Flying after loot.
Though it might not be obvious from all the gameplay videos that show off the flight and shooting mechanics, a big part of BioWare's Anthem, much like other online shooters, is chasing loot. As you push through Anthem's campaign, about a nation that hopes to control the all-powerful Anthem of Creation for its own ends and might end up destroying the world in the process, and into its endgame, you'll get to deck out your Javelin mech suit with some spiffy gear and some big, powerful guns.
BioWare recently gave GameSpot a chance to play several hours of Anthem at its studio in Austin, Texas, that included early and late-game content, which gave us a pretty solid sense of how it'll feel. But our snapshot didn't include much in the way of how the game's loot-based progression system will work. Lead producer Ben Irving filled in the gaps: you'll level up your Freelancer by earning experience points for completing missions and killing enemies, with the power level of individual Javelins tied to the strength of their equipped weapons and upgrades that you'll acquire via loot drops or crafting. You'll chase after the best guns and gear you can get by replaying content on harder difficulties, similar to other shooters such as Destiny 2 or The Division.
"So the core of the game is you're a pilot," Irving explained. "The pilot enters the Javelin. And so the pilot is a thing that has the levels in it. And so as you play the game, you level from one through to 30. That gets you through the bulk of the [story content], and then you'll do some other activities to kind of get to level 30."
As you level up your pilot, you'll unlock all four Javelin classes, and you'll also gain loot--new guns of various types, like assault rifles and shotguns, and new equipment for your Javelin that changes some of its abilities. That stuff can include different kinds of grenades with elemental powers, alternate weapons, and support abilities. For instance, on the Ranger Javelin, you'll start the game with a shoulder-mounted single missile launcher. Later, you might find an energy pulse cannon that can replace the missile. Equipping it changes how your weapon works and what it does. You get three active abilities for each Javelin, activated by pressing the left bumper, right bumper, and both together when playing on a controller, and your equipped items can change each one.
Your Freelancer's level determines what level of loot you can use, and the total power of your equipment is reflected as a stat called a Gear Score for your Javelin, which gives you a quick summary of your total power. Loot also has rarity levels, Irving explained, starting with common, then moving up to uncommon, rare, epic, masterwork, and legendary. The more rare the gear, the more useful and interesting it is, as top-tier gear in the masterwork and legendary categories has unique properties that might influence the rest of your loadout, or your role on a squad with other players.
There also will be an element of crafting in Anthem, although we didn't experience it much. Weapons you don't need or want can be "salvaged," or broken down into crafting components.
"You're collecting loot out in the world, it'll then unlock blueprints that will actually allow you to create and build the loot that you want, as well," producer Thomas Singleton said. And loot can also come with additional perks, called Inscriptions, that will make some versions of a piece of equipment a little different from others like it.
Upping The Difficulty
Getting better loot is a matter of playing harder content, Irving said. That comes in two forms: seeking out tougher endgame-type missions that become available as you approach Anthem's level cap, and playing on harder difficulties. Through much of what we saw, Anthem sported three standard difficulty modes--Easy, Normal, and Hard, with each raising enemies' health and damage output--that could be set at the start of any given mission. And more difficulty modes will unlock later, Irving said.
"So at level 30, the three new difficulties open, that's Grandmaster 1, 2, and 3, and that again will increase the loot drop chance," he said. "So you get to a point where you really want those masterworks and legendaries. ...So when you really want lots of them, that's when you'll start pushing Grandmaster 1, 2, and 3, and you'll need to have, you know, at least a set of epics probably some masterworks to go in there again, depending on skill level and a bunch of things. But for those kind of high-end players, we want this almost infinite chase, that you can keep pushing harder difficulties for kind of bragging rights amongst your friends to try and get that better gear."
Irving said that BioWare will be paying close attention to how players engage with Anthem, particularly when it comes to difficulty, and that harder modes could be offered later. But he also said that BioWare is keeping accessibility in mind through Anthem's various difficulty modes. Strongholds are some of the toughest content in Anthem, but BioWare hopes the option for changing their difficulty will allow more players to experience them.
Getting better loot with additional abilities and different properties all feeds back into how you can work together with teammates. We saw some of those capabilities in our playthrough, but at higher levels, teamwork will be an even bigger part of the experience.
The basics are that some abilities can "prime" enemies, leaving them open to another attack, and hitting them with a second ability can "detonate" them, dealing extra damage--a similar set of mechanics to those BioWare used in the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series. But which Javelin and gear you're using changes how those interactions will work. For instance, when a Colossus uses a detonation ability, it'll create an area-of-effect explosion that damages other enemies--great for crowd control. Ranger detonations do high damage to a single target. Storm detonations can spread status effects to multiple enemies, and Interceptor detonations give the Javelin an aura that allow you to afflict other enemies with status effects as you attack them.
"As you get on [further into the game], the teamwork question becomes more than, are we coordinating to set up combos, but also, like, who should combo, which is the most effective way to use up the detonator that you have available to you based on the combat space, and I think that's where we'll get interesting at higher levels on harder difficulties," Irving said.
Anthem has a lot of ways you can benefit your team offensively, but you can also add defensive and supportive abilities as well. For example, the Storm Javelin can create a wind wall that can block incoming projectiles as one option, or put up a dome that speeds up teammates' cooldowns when they're inside it. Choosing which loadouts and abilities you and your team want at the start of a mission adds another layer of strategy--do you want defense or offense? Is your gear better for priming enemies, or detonating them? Should you try to leave enemies with status effects or hit them with direct damage? Answering those questions will change which Javelins you choose, what loadouts you pick, and what strategies your teams employ.
We saw a lot of Anthem in action, but from the sounds of things, there's still a lot to uncover in terms of combining Javelins, skillsets, teamwork, and all the loot you can find along the way. Finding the game's best guns, and playing through tougher content to get it, is going to be a major concern for high-level players who want to get the most out of Anthem. We'll have to wait and see how Anthem's loot chase shapes up, and whether it's fun enough to keep players going after they finish the game's story campaign.
Anthem releases on February 22 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC. BioWare is running a VIP demo January 25-27 on Xbox One, PlayStation, and PC for EA Access members and pre-order customers. There's also an open demo February 1-3 that doesn't require pre-ordering to play. Check out the rest of our Anthem coverage, including what it was like to play the game for several hours from its start, and what we know about its endgame.
Editor's note: Electronic Arts provided travel and accommodations for this preview event.