Everything we know about Anthem, BioWare's shared-world shooter

During the production of Mass Effect: Andromeda, BioWare was working on a semi-secret new game, Anthem, revealed last year and finally detailed at EA Play this year. With a new cinematic trailer, four minutes of fresh footage, and mountains of details from the BioWare devs via a Game Informer cover story, plus several of us getting hands-on time with Anthem's demo, we have a much better idea of exactly what Anthem is, when it's coming out, and whether or not it will succumb to dangerous trends like loot boxes and flat endgame grinds.

Since Anthem's announcement, executive producer Mark Darrah has been on Twitter hosting an AMAAAA (Ask me almost anything about Anthem) and responding to questions big and small. We've included most of the important facts in this story. 

Here's everything we know about Anthem so far...

When is Anthem coming out?

Initially scheduled for a fall 2018 release, EA announced locked down a date at EA Play 2018. Anthem will release February 22, 2019.

What's the story premise? The setting?

We don't know much yet, but in a recent Game Informer feature, BioWare detailed the establishing story beats for Anthem. Gods called Shapers used ancient technology to command the Anthem of Creation, a powerful tool designed to form the planet where Anthem takes place. And no, it's not Earth. For an unknown reason, the Shapers left, leaving their work unfinished and the tools from their god toolbox strewn about the planet. Worse, some of the old tech is still online and will activate without warning. Imagine if someone left a buzzsaw or electric sander the size of a mountain next to a rainforest. If one of those puppies kicked on, the result wouldn't be great for the local flora and fauna. The same applies to Anthem's world, a volatile place where cataclysmic change can happen anytime, anywhere. What a convenient premise for a live game. 

By the time Anthem takes place, all this handy intel has passed into legend. All that's left is for people to survive, which is made a bit easier through salvaging all that ancient tech and turning it into exosuits call javelins. You play as one of these salvagers, known as a freelancer, exploring Anthem's hostile world and fighting the Dominion while they try to claim Shaper tech for nefarious purposes. Basically, you're looking for new ways to ensure the survival of you and yours.

Though Anthem is a live service game similar to Destiny 2, Bioware has said it will have a climax and conclusion fully included in the launch version. The story will then continue after that but Darrah has said that no core plot points will be locked behind DLC. 

What kind of game is Anthem?

Anthem is most easily classified as a shared-world shooter. It's very similar to Destiny 2, in that you'll team up with up to three other friends in order to explore a seamless world (yep, no loading screens between zones) and take on missions. You pilot one of four javelins, customizable exosuits that essentially function as classes. 

Here's what we know about javelins:

Ranger: Generalized class that specializes in close-quarters combat
Colossus: A heavy, slower class with massive weapons
Interceptor:  An agile, rogue-like Javelin that, along with the Storm, can wield a sword.
Storm: A seemingly mage-like Javelin that, along with the Interceptor, can wield a sword. 

You'll be able to customize each javelin with stat-based upgrades that you pick up as loot and vanity items like paintjobs to give each exosuit a personal touch. 

Within Anthem's world, which is divided into 10 sub regions and is described as "comfortably large" by executive producer Mark Darrah, you'll take on a variety of missions. Some are part of the critical path, a series of missions that take you through the main story of Anthem, but you'll be able to partake in higher difficulty missions, generated side missions, and repeat them at will.

Anthem's world will use dedicated servers for everything but the singleplayer-only hub city of Tarsis.

Here's what we know about Anthem's mission types:

Free play: Wander the world with no objectives while minor tasks are generated for you and your friends to complete.

Formal missions: Talk to NPCs in Tarsis called agents for more substantial missions designed to give context for characters, creatures, and the history of the world. 

Strongholds: These are instanced areas designed with greater challenge in mind. You'll likely need good coordination between teammates to complete them. Think of them as difficult dungeons, replete with powerful mobs and big bosses. Darrah said the team didn't want to use the word 'dungeon' to describe Strongholds because many of them are set in wide open space instead of dingy caverns. Each one is approximately 30 to 45 minutes in length. Strongholds cannot be completed alone but aren't integral to the progression of the story.

How does combat work?

Anthem is a third-person shooter that works very similar to Destiny 2, The Division, and other loot shooters. The stats of your javelin will influence how much damage you do to enemies depending on their level. One unique aspect of Anthem, however, is the combo system. By layering different status effects that are common on weapons and abilities, players can deal much more damage than they otherwise would.

During our hands-on demo, we got to play with this system while fighting giant insects. A frost grenade, for example, might freeze a group of enemies while a fire rocket will shatter the ice and deal combo damage. Obviously this leans on co-op play by encouraging players to equip a wide variety of status-inflicting weapons to complement one another. But if you're playing alone, don't worry, Bioware has confirmed status combos are easy to trigger on your own. Each javelin also has a melee weapon they can use, though melee isn't the core focus of combat and not something you'll be able to solely rely on.

And, yes, the floating damage numbers can be turned off. 

There will be no PvP, at least at launch 

Unlike Destiny 2, Anthem will be a strictly co-operative experience when it launches in February 2019. Darrah said this was to sidestep the challenges of balancing both a PvE and PvP modes at the same time, but Bioware is open to launching a PvP mode in the future

How does leveling work?

Completing missions and defeating enemies earn XP, though there may be other ways to level up in Anthem. Each javelin has their own level that presumably relates to what gear and mods they can equip, but we also know now that pilots have their own level that buffs abilities across all javelins. The example provided in the Game Informer story states that the booster jets on javelins can overheat, forcing you to land to cool down. A certain pilot skill gained from leveling up can increase the time you stay airborne, regardless of what javelin you're piloting. 

Players of wildly different levels will be able to play any mission together, too, no matter how sizable the level gap. If players in a team have a massive level gap between them, then everyone's damage output is scaled to match. More gear and better gear will still make the higher-level players feel more powerful and efficient, but lower-level players won't have to hang back and pluck away at enemies with next to no damage output.

There will be loot, but no loot boxes

Skip to 5:30 in the footage from EA Play 2017, and you'll notice that, after decimating a load of enemies with an airborne rocket barrage, a small floating triangle appears. The player picks it up and, you guessed it, loot is inside. More specifically, it's a gun called Jarra's Wrath, a level 35 Legendary Volt Rifle, which implies loot will be tiered as it is in Destiny or Diablo, and that items themselves have levels. Whether that means items can be leveled or that their level indicates when a player can use them, we're not sure. Good news? Maybe. Let's just hope the RNG is kind and the endgame isn't awful. 

At least we now know that loot boxes won't be an issue. Confirmed at EA Play 2018, BioWare's Mark Darrah detailed how microtransactions will work in Anthem. While you'll be able to purchase vanity items, no random element will be attached to the process. Players will know exactly what they're getting. Vanity items are exactly that too: Nothing you buy grants any sort of gameplay advantage. Some vanity items include custom emotes, skins, and armor packs that change the look of javelins.

Bioware has confirmed there will be crafting in Anthem. Resource nodes found in the open world can be harvested for materials that can then be used to create all manner of loot. A relatively small amount of resources can be bought from merchants, but only with in-game currency and not any form of premium currency. 

Anthem's 'Normandy' hub is Fort Tarsis 

Fort Tarsis is a large human settlement that acts as a hub for the main story and player preparation. Unlike hubs in other shared-world shooters like Destiny 2, Fort Tarsis is reserved for your eyes only. It is considered the singleplayer portion of Anthem, where you'll customize your javelin, tinker with gear, dig through loot, and talk to citizens. It's also where you'll make those telltale BioWare decisions. Whatever you decide in Fort Tarsis can affect anything from your relationships with the locals to the literal geography of the outside world. Fort Tarsis are the goggles through which you see your character's version of the story, a different approach to the awkward duplicity of Destiny 2's tower hub overflowing with chosen ones. 

Don't worry about breaking up the party after every mission to head back to Fort Tarsis. A mobile base in the form of a massive mechanical walker called a strider will serve you and your friends in the field. It's not clear how the strider works quite yet, but we're guessing you'll be able to 'call it in' from specific locations to load into a smaller hub space with your party. From the strider, you can do manage gear and loot, but you'll always need to head back to Fort Tarsis to progress your personal story and buy and sell from merchants.  

Your only companions will be real people

GI's story confirms that BioWare's usual band of NPC companions that accompany the player everywhere they go won't be around in Anthem. Real friends are meant to supplant your fictional ones this time. That doesn't mean Anthem won't have recurring interactions with NPC characters, but they'll be limited to hub areas and specialized locations. Hopefully your friends' contextual dialogue isn't awful. 

There are no romance options

As Game Informer reports, Anthem will not feature BioWare's usual suite of kissing and flirting. 

Lead producer Mike Gamble tells GI: “There are no romances. There are friendships. Some of the stuff we did with Mass Effect—the Citadel DLC specifically—there was a lot of friendship moments. You and Garrus sitting up, shooting—that kind of stuff, we want to lean into that. The romantic stuff, we’re moving away from that for Anthem.”

Due to intense player interest, however, it seems Bioware might consider romance options for later in Anthem's life. Darrah said, "the door is not closed" in reference to romance being added later. 

It will be a "live service"

"This game is built around a live service, and through our creative process, we’ve decided to add more to the disruptive new social designs for our players," said Wilson during an investor's call. 

Expect a steady cadence of updates for Anthem for years to come, but we'd caution against expecting too much, too often. Anthem is one heck of a pretty looking game, and if we've learned anything from Destiny 2, it's that making more of a pretty thing takes time.

Anthem will not feature a season pass and no monthly subscription. No matter what, players will not be fragmented by who has access to post-launch DLC and who doesn't. Post-launch content will be available for everyone

It's online only

While you'll be able to fly solo if you want, according to BioWare's Mark Darrah, you'll need to stay connected to play Anthem. 

There will be a beta and some demos (but they might be the same thing)

Anthem game director Jonathan Warner confirmed via reply to a worried fan tweet that there will be a beta of some sort before launch. No other details accompanied the tweet, but after new Anthem details surfaced at EA Play 2018, advertisements for pre-orders that grant access to pre-launch demos went up. There's no date accompanying those either, but maybe they're the terminology EA is opting for with the beta. Who knows?