With Anthem recently confirmed for Q1 2019 to make way for a new Battlefield this fall, reportedly titled Battlefield V, BioWare’s highly anticipated shared-world action-RPG is now roughly a year away from being released.
The majority of staff from the developer’s Edmonton and Austin studios is reportedly focused on Anthem, yet both BioWare and EA have remained relatively quiet about its development since last year’s reveal at E3.
Thankfully, BioWare Technical Design Director Brenon Holmes has been regularly dropping hints and revealing minor gameplay features on the Anthem subreddit. As we continue to piece together what BioWare has in store for its next big adventure ahead of this year’s EA Play, IGN has compiled a handful of Holmes’ most interesting reveals from the past few weeks.
At the core of Anthem’s gameplay is the Javelin, a customizable exosuit worn by Freelancers, the in-universe name for the playable characters tasked with protecting humanity. There are different classes of Javelins — Colossus and Ranger are the first to be revealed — and, according to Holmes, they are essential for venturing beyond the safety of Fort Tarsis’ walls.
Even the “smallest ‘non-hostile’ creatures” in Anthem “probably eat humans,” said Holmes, making exploration without a Javelin nearly impossible. He added the team has prototyped gameplay outside the exosuit, and “while it was a really cool atmosphere thing,” they found players “didn’t really have a lot of combat interaction beyond getting eaten.”
“The larger problem had to do with getting stuck,” said Holmes. Since the world is built to be explored in a Javelin, the team often found themselves trapped in environments due to humans’ lack of mobility outside the suit.
However, BioWare hasn’t given up on the idea entirely. In response to a fan who suggested scripted missions that take place outside the Javelin, Holmes said, “There’s definitely the possibility of some of this kind of stuff down the line — we just need to figure out if there are good ways to deploy it alongside our other types of content.”
While Anthem’s reveal trailer sets the stage for a sprawling open-world, which Holmes confirmed is not on Earth, there will naturally be limitations on exploration, particularly on how high you can fly.
“There will be some amount of progression and skill expression with flying, which will affect how far you can go and what you can do in the air,” said Holmes. BioWare wants players to “feel a sense of freedom with our exploration mechanics,” but not at the expense of performance.
With that in mind, BioWare is implementing a “flight ceiling” that’s “fairly subtle, and feels more like a heavy downdraft,” according to Holmes. Just how high that ceiling rests is still (wait for it) “up in the air.”
While expected, Holmes confirmed melee combat will be a part of each Freelancer’s arsenal.
When asked about melee, Holmes referred to the Colossus’ “stomp” attack, which was shown during the E3 demo (presumably around the 3:54 mark in the video below). Though not confirmed, the name-specific attack for the Colossus may imply each Javelin type will come equipped with a unique melee ability.
In one of the E3 demo’s more surprising moments, the player dives into a body of water, seamlessly transitioning from aerial to underwater traversal.
However, Javelins won’t come equipped with an endless supply of oxygen, as Holmes says players can’t “stay underwater forever.” As of now, oxygen will only regenerate while out of the water.
As for the possibility of encountering enemies beneath the surface, Holmes said BioWare’s not ready to talk about that “just yet….”
Doing battle with human-eating monsters is sure to take a toll on your Javelin, but how will that be reflected on screen? Holmes says the team is interested in adding visible wear to your exosuit as it takes damage, but he’s currently “unclear on whether or not we can incorporate it into the final shader solution.”
To see how this could work, look no further than EA’s own Titanfall series. As seen in the Titan boss fight below, metal flies and fire erupts as the giant mech nears destruction.
These are, of course, two entirely different games, built using entirely different engines, meaning there are countless variables that will determine whether or not BioWare ultimately implements a similar mechanic in Anthem.
As cross-platform play becomes more prevalent (see: Fortnite, Rocket League, Minecraft, and more), Holmes has been asked whether or not it’ll be featured in Anthem. He says there aren’t many technological reasons why it couldn’t happen; the decision “has more to do with what teams are able to negotiate… and what the various platforms are willing to allow.”
Holmes added even if BioWare’s able to get cross-play approved by platform holders, that doesn’t mean it’ll be part of the final build. “There are sometimes design reasons why you might not want to allow the mixing of PC and console,” he said, “mainly due to the differences in controls and hardware, etc.”
Should the stars align and Anthem feature cross-play, it’s safe to assume it’d be restricted to PS4-PC and Xbox One-PC. Despite Microsoft’s call for PS4 and Xbox One cross-play, it’s only been (briefly and accidentally) enabled in one game. As of last August, Xbox Head of Marketing Aaron Greenberg said he remained “hopeful” that Sony will eventually support the initiative.
During the years-long development process, it’s commonplace for a studio to see staff members come and go. However, some fans voiced their concerns this week when acclaimed writer Drew Karpyshyn announced his retirement from BioWare.
The studio’s GM, Casey Hudson, responded to one such concern on Twitter, saying Karpyshyn finished his work on Anthem and the “Lead Writers and their teams continue to do amazing work developing the world, story, and characters.” Holmes then followed up on Hudson’s comment, revealing the game’s lead writers are Cathleen Rootsaert and Jay Watamaniuk. Both Rootsaert and Watamaniuk are credited as writers on Mass Effect 3 and Mass Effect: Andromeda.
Anthem is still very much in development, according to Holmes, as various gameplay mechanics and systems have yet to be locked down.
Among them is ammunition resupply and management, as players can run out of ammo in the game’s current build. BioWare is “playing around with different mechanics for resupply,” such as consumables, drops, restock locations, caches, suit abilities, and/or returning to the hub.
“We want it to be something that you’re aware of, but maybe not necessarily the sole thing that drives you back to your base,” said Holmes. “We had a much more punitive version of this a while back, but it was a pretty terrible feeling to have to go home because you ran out of bullets.”
Through Reddit, Holmes is also seeking community feedback on potential game systems that have yet to be announced, such as crafting. Over 80 people responded to that specific call for feedback, detailing their desires for customizable Javelins, weapons, and more.
Stay tuned to IGN for more on Anthem as Holmes continues to share details on BioWare’s next big game. In the meantime, check out IGN’s breakdown of Anthem’s E3 2017 demo below.
IGN reached out to Holmes and EA prior to publication for additional comment. None could be provided at this time.
Jordan is a freelance writer for IGN. Follow him on Twitter @jdsirani.