BioWare's Anthem Reveal is a Gorgeous Bowl of Nothing
EA opened the Olympic procession of E3 Press Conferences with a tease of Bioware’s upcoming RPG. The acclaimed creators of the original Mass Effect trilogy were long-rumored to be crafting a new, “next-gen” IP. While the newborn Montreal studio worked on the maligned Mass Effect Andromeda, the original team prepared what was presented at the Xbox Show: Anthem.
The player enters the scene, out from behind the camera, walking into a crowded, dusty marketplace. As she pushes past the crowd, a man stops her. As his brows quiver in fear, he appeals to the player to find a team he’d sent to do work for him. At the top of the screen, the UI notifies her of this new quest: Hell or High Water. A woman and a hulking robot are having a tense conversation in front of her path. They give her just enough room to pass between them, past her and below him.
She enters a wider room, metal and bare, filled with mechanics and machinery. At the center, a ring, where engineers work away at a row of wildly decorated exoskeletons. Some are bulky, dark and tank-like, hers is thin, smooth and bright yellow.
In Anthem, you’ll play as a “Freelancer.” What that means, who you are or where you are hasn’t been explained. In fact, the only apparent details are that it’s a cooperative third-person shooter with an emphasis on loot. Despite a vibrant-looking world, deep-sounding characters and exciting-sounding camaraderie in voicechat, the gameplay trailer doesn’t say much more than it shows. Is there some overarching conflict? Is there some grand story? Do we exist in some larger universe? There’s not much effort to explain the setting, and fast-forward to the actual gameplay, and their isn’t much effort put into contextualizing that either.
You step off the side of the “base” area, and the “Javelin” name for the suit starts to make sense. Your arms flatten to your side and you straighten—and then you plunge downwards. And man, the scenery here is gorgeous. You rocket through beautiful foliage, beneath breathtaking rock structures and into a battleground. And then you plunge into the bluest, wettest river I’ve ever seen in a videogame. None of this was enough for EA: There’s luminescent architecture under the river.
Just as your brain finishes recognizing these elements, the player immediately rockets back up to the surface, back onto land and starts shooting things and running around. We never revisit any of those visual elements, nor are we given any information of this land we inhabit. By the time the footage ends—with the characters plunging into a giant, lightning-frayed sphere of electricity and light—we know absolutely nothing beyond immediate reality.
Anthem looks like a fascinating game. There’s absolutely nothing that says it won’t be an amazing game. But EA used a lot of time to tell us very little. Perhaps they’re seeking to avoid the publicity trap that Destiny found itself ensnared it. But I can’t give the title anything beyond wary optimism.
Many are touting this as the Destiny competitor we’ve always wanted. I’m not sure I want it, and I’m honestly not even entirely sure it’s even a Destiny competitor.