While BioWare has slowly released more and more information about upcoming online shooter Anthem that gives a sense of how it'll play, one big question remains: What will its endgame be like? Similar MMO-like shooters that hope to keep players around with long-term experiences, such as Destiny 2 and The Division, have often struggled in that department, especially at launch. As players blast through story campaigns and hit level caps, they often find themselves with nothing left to do as they wait for the games' next big content drop. Anthem has a similar long-term structure, so how it handles keeping high-level players engaged week in and week out will be a big part of the overall experience.
BioWare invited GameSpot to play several hours of Anthem at its studio in Austin, Texas, and we got a little bit of a sense of what the endgame might be like during that time. Lead producer Ben Irving gave us the general gist of what to expect when you hit Anthem's level cap of 30: you'll chase better and better loot so you can play tougher content.
The main endgame features in the base game are Legendary Contracts and Strongholds, Irving said. Legendary Contracts are more involved, tougher missions you'll get from the various factions in Anthem's Fort Tarsis, the town that functions as your home base in the world, and Strongholds are like MMO dungeons that include multiple tough encounters with enemies and boss fights. Beating that content will earn you epic, masterwork, and legendary gear, the stuff that's the rarest in Anthem and carries the best properties. We learned a lot more about the progression system, which you can read about here.
You'll also be able to replay all that content on three higher difficulty modes that unlock when you hit level 30, dubbed Grandmaster 1, 2, and 3. Each amps up the difficulty significantly, but results in better loot drops when you complete the content. As Irving explained, a big part of Anthem after you work through its story will be replaying content on harder difficulties in hopes of finding the game's best, rarest gear, which carries special perks and abilities.
Beyond Level 30
BioWare isn't talking about other endgame specifics yet, but Irving did say the developer has plans for tougher things that will keep players coming back to Anthem.
"We do believe in aspirational content," Irving said. "I think in other games you can call that raids. So we do have plans for aspirational content and live service. We're not talking about that and what the details are yet, but we do recognize the idea that, hey, like, you want to do something a couple of times a week with a group of friends that is hard, that really pushes yourself. And then the rest of the time, you'll do all the other parts of the game to kind of get yourself ready for the next time you go into that aspirational content."
Irving also said BioWare is exploring other ways to keep players engaged as well. Anthem includes a social space we didn't see in our preview that'll let players show off their Javelins to each other, for instance.
"There's a whole lot of stuff to do and the way we've tried to plan it is, by the time people are kind of working through [content up to Level 30], will have more things to drop and more things to incentivize play," Irving explained. "Including things like--you know, where a PvE-centric game, but we believe in social competition. So beyond the content, the loot, the progression, the exploration, like, it's fun to compete in a friendly way with your friends. And so we're not announcing what any of those things are yet, but we have some ideas that I think will promote that, that kind of help... making sure players have things to do."
Reshaping The World
The other major part of Anthem's endgame that BioWare has not yet detailed is its ongoing live service--the content that will pop up over time after Anthem's launch. The lore of Anthem offers a lot of opportunities for future events. It concerns a chaotic, uncontrollable force called the Anthem of Creation that, in conjunction with ancient artifacts from a long-gone race called the Shapers, can alter the world, tear open holes in reality, create cataclysms, and drop huge monsters for players to fight. (We've got more on Anthem's story right here.)
Irving said the underlying feature of the Anthem of Creation means BioWare can add all kinds of interesting changes and events to the game, both temporary and permanent.
"You have the Anthem that's always trying to create, and so there's this idea that part of the world is the Anthem is changing stuff, and can you use the Shaper technology to harness it to your benefit?" he said. "Sometimes that works in your favor and sometimes it doesn't, and we want to really lean into that idea that sometimes, like, you may just log into the game and go out into Freeplay and there is just something different. And sometimes that's more mysterious and you have to kind of work to find it, and other times like you'll step out of Fort Tarsis and look up and be like, 'Oh my God, what is that?'"
Keeping You Busy
Anthem's nature as an ever-changing world will help BioWare with endgame content, but as Chad Robertson, BioWare Austin's head of live services, explained, a big part of the live strategy is about seeing how people are playing and responding to Anthem.
The goal for the Anthem live services team is to be adaptable and dynamic, Robertson said, because it's impossible to predict how players are going to respond to the game or what's really going to resonate with them until it's actually out.
"You never know exactly what the thing that people are going to, you know, glom onto the most and enjoy the most. ...So ideally we've got everything right coming out of the gate, but we're going to be prepared if we don't, and we'll be ready to react very quickly if we don't. And I think that's the best thing you can probably do in this kind of climate rightly."
Robertson said BioWare plans to continue doing what it has been leading up to Anthem's launch--sharing things like developer live streams with players and incorporating their feedback, in attempts to be transparent and conversant with the Anthem community.
The answer to the question of whether BioWare's experience with games like Star Wars: The Old Republic actually helps it avoid some of the stumbles of similar games won't be answered until Anthem is actually in the hands of players, though. Until then, we're still stuck waiting to see exactly what Anthem will look like post-launch, and how it'll keep players coming back.
Editor's note: Electronic Arts provided travel and accommodations for this preview event.