Bioware may be best known for thoughtful role-playing greats like Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Baldur’s Gate, but for their next trick, the legendary developer is building something with considerably more punch.

We’re of course talking about Anthem. EA’s shared-world shooter made quite a splash at E3, initially in a lengthy look during the EA Play press conference, but also through a few behind-closed-doors hands-on demos. We were lucky enough to sneak into one such presentation and came away extremely impressed with the game’s tight controls, beautiful world, and explosive action.

Anthem Screenshot

Anthem‘s sci-fi world was abandoned by the god-like Shapers, who apparently left their planet-shaping technology behind. The bad news is that nefarious beings called the Dominion are trying to get their hands on that ancient, powerful tech; the good news is that humans have salvaged quite a bit of it already, fashioning potent weaponry like awesome Javelin exosuits that grant the ability to soar through the skies. You play as a freelancer out to scavenge more goodies and, by extension, safeguard humanity.

You’ll do that by following a familiar gameplay loop: teaming up with a few other players, taking on missions and quests, blasting baddies, grabbing loot, upgrading gear, and heading back into the fray. Our demo focused on the first four bits, showcasing Anthem‘s twitchy, kinetic combat.

Anthem Screenshot

Anthem Screenshot

Playing as a Ranger (there will be four Javelin classes in the final game, each with its own abilities and play styles), we were tasked with infiltrating a base manned by another faction, the evil alien Scar, to stop the production of acid-spouting weaponry. Maneuverability is key in Anthem; Javelins can double-jump, dodge, and engage a jetpack to boost around like Iron Man. Pressing in the left stick powered us forward, while pressing in the right stick let us stop and hover in place. Flight can cause the Javelin to overheat, though players can cool it off by briefly landing or dousing it in water (flying through a waterfall, for instance).

Fast, dynamic and impactful, Anthem‘s aerial gunplay sets it apart. Within a few minutes, we were casually zipping through the air and raining fire upon squads of unfortunate aliens. We were also equipped with area of effect frost grenades, a charge-up lightning blast, and a melee attack that let us divebomb hapless enemies. Players can link attacks to create even more devasting combos: follow up a well-placed frost grenade with a ground pound and you can send frozen enemies flying in every direction. The experience was exhilarating.

Anthem Screenshot

Anthem Screenshot

Anthem complements its sky-high gameplay with expansive levels designed with verticality in mind. While there’s a limit to exactly how high you can fly – the game wants you to engage enemies, after all – the scale is impressive. At one point we flew over a monstrous Ash Titan battling a horde of Scar, gliding above the battle only to dive headfirst into an underwater cave.

We emerged in a nest filled with another creature called the Swarm, cueing a final boss battle against a massive, spider-like Swarm Tyrant. We quickly learned to utilize our Ranger’s ultimate weapon, a barrage of homing missiles, to take out the Swarm grunts as we focused fire on the scurrying Tyrant. Gobbling up ammo, health and loads of sweet, precious loot dropped by enemies, we downed the boss and emerged victorious.

Anthem Screenshot

Anthem Screenshot

Anthem won’t just be a mindless loot grind, however. After a fight, players will head back to their home in Fort Tarsis, the last bastion of humanity. Bioware is infusing their game with narrative by letting players experience classic dialogue trees and multiple paths in a solo setting, sharing the world with others once they head out into the field. Considering Bioware’s track record, expect smart storytelling to accompany the carnage.

Our playthrough left little doubt about Anthem‘s enormous potential as a taut, thrilling shooter. We can’t wait to check out the game’s other three classes – and dig up some legendary loot – when it arrives February 22, 2019 on Xbox One.

See the rest of the story on Xbox Wire

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