I picked up Anthem on sale a little past its one-year anniversary. I absolutely loved the game, from the campaign’s lore to the environment itself. The combat, the javelins— it all impressed me, so much so that I wanted to support the creators by buying the concept art collection.
But while I enjoyed the game, I realized its flaws. There were high hopes all around for the nixed Next project, which promised a revamped loot and javelin system, plus a new story and world elements like a pirate faction. Now, however, EA will be focusing on Mass Effect and their next Dragon Age entry. With Anthem’s decline, unfortunately, assured, let’s take a trip down memory lane, revisit the game’s book, The Art of Anthem, and the history and potential of its subject.
At first, and likely unbeknownst to many fans like myself, the game was going to be something more of an alien survival. The world on which you crash-landed was intended to look not unlike Earth, and the suit of your galactic castaway was appropriately inspired by NASA’s astronaut suits. It’s hard to imagine Anthem this way. Had these original ideas stood longer, I believe we may have ended up with something closer to Days Gone, with success more heavily determined by your ability to craft and repair in the midst of mindlessly aggressive enemies.
The javelin-wearing Freelancers, once solidified as an integral concept in the game were built for vertical scaling and climbing rather than flight. And the Storm javelin arguably got its start when the designers began experimenting, in addition to the certainty of flight, with the inclusion of drones and magic.
I would have been interested to see BioWare differentiate its climbing mechanics from the likes of Assassin’s Creed or Uncharted. Personally, I hope to see a game in the future which tries to stand out in this way.
First, a bit of history on our original protagonists: Faye was one of the first characters designed and the first semi-religious co-pilot known as a Cypher, while Haluk was supposed to embody the “sci-fi version; of a trucker.” Meanwhile, the Monitor, our core antagonist, was given a golden faceplate, which Art Director Derek Watts believed “immediately gave off a sense of importance and power.”
I myself didn’t find the Monitor to be a hugely enticing villain, but even great games fall short in trying to create an interesting foe. For instance, I found Ghost of Tsushima’s Khotun Khan to be rather bland; in the same sense, I found the Monitor to be a bit uninteresting, though I found his appearance to be quite the opposite.
We’ve discussed the Cyphers briefly, but there are many others. The Sentinal faction, more bureaucratic allies of the Freelancers, were the guinea pigs for openable helmet visors, while the Corvus faction members, unlike the more functional Arcanists, were bedecked in bright red and ornate accessories.
The environment, meant to be “dangerous while still being recognizable,” according to Watts, was inspired in part by Hawaii. Once javelins became flying machines instead of climbing machines, the designers began implementing mountains and forest structures inspired by China’s topography. After watching the trailers, I anticipate the world of Outriders will be a bit like Anthem’s, Earth-like but definitely not Earth. It’s only ironic that both are online co-op shooters.
Some environmental concepts, like the sulfur fields based on Yellowstone National Park, did not end up in-game. Luckily for Freelancers, who often need to cool off our javelins by flying near water, the designers fell in love with the exuberant inclusion of waterfalls across the world.
These falls are a perfect balance of aesthetic and functionality, something I will not forget from my time as a Lancer.
Anthem gave me many great memories and fun experiences. I felt powerful and capable as a javelin-wielder, both a combat specialist and pilot. The customization options offered were some of the best I’ve ever had at my fingertips. It’s a shame the game’s launch was so dysfunctional and that the game has never allowed players with a poor internet connection to play the game solo, which it easily could be. But revisiting the game’s The Art of Anthem book, I still think of Bioware’s endeavor fondly.