Anthem Impresses At Preview Event
Anthem is a critical game for a lot of reasons. Bioware’s last release was the competent in some ways, broke-as-f*** in others Mass Effect Andromeda, which essentially murdered the franchise. EA has been on the rocks more generally, botching the Star Wars license in every conceivable way and weathering an underwhelming entry into the Battlefield franchise.
They both need a hit. Badly. If Anthem bombs, EA will survive. Bioware might not. I’d rather not let out that particular anguished scream, so it’s fortunate that the market seems primed for Anthem’s sales pitch. Hardcore Destiny fans have been hanging on in spite of the product itself, and anecdotal chats with such people leads me to believe they’d jump ship to something more fun. Bungie might be righting the ship, but the soft underbelly is still exposed.
EA hosted us in San Francisco this week, where I played around 6 hours of Anthem from the beginning, middle (the demo), and end of the experience. Rejoice, dear friends, for those 6 hours were very, very satisfying.
Now, I won’t claim to know everything there is to know about the game, and I still have questions about how broad and deep it is, but I can tell you about how it made me feel. It feels like an awesome high five over a plate of fresh cookies. Anthem feels right.
And the roots of that rightness come from Mass Effect Andromeda. Now hold on. I know you didn’t like that game, but it had two strengths if you went looking for them. Traversal was good, and the combat was just short of great. It threw away the stop and pop combat of the 2000’s in favour of mobility and flexibility, and Anthem continues in that vein very successfully. Each of the four classes – Colossus, Ranger, Storm, and Interceptor – feel powerful and deadly. Live servers will probably have a lot of Storm players because fireballs and lightning storms, but they’re all great and feel measurably different from one another.
That’s something I’ve always missed in Destiny, where the classes are different but don’t always feel that way. Going from the Interceptor’s blinding speed and up close focus to the Colossus’ hulking frame and heavy artillery is jarring, but none of the options feel like they’re a hindrance. I think they’ll probably nerf the Interceptor some before launch, but by and large the balance seemed good. The content we played wasn’t hard, but the normal setting struck a casual balance. Special powers can be used nearly constantly, which feels awesome. Even awesomer is a buddy launching a huge mortar at a big bad while you give it the ol’ tasmanian devil treatment.
Shooting feels great too. Aiming felt precise using a controller, though the autoaim seems generous. More importantly, unloading a machine gun into a Titan or a pistol into a Scorpion thing, whatever, all felt really visceral. It remains to be seen if weapons go as far as Destiny with uniquely named pieces, but the gear I acquired during my time felt about as satisfying as loot treadmills ever do. Common gear gave way to uncommon and rare naturally through drops, though you’ll only unlock new gear on completion of an expedition. There’s no swapping out equipment on the fly.
That’s not to say you can’t make a highly custom Javelin suit. Anthem’s Forge lets you get into the finer details like suit components and armor pieces that alter stats, but more importantly you can change paints, materials, wear levels, and decals endlessly. Iron Man color schemes seemed popular, to the surprise of no one.
What’s one of the main things Iron Man does? That’s right, he flies around like a complete badass. In Anthem, you can fly around like a complete badass. My only slight gripes are that I wanted to A) go faster, and B) go farther, but it’s entirely possible gear to do that exists in the game and I just didn’t see it. Setting off with your crew on missions feels great, and even flying aimlessly was satisfying.
Bioware has crafted a very impressive world in Anthem, both technically and design-wise. Obviously just about every Frostbite game looks incredible, But the texture and particle work on display in Anthem is truly jaw dropping. That said, the thing I noticed the most was how well the world utilizes all three dimensions. Almost everywhere I ended up had at least some element of verticality. It encourages use of your Javelin’s flight mode, but also brings a whole new level of tactical planning into play. If they ever end up putting PvP into Anthem, it’ll be pretty interesting to see how it plays out tactically. I had loads of fun flanking around enemies and having them struck by lightning.
Now, there’s lots we don’t know. We got a taste of Fort Tarsis during the session, and while the named characters seem interesting enough, I’m not yet convinced there’s enough activity there. There’s lots of lore to be found too with written entries in the Cortex and collectables found out in the world. I found a few bits in the world that mentioned a long lost area or missing relic, and it certainly seemed like finding those things unlocked new areas to explore. That fills me with hope for the longevity of Anthem.
So while I’ve only played a vertical slice of Anthem, what I played was extremely competent. The combat and flight mechanics are excellent, it’s stunning, and there seems to be a whole lot going on in the world. If Anthem can deliver a compelling narrative and keep the content train rolling, it stands a good chance of fulfilling it’s destiny in the pantheon of loot shooters.