Los Angeles - Anthem is an exciting game. Not only is it the first new IP from Mass Effect developers BioWare, but it’s also the latest in a new genre of persistent online games that include the likes of Destiny and The Division.
It was with some trepidation and curiosity then that I approached the booth at E3 for what was a rare chance to play the game over six months before it’s released to the public.
Due out on 22 February 2019, the premise of Anthem is one that contains many themes that you’ll recognise, and others that you won’t. Humanity has settled on an alien world. Nameless (currently), the world used to be inhabited by gods who harnessed a powerful life force known as the Anthem of creation to build vast megastructures all over the planet.
Then without warning, the gods disappeared and all that was left was both the Anthem and the remains of their work. Alien creatures and enemy factions moved in to try to harness the power of the Anthem.
It is in this turbulent time that humanity finds itself, barricaded into the last safe residence known as Fort Tarsis. From there an elite group of humans known as Freelances then use superhuman ‘Iron Man’ style exosuits called Javelins to venture out into the wasteland and protect both the Anthem and the rest of humanity.
It’s a lot to take in, and in fairness to BioWare they want it to be. This is a fully-formed universe that they’ve built from scratch and plan on supporting for many years to come.
Anthem is best enjoyed as part of a team of other players, although you can play solo if you wish.
In the brief demo I played I took on the role of a Freelancer who was venturing out into the wilderness with their crew of other Javelin-wearing Freelances and a ground crew who it appears will be a reoccurring theme throughout the game.
There are four types of Javelin suit currently: The Ranger, Colossus, Interceptor and Storm.
Rangers are Swiss-Army suits capable of all types of combat, the Colossus is a heavy platform that’s slow but can take enormous amounts of damage and deals it back in return. The Interceptor is a quick, scout type that’s weak but fast and great at long range. Finally there’s the Storm which is a specialist type utilising a huge range of special abilities to provide support.
Entering the world the first thing that strikes me is just how wild and dangerous it looks. It feels like a truly alien place with impossible rock formations and vast underwater caves that lead into cavern systems. The whole thing reminded me a lot of Avatar. It is truly stunning.
The Javelin suits themselves are incredibly easy to control and it’s a testament to BioWare that I quickly got the hang of it and was performing complex movements within just a few minutes.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about the suits though is that they can fly, allowing you to go full Tony Stark around the game’s map. Flying suits have not always translated well in video games (see Superman on N64) but I’m happy to report that it was a truly memorable moment when I flung myself off a cliff, plummeted like a brick towards the ground and then at the last minute fired up the suit and rocketed into the sky.
The suit also allows me to seamlessly go from travelling in the air to flying underwater, a neat trick that EA showed off during their unveiling trailer at E3 last year.
Flying is just one part of tackling Anthem’s world, the other is weapons. Each Javelin is equipped with two weapons and each weapon can be swapped for others found throughout the game. My ranger was equipped with a pistol and an assault rifle. It’s hard to tell from such a small piece of gameplay but using them felt satisfying and while it’s not Destiny levels of gunplay, it looks promising.
In addition to your conventional weapons you also have two powers that can be used but have a cooldown. Mine were a frost grenade and a pulse cannon. Each Javelin has different powers and it looks like those powers can be swapped in and out as well.
Last but not least is your special ability which can be unleashed when the meter at the bottom of the screen becomes full. Mine was to unleash a volley of homing rockets which can lock onto many targets. As you’d expect from the most powerful attack your Javelin can accomplish, it was all suitably noisy and impressive.
If I have any reservations about Anthem it is less about my character but more about the bad guys. While I did take on what appeared to be an enemy alien base, the second half of the demo involved entering a cave to take on what is ostensibly known as a boss enemy. This boss was a vast spider-like creature which at times spawned many, many smaller spiders.
It was all very impressive to look at but ultimately I just spent much of my time holding the trigger button down. There was no tactics involved because the boss simply charged at you, did a lot of stomping and then sent smaller creatures to do the same. The reason Destiny and The Division are so fun to play is because the enemies in them are tactical, resourceful, they work together and ultimately they are sentient.
It’s unfair of me to pass judgement this early so keep in mind that I literally took on two species of enemy in a game that promises to be a vast explorable world.
The vast majority of what I saw though does have me excited. The game looks absolutely stunning, and there’s an incredible soundtrack running alongside it. The combat is also rock solid and feels fun and varied thanks to the many abilities of the Javelin suits.
If anything the demo has raised more questions than it has answered. I still have no idea about character creation, the storyline or as I just mentioned, the enemies that I’ll take on. For now though, be safe in the knowledge that in the areas I’ve mentioned above, BioWare seem to be building a really really impressive game.
HuffPost UK has travelled to the E3 video games conference with the help of Activision. Our journalism remains entirely independent.