Anthem is developer Bioware’s next big game, and the importance of it to the company is hard to understate. Following the generally disappointing Mass Effect: Andromeda, this is the opportunity for Bioware to redeem itself and demonstrate that it can still make fantastic games. Millions of dollars and thousands of hours of work by dedicated teams have been poured into making this an experience that will not only rival the great online RPG experiences of today but set new standards.
Recently I was given the opportunity to take part in the VIP Anthem Demo, to see what the world of Anthem is really like. Despite the game releasing in only a few short weeks, there is still much that is unknown about what the game actually feels like to play and what’s like to explore its world in Anthem’s distinctive Javelin suits. And despite some early issues getting into the game, I came away impressed about the world that Bioware has built, but with some reservations about how this game will stick up again it’s contemporaries.
But let’s back up for a second. Anthem is a third person shared-world online shooter by EA’s Bioware, set in a future where humans live in small cities (“Forts”) surrounded by the dangerous wilds. Freelancers, in human-sized mech suits known as Javelins that can fly for short bursts are used to explore the world and keep the remaining humans safe. In terms of worldbuilding its fairly unique, but mechanically it has much in common with other shared world shooters such as Destiny 2 and The Division.
The demo I was able to use contained a couple of missions and the ability to fly around one of the world’s open areas. Playing on PC, I was struck by how cohesive and well thought out the game’s art direction was. This is a beautiful game to be sure, though I was able to ramp up all the graphical settings to their max thanks to a Core i7-8700K and NVIDIA GTX 1080 Ti, so the console versions may vary somewhat in terms of what graphical capabilities they’re able to push. Textures were sharp, animations were fluid and character models were hugely detailed. In the larger environments, the jungles were lush and though I did see some texture pop-in, the draw distances looking over expansive vistas were also very good.
But what of the missions and reasons for exploring these worlds? To me, it’s still up in the air about if it will feel truly great or have a same satisfying hook as the way shooting in a Destiny game does. Though I knew the demo features only lower-level characters without as much of the significant customisation and weapon upgrades as you will find in the final game, I didn’t feel that I had a bonding moment with the game’s shooting, exploration or other combat mechanics in the same way as I have done with say, Mario’s jump in Super Mario World, or the addictive loop of a Civilisation game.
The experience that came closest though, is the flying. Your javelin mech suit can fly (including underwater) for short periods of time before overheating, time that can be extended by going through waterfalls or by dropping into a steep dive. I can see how this might be more fully explored in the final game, with missions tasking you to carefully manage your suits heat levels and navigate tight pathways. So far I haven’t really come to terms with how to incorporate flying into taking out enemies, though I can certainly see the potential of what high-level play could look like.
One area that I would like to see improvements in is the menu system, where you’re never quite sure if what you’ve clicked on has actually done what you expect. Sometimes it’s clicking, sometimes it’s click and hold, and other times its press enter and then escape with no confirmation. Some consistency in the menus would go a long way to making the complicated upgrade and mission select screen much more useable.
Of course, it is impossible to truly know how the final game will shape up. And that’s not even considering that as an ongoing, games as a service live game, Anthem will continuously shift, catch up and make mistakes as content is released, expansions are developed and millions of players engage with the games world and mechanics in, I’m sure, ways that the developer have not yet intended.
For those who missed out on the VIP demo, then there will be a further open demo shortly, and despite my reservations so far, I am looking forward to seeing what else this game can bring to the table.