ANTHEM: HEALING THE SCARS OF ME: ANDROMEDA?

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Ok, I’ll say it outright and join the mixed chorus of angry fans and resentful critics: BioWare messed up bad with Mass Effect: Andromeda. From the very start, that unfortunate project was tainted with numerous controversies, particularly those associated with the abysmal facial animations, the role of cosplayer Allie Rose-Marie Leost, as well as multiple issues with Frostbite engine. They say that there is no such thing as bad publicity, but in this particular case, all those things gave Mass Effect franchise a bad rep even before ME: Andromeda was released.

Now, although we can be fussy as a beauty pageant queen on a Sunday brunch, the gaming community is always willing to forgive past mistakes if the final product is at least of sufficient quality, especially if that developer is everyone’s favorite BioWare. Unfortunately, that never happened to ME: Andromeda. It’s not that Andromeda was completely devoid of redeeming qualities – the developers managed to patch up the game and even bring it to a presentable shape. Still, somehow the magic was gone and the game received mixed reviews. ME: Andromeda had become famous for all the wrong reasons and will most likely be remembered as a black sheep in BioWare’s otherwise mostly pristine flock, a title that finally managed to break the lucky streak of highly successful games starting with the legendary Baldur’s Gate.

As a final sign of how much the game had fallen into disfavor, the announced DLC for ME: Andromeda was canceled about a year ago and the ME franchise was “shelved” for the time being.  Interestingly enough, at that time another title was mentioned as the prime reason for that cancelation. According to the official statement, all of the considerable BioWare’s resources were redirected to Anthem, an ambitious open-world loot-based action game with RPG elements that apparently takes cue from titles such as The Division, Destiny, Titanfall and even Borderlands series.

Its release was initially scheduled for 2018, but it will likely appear in the first quarter of 2019 (if we’re lucky), and judging by all things that we’ve had the opportunity to witness so far, the game shows serious promise. Of course, the million dollar question that’s on everyone’s lips is whether Bioware will be able to creatively recover from its previous fiasco and restore good Karma to their name and reputation? Although we’d wholeheartedly like to reply with a resounding yes to that question, we first must check out the known facts about the game and only then attempt to provide you with some answer.

What do we know about the game, its storyline, setting, world, mechanics and all other relevant things that interest us at the moment? Well…not too much, I’m afraid. It’s not that the guys from BioWare had been particularly secretive, but most of the information and footage at our disposal come from last year’s E3, so they might only be described as a bit stale.

For starters, judging by all the reports, the team involved in the creation of Anthem is the same group of talented individuals that worked on greatest (both artistically and commercially) BioWare’s hits, such as Baldur’s Gate, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and original Mass Effect trilogy.  As for its genre, the game has been alternatively described as a “shared-world action RPG” and “action-adventure”. Although a number of fans had responded extremely negatively to this seemingly radical change of direction from BioWare’s normal course, this doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. BioWare’s general manager Casey Hudson stated in his blog post concerning (among other things) the cancellation of Andromeda DLC that Anthem “will be unlike anything you’ve played, but if we do it right, it will feel very distinctly BioWare.” This suggests that BioWare intends to do justice to the trademark qualities of their games while seeking new ways to express their creativity.

You’ll play as one of the Freelancers, an elite group of mercenaries tasked with the defense of the humanity. We still aren’t familiar with the nature of this threat, its scope, and agenda, but, by the look of the outlandish scenery that’s showcased in the gameplay trailer, it very well may be of the extra-terrestrial origin again.  It is certain that the surroundings are extremely hostile since the humans apparently took refuge in one (or more) domed settlements and the only ones who dare to venture outside secured perimeters are Freelancers themselves. Also, the game obviously doesn’t take place on Earth, but on some alien world with lush jungles, jam-packed with strange alien creatures and dotted with colossal ruins of some extinct civilization.

The main advantage that Freelancers have on their side are hi-tech mechanized exoskeletons know as Javelins which enable them to fly, jump across long distances and swim, making them complete fighting machines with almost superhuman abilities. In fact, they kind of remind of the combination of power armor from the Fallout series and nanosuits from Crysis. Javelins can fully be personalized and equipped with different weapons to match your gaming style. The will also come in different weight classes, such as heavy Colossus or versatile Ranger. Of course, as a player, you won’t have to limit yourself to just one Javelin suit but will have multiple units at your disposal, ideally one for each possible combat situation. Since it seems that Anthem will place great focus on the loot-based activities, there is no doubt that developers have prepared a large number of different weapons, sorted in various classes and types, that can be used manually or in combination with Javelins. As for the base game mechanics, the Anthem is a third person shooter and will allow different fighting styles. Judging by the gameplay trailer, different weapons will have different aiming properties, so you’ll be able to concentrate your fire on a single enemy or lock multiple targets and then proceed to pound them with a barrage of rockets or heavy shells.

Another feature that shows great potential is a dynamic environment with constantly changing weather conditions such as vicious Shaper Storms that have the ability to radically influence the game surroundings and the course of your actions. As can be seen by the behavior of some of the creatures shown in the trailer, the developers have also incorporated a vibrant ecosystem with species that seem to live and feed according to a realistic food chain. Both things potentially may be very useful, and it will be interesting to see whether developers included a possibility of manipulating the surroundings or using wildlife for combat purposes, for instance leading enemies into the heard of those armored rhino-like creatures that roam the jungles of Anthem. In any case, the presence of all those features hints that Anthem will not only be a fast-paced action shooter with mild RPG elements, but that it will also possess great tactical depth.

Anthem was described as a shared-world action-RPG, which means that it will have a distinct multiplayer component – up to four players will be able to join in teams and explore Fort Tarsis and its lethal surroundings. However, in case that you’re a lone wolf at heart and prefer a single player experience, that will also be a completely viable option.

Visuals also seem to be just perfect. The bizarre and gritty beauty of the Anthem seems comparable to the wonders of Cameron’s Pandora – virtually everything, from character design, through physics, to wide open vistas of this alien world seems to be just spot on. Plus, unlike the unfortunate ME: Andromeda, the facial animations are just like we’d expect them to be from a developer of BioWare’s high-caliber.

It could be argued that a definite answer concerning BioWare’s recovery after the calamity known as ME: Andromeda must be postponed for the time when we’ll have a bit more facts at our disposal. Although everything that we had the opportunity to see so far indicates that Anthem will be a technically flawless product with great graphics, engaging gameplay, and spectacular combat system, there are still many crucial details that remain unclear. Nevertheless, it seems that Anthem has the makings of a genuinely fine title, one that will perhaps usher BioWare into a new era. In a way, it has to be like that, simply because BioWare and EA can’t afford another flop such as Andromeda.

Of course, it remains to be seen how Anthem and BioWare will fare in the future. That will depend not only on the objective quality of the game, but also on several other factors, including how much fans will be willing to accept the inevitable changes in the creative course and philosophy of their favorite developer – especially that particular group that just can’t seem to get over the fact that BioWare had cancelled the Mass Effect franchise. In any case, in just a few days the upcoming E3 will reveal more, so we’ll certainly have a better grasp whether Anthem will prove to be a new gaming hymn or a funeral march for BioWare.

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