Our first taste of BioWare’s upcoming Anthem

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For those of you not in the know, BioWare’s upcoming release, Anthem, has just finished it’s open demo weekend. We downloaded it to give you guys the low-down. 

Originally announced at E3 2017, we got to see a bit more at last years 2018 event and it has been high on the list of anticipated releases ever since. Described on EA’s website as a “vast, ever-changing world features unpredictable conditions, hazards, and enemies. Over time, Anthem will develop and expand – introducing unique stories, challenges, and world-shaking events. This world is both beautiful and deadly – and will test you on each expedition you embark on with your Freelancer team.” There are apparently three main ways to play the game; Missions, Stronghold and Free-play. Whilst traversing the world in one of four customisable “Javelins”, you can go it alone, or in teams of up to four. This straight away gives off a very Destiny-style vibe but will it hold up and deliver more than Bungie’s offering?

It’s very easy from the get-go to see why there is such a comparison to Destiny. The demo dropped us in to a main-hub, very the same vein as the Tower, where there are interactive NPC’s to help with weapon and Javelin upgrading/customisation, along with storyline advancing characters.

It must be said the demo drops you in at a slightly advanced point in the game, we were at level 10, rather than the very start so it took a few minutes to figure out exactly what was going on, however, the basis of the first demo mission was to hunt down a manifold. The “Ranger” Javelin is the default for the demo, so we suit up.

ranger jav

You’re given a choice of difficulty levels, among other things, before you set off including some crazy looking +3000% damage increases that will be unlockable in the main game the higher the level you are (called GrandMaster levels), but we stuck for normal difficulty for now.

One difference to it’s Destiny counter-part (we’re trying not to directly compare these two) is that at the start of missions, you are put in to a team of four automatically, regardless if you’re playing with friends or not, rather than starting alone, although this may be different in mission by mission in the main game. So off we set with our new found buddies, hoping, jumping and randomly firing our weapons trying to figure out what button does what…….and the main thing, how do we fly!! (hint, press down the L3 stick on PS4…..it took us a little while to figure out). Now, where do we go? This isn’t actually as obvious as it should be. You do get a hub with indicators on it at the top centre of the screen, however, the “destination icon” is yellow on the compass hub whilst blue on the main screen which is a bit odd….why the difference? There were also very few other hints about what we actually had to do other than to follow these mis-matching indicators. One slightly annoying feature that did ease off later once we got used to the game was that if you got “lost” from your comrades, a rather long loading screen appears to suddenly drop you back with them. Saying that, most of the loading screens are actually quite long from what we experienced which kind of ruins the flow and breaks the immersion for what seems too long at times.

There have been mentions from other players about frame rate issues. We were playing this on the PS4 and whilst there were a few drops, they weren’t overly problematic and not all that regular. The graphics though are very good and the Javelins in particular are nicely detailed. There is a bit of a blur when turning around quickly in the main base, however this may get sorted before release.

anthem battle

The first enemies we came across actually surprised us a bit. They are a little harder to defeat than maybe you’d expect. This is definitely not a bad thing as (sorry, another comparion) some of the Destiny “pawns” can seem just too easy whereas these guys hold out for a decent amount of time whilst dealing some worthwhile damage in return.

One quite big bug that has been mentioned a lot is the disappearing enemies. We experienced it fairly often and yes it was annoying. It also felt at times that we were getting shot from no-where. This may sound like we’re making excuses for being rubbish and sometimes that probably was the reason, but, recovering behind a rock seemed to offer no cover and bullets felt like they passed straight through to hit us. Maybe something else that needs to be sorted before release, but this seems like it’ll be more difficult to rectify in the next couple of weeks.

Not to go in to too much further detail about the mission as to not give anything away, it was fun to play and quite challenging but you do get the feeling that it could get very repetitive if this is the general sort of missions (go in, kill the bad guys, go back to base) we’ll have in the main game. Will there be any diversity? We hope so as this was a big issue Destiny struggles to overcome.

strongholds

Stongholds! Now this will be the game mode that we think will be the most fun. Described by EA themselves as “The most difficult adventures in Anthem. Strongholds are similar to Dungeons, but are longer and more challenging. Designed to push your skills to their absolute limits, Strongholds repay your bravery with even greater rewards. As Strongholds are the most demanding challenge, available to only experienced Freelancers, you’ll need to take them on with a full squad.” 

It took us around 90 minutes to complete the demo level (not including the server dropout immediately after beating the boss on the first go) although this was done after two players dropped out, leaving just us and one other hardy member to take down the oversized spider. The loot that you pick up from these style missions though is a “Haul of Legends” so they say. We shudder at the thought of the GrandMaster difficulties.

This brings us to one of our last points though, it looks like there will be loot boxes available to buy at some point. With a coin system in place to customise the Javelins, it lends itself perfectly for these cosmetics to be bought. If it stays as cosmetic upgrades then so be it, we can put up with that, it’s when gameplay is affected by them that it’ll rub everyone up the wrong way.

javelin

So what did we find out from the demo weekend? Well there are definitely some pro’s but also some con’s:-

Pro’s

  • Visually beautiful
  • Challenging difficulty levels
  • Responsive controls
  • Minimal “pawn” enemies
  • Bosses feel satisfying to beat
  • Easy to play as a single player or as a group
  • Fly like Iron-Man
  • Apparently, over time, Anthem will develop and expand – introducing unique stories, challenges, and world-shaking events.

Con’s

  • Long loading times that can break immersion
  • Server drop-outs
  • Frame-rate issues
  • Potential lack of diverse missions
  • Potentially repetitive game-play (i.e constantly gunning down hoards of enemies)
  • Disappearing enemies and various other little bugs

Can we forgive some of the above con’s? Maybe, they do still have a few weeks to tweak the bugs and apparently this demo was from a game state of around 6 weeks ago, so maybe they have been solved already. Will these be outweighed by the pro’s? Potentially. We’re hopeful as it was fun to play but we’ve seen with games like Destiny that there are traps that this genre has to avoid and a successful release will hinge on this.

Overall, honestly, we may avoid this as a Day-1 purchase as the bugs and other teething problems may take a little longer to overcome with the release only a couple of weeks away. However, Anthem will rely on a community from Day 1 for it to work, but we’re hopeful of a good game in the long run so we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on how things play out.

Anthem launches February 22, 2019 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. Early Access begins on February 15 for Origin Access and EA Access members.

— CryoGenik_

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