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We’ve only seen parts of Anthem in action: the combat, and the exploration, and the hub world, and the co-op, but BioWare hasn’t really put them all together just yet. But from the looks of it, Anthem is following in the footsteps of other multiplayer action shooters like The Division that lean into co-op as an important part of the game. But having seen some of the combat, it looks like Anthem might have forgotten that playing together isn’t just playing next to each other.
Sure, different players can equip different loadouts, so one player can be throwing down artillery fire while another blasts through with closer range weaponry, but this still isn’t the same as working together. Fighting side by side might feel like fun camaraderie, but the best co-op comes from tackling separate objectives to complete the same goal.
We need more than just shooting
Destiny tried to implement this. Although most of the game was about a Fireteam storming each room to kill everything inside without much need for teamwork, occasionally the game would change itself, forcing the players to take more separate roles and work together within them. But these moments weren’t nearly enough to balance out the rest of the co-op that was at its most cooperative when all the players had to shoot the same big bullet sponge.
But we are seeing a revolution in co-op spaces, where working together is more fun. Sea of Thieves is a great example that had players working together on the same ship, but each person on the crew was vital and had separate role to fill. You would need a helmsman manning the steering wheel, and a rigger keeping the sails against the wind, but in a scrap you’ll need someone on the cannons, and someone beyond deck repairing any damage and bailing any water. None of the roles were predetermined so players can move to help with another task or swap if they feel like it, but they are needed.
Cooperatively moving as a team is incredibly entertaining, and Sea of Thieves constantly rewards the players for working together with gold, satisfaction, and fun stories to tell over cups of grog. Even when it all goes wrong, there’s still a story there.
Anthem isn’t exactly a pirate game, so it couldn’t be directly translated, but hopefully, BioWare has worked to create that same cooperation and reliance on each other. If players are just left to run and gun together you will never feel like a valued member of the team.
Although keeping a ship afloat might be out of the question, Anthem could have players work together in different ways. The most common solution is to have enemies immune or weak to certain attacks. Meaning that the artillery cannon will have to focus on one enemy group while the assault soldier will focus on another. Clearing mobs like this is better than competing for the same targets, but it still doesn’t quite have the level of unity that co-op games should aim for.
The cooperation should come into play more with the larger, boss-like enemies. Maybe some players will have to focus on attacking certain areas while others have to keep the beast’s attention. Or even more traditional roles like one or two players laying down support or tanking for the others to get the damage done. The issue here is that it feels better when these roles are fluid and can be swapped out whenever the team needs it. Although something like this unlikely to happen in Anthem as its exosuits are modified at the home base.
Working together should be the focus
Sea of Thieves is by no means perfect but it has a lot to teach other games. The imaginative way it has players all work together and feel like they are doing something unique hasn’t been beaten by an action game just yet. Arcade games have been excelling in this field for years now, with games Overcooked showing just how much fun and satisfying it can be when all the players work like a well-oiled machine.
These games set out possible roles for the players who have to learn how to balance them as best they can. This new breed of co-op experiences are built around the need to work with well other players. However good a single-player campaign is, they cannot captain a galleon or cook a meal alone, however hard they try.
Anthem looks like it will be a beautiful game with captivating landscapes to explore. It has a huge range of monsters to fight and the differing exosuits look exciting to experiment with. Let’s hope that BioWare has put in as much thought and imagination into how the players work together as well have with the rest. Sea of Thieves had a rocky start, and maybe other developers are worried that its reliance on reliance was the issue, but its base systems celebrate what it means to cooperate together, and how rewarding the gameplay experience can be. Other big studios need to start doing the same and experimenting with the idea that players don’t have to be doing the exact same thing to be playing cooperatively.