Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: BioWare
Release Date: Feb. 22, 2019


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PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Anthem'

by Redmond Carolipio on June 28, 2018 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

Anthem is a shared-world action-RPG, where players can delve into a vast world teeming with amazing technology and forgotten treasures.

Pre-order Anthem

When Anthem first crossed our vision in 2017, you got the sense that while many people thought it was cool, others didn't quite know what to make of it. Yes, it's a brand-new IP from BioWare, who are among the resident masters of space-odyssey storytelling — but what is it? Someone might have asked, is this the reason we didn't get a new Mass Effect?

At last year's E3, the tease from Electronic Arts at the Microsoft press event showed off potentially one of the more visually impressive titles of recent memory, no doubt bolstered by the powers of the then-debuting Xbox One X. Set in a vast, gorgeous world, the game looked a cocktail of the Destiny series mixed with the tech dynamics of Iron Man. We got to see armored folks flying around on a sightseeing tour.Nice enough, many thought … but we needed to see a little more.

Fast forward to E3 2018, where Anthem was shown again, first in a more in-depth theater demonstration at the EA Play event, and then at the show itself in hands-on form. At this point, people following Anthem's development know a little more about the its story.

According to BioWare's intentionally sparse literature, the Anthem is a "source of pure creation" that was mastered by the gods, who used it to spring forth a variety of lands filled with all manner of beasts and creatures. This bit of geek mythology sounds a little like Genesis from "Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan," which makes it even cooler. But at least Dr. Carol Marcus and company seemed to be more attentive than the Anthem gods, who disappeared suddenly before finishing their work, leaving behind an unchecked and relatively unstable world packed with their creations and ripe for all kinds of random, world-shattering catastrophes. At this point, we don't know if the gods peaced out or if Something Went Terribly Wrong, but as usual with these things, humanity is left behind.

That's where the Javelin armor comes in. The suits, which give their wearers amazing capabilities, are humanity's best tools for surviving the harsh conditions of their abandoned world. The fate of this world falls to the Freelancers, a select group of Javelin pilots — AKA you and your friends.

Our demo started off with a first-person briefing, where you get a good look at the potential visual power of the game through the short encounters with a few NPCs, whose every wrinkle and expression is crystal-clear readable in their respective faces. The small conversations take place in what looks like your base of operations, and it builds up to the moment when it's time to enter your armor, which lies open and awaiting to embrace you.

We saw three types of armor in the demo: the Ranger, which is the all-around, balanced suit; the Colossus, tank-like and firepower-heavy, if the thick pillbox launcher on its back shoulder doesn't give it away; and a Storm, which looked to be a little more ethereal and agile in its design. It was upon entering the Javelin (we were in a Ranger suit), where you truly get a sense of BioWare's play design for the suits, and where many of the hot-take comparisons with Destiny fade away.

While the Destiny Guardians operate in a first-person world of guns, tech and magic at an occasionally wild pace, they don't fly like this. The third-person Javelin experience in Anthem offers an almost infinite amount of combat and exploration possibilities in a practically airtight package of controls. BioWare looks like it's creating an action/RPG, but the action element involves a blend of quick, reactive, over-the-shoulder shooting with some easy and intuitive flying and sprinkling in some ground-based melee and organic teamwork. The speed and ease of the Javelin controls evoked memories of the old PS2/Xbox renditions of Robotech: Battlecry along with the PS3/Xbox 360 Transformers offerings, especially War for Cybertron in that it was easy to transition from controlling a vehicle of sorts into fighting as a bipedal soldier.

Your flight is controlled with use of the thumbsticks: click down the right stick to engage hover mode, in which you can change levels and drift around as you please. A click of the left thumbstick fires up the boosters even more and puts you into full Iron Man flight mode, and if you've ever flown anything in a video game, you'll know what to do there. The shooting controls are of the classic left-trigger, hot-zoom/right-trigger variety, with a hair-trigger melee attack available via the Triangle/Y button. A press of both shoulder buttons together activates your suit's special ability — and in our case, it was a mortar strike from built-in launchers in the Ranger.

What made the demo experience really come together is when we started getting more comfortable with the Javelin's workings, which therefore led to blends of hovering, flying to either explore or evade, attacking both from the ground, and then raining down a diving melee strike that would melt a small group of enemies from above. The suits can also "fly" underwater seamlessly. You can conceivably be jetting around the world, encounter a monster that's too powerful for your team to face, and fly into a body of water without even blinking to avoid it, only to discover a maze of tunnels or a whole different seascape down there. I also enjoyed the use of combo attacks, where one of your friends could freeze a group of foes with a frost grenade, and then someone could come in with a mortar or melee attack to finish them off.

The demo ended with us doing battle against a "swarm tyrant," a giant, bug-like creature with pulsating weak spots on its back. We used the aforementioned combination of hovering and flying around to avoid its attacks and get good shot angles at it weak spots. The face and cleanliness of the action in that situation was pure fun at that point, culminating in our buddy piloting the Colossus whipping out some kind of supreme rail-cannon and blasting the swarm tyrant into oblivion.

At this stage of the game, the fact that BioWare has found the sweet spot for the most seamless combat it has ever created gives Anthem a real chance to make a truly special action/RPG experience. We haven't even touched on more of the story and characters yet, and if BioWare stays on pace here, it shouldn't matter to anyone if romantic relationships aren't possible in the Anthem world — they might fall in love with other parts of the game anyway.

Anthem drops Feb. 22, 2019.

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