January 3rd, 2046
The day the new models of ANI holding EDGE Online were shipped out across the globe to those that received the code "EDGE Interactive 2023" and input it on the EDGE Interactive website to receive their time-sensitive code that in turn had to be inputted into another section of the site. That aside, around one thousand models were shipped when EDGE Interactive began to crack down on people redeeming multiple codes for one household, and that left the closed alpha with a fraction of the intended audience- only 2,346. Regardless, that sample would prove enough for the worlds that rested within the ANI, and most copies of the game arrived within two days. The game actually unlocked itself on the 8th, due to time constraints and technical difficulties that were explained on the EDGE Interactive forums.
Most of that was forgiven by players when the first hundred or so people powered up their ANI and heard the words "Powering on. Loading EDGE Online. Please wait." as it began to do its work and patch them in with other players from across the world.
The game's loading sequence was fairly typical for games on the ANI, having users wait in a simulated area where they can test their connections to the ANI with some simple exercises such as trying to speak, run, or screenshot. Then, like all ANI games, a countdown was given for the player to get ready to adjust to phasing into the world of EDGE Online.
Some knew a little of what to expect. EDGE Interactive had a habit of relying upon environmental storytelling instead of direct narration, and relying off of small descriptions to paint a bigger and more complex picture. Yet, EDGE Online had chosen to do something different, and had held something that most EDGE Interactive games didn't hold.
Blatant exposition and railroading.
The game opened to a first person shot of a person walking through what appeared to be a land with a sky darker than anything ever imagined. Each dusted step echoed through the expanse of a ruined cityscape dotted by massive fans, exquisite ruins, and even a castle or two. As they walked, it became apparent that the players could- to an extent- look around and control their arms, but could not falter from the ashen path before them. Spires of ash laced with crystal began to take over the view of the cityscape, and a voice began to ring in the back of the players' head.
"This is what awaits us. It's almost inevitable, really." The voice was different for each player. Some would claim that it sounded like them, where others would say it sounded like a family member, or the main character from another EDGE Interactive game. "We're born in the Stream, made life by the Stream, and die on the whim of the Stream. So who were we to try and defy it?"
The viewpoint figure walked towards a concrete pillar and wiped a slab of crystal clean with their hand, revealing a cloaked figure that after a bit of character creation came to form the avatar that the player chose when they removed a crystal shard from their character's wrist. From there the player gained full control of their virtual body, able to walk down the path provided while looking at the sodden state of the area around them. Those with additional hardware to allow extra sensory input would feel the coldness of the place, and take note of the metallic smell of the entire locale, getting that taste of metal on their tongues as well.
No, it wasn't blood, as many had hypothesized due to their indulgences in crime VR titles. It was just the natural smell of the land, for around five minutes. Some said it was shorter, others claim to have been there around twenty minutes. That was the main issue in VR titles- cinematics were played out by the player, especially in EDGE Interactive's case. Regardless, what came next led the way to the meat of the tutorial.
They were met with the sight of a spherical structure torn asunder with what appeared to be the blackened vines of a massive plant. As they drew nearer and descended into the crater before them, a haze filled the area, and they would notice that two other figures- likely other players- appeared next to them. That suspicion was confirmed when their HUDs appeared and showed an overlay listing them and two others by avatar name.
One such group was Antebelle, Zugzwang, and Verglas Virgil.
At the base of the crater, the trio stared down the crooked entrance to the massive geode and were left with a prompt along the top of their view, "Relearn the truth of the Stream.", and in the center of the screen was a diamond shaped quest marker leading into the maw of the ruins.