Despite being loudly trumpeted as the cornerstone of BioWare's post-launch content plans for Anthem, the long-awaited Cataclysm update has, to date, largely remained a mystery. With tonight's Cataclysm livestream over, however, a whole lot more is now known.
According to BioWare, Cataclysm will run for a total of eight weeks when it finally arrives after a bout of public testing. The first two weeks will take the form of a "pre-event", designed to set up the narrative for Cataclysm proper. This will consist of three new missions, each featuring their own "high quality cinematic scenes" and a range of Vanity item rewards.
For those that don't mind very light spoilers, the gist of the story is that a new faction, lead by someone called Vara, manages to trigger the Cataclysm in an act of desperation. As you might imagine, it's up to the Freelancers to find out what caused it and how it can be resolved.
With the initial two-week pre-amble over, BioWare will then launch the Cataclysm proper, with the bulk of the event unfolding in a new, non-linear area of the world - a storm-ravaged, cave-pocked cliffside, overlooking a tumultuous ocean.
Although Cataclysm is intended to be playable by anyone at any level, it's primarily designed for groups of four players, with a particular emphasis on replay. To that end, it features one core objective - to defeat the faction leader Vara - but encourages repeat visits, exploration, and experimentation through a new score multiplier and leaderboard system, enabling players to compete against friends, guild mates, and the world.
The idea is that defeating Vara is a relatively simple task, and will only net a low score. However, victory over Vara doubles a squad's point tally, so the challenge is to find as many ways as possible to boost those numbers prior to the fight. Time is limited though, so speed and efficiency are paramount in order to rack up the points and snag Vara's double bonus.
While out in Cataclysm's perpetual storm, a stability gauge will slowly tick down and, once depleted, cause players to take on damage, eventually incapacitating them, limiting the amount of time available to complete the challenge. However, its damaging effects can be offset by triggering timed safe zones, ordinarily found around key locations known as arenas.
Each arena tasks players with completing a specific challenge, which in turn increases their score and score multiplier. When the Cataclysm event launches, a number of these arenas will be included, and more will appear as the weeks pass, meaning that new routes and new opportunities for score-boosting will appear over time. Additionally, BioWare says the new map will include plenty of secrets to discover, and many hidden ways to rack up the points, giving leaderboard-focussed players ample reason to return as the event continues.
BioWare also intends to enhance the core Cataclysm experience with what it calls Inversions. These bring a notable twist to standard play, with new Inversions being introduced every week. Some might reduce gear cool-downs by half, for instance, or quadruple damage done by shotguns and SMGs, encouraging further experimentation in order to earn more points.
All of which leads onto Cataclysm's loot rewards. These will be based around new weapon types (to be revealed later), new Masterwork gear variants, a new equippable melee slot, plus Masterwork and Legendary support gear. All new items will come with higher power than existing items, with Masterwork and Legendary versions currently five item levels higher.
Loot is earned by accruing special currency through daily/weekly challenges or by entering the Cataclysm and completing various activities. This can then be spent at a new event-specific vendor to purchase War Chests, with available items changing regularly.
Alongside those key elements, Cataclysm will bring a range of improvements to the core game. These include the likes of balance changes and buffs to enemies, and, more significantly, the removal of Anthem's Luck stat. Once implemented, all players will have the equivalent of 100% luck as a base stat, meaning that general loot will drop much more frequently.
As it announced previously, BioWare will be introducing a public test server on PC ahead of Cataclysm's full launch, so as to get as much feedback from the community as possible. At present, the developer hopes to make its test server available next week, with early sessions focussed on Cataclysm's main game loops.
Anyone that owns Anthem on PC (or with an Origin Access Premier subscription) will be able to download and play the separate test client, although BioWare notes that server sessions will be restricted to certain times and days to ensure enough players can group up.
The expectation is that the public test server sessions will run for a total of two to three weeks, depending on feedback, with Cataclysm's full release following shortly after. BioWare says that full details will be made available next week via Twitter.