PREVIEW: Anthem Demos 1 & 2 - TheEffect.Net’s Thoughts Ahead Of The Release
Anthem is the first major online multiplayer game from studio BioWare, of Mass Effect and Dragon Age fame, a shooter that falls roughly in the vein of The Division and Destiny. Set in a sci-fi world overrun with alien monsters, you’ll play as a Freelancer, teaming up with other players and fighting to keep humanity safe in a Javelin armor suit.
BioWare is a studio best known for thoughtful, character-driven single-player RPGs, and its storytelling chops have rarely been in doubt (well, up until the poorly received Mass Effect: Andromeda at least), but the studio’s games have rarely been sold on the strength of their combat.
The energy leading into Anthem’s pair of demo weekends felt so good. There were a few reasons for this, the communication coming from the development team, developer and publisher was very strong and some could argue that even the fact there was not one but two demos weekends. All this felt like a huge sign of confidence. Because why else would Electronic Arts and Bioware want people to play if not to convert skeptics into true believers?
Then the troubles began. It’s fair to say that Anthem’s playable public debut during the VIP Demo didn’t go smoothly. The VIP demo was scheduled to run from Friday morning through the weekend, but due to widespread connection issues and infinite loading screens, the greater conversation around BioWare’s shared-world looter shooter was mostly limited to whether it was busted or not.
But everything EA had shown from Anthem has been about the combat, the powers, the movement: how the game feels to play, rather than the big structural stuff that BioWare might normally push.
And after sitting down with the game ourselves it’s easy to see why. At first, it feels like a pretty basic third-person shooter. You aim with left trigger, and fire with right. The shoulder bumpers fire off special abilities – a frost grenade and pulse blast in the Ranger – and if you build up enough energy you can fire off an ultimate attack – a rocket salvo in this case. There are four styles of Javelin to choose from – Ranger, Storm, Colossus and Interceptor – all with varying strengths, weaknesses and special abilities.
Depending on your play style, each Javelin can be tailor-made to fit that specific style.
If you want to be a jack-of-all-trades type of player, choose the Ranger. Conversely, if you want to deal and take massive damage at the expense of speed, then the Colossus is the Javelin for you, and so on.
Each Javelin is unique, so no two are the same. You can also have up to five different setups per Javelin for a total of 20 different loadouts across the four Javelin types.
On top of that, how you implement certain gameplay mechanics could ultimately prove to be the deciding factor between success and failure during your expeditions. For instance, knowing how different elements damage your Javelin in Anthem is crucial.
If your Javelin is on fire, you will not be able to use your jetpack and fly away from combat as it is “overheated.” Should your Javelin be frozen, on the other hand, that leaves you immobile and vulnerable to attack for several seconds, leading to hectic button-mashing to unfreeze yourself. Subtle details like that make customizing your Javelin and choosing what consumable you use before each expedition that much more important.
As such, the customization in Anthem is very deep. You can customize almost every aspect of your Javelin. From weapons, component slots and support gear to colors, vinyl and the amount of wear and tear it shows, almost every facet of your Javelin can be made just for you.
Though the latter three are strictly for aesthetic purposes, the former three are very important as the damage rating of those weapons and gear, either obtained through loot or crafting, dictate your Javelin’s rarity. These can range from Common, Uncommon, Rare, Epic and Masterwork.
Moreover, once you’ve customized your Javelin to your liking, it is very easy to hop into missions. Once you enter your Javelin in Fort Tarsis, you can explore the world in free play, take on specific missions or attack a stronghold with other Freelancers. All of the aforementioned activities can be done with three other players as well, which help you gain Alliance XP for added bonuses at the end of each mission.
If you were to be dropped from a session (which happened a lot to everyone during the demo), you could rejoin the same session once you reached the home screen. That is an invaluable anti-frustration tool that BioWare included, especially if you get dropped during a crucial moment in a mission or stronghold.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of my Anthem experience can be summed up in five words: “The server has shut down.” Whether it was at the start of my expedition or towards the end, I would always be wary of what I was doing because, at any moment, I could be dropped from the session due to server issues. Worse, the game would just randomly crash and send me back to my console’s home screen, and this happened repeatedly.
Even though these issues are to be expected due to the heavy traffic and the fact that it’s a demo, it’s disappointing nonetheless to spend 30-plus minutes progressing through a stronghold, only to be dropped once the boss appears.
That said, that is something that BioWare needs to work on as the release date gets closer.
Although my time playing Anthem was fraught with server issues and whatnot, I did really enjoy my experience. The depth of the game takes a bit of getting used to; but, over time, it will be almost second nature. Hopefully, all the kinks will be ironed out and all the bugs squashed when Anthem releases.
Should you buy Anthem?
Right now I say you should. I’ve not had the chance to dive too deeply into Anthem’s story, progression and loot systems, so it’s way too early to judge the game’s long-term potential, but that’s the stuff that BioWare is basically good at, whereas combat is what they’re typically not. So the fact that this time the gunplay and movement feels so phenomenal gives us hope that Anthem could be very special indeed.
So what did rest of TheEffect.net team think:
I’m going to come straight out and say it; I really enjoyed my time with the two Anthem demos. BioWare are one of the best RPG developers out there and I was really interested to see where they we’re going to next with this brand new IP. I know EA are under a lot of flack over the last couple of months but this is a BioWare game and their creativity and level detail really needs to be commended here.
Having played both the ‘VIP Demo’ and public demo on their respective weekends, I got a chance to jump into the role of a ‘Freelancer’ at level 10 and take on a few missions with some online companions. The visuals were, understandably, the first thing that caught my eye but, unfortunately, this was after quite a few long periods of loading screens. I know betas are there to help developers iron out the final creases in a game before it hits its launch date but these loading screens were on my screen a lot more than I would like them to have been and I’m not sure how much tweaking can help reduce their stay.
Once in though, the gameplay, and in particular when using one of the ‘Javelins’ was really good fun and, playing on an Xbox One X on a 4K HDR display, everything looked pin sharp and vividly detailed. The controls were intuitive (once I actually learned what buttons did what) and the mission structures was straight forward enough to make everything enjoyable and streamlined.
A couple areas where I had issues were with the visibility in the underwater sequences and the audio would cut out from time to time on a few of weapons. These, I imagine are something that will be corrected when the full release of the game arrives but, overall, I had a really good time teaming up with fellow ‘Freelancers’ for my first taste of BioWare’s newest AAA IP.
I’m definitely going to give Anthem a proper go when the full game arrives on the 22nd February.
With almost all big AAA titles being released these days, I hold off on getting too excited as many times before I have gotten my hopes up for what I was thinking was going to be the next big thing in gaming, however most of the time I end up with a taste of disappointment in my mouth.
Anthem, EA and Bioware’s best chance at making a good start to 2019 after EA’s not so good end to 2018, is one of these games where I was sceptical around all the hype but
to be totally honest after getting a few hours of gameplay during the VIP and public demos my fears have subsided for now. Its true that the start of the VIP demo got off to a rocky start with nearly all players struggling to connect, when these issues were eventually sorted the game itself took centre stage and for me it did not disappoint.
From my initial time flying around the beautiful open world that Anthem provides, to getting a bit more into the games mechanics of customising Javelins and learning a bit more of the lore behind the game, I can safely say that if anything, now I am more eager for the full launch. Aspects of other similar games are evident throughout and some comparisons are more than a coincidence, but all together it seems as though Bioware have hit what seems to be a homerun on many factors, be it the “cool” factor of having Iron-man like robot suits to fighting large alien monsters with your friends through co-op play.
Lastly I am glad to see the developers and members of the production team on social media addressing people’s questions after the demo weekends. Issues such as walking speed when out of your javelin, to fellow players and teammates being sometimes hard to see on the mini-map are all being resolved. This is refreshing to see, as often when we get to play pre-release and beta versions of games, there doesn’t seem to be any difference from the final product. This will not be the case for Anthem as EA and Bioware have focused heavily on feedback from the gaming community to put the final polish on what seems set to be one of the biggest games of 2019.
Anthem for me is going to be a ‘wait and see’ game. With one weekend spent admiring the font choices and lovely title screen due to network errors on EA’s side, I had limited time to get a sense of the game in weekend 2. You’re thrown in with no context if you haven’t been following the build up, walking into the town square and into a suit.
The missions I played reminded me of Destiny 1, go here – shoot this – get that. While the graphics and gameplay were impressive and I’ll forgive any bugs given it was a beta, I quickly felt bored battling a boss for 20 minutes with little reward and team-mates who had disconnected not being removed from the playing field. That meant a lot of time was wasted reviving teammates and generally not being fun. I do hope that EA can deliver on what they’ve promised and build a world that lives and breathes and most crucially, gives you a reason to play and explore.
When can you pick up Anthem?
Anthem and its Javelins launch on February 22nd, 2019, for all the major platforms, but there are some opportunities to play early as well. On February 15th, subscribers to EA’s Origin Access Premier service on PC can play the full game early, and EA Access subscribers on Xbox One and Origin Access Basic subscribers can play the first 10 hours.