The one thing you simply cannot appreciate without actually going hands on with Anthem is just how brilliantly slick it feels to play. It seamlessly shifts from running on the ground to double jumping and hovering in the sky to outright flying through the huge open world, and it’s second nature within a matter of moments.
The four Javelins are designed to compliment each other with their abilities and weapons, much like classes in an RPG. Storm is the “space wizard” that uses its powers to float instead of sprint and blink in and out of existence when dodging, and it’s clearly the mage or “space wizard” analogue that I tend to gravitate toward. Ranger is the standard soldier type, with auto-locking rockets for backup, while the Colossus is the heavy gunner that lays down covering fire with mini gun, grenade launcher and shoulder cannon. The fourth class to be revealed, the Interceptor, is perhaps the most fun though, with close range combat, melee and a martial arts flair to every action and animation. Nicely you won’t have to pick and choose, but unlock all of them as your character levels up, and then be able to sink time in as you see fit or as the situation demands.
It’s absolutely clear that this is a co-op shooter and thrives when there’s a few of you playing with different classes. I think everyone will start off playing relatively independently, flying off to get flanking options or to take out a sniper off on high ground, but as you lay down fire you might start to notice combos popping up. Storm can freeze enemies in place with one ability, making them perfect fodder for buddies to mop up, getting a combo and amping up your combined damage output. It’s not shoved down your throat, but rather suggested through gameplay.
Another thing that’s truly surprising is just how flexible the Javelin customisation is. Sure, things like a new helmet, arms or legs have to be unlocked or bought, but even with the standard shell you’re given unparalleled freedom to swap the colours and even materials of the Javelin. You’re effectively given every colour and material that the developers had in their tool box right from the start of the game, so if you really want a suit that’s got blue leather instead of hardened plastic, you can. Turn the wear level up or down and you can go from barely working wreck to shiny new Power Ranger in a snap. While there’s still tons of customisation option, fancy dances and more that EA can monetise, there’s still a staggering and honestly refreshing freedom here.
Getting an all too brief taster of the game’s opening, the story tells of how the Freelancers were once respected, but fell from grace and were forced to take the most menial of contract work. I say menial, because even when things are going fine on a routine sensor test out in the field, the power of the format world creation devices left by the god-like Shapers. These devices can come back to life, altering the world around them and causing cataclysms if left unchecked. Of course a new and major threat emerges that threatens the already precarious stability of the world, and the remaining Freelancers are all that can stop it.
Setting foot inside Fort Tarsis, and we find the central hub of the game, where players retreat to to visit vendors, pick up new missions from the board and interact with the people of this bustling hub. Owen, for example, isn’t a chatty JARVIS-like AI as I had subconsciously assumed, but rather a human Cypher that guides you on missions from base. He turns out to be a bit of a prankster when you first meet.
Intriguingly, while there is a critical path through the story, there’s also different mission givers, adding side missions and stories to the game in a manner that’s much more like a traditional RPG than Anthem’s looter-shooter peers. How this will play out across a whole game, and into the endgame grind of Javelin tweaking and improvement, we’ll have to wait and see, but it shows a different philosophy to game design and narrative that BioWare have. Fort Tarsis is always a location that you explore alone, without other players sprinting around. I mean, you can’t sprint, but it makes the story feel more personal, compared to the often hollow feeling I get when you’re told that only you can save mankind in an MMO.
Anthem has to be played to really appreciate just how well BioWare have nailed the feel of the Javelin’s running, jumping, shooting and flying. So whether in the VIP demo that starts tomorrow or the open demo on 1st Feb, don’t sleep on the chance to try this game out and decide for yourself!