I’m hovering in the air, shooting some innocent-looking space rabbits from above, and grinning from ear to ear. Normally reigning down fire on (virtual) blameless creatures would make me queasy, but there’s just something about Anthem that makes me want to revel in the glorious feeling when bullets connect with their target. I’ve been hands-on with BioWare’s open-world shooter, and by the end of the demo my hands were shaking from a mix of adrenaline, excitement, and damned impatience that I wouldn’t get to spend more time with this sci-fi shooter until 2019.
It all started off with my Cipher – a guide who feeds you intel during your missions – Owen getting my Freelancer outfitted into a Ranger Javelin exosuit before booting me out into Anthem’s big, wide world accompanied by Storm and Colossus Javelins. Although the world is phenomenally lush and green from ground-level with rampant vegetation crowding every surface, it’s when you leap into the air – and stay there, thanks to your hovering ability – that Anthem really comes alive. Throwing yourself a couple of metres above the ground and floating there while unloading streams of bullets onto your dastardly enemies might sound like a simple mechanic, but it’s stunning how much of a difference just being above head height makes. It lets you see the tactical layout of the battlefield, so instead of focusing on who’s closest to you or who looks like they’re about to cause the most trouble, from above you can see how the enemies group up or flock around their tougher comrades, meaning you can then spot patterns while you plan how to efficiently devastate them.
Fury from above
In the Ranger suit there’s a grand total of four ways I can make my enemies bite the dust, the first being the obvious hail of bullets. Second is the sonic cannon mounted on one of my wrists, which charges up before sending out a burst of blue pain, or I can chuck a frost grenade and freeze foes in place to give myself a bit of breathing space. Or if I first freeze them with a grenade, and then dismantle their frozen bodies with a well-aimed Sonic blast, the sonic will bounce between multiple enemies granting me a delicious combo kill. Plus – when things are getting really sticky – there’s always the option to trigger my shoulder-mounted mortar by holding down LB and RB simultaneously, then panning the camera to lock onto any enemies in my sights to send a rain of fire and agony down upon them.
Anthem’s world isn’t particularly friendly, so that heavy firepower is completely necessary (however much it might sound like overkill). Scars are the primary enemies you’ll be facing and are drawn to the rogue, divine Shaper technology scattered throughout the world. Shapers are the gods of Anthem, but they must have had a lazy streak as they abruptly left the world halfway through creating it, which is why it’s a permanently-chaotic blur of life. However, that’s why there are always World Events for you to run into: mammoth, dynamic tasks that reward you with tons of goodies. One of them that I come across truly is giant – it’s an Ash Titan. And it’s very angry. Any other time it could have been a mission to rescue captives or help out another faction, but this time it’s a furious towering colossus that wants to turn me into a red splat on the ground. Luckily me and my team soar past it and avoid a tough fight, making our way through a watery tunnel before entering a Stronghold which is kind of like Anthem’s version of a dungeon.
Four Freelancers are needed to tackle Strongholds as they’re pretty **** difficult. Once inside we shut down a Shaper relic and take down hordes of Scars at the same time, but the fun/mayhem didn’t end there. Suspicious-looking eggs that Scars are using to create a special form of poison are scattered across the whole area, so of course we have to go and find out where they’re coming from. Freelancers just can’t leave well enough alone. At the end of the Stronghold was one behemoth, scuttling Swarm Tyrant (imagine a massive raging spider with very sharp teeth) who introduced us to its spawn. And by ‘introduced us’ I mean sent them to spray webs all over us and prevent me from hovering which maybe made me engage in some completely unnecessary but very therapeutic melee attacks.
Anthem in Bioware’s eyes
And just when we had got the Swarm Tyrant to half health, the demo ended. My hands were shaking and all I wanted to do was hit the reset button and start it all over again. Everyone thought I was joking when I asked to do just that, so instead I chatted to John Warner, Anthem’s Game Director. He told me that with Anthem, the team wanted to “evolve a BioWare game, the way we tell story, the types of adventures that we could present to our players… one of the things we often hear about a BioWare adventure game is that it’s such a bummer when it ends!”. I sure was bummed when the demo ended, so I know exactly how that felt. Warner went on to say that what they’ve “tried to do is create a world where you can just stay there for as long as you want”, hence the World Events and Strongholds. According to him BioWare has been “building on the gunplay and combat mechanics all through the Mass Effect series, so [Anthem is] really standing on that foundation. And we’re just playing close attention to what players are gravitating to and loving”, including primarily freedom of movement. Hence the flying.
I didn’t want my time with Anthem to end. Periodically breaking up soaring through the air and seeing my enemies from a new perspective switched on something in my brain, something that made flying and hovering a natural part of combat as I begun to think of spaces volumetrically instead of the usual ground-level axis. I want more. But like everyone else, I’ll have to wait until February 22, 2019 when Anthem will finally be released.