It’s difficult to know where to start when it comes to writing an impressions piece of the Anthem Demo. Fraught with issues, with many that plagued me for the entire weekend, it would be unfair to lay fierce criticism at the feet of Bioware or EA. Anthem hasn’t launched, a Demo is just that, and a live service for any game needs time to find its feet. While much of the issues surrounding the Demo were entirely predictable, I’ve played enough games in my time to look past servers creaking under the strain of players flooding online. The horror of a lifetime stuck at 95%, rubberbanding, the inability to unlock Javelin’s, frame rates that make me want to weep, and painful flight controls on a mouse and keyboard aren’t enough to put me off.
These issues, though frustrating, are minor hiccups in a game that’s clearly something special. With Ben Irving, Anthem’s Creative Director, spending a great deal of time on social media addressing such concerns, it’s time to talk about what really matters: is Anthem worth your time and money?
Anthem falls somewhere between The Division and Diablo. I’ve heard many make vague comparisons between it and Destiny, Bioware’s title has much more in common with Tom Clancy than it does The Traveler. With a map that’s divided into large zones, loot requiring identification when back at base, a central hub, and enemy encounters all to reminiscent of faction fire-fights found in New York City, there’s undoubtedly parallels. There’s a flavor of Destiny and Warframe in amongst Anthem’s DNA, but it feels tighter than the former, and weightier than the latter.
With the Demo dropping you in at level 10, it’s hard to gauge how the story presented itself leading up to that moment, and what the circumstances were which see you hop back into your Javelin. Irrespective of the narrative thread being lost, the foray into the outside world, away from the confines of Fort Tarsis, give you a solid taste of not only how the game plays, but what you can come to expect from its story, and its gameplay loops.
The hub, Fort Tarsis, truly is an immersive location.
Although you can play Anthem solo, the game makes every effort to encourage you to play with others. Fundamentally, it’s designed as a multiplayer experience with emphasis on Javelin’s working together as a cohesive unit. The combo system, combined with the roles each Javelin fulfils, ensures that the game feels like a wide-open dungeon experience. Despite the game featuring more loading screens than I anticipated, there’s no mistaking that the play area is large. The use of verticality ensures that it has depth greater than the perimeter suggests, and although it might not be seamless, or as grand as some MMO’s, there’s no mistaking that the world is there to be enjoyed and experienced.
My rig isn’t cutting edge, but there are few games that put it through its paces: that has changed with Anthem. Although a visually stunning game, on High settings I tended to average around 40fps within Fort Taris, and around 55 in the game world. There’s room for improvement on the optimisation side, and although my frame rate was higher than the locked 30 available on console, not quite hitting 60 consistently did sting a little, especially when there are notable dips. Flying through the game world is a large part of what makes Anthem special, and having it run well will likely be make or break for some PC gamers.
On the subject of flight, and as someone who plays on a mouse and keyboard, at times it felt like I was steering a bus, rather than an agile fighting machine. Flight movement was either sluggish, too haphazard, or bonafide crazy, often leaving me hurtling headfirst into enemies or a nearby cliff. If you also combine such erratic responsiveness with limited flight time (honestly, overheating your Javelin comes much quicker than anticipated), it does tend to dilute any airborne thrill. Several friends who played on a controller were impressed with how agile flight felt, and the development team have confirmed there has been huge improvements for the PC: watch this space.
The game is visually stunning, just a little demanding on PC.
As for the PvE side of Anthem, I have to say that its gunplay is incredibly fun. It feels far snappier and heavier than Warframe, but also measured and accurate like The Division. Although I miss being unable to crouch (honestly, why can’t I?) it doesn’t stop encounters being incredibly exciting. Helped in part by an array of satisfying weapons, it’s your Javelin and the unique flavor of each has that’s so moreish. Whether you’re bombarding enemies with missiles, hurling grenades, or landing with a thud in the hulking great armor of the Colossus, there’s no mistaking that Anthem is bloody fun: there’s no greater sight than seeing an Interceptor dive in and clean up.
It’s too early to say if the game has the depth necessary to keep the fun going, but there’s no mistaking that the story alone looks set to be worth the price tag. There’s a great deal of polish in the game - something that Bioware typically excel at - and if the first few NPC interactions are anything to go by, the story should hold its own (even if characters do have strange teeth). It may not be groundbreaking, but I feel there’s enough of a carrot to ensure you play from start to finish, and feel like you’ve got your monies worth. If nothing else, the story and its missions provide enough of a journey to guarantee you unlock all available Javelin’s, and experience most of what the game has to offer, without getting into the end-game treadmill.
If I had any niggles about Anthem, besides those listed earlier, it would have to be the lack chat functionality and mini-map. Both being missing is bizarre, and in this day and age, makes absolutely no sense. I don’t always want to use voice chat - I’m not always able to - and yet without it, you can’t communicate whatsoever. Getting lumped with a random person, when they may not have any tools to chat to you, is a bloody nightmare.
The lack of a mini-map and the constant need to open/close the main one, is just a ball ache. I want to be able to traverse the world with vision, not blind because I’m trying to determine my route. If you also combine this with the radar system for detecting objectives, the game can - at times - grow frustrating. Why not just give me an arrow, instead of a sonar that seems schizophrenic?
Combat and movement really does feel brilliant, even in the early levels.
Anthem plays perfectly well with these issues, but they desperately need ironing out. I can’t understand any reasoning behind all three, when better exists. Hearing players say it makes the experience “immersive” are talking gibberish: bad design is bad design.
My only regret over the course of the weekend was the fact I didn’t get to play enough of a Stronghold Mission. With rubber-banding plaguing the majority of my time, finding windows of opportunity to romp through serious group content with friends was limited. The result being that I was often left to my own devices, just exploring the game world. A close friend kindly informed me it was, “fucking brilliant”, and as someone who isn’t easily pleased, that did surprise me.
With The Division 2 on the horizon, and its Beta right around the corner (February 7), players are going to have to make a choice as to where they spend their money. Considering Anthem has no PvP and is set to be more story driven than The Division, it’s likely an obvious choice for many. If you’re being smart, and want to save money, I’d probably recommend you just sign up for the Origin VIP subscription. For the cost of $15 you’ll have 30 days (and a 10 day head start) to play Anthem. That’ll be more than enough to whizz through the entire story, at which point you can make a decision on whether you want to keep playing, or to cancel. If you do, you’ll have saved yourself $40 and still played the brand new Bioware title.
Anthem’s Demo might have been rocky, but it has the potential to be something special. Here’s hoping Bioware have listened to the feedback, and implemented fixes ready for Friday's Open Beta.
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