Brace your Javelin’s kids. This isn’t going to be pretty.
I have to start this impression with a small amount of anger. I was excited for Anthem. Not because of the very obvious voiced-over E3 demo which was fooling literally nobody, but mostly because Bioware’s reputation has a good weight (despite Andromeda) and might be able to create a Destiny with a more compelling story, toppling the throne they took just because nobody else was about to sit on it.
Which then annoyed me to no end when EA spend 4 hours trying to dig up enough servers to let every VIP get on. They must have known how many VIP’s there were. Why was this an issue? They did manage to find servers though, probably taking them from Battlefront 2 because it’s pretty likely that nobody is playing that anymore. But I don’t think you came here to hear about my gripes with EA’s server preparation. You came here to listen to my opinion about Anthem.
So here’s the squeeze: Anthem is likely to topple Destiny. But not because Anthem is miles better. In fact from what time I have had with it Anthem really only scrambles out in front because of a far more compelling and well-presented story, and it squanders other avenues.
I know the pitchforks are already ready, and EA is probably trying to figure out a way to fire me right now. But hear me out here before you light up that wicker man. Anthem does nothing to set itself apart in terms of gameplay. It is the same cookie-cutter experience which after the first few hours is going to feel boring as hell to people who enjoy more story focused games. This is not some open-world shooter though, this is a game that is looking to expect hundreds of hours from you, and if the gameplay does not develop or grow for you then you are only being dragged forward by the hope you can soon close the book on the story.
The trailers thankfully did not lie in this regard, and Anthem is at the core a 3rd person shooter. The variation you get is in approach. Primarily you can choose different Javelins to pilot, and equip them with various different weapons and equipment to shoot and commit special attacks with.
We will take the basic Javelin given to you as an example. You are given two firearms of your choice to play with and the selection is nothing special: Pistol, assault rifle, shotgun, light machine gun, and other standard issue weaponry. Over time you’ll gather more weapons with various stat boosts and if this is sounding familiar it’s because the system feels pretty similar to the system in Destiny. Alongside this your other equipment is a wrist-mounted rocket for quick damage on a locked target; a grenade which you can throw with a relative degree of control; a portable shield to throw down to let your party gather inside and soak some damage, and a missile barrage as your special attack for when you just want to win by sheer volume of missiles. You do get a melee attack too but don’t think you can run a melee build here, the attack does require some charge time before using again.
You have a limited number of missions in the demo but the breakdown is pretty similar. You head to a location, blast several enemies into small piles of ash and gore and continue this process around any roadblocks you may have. The first mission I played had me do the process of ‘head here and kill’ three times and by the third time I was already quite disappointed with the lack of variety. If you want to break it down in that sense it was: Go here, go here and kill, defend this and kill, go here and kill, defend here (though no enemies turned up and I suspect a glitch happened, which I confirmed later) go back to the first place, kill some more, complete a puzzle.
Now two things stand out in the gameplay routine in the demo so far: The puzzles and the verticality of the game. The puzzle focused on finding various runes around the room and inputting them in the correct sequence. While it was a shame this was not in the middle of the mission and used as a break from the constant travel and shooting, the puzzle made good use of your verticality and required you to really search for the answers. I applaud this addition though its use could likely be better.
The verticality is somewhat of a missed trick with a game that lets you fly around in jetpacks. While you will have to fly up, down and everywhere to get to your objectives the actual shootouts are dealt with pretty much on the horizontal plane. Launching yourself around is a blast and you can still use your flying to move around the battle at a pace but most battles will require you to cower and shoot, particularly if it’s just you as I am pretty certain the game does not scale the difficulty to the number of players.
To show off a little of what I’ve spoken about I’ve got some gameplay recorded and hopefully it can be stuck in here for you to see. Otherwise I’ll just take the opportunity to move on to the non-gameplay half of the game.
In the City
Now there is not much story in the demo. You get a few missions and for the sake of spoilers I am not going to speak in detail about anything about the story itself. The characters themselves that you can interact with are unique from each other, all having different personalities and behaviours. There are not many characters, but that has the benefit of allowing the characters to be developed deeply and allow you to remember each and every person you need to.
The city itself feels somewhat alive. You can tell walking around people have their place and they tend not to travel around much and the aim to develop a sense of life is done through population over activity. The city is also not big, and while there has been talk of allowing sprinting in the city due to the slow walking speed of the character I find that the relaxed pace is a good offset from the more hectic gameplay.
The city also offers all of the shop and customisation options for your Javelin. Now I cannot speak in great detail about what the shops and the in-game economy is like because EA have not inserted that for the demo. To quote them:
- The cosmetic items in the demo are NOT FINAL and the prices as well as specific items available should not be reported on as they’re not representative of the final game.
- The economy will differ from the final game. This includes: the earn rate on XP, items, Coins, and access to certain customization options.
- You will start the demo with 100 Coin, to allow you to customize your javelin’s cosmetics.
- For simplicity, each item in the demo costs 25 Coins. In the main game, the price of those items will be different.
What was available was some armour options for the Javelin. You can customise your helmet, chest piece, arms, and the material and colour of each one. That is plenty enough for each of you to have a unique armour set and considering that it was already advertising to me when I loaded up the game for the demo there are plenty of plans to include more options.
It is hard to not feel the DNA of Destiny throughout this game. That’s fairly understandable as Anthem is trying to topple its throne. But to beat another game at its own game you need to do things better.
Now Anthem honestly does not really feel like it does things significantly better than Destiny. In fact, the current issue that the game does not seem to adapt difficulty does not really place it in my good books. What it could stand out with, the flying allowing vertical gameplay and the puzzles, do not seem to be used to their full potential in the demo.
What does let this game stand out is the story, and that is probably what is going to pull this game ahead. Bioware have poured a lot of work in the story and watching it unfold in the full game will probably be what pushes me to buy it. Who knows maybe the full game employs vertical gameplay a lot more and the puzzles will be better placed, my worries are all for nothing.
Despite my fairly cynical approach the open beta is next week and I encourage you to get in and give the game a go for yourself. These impressions are mine and I’m quite cynical by nature. Anthem is going to be quite divisive – you are going to love it or hate it very quickly. If you don’t love it early chances are you won’t survive much past the main story, and the open beta lets you figure out where you sit without throwing money down the drain.