Man, what a time to be a fan of looter shooters! The Division 2 is on the way, Warframe continues to get better over time, Destiny 2 is still getting consistent updates, and now we have Anthem on approach.
I’ve been itching to write about Anthem for a while, ever since my time with the closed alpha back in December. Plus, the VIP demo from a couple of weeks ago had so many technical hiccups and glitches that I just didn’t feel comfortable talking about it until I had another chance with it. Thankfully, the open demo managed to fix many of those issues and I got plenty of hands-on time with the game.
With that said, this latest demo had a lot of things that are ultimately going to be changed or altered in some way upon full release and there were at least a few problems that BioWare confirmed are no longer an issue in some of the newer builds of the game. I’m looking at you super slow movement speed in Fort Tarsis!
All in all, it’s difficult to really talk about knowing all of this, so instead of offering my thoughts on every aspect of the demo, I’m also going to weave in some thoughts on what I’m hoping to see when the full game launches.
Regardless, here are my thoughts. Let’s dive in!
So for those who may not be aware, Anthem is EA and BioWare’s answer to action-RPG style games like Destiny. It’s a third-person shooter where players can customize four different classes, which are called javelins here. As expected, you use these javelins to fight bad guys, find new loot, and gain XP to unlock new abilities.
RPG Elements, NPCs, and Fort Tarsis
Anthem is also a game that’s fairly different from the studio’s previous games like Dragon Age, KOTOR, and Mass Effect. There seems to be less emphasis on character relationships, in terms of branching conversations and the whole light/dark/paragon/renegade playthrough. I knew that going in, but I still got the sense that BioWare wants you to care about the people you see and work with. The NPCs at Fort Tarsis are well animated, well voice acted, and generally seem interesting.
While it seems like you can only talk to specifically marked people (no random NPCs), the conversation typically flows in a specific direction. Every now and again, you may get a choice on what to say, but it’s nowhere near as complex as BioWare’s past games. You basically get two options and neither seems to have a major impact in a paragon/renegade sort of way.
I couldn’t get a good sense of the story or anything due to the fact that the demo plops you in the middle of it so I was a bit lost on what was going on or who these people were in relation to my character. That said, I liked what I experienced, so I’m eager to see how we, as players, get to this point from the start.
For you lore nuts out there, BioWare has placed semi-hidden codexes around Fort Tarsis to collect, letting you learn more about the world, characters, enemies, and plenty more. Even though you can’t have wildly complex conversations with characters, it seems like you’re still going to be able to learn about the world of Anthem as much as you want through these.
I also appreciate the fact that Fort Tarsis evolves with you. When you start out, it’s a desolate place, mostly devoid of people. As you play, more people and NPCs appear and the place eventually fills out, shops open, and it turns into a bustling city marketplace. I don’t know if it’s all based on story progress or if you have any impact on evolving the city, but I hope you can buy/upgrade things to help build it up similar to the Base of Operations in The Division. I don’t know, I enjoy stuff like that in these types of games.
I will say that I was disappointed to not have access to a skill tree, though I don’t think BioWare made it available in the demo. Players find loot in the world from guns and javelin abilities out in the world which can then be customized from the Forge. Unfortunately, you can’t change these loadouts while in a mission or in Freeplay. I was hoping that there would be some sort of change or swap section you could access while out in Freeplay because it is kind of annoying to have to quit out and go back to Fort Tarsis.
Javelins and Combat
The biggest draw in looter shooters like this are the different classes players can opt to be. Like The Division, Anthem does not lock you into a specific class. Instead, players unlock all four javelins as they play, and can switch between them. Even though they all can fly and use guns, each one still manages to feel and play differently thanks in large part to their visual look and different abilities and specializations.
- The Storm is your typical glass cannon wizard, being able to stay airborne the longest and fire off damaging elemental attacks.
- The Colossus is the largest javelin and the tankiest of the bunch. For those who like to cause destruction and wield the biggest guns that the other three don’t get access to, this is the suit for you.
- The Ranger is the most “Iron Man” of the bunch and is the class all players start with. It’s the best all-around suit and is a good choice for all situations.
- Finally, the Interceptor is the fastest and lightest suit of the bunch. A melee-focused, almost ninja-style class, players can triple jump to help hit fast and get out in the blink of an eye.
Honestly, I had fun with each suit, though if I had to pick, the Storm would be my number one. I felt super powerful using this Javelin, hovering high above the battlefield shooting ice shards, causing fire damage, and unleashing devastating attacks to large groups of enemies. The Interceptor was my (surprising) second favorite suit because it’s unbelievably agile and I absolutely love the airborne spinning melee attack.
I absolutely love being able to fly and for me, it’s a game changer. Flying not only helps get you around the world faster but in combat, it opens up a ton of options. I stumbled into a dungeon during free play with elite enemies, clearly meant for higher level players. While it was very difficult to solo, I was able to keep moving or getting out of tight spots using both hover and fly in the combat arena. It’s fun and I found it to be fairly easy to use.
Combat felt like any normal third-person shooter, which is solid. In addition to fly and hover, each javelin has a dash style move, though for the Colossus it’s actually a deployable shield. There seems to be a ton of variety of guns available and the cooldown times on the Javelin abilities feels very fast, even the very cool ultimate abilities. In one story mission, I was able to use my ultimate multiple times, unlike Destiny where you’re lucky to trigger twice in one mission.
This is an area that BioWare seems to have focused a significant amount of development time on because the number of options in the demo were staggering. In addition to actual armor pieces that can be swapped out, players can also change the type of material that the javelin uses (metal, nylon, plastic, etc etc), the wear state of it, add decal patterns, and change the colors being used on nearly every inch of it.
Better yet, players can save multiple loadouts of each javelin so you don’t have to overwrite your amazing color scheme or custom Iron Man look. (Don’t hate, I actually made a pretty badass Iron Man Ranger and Hulk-style Colossus with the limited options in the demo build. Let your imagination run wild.)
This is likely an area of the game that will be a pleasant surprise for many players.
Freeplay and Matchmaking
I appreciate that BioWare makes every activity available for matchmaking. I’ve said it plenty of times before, but Destiny has always driven me crazy with their lack of matchmaking for certain things. I feel like I’m able to participate in and experience all content the game has to offer. I don’t need to first round up seven other friends and hope we’re all available at the same time just to run a specialized and difficult mission.
It was fast and easy to spawn in with a group, though I found it a bit interesting that the freeplay option, where you can simply explore the world, required matchmaking.
I kind of assumed that Freeplay just dumps you into the world and like one of the destinations in Destiny, you’d simply see other players running around as well. It’s not quite like that. Freeplay, like any other activity, matches you up with 3 other players and sends you out into the world. You can opt to fly with them or not, but it seems odd that I first have to matchmake and can’t just fly out into the world.
Also, I could be wrong, but if you decide to quit Freeplay, I think it quits it for everyone who matchmade in with you as well. That seemingly happened to me during one of the demo weekends and I have to imagine that isn’t intended because it’s super annoying. People should just be able to freely come in or leave as they want, I don’t want the session to terminate for everyone just because I want to stop.
I honestly don’t have a good sense of the size of the world. The demo seemed to only have one large area open as you could open the map and see other areas that were grayed out. Even though you could see the map, I can’t really say for sure how big it’s going to feel. I hope the world is big and diverse enough to keep people playing. Considering that one of its biggest competitors, Destiny, features multiple destinations (planets) to explore, even if some of them aren’t very exciting *cough*Mercury*cough*, Anthem will need to ensure that their one map has enough to do.
The map also shows off different dungeons and events going on so when you’re in free play, you’ll find plenty of things to do. Maybe I missed it, but it doesn’t tell you any details about it like what the recommended level should be before venturing inside.
Taken for what it is and technical demo issues aside, Anthem seems to be a well-made shooter. It has its fair share of issues, long load times for one, but I ultimately really enjoyed my time with the game. BioWare seems really dedicated to making this thing work, as evidenced by their quick turnaround time on fixing the myriad of technical issues during the VIP Demo weekend. That’s a good sign of things to come. At least these issues happened now so it hopefully better prepares them for launch.
As a live-service game, Anthem is in line to evolve over the weeks and months to come, so I’m curious to see what that entails. The Ash Titan in-game event at the end of the Open Demo was super cool and I’d love to see more unique situations like that randomly pop up from time to time.
From all three of my play sessions, I’d say I’m on-board with the game, even with the stellar looking Division 2 right on its heels in mid-March. Given BioWare’s pedigree, I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do with this style of game.