Any pre-order holders or specially selected individuals got a chance this past weekend to take a crack at the demo EA has for Anthem, their entry into the world of games akin to Division, Destiny, and Warframe, among others. (I specify because I’m aware that Bioware has made shooters, though ME:A leaves much to be desired yet provides an easy hurdle to clear.) After playing extensively for the short time it was available, I can confidently give you a review of Anthem so far, as well as tell you immediately that it is not a game to miss.
Anthem is a unique take in a moderately saturated world of loot-based shooters. As mentioned before, games like Destiny, Warframe, and the Division have existed for a while now, and with the constant updates of Warframe (that unless you’re paying for or have spent oodles of time on obtaining, you probably haven’t seen), the essential stagnation of a previous powerhouse (alas, poor Destiny), and the Division patiently waiting to release a second iteration, Anthem has a welcome mix of the familiar with a wealth of new things to get wrapped up in. Of the two days the game was active, I spent a significant chunk of the time playing it, getting used to what I assume will be my new obsession when I can strap into my javelin full time on February 22. And while gameplay was great, getting to it was a bit of a chore.
You see, like most demonstrations of games, EA drastically underestimated stress on the servers and what was supposed to be a 2 day affair of testing the product was reduced to a scramble to get servers working at all for some. This made loading times abysmal, to the point of frustration after constant waiting followed by restarting, which ironically led to a quick fix for the problem. Now, demos are snippets before full release, and I understand that, but having the service that some people pre-ordered to play shut them out for over half of the total play time they were allowed is a bit ridiculous. This is something a trial run before release could have caught. But on the other hand, if connectivity is the big complaint, that’s something easily fixable. This didn’t ruin my time personally, as I have played enough Alphas, Betas, and demos to know I wasn’t in for a 100% perfect time, but with the game so close to release, it is an ominous cloud of concern that might shade many from the otherwise shining points of Anthem.
The Anthem demo wasted no time dropping right into the action, with players starting at level 10, smack in the middle of what was going on with little explanation. This was great, because unlike Destiny (which will be my punching bag during this primarily because I played the hell out of them so I have plenty of experience), the game came with a narrative that played out with a handful of interesting characters, dialogue choices (which I assume were just an example as they did not influence play), and ambiance budding, waiting to bloom in the full release. The hub world of anthem, Fort Tarsis, is a bastion of sorts on the outskirts of the world, protected by a super-wall cleverly called The Wall. As a pilot of a Javelin (think Iron Man suit) the player is a Freelancer, the only ones worthy to leave the fort and adventure around the exceedingly dangerous world. There are different factions in the fort, different characters doing different jobs, but the demo did a great job keeping specific information of these to a minimum, both saving story for the full game and allowing quick access to the real reason players jumped in, piloting a Javelin.
Suiting up and launching past the Wall and into the world starts in a simple menu where a player can choose a point to start, the difficulty of the adventure, which friends to team up with, and which of the four (so far) javelins they want to play:
Dropping in, once the demo allowed me to, felt great. The Javelin, while taking a moment to get used to fly, felt like second nature after only a minute. The game lends itself to this mechanic, as fights on the ground are momentary compared to the time spent in the air. Coordination of flight cooldown and a loaded gun becomes a dual responsibility, and one that is a great addition to an otherwise slow moving genre of games. Destiny does have levitation and multiple jumping abilities, but you’re not flying as a Warlock at the speeds these Javelins can get to.
The customization, hot diggity, is just a blast. Changing up the look of the Javelin with different armor pieces for different parts (nothing new) with this level of attention to multiple materials you can choose to have the Javelin be crafted from and the levels of color that can be added are something unmatched in other games of its kind. No Shaders forcing a certain color scheme that you get as an item instead of something useful. Anthem lets you have at the customization, dropping more with the addition of vinyls, which are akin to those applicable on cars. The vinyls add a little extra flair to what is already an in-depth and enjoyable customization process.
I played the majority of my time in the Interceptor Javelin, so if you want to skip a bit of nerding over one specific aspect, come back in a paragraph or two.
Anyways, the Interceptor handles like a dream. I’m tempted to paint my suit blue when I get back into Anthem, as I feel like Sonic the goddamn Hedgehog. If you’re looking for unmatched speed, the ability to triple jump, and do quick boost dodges on the ground as you blitz through the competition (football joke, in honor of Lords Belichick and Brady) then you’re going to love the Interceptor. You are definitely the squishiest of the Javelins, so keep that in mind as you play, and just keep moving around. Your ultimate ability (different for each Javelin) is a short time of invincibility as you blaze across the field, chopping enemies to bits with your blades dual-wield style.
Starting the demo, before the ability to choose from other Javelins, the Ranger is the primary class. While enjoyable and an easy way to get a handle on the game mechanics and abilities, the other Javelins outshine it with different specialties. In my experience anyway, the game was significantly harder before I was able to choose from something other than the Ranger, and after I hopped into my Interceptor, I didn’t give Ranger another thought. Each Javelin handles differently and really lends to having a diverse team when tackling challenges.
Those challenges came in the form of the Stronghold missions (think raids from Destiny), where the toughest bit of Anthem can be found. I say challenge here because after a few hours of getting used to things, it was definitely not impossible. The story missions were pretty straightforward, and once you’re confident in your abilities and have a cohesive team, the strongholds are just another step on the ladder.
This is, of course, something that lends to playing on a higher difficulty. As in most games, and especially looter-shooters, the higher the difficulty, the better the loot drops. Anthem has no shortage of things to collect, whether it be weapons or Javelin abilities to equip for new abilities on the next mission. And playing Hard mode was rewarding as heck and made continuous play feel meaningful, as dropped loot is sometimes compatible with other Javelins, leading to players experimenting not only with builds for their favorite Javelin, but also with maybe a backup/secondary Javelin build. So the battle, build, repeat gameplay is standard, it felt like each piece was strong, making builds tough to solidify with a want to try everything. But the other side of this was, at least in this demo, that leveling the character was quick, and that the ever persistent grind-factor of this type of game (should I leave Destiny alone this time? Nope, still punching away) is not really noticable here. Granted, you only had the opportunity to gain 5 levels (capping at level 15), but this didn’t feel like a chore, more like a pleasant side effect of playing. Loot has a level, but instead of “you need to be level X to use this gun” the game scales the loot based on your power. So if you go crazy out the gate and tackle some Hard mode missions and the Stronghold, you’re on your way to a high level and so great loot drops. I hope this sentiment carries to the full game, and with less than a month before release, I can’t imagine otherwise.
There is so much more that the brief peek players got into Bioware’s Anthem, and the game has the great opportunity to really define itself as a must-play.
Look out for the game this weekend, as the demo is available to anyone, pre-order or not, from Feb 1-3.
Josh Yutkins-Kennedy January 29, 2019
NEH Podcast: Anthem Demo Weekend
Josh, Geoff, and Max talk everything about Anthem from last weekends private demo. Did we like it? Did we just stare at loading screens the whole time? Well you better […]