Final Fantasy XIV has some of the best examples of MMORPG storytelling around. But in describing how Anthem's narrative will work, BioWare executive producer Mark Derrah couldn't help throwing a bit of shade its way.
"If you look at FFXIV, it does a pretty good job of telling a story, but it also does a hilarious but effective thing where you're the Warrior of Light, and the game will be like, 'Hey Warrior of Light, I need you to do something!' Everyone is a Chosen One," Derrah says. "The game just kind of chooses who the Chosen One is in a moment. It undercuts the story to a degree. If we're always oscillating between stories, it makes agency and impact inconsistent."
BioWare's goal for Anthem is to make everyone the hero at any given time. In doing so, Anthem is drawing some pretty strong lines between multiplayer and single-player. Among other things, another player won't be able to visit your personal Fort Tarsis, which will grow and change as you complete quest lines for certain characters. Nor will there be voting on a big decision point like in Star Wars: The Old Republic: Your choices are entirely in your own. Characters will grow and change, but only in your personal little universe.
In that respect, Anthem feels a bit like a single-player that happens to be couched heavily in live service and multiplayer elements. You will be able to play it by yourself, and the difficulty will scale appropriately. But if you want, you can matchmake with other players, and Anthem will pair you with someone who is on the same mission as you. If you have a friend that you want to play with, you can replay a previous mission and damage will scale dynamically.
Ultimately, it's possible to run through the entire story with your own crew. But when you're in Fort Tarsis, they will disappear as you move into your own little single-player bubble. You will still play the same missions going forward, but everything that happens in that bubble is geared toward making you feel like the protagonist.
Fort Tarsis is where the bulk of the narrative heavy lifting will occur. Derrah describes a situation where you recruit a character named Matthias in a mission, and they move to your Fort Tarsis, which is your personal single-player haven. From that point, all of your interactions with Matthias, and your changing relationship with them, will be your own (though, sadly, you can't date them).
Crucially, every player will have access to the same missions, no matter what their relationship might be with a character. None of the content will be gated behind dialogue choices. BioWare pitches this a positive, but it's more of a concession to the necessity of keeping individual experiences roughly in line with one another. In that respect, Anthem's online integration looms large.
Still, there are ways that the online integration can benefit the storytelling. For one thing, characters can grow and evolve over the course of multiple content drops. "Previously, we had to treat the characters like they were trapped in amber," Derrah says. "Now we can continue to evolve the character forward."
If you squint, you can see a lot of BioWare's DNA in Anthem. While there are no romances, relationships will still grow. There's character customization, even if you will never see your actual character. There are dialogue choices. Strip away all of the multiplayer and live service elements, and you would have a perfectly serviceable, if somewhat simple, single-player RPG experience.
BioWare revealed the info about the storytelling at PAX West, in the process announcing that a demo will be dropping next year. Additionally, BioWare is planning alphas, betas, and general tech tests for Anthem.
We saw Anthem at E3, and we thought it was ultimately pretty neat, though we definitely wondered if Anthem's multiplayer focus would impact the story. It will be fully out February 2019. Here's a guide to the pre-order bonuses and everything else you need to know.