of it lighting up in almost magical ways.

After emerging from the river, the ranger engages in a brief battle with the Colossus at her side. The duo makes short work of a handful of lizard foes. The ranger blasting away at them with a shotgun, and the Colossus finishing them off with a powerful ground pound maneuver. At the conclusion of the fight, the Colossus locates a treasure chest that contains 25 Brynnium Shards, which is likely a form of currency or a crafting item.

The Freelancers make their way deeper into the jungle, revealing even more ruins, implying this area was once a bustling civilization. They encounter a huge walking robot – the same make we saw on the outskirts of Fort Tarsus – but this one apparently is hostile. Before it can even recognize they are in the area, they drop it with one rocket blast – the beast tumbles to the ground, taking out a couple of trees with it. This spectacle is impressive, not just from the sheer size of the encounter, but the way the world reacts to it falling, showing great attention to detail in the physics of the creature and trees, and the immense spray of dirt and rocks when it hits the ground.

The beast catches fire, but the Freelancers pay it no mind. Their focus is now fixated on alien creatures that are examining what appears to be shipping containers. They speak in an alien tongue, and our crew is quick to call them out as "Scars."

The Colossus uses its mortar to clear out majority of them. As he moves in to engage them in close quarters, the Ranger uses a sniper rifle to pick away at any Scars that lurk on the perimeter. When too many of them flood into the valley, she switches weapons and activates a targeting system that highlights a dozen foes at once. When they are locked, she fires off a volley of rockets, each one connecting. This powerful strike ends the conflict, which nets the team 100 XP, and what appears to be a random weapon unlock. The Ranger receives a gold weapon called Jarra's Wrath, which is listed as a legendary Volt rifle at level 35. The weapon is ranked in damage, accuracy, range, ROF, and ammo.

The demo then shows us that large-scale world events can occur at any time. BioWare calls these events "Shaper stories," which appear to be dynamically created side stories. Shaper is term used in the world. The Ranger says that a Shaper Storm is incoming. Although the storm appears to at first to be rainfall coupled with violent winds. The Freelancers quickly learn that it was created by a massive portal located on the jungle floor. The Freelancers have no idea where it leads, but willingly jump into it, ending the demo.

This brief tease of Anthem looked fun, beautiful, and was easily my Game of the Show for E3 2017. Mass Effect Andromeda may have left a bad taste in the mouths of many BioWare fans, and Anthem further raises questions as to what happened with that game. The technology on display in this demo greatly trounces anything seen in Andromeda, as does the action. BioWare is trying something new in Anthem and it looks awesome, but we're already hearing fans bemoan the lack of storytelling in the demo. Developers should try new things and I love seeing BioWare leave its comfort zone to take on a vast open world, but we still don't know exactly what Anthem is. There's a chance that the hallmark features of BioWare's story-driven games could still be intact. We won't know until we hear more about it. Until then, leave your expectations in check and complain about other things. The demo looked fantastic. Period. I don't think a new IP means BioWare will stop making RPGs like Dragon Age or Mass Effect. Give them a chance. Let's see what comes of this before we bash this beloved studio for six minutes of footage.