Anthem just finished its VIP weekend, giving players who pre-ordered the upcoming open-world sci-fi shooter from Bioware a chance to jump in their Javelin’s and explore the world.
Unfortunately, the first day was rough, to say the least. Initially opening at 4am AEST, server issues plagued the title, creating a roll-on effect to other EA services. It was several hours before players could even successfully load into the game, and workarounds continued to be the norm for the remainder of the weekend, including having to relaunch the game client multiple times just to access missions, infinite loading screens, the game crashing, rubber banding… you get the picture.
But I’m not here to talk about that. I’m not going to spend a long time complaining about server trouble and challenges around their online infrastructure at this stage. Yes, it was frustrating – but there’s another open weekend to come in a few days, then the early access launch on February 15 followed by the official full launch on February 22nd. They’ve got three weeks to sort this out, and I have faith that they will. So, now we’re past all that – how is Anthem, anyway?
Loading in to the games hub world, Fort Tarsis, it’s full of NPC’s going about their day, characters you can chat with and access to the core functions of the experience. The conversations I had were engaging and it was nice that my character actually had a voice of his own, too. Some dialogue options appear during these chats, but the ones in the demo were pretty casual so I’m not sure if there is a ripple effect – still, it leaves me hopeful that Bioware can do what they do best and create some meaningful and memorable character interactions.
My criticism of the Fort Tarsis is that, in a first-person perspective, there’s no way to speed up the slow walk of your character. Just a bit quicker would have made navigating it a bit more palatable, as you physically need to walk to your Javelin and climb into it before you can access the map and choose where you want to take your next adventure.
“…once you’re soaring through the gorgeously lush world with ease going from quest to quest, its fluidity is impressive and addictive.”
Partying up with friends is relatively easy in theory, but with the flaws of the weekend a little tricky in practice. Still, all the functionality required seems logical and should work once all systems are go. Once you’ve loaded in to the map, whether it’s a mission, dungeon or free play, this is where Anthem truly shines and makes you feel like a certified badass.
Flying especially is responsive and feels incredible. It may take you a few moments to get used to, but once you’re soaring through the gorgeously lush world with ease going from quest to quest, its fluidity is impressive and addictive. Marvel’s Spider-Man got mad props for its movement, and I’d put Anthem in the exact same category.
On the ground, it’s the combat that feels punchy and effective. There’s an oomph to every shot and explosion, accentuated by some stunning and vibrant particle effects that make everything feel super impactful. The screen shakes with ultimate attacks, enemies get taken down in a ballet of fire, electricity and damage text. It’s something that they nailed so well in fact, I certainly didn’t mind replaying missions with different squads, just because it was so enjoyable.
Exploring the open world for things to do is entertaining, and while they weren’t marked on the map, I found myself regularly stumbling across enemies and world events and am curious to see how much there is to do once the full map opens up on launch. The missions seemed tight, good for quick experiences and with different difficulties as an option to challenge yourself as you get stronger.
The Stronghold in the Anthem demo was easily the best taste of what the final product will deliver though. A series of missions that takes around 30 minutes (or more if you’re struggling), these act as the dungeons that will bring with them a bit more of a challenge, and require teamwork and coordination to complete. Finishing off with an intense boss battle, it makes me eager to tackle them on higher difficulty settings and really test my squad.
I like the difference between how each Javelin handles, as well. Starting off with the Ranger, which is easily the most versatile of the four, flying around and shooting rockets felt seamless, able to evade attacks if need be and dart around the battlefield. My next Javelin, Colossus, was a different beast altogether. Sturdy, weighty and strong, Colossus uses brute force instead of agility, with a shield to defend itself against oncoming attacks. I preferred to get close-range in this instance, but this took a lot more getting used to (with a bit more of a learning curve) than the Ranger I started with.
Different abilities and weapons are available with each class, but once you’ve got the build you like figured out, the demo only gave a sense that it was a matter of upgrading from one number to another in terms of “power”. Rarer drops often had a higher increase in damage, so I’m definitely hoping for some more variety when Anthem releases. It’s hard to say what they were holding back from the demo to give us a taste, as there is also crafting involved, and there’ll hopefully be other elements that come into play during later stages and endgame.
I’m reading a lot of people online – other game journalists included – calling out EA and Bioware for the weekend being in such a bad state. A chief complaint is that they called it a “demo” when really it played more like a “beta test”. Isn’t that all just semantics, though? Call it whatever makes you feel better, but Bioware have been incredibly responsive to fans on Reddit and in other forums about the flaws of the weekend and what they’re looking to fix. It’s easy to drag EA over the coals because “LOL EA”, right?
But maybe instead of doing that… instead of looking at this from the most negative angle possible and complaining about the failure, we should be hoping for its success. The foundations of an incredible game are right there, and some glitches during what is essentially their first test is par for the course. Just a thought.