Shelby: Jennifer and I were able to sit down and play the Anthem demo here recently, in the weeks leading up to the launch in February. We weren’t in on the VIP demo because we didn’t pre-order it (is it even a demo if you already bought it?), but luckily Bioware and EA gave everyone a chance to try it out without having to spend money on it.
It should be sufficient to say that our minds are made up.
Anthem seems like it’s an answer to something. It’s answering EA’s call to having a game like Destiny that’s all their own. If anything, Bioware seemed to pull this off by creating something that definitely has the live-service design ironed out. The problem is that Bioware seemed to commit many of the same errors that Bungie made with the original Destiny.
Dense lore with little explanation? Check. Clear signs of heavy monetization? Check. A gameplay world divorced from the storytelling world? Check.
I will say that Bioware did a much better job at delivering a story in a more palatable manner, but I’m still not even a little close to understanding what the hell is going on, and that translated to the way the demo introduces players to the gameplay. Where most games ease you in, it appears that Anthem just hands you a Javelin and leaves you to figure it out on your own. I can see where this sort of approach could be preferable, but after starting the first mission you have access to in the demo, I started running into problems.
It was never shown that I could equip a secondary weapon, but I figured it out nonetheless. Jennifer was running a little behind, so she ended up jumping into my game without getting a chance to equip any extra gear. Thankfully, her character was working correctly at least. Mine on the other hand showed up to the explorable world without a head. No, not missing a helmet… His entire head. I had first considered this to be a cosmetic issue and ignored it, but I quickly realized that I was experiencing other issues too. My grenades weren’t exploding, my weapon ability didn’t work at all, and I couldn’t use my Ultimate at all.
In case you’re wondering, Ultmates are Anthem’s version of Destiny’s Supers. It’s a powerful ability on a long cooldown, and it can be extremely useful in situations where you’re required to face off against hordes of enemies, which is evidently a common occurrence in Anthem. Unfortunately for me, it didn’t work.
Our gameplay went much smoother on the second mission, with me having access to all my abilities, and Jennifer having a secondary weapon finally. However, with our full arsenal available, we also had to contend with tougher combat. It seems obvious that Bioware fully intends Anthem to be a multiplayer-centric game, despite making claims that it’d be just as playable solo as it would with others. I’d file that away as only a suspicion, except that if you attempt to play a mission with anything less than four players, Anthem reminds you that it’s best played with others. To further hammer the intention to play Anthem with others instead of alone, you can’t jump into Freeplay by yourself; you’re required to join a Public lobby with randos.
Of course, that isn’t to say that Anthem doesn’t have its high points. It’s actually quite beautiful. The environments are often breathtaking, and the world is highly detailed. Javelins feel powerful and the weapons pack a satisfying punch. Bioware seems to have fully leveraged the Frostbite engine to create a game that pushes current hardware to its limits, which is evident considering how poorly it seems to run on even an Xbox One X. I know that PC players have a better time with the game at least.
Admittedly, I’m incredibly cynical about Anthem. Hot off the heels of what used to be the success of Destiny and its sequel, Anthem seems to want to be Electronic Arts’ attempt to capitalize on a burgeoning market.
Of course, it’s possible that things will improve at launch, and afterward as well. It’s just a little surprising that something being marketed as a demo feels more like an actual beta, considering the litany of connection issues and bugs. Bioware has a good pedigree with story-based games, so they might be able to pull this off, but it’s just a little disconcerting that there’s so much emphasis placed on multiplayer. I get it that this is a game centered around playing with others, but some of us have a hard time getting online with others.
Maybe there will be something in it for people like Jennifer and I who are looking for more than just another Destiny.
Now It’s My Turn
Jennifer: When Shelby and I first saw the Anthem trailer, he was dismissive and I was interested. I have always been a huge fan of the Halo series and I have a weak spot for space sci-fi games and movies. I thought, ignorantly, that Anthem would fill the hole inside my video game heart where my love for Halo once was (I still love Halo but it’s not the same to play it when you’re not wasting hours away in matchmaking with your friends).
As time went on and we began to hear more about Anthem and learn about what the creators were intending for the game, it became clear what the real intent was: to be the next Destiny.
Which is a huge loss for Bioware/EA and a giant disappoint for fans who love games like Halo or Mass Effect.
Now, let me say that I enjoyed Destiny. I have played the first, and even the expansions, then later played the sequel. I didn’t waste a ton of hours playing the game, but it was enjoyable. The downside for Destiny was the lack of an in-depth story and too much jargon that the player doesn’t understand. Too much of the backstory and lore was obtained through codexes you find instead of through the gameplay.
Shelby loves to read all the little things he can find in his games. He once told me he read every book in Oblivion and Skyrim (but he won’t read a real life book).
That’s not fair… I read… Sometimes…
I do love in-game lore, but I much prefer it to complement the story, not exist in lieu of one. The original Mass Effect trilogy is a perfect example of how to do this right.
Those kinds of things interest him. Me? Not so much. I don’t play my video games to read everything about the storylines that happen in between what is currently happening. I read books in bed before falling into a deep slumber, or when it’s raining, or while I wait for a movie to start, or… you get the idea.
Reading backstory for my game isn’t what I find enjoyable. I don’t want to buy an almost $70 book, though I totally would if it was really worth it. A book for that price would have to have the most incredible story and be like five thousand pages long, so why are my games that much but have stories I could write in a weekend? That’s not okay.
Back to Anthem. It compares strongly to Destiny because it’s basically Destiny 2.0. What makes it like Destiny? Hmmm. Well you have to have a team of four to get anything done in the game, you have a main hub where all of the role-playing takes place (no danger), then the fighting area where all the fighting and missions take place, you have dancing emotes (WHY?), you have different classes of
Guardians Javelins, the story is obscure and not fleshed out, lots of story jargon that no one understands or will ever understand, and everything that is happening is mystical and no one understands what is going on…
Like I said, Destiny 2.0.
When we first hopped into the demo, the first thing that I realized was that I was going to spend an absurd amount of time in loading screens. Holy loading screens. They’re everywhere, they’re constant, and they take SUCH A LONG TIME. I understand that it’s a big game, but have you played God of War, Divinity Original Sin 2, or Uncharted 4? None of those games have the most obnoxious loading screens, but Anthem, a game being released in 2019, does.
The second thing I noticed in Anthem was how beautiful the game is. The light hits all of the places just right which makes my screenshots super duper pretty and totally home screen worthy. I love my good graphics. I enjoy the pleasing aesthetics and the beauty of the art. This is one thing that draws me to the games that I play, but it is only one aspect that I enjoy thoroughly of my expensive video game.
I think I spent a lot of time earlier talking about this but I want to mention it again. The other thing that makes up the main reason why I jump into a game that is going to take me hours to beat is the story. I want to feel the emotional ties to my character and the world/people around my character. I want to cry when they cry and laugh when they laugh. I want them to be an extension of the ever constant story in my head. I can’t do that if the story is half-assed. If the story can be written in a weekend, it isn’t well thought out enough.
One of the biggest pain points of Anthem is the inability to play by yourself. Sure, they’ve said that it is possible to play solo but, have you played? Shelby and I started our first mission off on normal difficulty. We weren’t dying but holy hell those enemies swarm you like children on a chocolate cake – there isn’t any way you’re getting away from them. My shields would take a century and a half to recharge all the while I’m losing health and can’t get the hell away from these enemies. And forget running far enough away to lick your wounds to come back, if you’re in a mission the game won’t let you leave the area – it will warn you for half a second, pop you into a loading screen, and then kick you back into the field… Yay.
After that first mission, we changed the difficulty to easy – which is when Shelby broke the news to me. You get penalized on what you get in game (experience points and goodies) if you reduce your difficulty level… What?
So I’m penalized for not wanting to play a game with a bunch of twelve year-olds? What a freakin’ joy.
Yes, let me continue to play a game that tells me I shouldn’t enjoy a game on the easiest difficulty because the developers said so. To that, I give you my middle finger.
Another thing to bite my thumb at is the ridiculous cost of on stupid garbage like skins for your Javelin suit (as though you haven’t already spent enough). You can spend up to 20 U.S. dollars on one skin… One. Skin. Not that it enhances anything, oh no, solely on the fact that it looks cool. We aren’t making this up ladies and gentleman, we are now in the age of the five year-old developers who thought sticking a LEGO up their nose was a good idea.
Another part of video game enjoyment is getting to know my character. In Anthem, your character goes nameless (you are simply Freelancer – whatever the hell that means) and you never get to see your face… You can see yourself running through the Hub though, like you’ve got a full diaper and you gotta get to the bathroom real fast. There are no mirrors throughout the Hub and no way for you to ever get a glimpse of what your character looks like. Even Destiny allowed you to choose some facial presets for your character (I liked being a blue lady).
Anthem is trying to be a shooter/RPG like Mass Effect, but Mass Effect integrated the shooting and RPG styles seamlessly. Anthem feels like it belongs in the Call of Duty crowd. Any choices that you make are inconsequential which makes this game a straight shooter. It is certainly trying to be an RPG, it wants to be an RPG but it’s not ever going to get there.
All-in-all, the graphics are brilliant but the game falls flat when it comes to story and gameplay. It is not immersive and is just another point and shoot game.
At the end of the day, I won’t be buying Anthem for the full asking price. I will wait a few months when it is significantly cheaper and buy it then.
I won’t say that Anthem won’t make some or most gamers happy, it just won’t sate gamers who are looking for something more than a shooter.
With Anthem just around the corner, I don’t think that Jennifer and I are sold. Bioware’s new game feels like someone had the thought “What if Destiny, but Iron Man!”, and EA execs the world over salivated at the thought of monetizing a live-service of their own. It can be fun, and maybe even more fun with others, but my stance on games that require other players to be fun is that almost any game can be fun with others.
Anthem doesn’t strike me as something that can stand on its own, and the derivative nature isn’t doing it any favors. I’d say wait, but that’s just me.
What are your thoughts about Anthem? Is the demo a good sell of the game? It may not be what we’re looking for, but does it seem like something worth the price at launch to you?
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