Anthem's NPCs Are A Radical Shift For Bioware

An NPC in Anthem. (GIF: Bioware)

In a pre-PAX panel press conference today, Bioware developers gave a short presentation about the world of Anthem. The clear message is that they're not giving up on single-player storytelling with cool NPCs. It's unclear if what they're offering is going to be enough, though.

Anthem is a little bit different from a previous Bioware games when it comes to NPCs. After all, it's a multiplayer game, so you don't have the opportunity to take non-player characters out on missions. In past games, you'd have an epic quest with the player at the centre, and that player was surrounded with all kinds of interesting party members and other NPCs.

Over the course of the game, trials and tribulations brought players close to party members like Garrus Vakarian. If the story is working, then deep attachments form.

Image: Bioware

Based on the presentation, Anthem will not have that kind of NPC. Instead, it has a set of static NPCs who spend their life in a hub zone and react to decisions you make in conversations with them after missions. The NPCs of Anthem are less Garrus and more Dr. Chakwas. A video shown during the presentation called this "a reinvention of personal narrative in a multiplayer game," and that reinvention means massive changes.

Fort Tarsis (Image: Bioware)

To set this up, the devs discussed that hub zone: Fort Tarsis, the staging ground for missions that the player will be going on. In the fort, there are going to be several different figures you can talk to who give you missions and discuss the outcomes of those missions with you.

However, from what was revealed, these interactions are extremely limited. Conversations are only sets of two choices. These are not "yes/no" but they seem to be generally opposite tones. The outcomes of these choices affect your relationship with these characters, and the visual arrangement of the area around them, but it's unclear what else happens due to them.

The devs also clarified that there are no decisions that impact the story during missions, so I would not expect anything like the awesome Rachni Queen decision point popping up in Anthem.

Yarrow, an NPC you can talk to. (Image: Bioware)

They also said that these decisions you make with NPCs in Fort Tarsis will not create or lock off content. That means you cannot make someone so angry that they refuse to give you missions or please someone so much that they give you better equipment. For the most part, the relationships that your choices create seem to be a way of telling your own story and have few effects on the actual play of the game.

What your story is is also a little unclear at this point. The developers said that you will have a backstory with some limited character creation options. You can pick your gender. How much of a hand you get to have in that setup, though, remains vague. The devs were clear that the story of Anthem is always going to revolve around the player, though, and that

Haluk, another NPC. (Image: Bioware)

While the developers did not phrase it this way, to my mind this brings up a comparison to how the Destiny games handle their mission assignment and item vending. The Tower rarely changes, and you go there to find new things to do. But what if you could have conversations with Ikora? What if you could make Lord Shaxx mad? That seems to be the jump that Anthem is making, but with the added bonus of giving those characters some longer-term narratives.

In the session, the developers explained this in the sense that a vendor is not merely a vendor. You get to learn about them and their story.

Mathias, an NPC (Image: Bioware)

It is unclear to me if that is going to be sufficient for those fans who want to romance their way through a science fiction world. It still doesn't seem like that is a live option in any way. Instead, we're going to have "relationships," broadly defined.

And, you know, if situations like sniping beer cans with my best bro aren't available, then I'm not sure that I'm going to have all that good of a time.

It seems like Bioware are open to the feedback, though, because there are going to be multiple alpha and beta feedback opportunities between now and February 1, which is when an Anthem demo is going to release. The developers did not discuss platforms or specifics for that demo.


Comments

    So it's going to at best be the story parts of SWTOR then. I guess that's better than Destiny. I still don't understand who they're making this game for though.

      They are making this game for EA...
      Its a single player game they turned into a multiplayer game so they can sell loot boxes...
      but since EA can't sell loot boxes anymore because of the screw-up with Battlefront 2...
      ...they continue to make it for the eulogy of Bioware.

      SWTOR was nearly the death of Bioware, until Bioware taught EA it was okay and profitable to put loot boxes into a Star Wars title, now Bioware has made a title that was originally budgeted to sell a tonne of loot boxes... it may lose a lot of money, and if it does... we either get loot boxes or the death of Bioware.

      If the game is unclear this close to release and its suppose to be complete and in testing and post-release content development stages, then I don't see a long future for this or Bioware.

      At least SWTOR had your companions you could bring with you who would not only help with combat but also chime in with their own unique flavour as you interacted with various characters during missions. I really enjoyed that about SWTOR, it really livened up the world and fleshed it out. Made it... less lonely.

        Yeah, it's a shame about the rest of the game.

        You don't need to have chatty NPC companions with you 100% of the time to make a MMO have a good story - look at FFXIV for example - but they're not sending a lot of good signals.

          Well... it's not like companion chatter would HURT FF14... Most of FF14 left me cold, due to the lack of involvement of the NPCs. There's just such a wealth of activities in that game (and so much grinding), that by the time I advanced any quest enough to get more cut-scenes, it'd been days if not weeks since I'd seen them. It was a serious test of memory to be able to stitch a coherent story together, only getting a piece of the story every few days. (Possible exception of the rogue/pirate story which I devoured in only two massive play sessions. I loved that - it ended with me wishing I could interact with all those characters again, knowing that I wouldn't, and being left with the decidedly generic and out-of-place Naruto, sorry... 'ninja' story that turned me off considerably.)

          Actually, playing SWTOR 2-player was basically all I could've wanted from KOTOR 3. Having an extra player allowed us to smash past the grind-barrier content, we got to see two different class stories at once, plus companion stories, didn't have to repeat the planetary stories while seeing more content, and could essentially ignore all the MMO-style time-sink activities.

          It's a good reminder, I should really re-visit SWTOR at some point to take in all the new story content, finish up the few classes I hadn't seen yet, and just generally 'finish the game' before it goes offline. Unlike KOTOR 2, I won't be able to fire up a copy of SWTOR off GoG in ten years time when I've got the urge.

            SWTOR is still just as bad as it was when it launched, but now it looks and feels very dated as well. Also while some of the storylines were good, many were not.

    Sounds like Wing Commander games. There were sometimes two options you could pick which would control if the character liked you. Had no impact on the actual game though.

    I'm pretty confident that the old bioware that made games we loved is dead.

      Did you not play Wing Commander IV? Your choices made a huge difference in how that played out - certain characters lived or died, you got access to different ships and weapons, you changed which area you fought in the war, and at the end you had to make the right sequence of them to beat the game. Even innocuous thing like when a down-on-their-luck vet asked you to buy them a drink at the bar right at the start of the game - if you did, later on he gives you important intel, otherwise you have to do a bunch of extra stuff in the game.

      It wasn't a ridiculously detailed branching path or anything (being FMV limited it) but there were definitely differences based off your choices.

        Damn that was a good title. My heart will always belong to 3, and that twist with Hobbes, but 4 was the last great Wing Commander game. Didn't care for Prophecy, which was... I dunno. It did the job, I guess? And I guess the industry lost the taste for the genre around that time.

          4 was the first one I played and it ruined the earlier games for me. So polished.

          I'm still pissed at Hobbes, 20 years later. Fucking bitch cat bastard.

            I mean, to be fair... he did learn that his coworkers were planning on detonating his homeworld. There's some things that should probably be held at least a little sacred, and you'd think that home worlds would be one of them.

              Orders are orders. He'd been blowing up his cat-friends this long. What's another few billion?

        Hey man. Can I just say first? Awesome response. So nicely wrote out. My excuses are: No. I never played it, just a demo. I now OWN it thanks to GOG but haven't played much past the first mission. I only played Wing Commander's 1, 2, 3 (partially) and 5.

        My other excuse was I shot a short film this weekend and got less than 5hrs sleep 3 nights in a row, so my brain is not working very well at the moment. Got 3hrs last night and then went to work.

        I REALLY hope Anthem has anything close to what you're describing, but it sounds more like the Bartender from WC1 with emotional states of happy to see you and mad to see you (but will still give you the mission).

        The gameplay does look really cool but like everyone seems to be saying, it's NOT the gameplay any bioware fan is looking forward to. We want something like Kotor! Or Dragonage even. Mass Effect OF COURSE.

        I think it's only a matter of time before Bioware goes the same way Origin did. It's the EA curse in action.

    After all, it's a multiplayer game, so you don't have the opportunity to take non-player characters out on missions.

    Nonsense, plenty of multiplayer games have the option of using NPC companions in missions. Guild Wars and SWTOR (Bioware!!!) for example. Multiplayer doesn't automatically exclude companions - it's purely a design decision on the part of the devs. For better or worse, Bioware has decided that Anthem is a game about cashing in on the success of Destiny and The Division and other games of that ilk, and not about catering to their existing fanbase from the Star Wars, Mass Effect, Baldur's Gate, Dragon Age and so on history.

    It seems like Bioware are open to the feedback, though, because there are going to be multiple alpha and beta feedback opportunities between now and February 1, which is when an Anthem demo is going to release.
    They may be open to feedback about various gameplay mechanics, dialogue lines etc, but I doubt they'll be open to feedback about how this system is not the RPG system from their previous titles. There has been a strong push from their existing fanbase to make the storyline/npcs function more like their other RPGs ever since Anthem was announced, they've stated on numerous occasions that they are doing something different this time around - this game is not for the fans, it's to try and pick up customers who aren't fans. There is no reason they can't have Destiny/Division styled gameplay and combine it with what Bioware does best, except that they are choosing not to.

    How many panels/interviews/videos are they going to do and people are still left afterwards a little ‘wut?’? The more I see & read of this the more I just think ‘meh’...? Might end up being amazing & i’ll have to chomp away on my own cynicism but there’s just nothing to get hyped about there for me at present...?

    Have no doubt that knowing a few of my (idiot) friends have already pre-ordered this that it will sell by the truckload - I remember well the disappointment from Destiny so steering well clear until the picture becomes clearer.

      The problem is that people expect a lot of things from a Bioware game. They're a great studio with a long history of excellent games. And this looks to be complete shite, no matter how they spin and polish it. It's so transparently unappealing that there has to be more to it, right? It can't possibly be just Destiny again? It's Bioware! They made KotOR and Mass Effect and Baldur's Gate. It's a complete betrayal of expectations, so fundamentally that their core fanbase are left hanging, saying that they don't get it.

      What it looks like is that Bioware has died and the fans are still on the denial stage of grief. Expect them to go through anger and then into bargaining real quick when it releases, too.

        What it looks like is that Bioware has died and the fans are still on the denial stage of grief. Expect them to go through anger and then into bargaining real quick when it releases, too.

        Please ask permission before you express my thoughts so eloquently...

      I haven't been hyped for anything since Doom 3.

    It would seem like a no brainer to have usable NPC's available to fill any gaps in your squad and something that everyone would want. Don't really care if you can romance them or not and I'm sorry (AND THIS IS JUST MY OPINION, NOT SOMETHING I THINK PEOPLE MUST AGREE WITH OR STOP DOING) but folks who think that the romance options are the most important Bioware feature (along with fan-fic writers and shippers. Especially shippers!) all seem a bit sad and pathetic to me. Sorry if that offends anyone, but you are entitled to disagree and enjoy/write whatever you want just as I'm entitled to think it's bloody rediculous. If it floats your boat, good for you. I'll save my crushes and romance options for real people, thanks. But as for NPC's just being window dressing and not integral parts of the game and story, that's pretty weak for Bioware. As stated by someone else here, it sure does look like the Bioware we knew and loved is dead. Maybe they could send some of their writers and devs to a story and character writing refresher boot camp that's hosted by CDPR?

    Hmm...it sounds like people have it in for this IP before it is even out of the gate.

    Personally, I have been enjoying Destiny 2, and if this is more of that but beautiful exploration and easier matchmaking and more story, I am up for it. I'll get this with an open mind, and see where it goes.

    at this stage Anthem is feels more and more like Division or Destiny... which isn't a bad thing since both games had a solid SP (followed by a lackluster end game) it just isn't what the (majority?) of bioware fans expect / want

    it will probably be better for community to accept what BW has become and just vote with your wallet

      Yeh look....everyone has it in for this game big time, it's chasing some of that destiny pie and if the developer wasn't bioware then it maybe would have more positivity surrounding it.
      Whilst I do think it's a little sad we won't see another slick rpg from them for ages now, if ever, I am not gonna knock this game until it's released.
      It's never gonna be like mass effect and they have repeatedly said this, so people's pessimism seems unfounded to me. Make no mistake people, this will be a good game and will feel good to play. All my irl friends pretty much only play shoot and loots so I personally can't wait to have another shared world shooter to enjoy with them.
      I feel the biggest problem with these kind of games is that the developers just don't plan in advance enough. As you say the campaigns ( d2, division ) are quite enjoyable. And yes their end games are lackluster....at launch. We saw how both destiny 1 and the division rectified this in time and now it seems d2 is doing the same. So I honestly expect the same thing here.

      We will have a nice polished game on release with little legs, and given time it will have much more longevity.

      I just don't know why people wanna knock it so bad, if they believe it's because e.a. is forcing them to make this kind of game then how is that their fault? I can't recall the terms of their buy out so if they agreed to become a corporate cog for e.a. then sure lambast them for that, but by all means wait until it's released to claim how awful it is, and if you're not into the genre then perhaps stop reading articles on it? Dunno, the hate towards this game is exhausting tbh.

      more like Division or Destiny … so Divestiny

      Divestiny, wherein Bioware divest themselves of the last of their 'must buy anything made by Bioware' fanbois.

      Now, if you excuse me, I must face towards Edmonton and carry out my daily "Please don't let Dragon Age 4 get the Andromeda treatment" prayers

        don't worry I'm sure your prayers will be answered by their overlord

        EA will turn Dragon Age into a mobile game =p

    *frown* I don't like this news.
    I'm still... cautiously optimistic, but this news makes me more wary than excited.

    I guess setting expectations closer to reality is always a good thing when it comes to minimizing disappointment, though.

    Well that's disappointing. After trying Destiny and The Division I can say I'm not a fan of the looter shooter genre Anthem is part of, but I'd hoped it would have enough of a story focus to entice me in. Sort of like how TOR, particular the later expansions, are decent single player games despite it being an MMO. It sounds like Anthem won't even offer that though.

    Ugh, some of these hardcore Bioware fans come off as so entitled.

    It's not a good sign when every piece of news you hear about an upcoming game makes you less enthusiastic about it. But this is doubly so for Anthem because it's not just a single game, it's a sign of what's to come. Aside from a rapidly diminishing pool of devs that are motivated by something rather than shareholder value and nickel-and-diming consumers there are so few AAA devs that we can rely on. Bioware, if it's only a shadow of its halcyon days, could've still made great games. But I think Anthem is the final nail in the coffin.

      I imagine it's a gaming trend, the death of good solid single player RPG games. kind of like how there's no AAA RTS games

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