'Anthem' Hands-On: From Story, to Characters - Here's Why You'll Love It

DISCLAIMER: The below impressions are from more than what was seen in the open / VIP demos.

We recently had a chance to sit down and play hours of BioWare's new IP Anthem and after tackling some of the main storyline, catching a little bit of the endgame, and taking missions both solo and with friends -- we've got say: We're impressed!

Ever since Anthem was first announced, a popular comparison that gamers kept making was likening it to Destiny. As an avid Destiny player - yes, despite the community complaints - I've got to say, I just really didn't see it. Sure, there were a few similarities. Ammo and loot drops resembled engrams and it's very much into the sci-fi theme, so it's got that in common, but other than that - there's really not much between the two.

The thing that makes Anthem something special is it blends both high-tech sci-fi with that of fantasy. Since two of BioWare's biggest franchises are Mass Effect and Dragon Age, Anthem really does an incredible job at combining the two making it the perfect blend of both styles while maintaining a unique feel on its own.

There is so much to unpack and because of that, our hands-on is going to span across the next couple of days but for right now, let's do an overall impression of what Anthem is like and what fans can expect.

Anthem

Story - NO SPOILERS

Though I didn't see the entire story because of both time constraints and the developers wanted to avoid too many spoilers, the extensive narrative I did see was phenomenal. From the very first cut scene, to day-to-day interactions with NPCs, the story is engaging to say the very least. A big part of that is the history and story itself, but another large part was due to the nature of the characters themselves.

Right off the bat I knew I would protect Owen with my life. And if I know BioWare like I think I know BioWare, that means he'll either die or become some weird villain, but for now -- he's my cinnamon roll and protecting him is a hill I'm willing to die on.

He's hilarious, his facial expressions and humor was very reminiscent of Joker from the Mass Effect trilogy, though less sarcastic (don't worry, there's still plenty of sarcasm) and more just pure comedic gold. He was definitely one of those characters that immediately feels like your BFF for life.

He loves to needle people - in a good way - and his interactions with both my character and Faye were some of the things in-game that I treasured the most. It stuck with me, these characters felt real -- like friends -- and that's something BioWare is known for and was phenomenal to see once more.

The way Anthem integrated cutscenes for both past and present was also incredible. I learned the history behind Anthem in a completely natural way instead of being forcefed lore in an almost textbook fashion. I was enthralled, enraptured, and was constantly craving to learn more. BioWare continued on with that fascination by hiding codex pieces ALL OVER the map, making lore junkies like me ride high on love because there were always puzzle pieces to be found making up a thrilling bigger picture.

A big concern when BioWare first teased Anthem is that it would go the "Destiny route" and not deliver on the promise of story as advertised. I can one hundred percent confirm that this is not true in the slightest. Yes, it has a very social component but Anthem seems to blend social and narrative expertly and really offers two very different experiences that compliment each other naturally, making it appeal to a bigger audience of gamers than titles like the Bungie shooter.

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Mechanics

Despite the controversy, one thing that Mass Effect Andromeda was hailed for was its incredibly smooth combat mechanics. Anthem took those mechanics and made them even better with total player freedom in mind. You want to spend most of your time flying around like Iron Man? Do it. Want to be firmly boots on ground? Weird, but ok! Do it! You're not really forced into anything, which is something I can't stress enough. That, and the flying is SO MUCH FUN.

Backstory time:

I suck at driving games. Absolutely terrible. GTA? No thank you. Gran Turismo? Nu-uh. Not because they aren't good, but I just have some weird mental block that makes me drive like a madman - and not in the cool walks-away-from-explosions kind of way. That being said, it was a concern for me going in with flight. Will I be terrible at this and be forever doomed with a character that will apparently have permanent concussions?

Thankfully, no.

Though it took me a little bit with underwater travel, the Javelin operation both above and below ground is stupidly addictive. It felt so free, so light, and literally it felt like the world was my oyster. I had total control, it made me feel like a badass that would make Iron Man himself proud. And that's a big reason why my squad and I kept making suits that look like Iron Man -- it's the Marvel game we all wanted without being tied to Marvel in any way shape or form.

Hilarious, but true.

The combat mechanics were also breathtakingly stunning. I tried out the Incerceptor, Storm, and Ranger Javelins (didn't have time to Colossus, sorry tanks) and each one felt wildly different. Each has their own unique set of skills and affinity to weaponry, though I have to admit -- the Incerceptor was definitely my favourite.

Any time I play an RPG, I usually go for a dual-wielding Rogue and that's pretty much what the Interceptor is. Their special is a freakin' sweet set of energy daggers, and their dexterity was through the roof. I was virtually untouchable, which is what every good rogue should be.

That being said, the Ranger was fun too because of its high impact. Though not as agile, the Ranger had some massive firepower and perfect explosive integration. The Storm was awesome as well, more kin to that of a mage class, and the elemental powers offered players the freedom to choose between 5 styles such as Lightening or Fire.

Literally, there's a class for every play style, despite only being 4 classes. What makes this so is that with each class, players really can customize their Javelin to be whatever they want. Though not really recommended, I specced my Interceptor with a sick sniper rifle and pretty much I was my dream character that kicked ass and didn't have time to take names.

Because of the wildly different playstyles, those combos that BioWare revealed last year? Yeah, they are awesome. They're awesome, they're surprisingly easy to trigger, and really add to the whole "I feel like a total badass" thing ... I really am starting to feel that this tagline could be like the subtitle. Maybe if we get DLC, it'll just be Anthem: Badassery Part 2 or something like that.

Probably not, but you get the idea.

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Matchmaking

The matchmaking was pretty easy to do as well and it was easy to maneuver in and out of solo play when looking to group up. During my time with the game, BioWare really wanted to show the variety of the game so they had us start out our playtime solo and then eventually had us sync up with friends, though in my case -- I synced with strangers who eventually became friends because we had so much fun.

From going to handle my business back in the hub of Fort Tarsis, it was easy to get -- or send -- and invite for some mission-specific goodness. We took on some world events, we did some free roaming with the game's Free Play mode, and we tackled specific quests given by the game's Cyphers. Once our objective was complete, it was easy to either queue up for something new, or head back to Fort Tarsis or even directly to the Forge for Javelin suit adjustments.

Personally, my style is pretty much I'm the person you don't want to play online games with when grouping is important. I have a really short attention span, so I'm pretty well-known for just kind of going off and doing my own thing. For me, Anthem is perfect for that because me going off solo didn't really affect my squad and it was always super easy to link back up. This game offers a lot more freedom than I think people are expecting and it's because of that freedom that I think people are really going to enjoy their time in the world of freelancers.

All in all, Anthem really seemed to honor its promise of feeling something entirely new but still with BioWare fans in mind. At first, my impression was "Wow, this doesn't feel like a BioWare game at all" but as time went on, I realised that wasn't quite true. It both felt similar to a BioWare game in terms of interaction, but mechanically felt very new. As a HARDCORE BioWare franchise fan, that wasn't a bad thing. It's new, but it works.

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Anthem releases on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC on February 22nd. To play early, you can check out our previous coverage here to find out how and how to invite your friends.

You can geek out with -- or just contact -- the author of this story over on Twitter @DirtyEffinHippy.