Originally I intended for this to be a pre-open demo post about the positives of Anthem. Instead I waited until the end of the open demo and I’m glad I did. Not only did I come away with fewer cons than I blogged about, but I gained a pro as well. Also before I get into this I wanted to bring attention to the Contracts portion of the endgame. While I haven’t played it myself, what I’ve seen looks promising. I’m not a big fan of raids, so for me this is a better option. Now let’s talk about what I have played.
Anthem is a gorgeous game even in this demo form. It doesn’t hold up to how it was presented initially, but it’s still great. The world in which Anthem takes place feels like a living, breathing world. The found of waterfalls and wildlife are superb. The time of day changes really help, particularly in the case of Fort Tarsis. Seeing and hearing the shopping area of the base is nice. There’s something about the way the javelin dock is lit up at night that gives me chills. Suiting-up for a late night patrol the first time made me think, “I get it, Mr. Stark.” Hell, just for good measure they added a HUD-less panning camera if you idle for awhile. I have a feeling I’m going to want to keep coming back to this world long after I’ve completed the critical path.
Having played the Mass Effect series all in one go for the first time in 2017 two things stood out to me. One, Andromeda plays vastly better in every way than the trilogy. And two, BioWare has gotten close to the goal but fallen short. At best things in Mass Effect feel almost perfect. Anthem feels perfect. What they’re going for and what they accomplished are identical. Not only is this the best controlling BioWare game, it took a lot of what was good about Andromeda and made it even better. If you’ve ever wanted a game to make you feel like Iron Man or the Knight Sabers from Bubblegum Crisis this is the one. The mobility of your javelins is superb and rivaled only by the feeling of using their many abilities. As cool as reigning down the elements with a Storm is, I can’t wait to steamroll infantry enemies with a Colossus so my more technically sound squad-mates can play their parts.
One thing that was absent in the VIP demo but present in the open one was the arrival of a storm. It was much calmer than ones we’ve seen in trailers, but there’s still something intimidating about a giant, swirling orange storm in the sky. As the storm raged the titans of the world started appearing. Titans are just as their name implies: giant humanoid creatures made from the environment. They vary in size, but they have a lot of health and they pack a hell of a punch. But while all that’s cool to look at, the implication of the storms (or “cataclysms”) are much more impressive. As I said, this happened in the open demo and not the VIP demo. But the two are the same demo. The storm was manually added by BioWare, much the same way Epic Games adds events into Fortnite. BioWare is able to adjust on the fly. The lore tab for cataclysms even suggests that these storms vary in severity, can bring new life, shake the ground, and cause rivers to flow backwards. To me this could be the game-changer needed to separate Anthem from its most direct competition.
Also it’s a smaller thing I noticed, but the rate at which ammo and health drops were happening at Normal difficulty really incentivized forcing engagement with the enemy. I thought that was a nice touch.
By now you may be aware of how deep the javelin customization is in the game. Plenty of gear (armor, weapons, components, vinyls) will be there at launch. The use of a color wheel that auto-saves your custom colors, as well as the ability to customize the materials of your javelins, are fantastic features that separate Anthem from a lot of other “living games”. Emotes are wonderful. However, there’s more to the customization than that. Just about everything you’d want to customize at a macro level is there. HUD opacity, damage numbers opacity & toggle, subtitle size, and colorblind filters stood out to me.
The difficulty settings for each mission are perhaps more important for customization than they are for gameplay. It’s nice to have a range of difficulty starting at “solo badass who dominates the critical path” and ending at “there are four of us with top level gear OMG we’re about to wipe AGAIN”. It’s even nicer when those options result in better rewards. Easy mode adds no bonus scaling to the drop chance of maximum rarity. Normal increases that bonus to 50%. Hard to 100%. Meanwhile, Grandmaster difficulties add bonus scaling to the drop chance of “masterworks” (top tier gear). Grandmaster 1 to 150%. Grandmaster 2 to 200%. And Grandmaster 3 to 300%. It’s a rare instance of incentivizing through customization. And don’t think your gear doesn’t matter at Normal difficulty. It absolutely does. Customization is crucial at every level of this game.
Clearly I can’t speak to the plot of the game itself at launch, but the taste that we got during the demo has left a good impression. What we’re given is interesting in a way I haven’t seen very often (out of games at least). BioWare has played up the more serious aspects of the game, but it’s quirky moments of the story in the demo that stood out. There’s a very specific thing that happens that’s both intriguing for the plot and lore of Anthem and also fun. I won’t give specifics, but a thing happens to a character, which sets you up to fix/undo the thing. But then it doesn’t get undone. The thing that happened stays that way, and it fundamentally changes several characters going forward. I think it’s perhaps a hint that BioWare isn’t afraid to play around with expectations.