“So what’s Anthem even about?” a friend asked me on the weekend. I looked at him, and to be honest, I was kind of dumbstruck at that point. Anthem has a story, but for the life of me I can’t even explain it beyond the broadest strokes. Want to play a video game that allows you to be Iron Man for around 15 seconds in the air before you overheat while battling a villain who comes off as Shredder with depression while you race to find an almighty McGuffin?
Then Anthem is your game. Look, I know that there are pages and pages of lore within the Anthem codex that explains a lot, but here’s my current reaction towards the idea of having to read entire tomes of information for themes that are barely reflected within Anthem’s world:
It’s Destiny all over again, which is a pity because Anthem has some terrific potential to craft a new Arthurian legend for itself using its themes of Freelancers in shiny mechanised armour riding out to save the day. There is some very well deserved criticism towards Anthem’s storyline, especially when you factor in the narrative that could have been.
In The Art of Anthem book that details all the gorgeous design that went into making the game, Anthem’s story originally began from a much more dangerous hub. A colony ship from Earth had managed to drift into the space version of the Bermuda Triangle (It’s more of an Isosceles shape if we’re being honest) and one crash landing later saw you scavenging to survive. “Survivors would have to settle, survive, and somehow thrive on a harsh and dangerous world,” art director, Derek Watts wrote in the book (Thanks, PC Gamer).
These ships were only in that first iteration. We took this quite far along before we switched to what Anthem would eventually become.
From there, the story was equal parts MacGuyver and Robinson Crusoe as players worked to create a new settlement within the ruined hull of the colony ship. So what did your mechs have to do with the story then? “At this point javelins were utilitarian suits for space travel that then had to be repurposed for battle on a dangerous world,” Watts explained, revealing how these suits were retrofitted with the parts needed to help players survive, sometimes using parts from ships as well.
In the crash landing version of the game, what could you salvage from your ship to build your own suits? Here, we were exploring how much the pilot would be exposed. Would these suits be like tanks, or would you actually see the pilot?
Here’s where the conflict comes into play. Your ship was not the only vessel that had emerged thoroughly scathed on the planet, with conflict against other colony ships and possible alien species looking to claim new territory, also being on the cards. Bioware decided to skip that approach as it felt too much like their previous work on Mass Effect, and instead doubled down on the idea of the Anthem of Creation which was supposed to be a long story that players would work to uncover.
Anthem’s original pitch then, was “a unique vision that the art team was very passionate about. But in the end, we needed to adjust it to give the IP more depth and flexibility”, Watts said.
But in the end, we needed to adjust it to give the IP more depth and flexibility.
It’s a pity, but that’s game development for you. No idea is ever set in stone and with the ability to rewrite large chunks of story on the fly, even the established lore of a game is no longer carved in concrete. Just look at Destiny, whose recent Season of the Drifter content has forced players to make a choice as new evidence points towards the idea that Guardians and the controlling Vanguard may no longer be altruistic protectors of humanity as fans had been led to believe.
Anthem may be a disappointment in its current state, but at least it has some lovely art if you’re interested in perusing the pages of the hard work that the design team put into the game.
Last Updated: March 20, 2019