BioWare has been known for its outstanding storytelling. From games like Mass Effect, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and Dragon Age, the Canadian developer has created some of the best stories in video games. However, some would say that had come to a halt when Mass Effect: Andromeda hit store shelves last year: it was a step back for the developer who, in some ways, had pushed video game storytelling to new heights.
Aside from the missteps made with Andromeda, what BioWare games have typically “suffered” from in the past is gameplay. Save for the Mass Effect series, combat in several of their titles hasn’t been very engaging: I have never felt I was in full control of a fight, relying more on my stats than my combat abilities. At E3 2018 however, we played the demo that closed the EA Play press conference for the studio’s next project, Anthem, so it isn’t anything you haven’t seen before. However, if you were like me and were worried about how well the game played, I’m happy to tell you that you can rest easy, because Anthem‘s gameplay is the best that BioWare has ever crafted.
If you’re familiar with the combat from Mass Effect 2 onward, then you’ll feel right at home with the upcoming action RPG. The “Javelin” that our Freelancer used — the terms used for Anthem‘s exo-suits and the role you play, respectively — was the Ranger, the most versatile and well-rounded of the four suits. It is also the most traditional; the Ranger has an automatic rifle, a couple secondary abilities, and a super that shoots a barrage of missiles towards a locked-on target.
The gunplay is a refined version of Mass Effect‘s combat. It controls similarly, with the two special abilities assigned to the bumpers and the “super” ability initiated by pressing the two bumpers simultaneously when the meter is full. Similarly to Destiny and Borderlands, numbers pop as you deal damage to an enemy. If you want to witness the most visually stimulating and satisfying thing Anthem has to offer, you can perform combos; these are done by using a series of secondary abilities alone or with another Freelancer. Executing these moves will not only do tons of damage, but the word “combo” will be displayed in bold yellow text. It’s a simple touch, but it makes the player use everything in their arsenal.
As far as gameplay is concerned, Anthem is exceptional. The controls are very intuitive; within five minutes of our demo, I became familiar with the basics of combat and movement. The facet of Anthem‘s gameplay that surprised me the most were the flying and hover abilities. It isn’t a surprise how cool it all looks, but also how well it works with the combat. Everything you can do on the ground can be done in-air, giving you a ton of angles to tackle whatever enemy you are facing. The best things is that it promotes strategy; maybe you have a Freelancer wearing the heavily armored Colossus Javelin playing a tank role and gaining aggro from the enemy, while a Ranger Javelin can look for its weaknesses and concentrate their fire on those points.
The flying and hovering feel great as well. You can’t fly or hover for long distances due to overheating, which is indicated with a meter below your Freelancer, but you have enough time to get to each bit of action before you overheat and are forced to take your combat to the ground. Overheating didn’t seem to be an issue when underwater, which is a nice design choice that allows you to traverse for longer periods of time. Aerial movement felt natural and tight as I was traversing the environment or attempting to flank an enemy: the only problem I had was remembering which button was to hover or fly, but that could be resolved with a few more minutes of play time.
Some of these features wouldn’t be nearly as good if it weren’t for its sound design. For anyone who watched me playing the game, I could not stop double-jumping because the sound of the propulsion jet attached to your suit sounds awesome. That notion is also true of the various weapons and other sounds that the Javelin makes: it immersed me in a way I wasn’t really expecting.
It may not be a surprise since many have seen it for themselves since the gameplay reveal at EA Play, but Anthem also looks great. However, seeing a YouTube video of the game in action doesn’t do it as much justice as playing it for yourself; from the exo-suits to the foliage covering the environment, it is pretty stunning. The one downside I found was that the area that the demo took place in was pretty small and linear, which is a bit disappointing considering the scope of some of BioWare’s other titles: it didn’t feel like I could really explore the space I was in. Obviously they showed a small portion that had a specific task to complete, but there was never a point where I felt like I was in an open world.
Although the gameplay exceeded my expectations, it is the story that I am a bit more worried about. Mass Effect: Andromeda was a step back for BioWare in both its gameplay and story: in particular, the story told didn’t have the same amount of intrigue as even its predecessor, Mass Effect 3, which infamously received DLC due to its abrupt ending. If Anthem brings a tale that is, at the very least, well-told, then Anthem will be a hit when it releases on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on February 22nd, 2019.