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Anthem release date rumours and news: First impressions of Bioware’s online shooter

We spent some quality time with Bioware's online shooter

Catching even the most eager gamers off guard, EA announced an all-new, original game at EA Play in 2017. That offering, as we all now know, is Anthem, an open-world, post-apocalyptic game from the creators of the much-beloved Mass Effect and Dragon Age.

And, following the news that Anthem has been delayed until 2019, EA’s AAA Destiny-like shooter made another appearance at this year’s E3. Eager eyes were treated to a brand new cinematic trailer and a handful of new gameplay details. Oh, and Anthem’s release date was announced, too.

This release date looms ever closer, and we’ve entered into that phase of pre-launch that developers dedicate to letting us – the ignorant public – test their game for the first time. I’m referring, of course, to the Anthem betas, the first of which has come and gone. We managed to sink a solid weekend into Bioware’s online shooter, and are here to report our findings. Here’s what we thought of Anthem.

Anthem beta: Everything you need to know

Anthem beta dates: When will you be able to test Anthem out?

The Anthem closed beta – or VIP Demo, as Bioware is calling it – has come and gone, lasting from 25 – 27 January. It was a little rocky, but demand was unexpectedly high, and EA did what they could to make the testing as accessible as possible for all those involved. The next beta begins on 1 February – this is available for anyone who fancies having a go.

Both betas will be available to preload prior to their actual launch, which will save you valuable game-time. The open beta ends on 3 February, so you won’t have long with the game; progress from the closed beta will carry over into the open beta, but nothing will remain come launch day. Closed beta participants will receive a cosmetic reward to show off in-game, however, which is something.

Anthem story and gameplay: What’s it all about?

Anthem is a 3rd-person open world multiplayer online game. We’re exploring an as-of-yet unnamed world, created by the Gods using a powerful tool called the Anthem. This world lies unfinished, abandoned suddenly and left to grow wild and dangerous. Enormous creatures and countless human factions roam the remains of the planet, corrupted by their hunt for the tools that comprise the Anthem.

Exploring this post-lapsarian world on foot would be boring, so the surviving humans built high-tech exosuits called Javelins. You’ll be stepping into the shoes of a Freelancer: a Javelin pilot whose purpose is to protect humanity from the aforementioned beasties and malicious powers that be.

Anthem: Gameplay

The gameplay revolves around your Javelin exosuit, and the huge arsenal of weapons and abilities that are at your disposal. There have been four exosuits showcased so far: you’ve got the Ranger, which is the jack-of-all-trades Javelin; the Colossus, which is a brute of a machine packing explosive ordnance; the Storm, which floats around the battlefield raining death from above; and the Interceptor, which is light, quick, and the best looking by far.

Your playstyle will inevitably dictate your choice of Javelin. Every suit is customisable in innumerable ways, both aesthetically and practically; loot does not vary depending on your location, but will improve with higher difficulties. There are a batch of recognisable weapon classes – submachine guns, assault rifles, light machine guns, etc – as well as a host of ‘ultimate’ abilities that vary from Javelin to Javelin.

Once you’ve chosen your Javelin, it’s time to take to the skies. Flight is hindered only by the temperature of your thrusters: cool them off by diving steeply, staying low, or flying through a waterfall. Hovering is a useful way of landing with precision, and it also allows you to get above the chaos that inevitably ensues once the gunfights begin.

Weaker enemies can be dispatched with the arsenal of weapons at your disposal, but for elite and boss-level foes, you’ll need to make the most of the various special abilities. Offensive abilities can be combined with those of your teammates to produce some intense damage; or, if you’re more cautious, you can set up a shield or reduce the strength of a particularly nasty enemy. Then there’s your ‘ultimate,’ which will tend to level the playing field if things aren’t looking so good. 

That’s the basics covered. But how does Anthem actually play? 

Anthem beta: First impressions

Anthem is developer Bioware’s first major foray into the world of online gaming. It ditches traditional RPG elements in favour of simplicity, reducing dialogue choices to binary options that didn’t – during my time with the game, at least – seem to have a huge impact on the conversation. If you’re looking for the sweeping narratives and heart-wrenching decisions that earned the Mass Effect games their reputation, you might be disappointed.

Then again, Anthem is not trying to be an RPG. Any conversations you have, any time that you spend exploring your home – Fort Tarsis – will tend to play second fiddle to the main event: heading out into the world in your Javelin exosuit. Bioware has done its utmost to make this feel like an event in its own right; the entire home space seems to revolve around the ‘launch pad’ where your Javelin stands, waiting expectantly for a pilot.

This is, unsurprisingly, where Anthem excels. Piloting your customized Javelin is a hugely gratifying experience. It’ll take some time to get used to the controls; I spent much of the VIP Demo crashing into floors, walls, and ceilings. But taking to the skies is phenomenally entertaining, and the experience is enhanced further still by some ingenious world design.

Bioware has constructed an environment that allows you to plot your course as you travel. The steep terrain and cavernous archways of this ruined planet allow you to fully utilise the various flight mechanics to avoid overheating and stay airborne for as long as possible. It often felt like a real shame to have to touch down at all.

Fortunately, your experiences on terra firma are pleasing enough to nullify any wistful feelings you might have toward the joys of flight. Anthem’s over-the-shoulder, ability-based combat is challenging, frantic, and ultimately a laugh; I disliked the lack of defensive mechanics – there’s no option to take cover, no obvious ability to heal on command – but found that I took more risks, and learned the rules far quicker, as a result.  

Most of your time will be spent piloting your Javelin, which makes it all the more important that these Iron Man suits are top-notch. The Demo allowed me access to two Javelins: The Ranger, which seems to be the default option, and whichever of the remaining three I fancied. I chose the Interceptor, and was not disappointed. A frenetic melee ‘ultimate’ and improved mobility came at the cost of weak shields and light armaments. This is the overriding theme: these Javelins have definite weaknesses, and as such there is no ‘best class.’ 

The VIP Demo featured a short series of quests, a dungeon-like ‘Stronghold,’ and a small freeplay area for players to explore. The Stronghold was far and away the most entertaining experience: it offered the toughest challenge, and showcased every dark corner of Anthem’s core mechanics. It also gave us a tantalising glimpse at some of the game’s bigger baddies. 

What these select few events prove is that Anthem is a multiplayer experience. Playing alone is needlessly difficult, and the implementation of the online functions is seamless enough that you’d be mad not to jump into a game with three other players. Plus, you get extra XP for doing it.

The VIP Demo feels like a mere glimpse of the full game, which I certainly hope is the case. Anthem could be a huge success, but obviously players will need either variety or quantity of content in order to keep them on board. The foundations, however, are certainly there.

Anthem release date and platforms: When and how can you play Anthem in the UK?

At E3 2018, EA announced that Anthem will be released on 22 February 2019. The launch date was delayed to allow Battlefield V to launch in relative peace, but EA was quick to reassure fans that this was the ONLY reason behind the shift in dates.

EA has confirmed that Anthem will be available on the Xbox One, PS4 and PC, and that the game will take full advantage of the Xbox One X and the PS4 Pro’s new-found 4K prowess. We doubt it will be coming to the Nintendo Switch, though, just because of the sheer rendering power that the game will need to run.

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