It might seem to have suddenly gotten hype over the past year or two, but BioWare’s eagerly-awaited online multiplayer epic Anthem has been a long time in the making – nearly seven years.
It’s a project that the main BioWare studio got started on right after Mass Effect 3, in 2012. That’s important, because while Anthem has often been compared directly to Bungie’s Destiny series, it was in development two years before the first Destiny even hit stores.
With the full game out towards the end of February, when potentially millions of people are going to be hammering the servers trying to jump into Anthem’s world, BioWare have been running a series of tests – a closed alpha release first, then the “VIP demo” weekend for pre-purchasers, followed by an open-to-all demo weekend. The idea is to stress-test both the game and the servers, find weak points and make sure that they’re fixed for launch. Very few online games launch without teething problems, but the occasional frustrations that “VIP weekend” players encountered are all helping to hopefully make the launch that much smoother.
Anthem is the first BioWare game to consciously aim for a multiplayer audience above all else – and, as you might have guessed if you’ve seen previews, the format is not all that different to Destiny. There’s a sci-fi story, a hub city from where you head out to different zones for exploration and missions wearing high-tech armour and wielding a varied arsenal of big guns and other things that go boom. Where BioWare tries to stake its claim is the story, which is a fully-voiced campaign that we could only see a tiny part of in the VIP preview. Voice acting is top-notch (as usual) and yes, you can do all that stuff solo, even out in the world.
What you can’t do solo are Strongholds (Anthem’s version of dungeons) or Free Roam. The latter might seem weird – after all, you just want to derp around and explore by yourself – but all this means is that there are other players placed in the same part of the world as you, who you can interact with or ignore.
The limited look we got at the game’s vast outdoor world was sublime. It’s lush, colourful and quite epic in scale – it’s designed as much for flying in as running through (did we mention your armour, known as a “Javelin”, lets you take to the air?) Graphics will vary depending on platform, but on the Xbox One X in HDR, there’s eye candy to spare. It looks even better on PC, though you’ll need a pretty beefy rig to run it.
Combat feels great – very visceral and responsive, with great feedback from the weapons and tons of options. Fans of Mass Effect Andromeda (they do exist!) might think that the combat and open world looks a bit familiar – there’s definitely been a bit of cross-pollination between the two games. But Anthem isn’t a cover shooter – it’s a loud ’n’ proud, blow-things-up-like-a-badass shooter that’s an absolute treat to romp through, with or without your mates.
There was only very limited gameplay included in the preview, but it’s already got us hungry for the real deal. While it’s probably not going to have the storytelling depth that BioWare has become famous for, Anthem is shaping up to be one of the most fun shooty things in a long time.
Anthem launches on PS4, Xbox One and PC on February 22.