I have been both excited and hesitant about Anthem since it was first revealed. Most of my doubts came from the terrible launch of MASS Effect: Andromeda but trailers and gameplay trailers did give me some hope and right now I am really looking for another game I can team up with my friends and have at it. Everything about Anthem should tick all the boxes I like in gaming from playing in a fully customisable exo suit in the Javelins, an open sci-fi world and combat I can sink my teeth into. So, with my copy of Anthem pre-ordered I was ready to take part in the first public look at the game via the VIP Demo meant only for those who had pre-ordered and those who have subscribed to EA services. Well, it came to 5pm Friday January 25th and as I expected all the EA servers simply melted under the sheer volume of people trying to get into the demo. This would be the start of many issues with this demo, but I can say that after spending several hours in the demo, I am still quite hopeful for the full game.
Now by now the many issues with the VIP Demo across all platforms are well known and I will address them but for this preview I really want to focus on the gameplay itself as this was a demo or what it really was which was a massive test for the servers so focusing on those issues will not really help depending on how close to the final game release build this demo is based on. But they do need to be talked about and will do so before the end.
I will say that it was 14 hours since the demo went live on Friday evening, before I was able to get passed the main menu screen which is just nuts even for a server stress test. Once I did manage to actually get into the demo I actually really enjoyed the gameplay. The demo had a very small area to explore and be in and featured a short example of how story missing would flow and what I can only really describe as the Anthem version of what a Strike mission from Destiny plays like, an extended objective based ‘kill everything’ mission type. This was really a very limited demo and felt as though it was only really supposed to just give a taste of what to expect which I can understand, it gave you the opportunity to see the basics and foundations of the various systems in the game such as customisation, levelling up and working with different Javelin suit types.
You begin on Fort Tarsis, the human encampment which does feel a lot like the Tower on Destiny except you do not encounter any other players here. This is where you can interact with NPC characters who will act as stores and mission providers as well as having other lore type things to discover as you roam around in first person view. However, there was a lot of “not available in the demo” notices when trying to interact with people and sections which is understandable but it did make exploring Fort Tarsis pretty much redundant but you can see there will be places to find in the full game.
You interact with one character, well three identical people who identified as one person who made a request of you which created missions to do on the map, each came with some dialogue via a cutscene. I am really hoping that this is an early build of the game because it does seem as though no lessons have been learned form the facial animation issues with ME Andromeda, or this really was just a limited build as NPC characters looked very wooden, and some having random conversations as you walked around Fort Tarsis failed to have any facial animation at all despite having lines of dialogue. Even if you do allow for the fact that this is just a demo, such things are a little troubling just three weeks away from the game’s full release.
The Ranger Javelin is the first suit you get to try out, and this is where you customise your suit and select weapons from the Forge area, but also where you decide what mission to take on by selecting them via the world map. The system here is very straightforward and again, very similar to how Destiny allows players to select activities on its own navigation map. From here you can also invite friends to join your four-person squad whilst you have to wait for to join and ready up before the game launches into the world. Customisation comes from the Forge option which can be selected from the map screen. The Forge allows you to customise the appearance and setup of any of the Javelin suits you have unlocked. I really liked the appearance customising options which even from a basic level allows you to select material textures for every part of the suit including colour options which gives right from the off a great chance to personalise your Javelin. Vynls and new suit parts can be purchased and found during gameplay, which instantly reminded me of the HALO Reach system. Now for the demo, Bioware did confirm that the economy in the game was not the same as it would be in the full game so still not able to work out how much grinding will be involved in earning the gold coin currency used to buy items from the forge and it also had a Purple Shard section which it is fair to assume will be the microtransaction currency but so far this is only suppose to be cosmetic so if it is, that does not concern me as long as there is no forced grinding to earn the same items via gameplay.
Weapons can also be crafted from the forge with schematics found or unlocked with progress and crafter to different tiers of quality with materials collected from the world. You have your standard gun types with heavy weapons saved for the Colossus Javelin, so this all feels very natural for any shooter game but again, the limited nature of the demo prevented real experimentation but I do like the fact I can spend time with gameplay to craft the weapons I want to use fairly easily so from this demo the ability to craft new weapons and to customise your Javelin’s right from the start really appeals to me.
But to the gameplay itself and I definitely believe it has promise because let’s face it, flying about in an advanced exo-suit is always going to be cool if done right, and on console at any rate, it works. Each Javelin has a jet pack which helps them sprint on the ground, jump and double jump, to dash and dodge but also to fly for short durations. Whilst in the air, a simple press of the left stick will trigger flight mode which is controlled by the left stick and pressing the right stick will enter hover mode. Both work and are visually stunning on screen, especially when exploring the different environments from mountainous to rain forest areas or even when moving around some of the cave-based encampments which can take you underground. Now on controller flight works great, but the Javelin can also operate underwater but the camera for me was a hinderance once underwater. Friends playing on PC have also complained about the flight system via mouse being very clumsy which will need to be addressed ahead of full release.
Combat is unique to each Javelin class and starting with the Ranger, which is an all rounder type of suit, was a great starting point. Carrying up to two standard weapons but also with the suits own combat system which can combo with other squad members as well, so for me the Ranger had a very cool mini ark rocket launched with RB and a grenade on LB. It could also create a shield bubble to either protect from enemy fire or boost squad gun damage. The super/ultimate move which is charged by killing enemies was a very cool looking rocket barrage which can lock on to multiple enemies. Now the demo put all players and suits at level 10 and could progress to level 15, a new Javelin option was unlocked at level 12 and I chose the huge tank Colossus Javelin and this was a very different experience to using the Ranger class. The Colossus can deliver massive amounts of damage with the default Autocannon which is a minigun of sorts. I also switched up the LB and RB weapons so the LB would trigger a shock cannon which would automatically hit enemies with shock damage whilst on RB I opted for an acid gun that did great amounts of damage. But it can also be used as a defensive unit as well as it comes armed with a full-on Captain America style shield which can be used to provide cover for teammates. Towards the end of the demo weekend Biioware did unlock all four Javelin classes but sadly it was too late in the day UK time for me to try and jump back in, but they did say that for the Open Demo next weekend, all VIP Demo players would have access to all four in that demo.
Gameplay felt very smooth and solid and just being in the world on an expedition allowed for random encounters and objectives to be undertaken around the story missions provided. There was also what I would again say at this point was something similar to a Destiny Strike mission with an extended combat mission which led up to a final Boss fight which was hugely enjoyable and if the full map has plenty of these, then it will offer quite a lot to do alongside campaign missions. Visually it looks great from the Javelins to the environments which we only got a taste of with this demo but all of it was very impressive with interesting looking enemies and wildlife to deal with making the world feel alive every time I launched into an expedition.
So, what worked in the VIP Demo I liked, but that sadly does not take away what did not work, and what didn’t work is worrying. Aside of the crazy server connection issues which was insulting if not expected, the issues with the demo build itself are more troubling such as the infinite loading screen I and so many others suffered, which was every time loading into or out of an expedition and having the loading bar stop at 95% and just staying there forcing players to close and reload the demo and hope to re-join the expedition or that any XP and items collected during an expedition were still there. There were also times when enemies would just vanish right in front of me including ammo and heath packs dropped by killed enemies which for an entire expedition when I had no ammo in my guns and had to rely on being revived just to get some health back. Bioware have released statements to say they have acknowledged all the issues and should have them addressed by the open demo weekend and for launch, but considering this was a VIP demo meant for people who have already either put their money down on a pre-order or pre-ordered the game, this was a rather poor showing.
Overall, I am still looking forward to Anthem and I do like what I manged to get to play both solo and with friends. But there is concern over the issues so many faced on all platforms, and with just three weeks till launch on February 22nd, Bioware and EA have some work to do to restore confidence in Anthem because if launch day comes and I have to wait 14 hours to play a game I have paid for, I among many others will be not as forgiving as we were with MASS Effect: Andromeda!
Over to you Bioware, you have a week to do better in the Open Demo!