December 06, 2018 at 10:10 PM EST

An unknowable force called the Anthem of Creation wreaks havoc on a world abandoned by the godlike Shapers, who left the planet unfinished and their hazardous construction equipment untended. Humans huddle together in walled cities for safety, and a storied order of combatants called Freelancers uses Javelin powersuits to brave the chaos of uninhabited areas to search for answers. This is the premise of Anthem, BioWare’s upcoming cooperative, class-based third-person shooter, as detailed by the game’s director Jonathan Warner and lead producer Mark Gamble.

Players’ Freelancers will be based in the walled city of Fort Tarsis, where they will interact individually with story NPCs before embarking on squad-based missions. Thursday’s Game Awards trailer and press briefing introduced a few of the game’s primary characters including Haluk, a Freelancer whose adventuring days are behind him, and who now pilots your mobile command center; Faye, a member of the Cipher order who used to provide logistics and communication support for your squad of Freelancers; Owen, the player’s current Cipher; Brin, a member of Tarsis’ police force, the Sentinels; and Tassyn, a powerful member of a clandestine agency. The game’s primary antagonist will be the Monitor, who leads a faction called the Dominion in an attempt to harness the power of the Anthem to maintain peace through force.

Electronic Arts

We spoke to Warner to find out how interactions with these characters will fit into a shared experience, how Anthem compares to its main competition, Destiny, and why players aren’t allowed to get down with any of their NPC teammates.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How do you feel about comparisons to Destiny? Are they upsetting or flattering? Where do they start to fall apart for you?
JONATHAN WARNER: It doesn’t upset me. I think people like to pattern match, and this genre of games is relatively new, so people are going to make those comparisons as they try to understand what it is and what it isn’t. For me, the comparison starts to fall apart really rapidly. The amount of verticality that we have in the game, that agency and freedom that we give you not locking you to one class, allowing you to choose what Javelin you want to take out at any given time, really starts to make it feel different and special. When you have your hands on the controller and you leap up into the air and start flying freely in the environment for the first time, I think that’s when most people kind of get it. Then beyond that, bringing our storytelling. What we call “our world, my story,” is the place where we’re allowing you to engage the story at a pace that you find comfortable, to be able to make decisions that alter things inside of your narrative space while allowing us to still share a big open world. I think that’s where really the sharp differentiators lie.

How customizable will the single-player story space, Fort Tarsis, be? Will my Fort Tarsis look much different from anyone else’s?
The fort has a couple of different vectors of customization and reactivity. Characters that will be in the fort between mine and yours will differ. Your fort won’t ever look vastly different than mine, they’re basically the same spaces. But as you progress through the story, there are certain things that will happen that will make it look different, and that’s just a timeline issue. As you make decisions inside of the story, that’s where certain characters will show up or not show up, certain events will happen inside the fort that will change some of the architecture, but I wouldn’t say, “Oh my God, it’s a vast difference!”

There won’t be Mass Effect-style life or death choices. How do character interactions change your story? Is there anything that you will gain access to by interacting with a certain faction in a certain way?
Yes, you gain reputation with the different factions depending on what you do for them. They will unlock different perks for you that usually you will be able to use to express yourself on your Javelin. Whether that’s a piece of [cosmetic] customization or a crafting recipe for a unique weapon or item, it would be something along those lines.

BioWare fans have come to expect romance options in the company’s games. Why are there none of those in Anthem?
It just wasn’t the story that we wanted to tell this time. We’ve done that across several games now, and for Anthem, as we were thinking about the story we wanted to tell and the experience we wanted to convey, I think we wanted something that was closer to Knights of the Old Republic, where you’re still engaged with these amazing characters, you’re feeling attached to them and close to them, but this isn’t a story about romance. This is a story about a company of heroes, and we lean into that aspect more heavily.

Electronic Arts

Is the background lore of the Anthem of Creation and the Shapers who abandoned this world going to be fully elaborated on in the main story line, or will that be something that comes in bits in pieces as the game expands in the months and years to come?
You’ll find out certain aspects as you go through the main story of the game, but it will be something that we talk about and dig around further as we get into the live service. That will allow us to explore all the aspects of the world and its history. We’re not going to get to a spot where characters in the world will solve the problem, where they’ll solve the Anthem or they’ll understand what it was all about. The conflict of the world, the nature of the Anthem and its chaotic effect in the world is going to be an ongoing conflict.

As far as matchmaking goes, will you need to be on the same story mission as your teammates to play together?
If you’re ahead in the story and I’m behind, we allow you to do that. We’re not trying to socially engineer that experience. So, you’ll get a little warning that will say “Hey, you’re about to play a mission that’s ahead of the story, and it may contain some spoilers for you,” and we leave that choice to you.

Will you be improperly geared or underleveled if you join a friend on a later mission?
We do some difficulty scaling for you so that it won’t be a horrible experience. We look at your pilot level, and we do some scaling based on that and who you’re with. It will be a good experience for you, no matter what. Especially with a game like this, you’re not always fully coordinated with your friends. You always have one person in your group who is playing all the time and who is much higher level, and we don’t want to discourage you from playing together, so we’re going to allow that to happen.

In terms of the main story with the Monitor and the Dominion, will it be comparable in scale to BioWare’s single-player titles?
I would say it’s comparable. The trick there is that we allow you to do a lot more things in between the missions. You have free play, you have these repeatable agent quests, you can spend a lot of time just tinkering with your loadouts on your Javelin, so it gets kind of difficult to say it’s this amount of time versus that amount of time. But I would say comparable is fair.

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