Don’t forget to check your mailbox!
Coming away from Anthem, I constantly hear people talking about how it makes them feel like Iron Man; you get to zoom around in a powerful suit and blast away enemies. I also hear about how it’s not quite living up to expectations, at least not at launch, but you can read more about that in IGN’s review. But when I step away from Anthem, what I’m excited to write home about are the great characters hanging around in Fort Tarsis and all of the world-building collectibles scattered about. Did you know that the actors behind Fix-It Felix, Louise Belcher, and Charles Boyle all lent their talents to characters in Anthem? Did you know they also have their own short storylines?
Part of my job at IGN is writing guides, which means I scrape every part of video games to dig up secrets, find collectibles, develop strategies for boss fights, and plenty more. The aforementioned characters aren’t exactly hard to find – people ready to chat are marked by a bright yellow icon on your map, after all – but without much of an incentive to engage, I walked by them several times before bothering to stop. Now, every time I return to Fort Tarsis, I excitedly hunt down every yellow conversation marker.
Writing interesting characters you’ll spend 20 hours with – or even just a combined total of 20 minutes with – is a challenging feat, but BioWare’s writers manage to nail both. I adore Owen’s charming quips and flattery as my Cypher, and there are plenty more great characters around Fort Tarsis. Sayrna, the Regulator Store vendor voiced by Kristen Schaal (Louise Belcher on Bob’s Burgers), casually reveals questionable business practices before revealing her passion for Bastion’s wildlife several conversations later.
Then there’s the perpetual snoop, Neeson (voiced by Brooklyn 99’s Joe Lo Truglio), who really wants to tell you all he knows, but even your ever-patient freelancer has a hard time putting up with this annoying gossip. Jack McBrayer, from 30 Rock and the Wreck-It Ralph movies, plays Amal, a bartender who had a small part on a radio show before being killed off and is goofily proud of it. They’re all wonderful in their own weird ways, and there are plenty more characters in Fort Tarsis I enjoy spending time with between expeditions.
I adore Owen’s charming quips and flattery as my Cypher, and there are plenty more great characters around Fort Tarsis.
And then there are their emails. Select characters – including Owen and Sayrna – will update your freelancer on their activities between conversations. Those messages give insight into the day to day goings-on of the denizens of Fort Tarsis while I’m off gallivanting in the wild Bastion, but even better are the messages hidden in the Cortex’s spam filter. Few things give me a good sense of a world like threatening chain letters and scams that aim to exploit tragedies. It’s one thing to hear about how society functions in a fictional world, but it’s another thing to see it in messages like these that create easy parallels to our real world.
In an alleyway by the central plaza’s fountain, not far from a disgruntled janitor who just wants order, is a forgotten radio that plays an incredible drama about a group of lancers teaching a self-aware javelin how to be human- it’s grossly melodramatic and I love it. These little touches can be found all over the solo hub – from letters revealing a passive-aggressive back-and-forth between two people fighting over where pickles belong in the designated public space, to interesting conversations between various nameless NPCs in dark corners. I’ve heard some receiving the worst of news about a loved one, and another begging for another day to pay their debts. Fort Tarsis is filled with life, but you do have to make an effort to experience it.
Fort Tarsis is filled with life, but you do have to make an effort to experience it.
It’s unfortunate, though, that most of these wonderful moments don’t work as well if you’re playing with others, as Anthem intends. I can’t focus on a conversation with NPCs if my friends are talking over them or rushing me to jump back into another Expedition. I’ve actually preferred playing with my mic disconnected, completely alone, until I hit Freeplay.
Anthem has plenty of free updates coming in the next 90 days, and while the roadmap mostly notes expansions to Freeplay events and new missions, I’m hoping somewhere nestled in those updates are conversations for my new friends in Fort Tarsis, too. What would be really excellent is if Bioware added options to romance these fantastic characters – some of them are rather flirty as it is, so it wouldn’t feel forced or out of place. For now, though, I’m just happy getting to know more about Bastion from these people that feel so uniquely shaped by it.
For more on Anthem, be sure to visit IGN’s Anthem wiki to see all the collectibles you can get in Fort Tarsis, Treasure Chest locations in Freeplay, an interactive map of Bastion, and plenty more.
Miranda Sanchez is a senior editor at IGN. You can chat with her about video games and anime on Twitter.