Anyone who played the Anthem VIP Demo this past weekend can tell you one thing with certainty; it was kind of a mess. The demo itself was plagued with issues ranging from not being able to connect to rubberbanding and crashes, oh and then there’s the infinite loading screen glitch that required you to Alt+F4 your game and force it closed via task manager. Hopefully, someone in your party loaded in or you had to attempt it again and pray it worked. It was frustrating to be sure and was exactly the kind of problem Anthem couldn’t afford to have this close to launch. Sure there will be another demo and another opportunity to show that the game will be ready for its February 22nd launch (February 15th for some) but EA and Bioware needed a win on this one and instead had to issue an apology and a promise to do better, not a great look just over three weeks from launch.
For as much as I could go on about the issues with the demo, which were many, it is important to get one point across. The game was really good. I rarely spend a lot of time in demos and betas because I like to wait for when my progress actually counts. I’m not usually the type to put 15 hours into something that in the grand scheme of things doesn’t matter, but that’s exactly what I did this weekend. I played through the story about four times with different friends, completed world events in the open world, and became fluent in the demo’s lone stronghold. As much as the connections issues and loading bugs bothered me I just kept powering through and despite all the frustration, it felt worth it.
Anthem can feel deceptively cumbersome at times. In all honesty, the game feels like a heavily refined Mass Effect 3 which is a blessing and a curse. ME3 was certainly the best playing of Bioware proper’s trilogy, but it always felt like an RPG with a heavy emphasis on shooting where Anthem is a shooter with heavy emphasis on RPG elements. It took a bit of time to get acclimated and understand how to get the most out of my Javelin. Everyone started the demo with the Ranger, the jack-of-all-trades suit. It reminded me of my original Soldier run of the Mass Effect trilogy, competent but no frills. Ranger wasn’t going to be for me and I knew it pretty quickly (that’s why I switched to Vanguard in later playthroughs).
For me, the demo didn’t click until I got my second suit, the Interceptor. Whew, not that is a hell of a Javelin. The Interceptor is all about speed and mobility, able to get in close and dish out heavy damage and then get out just as quick. The Interceptor changed the way I played the game completely, I loved the way it moved and handled and never wanted to stop, feeling like I had to keep moving around the battlefield to pick off objectives or powerful enemies one at a time before regrouping. It also put the Ranger into a better perspective. Sure it didn’t have the same level of speed and maneuverability, but I could see how I was approaching the suit wrong. You can’t just play Anthem as a generic armored super soldier shooter where you expect to be strong enough to win it all yourself.
The key is to understand how your Javelin fits into your team, how you make the team stronger or how you can combine your armaments to the greatest effect. One of the coolest aspects of Anthem’s combat are combos where you can combine elements or abilities to greater effect. My Interceptor had a powerful acid spray ability that could clear groups of smaller enemies with ease, but little did I know that my nearby Colossus had a flamethrower ready to take it to the next level. His flames combusted my acid leading to a powerful combo explosion that easily wiped out the remaining enemies. There’s also cryo abilities that freeze enemies in place, perfect for explosive rounds to crack and break them. Building your kit to compliment the rest of your squad is the key to victory, especially on the higher difficulties.
During the demo the highest available difficulty was hard but it became clear the higher difficulties would bring out the best the game had to offer. When enemies were suddenly getting 300% more health and damage, that coordination and synergy became more important than ever. After running through the whole story and stronghold on hard, we realized that some of those Ubisoft demos with the “live player commentary” might be more accurate than we thought. We were calling out openings and planning attacks full phases in advance. Sure, we’ve played our fair share of tactical games together, but the fact that we picked it up so quickly to be able to be planning these attacks after just an hour or two speaks volumes about how easy it is to get deep into Anthem.
The best part of playing on hard was getting all that sweet rare gear, something we haven’t seen as much about during other pre-release coverage. Gear drop rarity increases with difficulty and it was easy to see the difference in the number of blues on hard compared to normal. Missions reward plenty of gear which can be used as is or broken down for components for crafting items more in line with your preferred build. While we only got a taste of what will be in the full game there is enough here to give me some level of confidence that the grind will be rewarding. I was able to earn or craft anything I wanted with the exception of a rare light machine gun. There is also an incentive to continually craft and earn the same gear as they come with random buffs that can decrease shield recharge delay, add maximum ammo, increase damage, and more.
I didn’t spend as much time in the open world as I would have liked but I spent enough to complete a few world events, similar to the public events you’d find in Destiny. What was cool about these is I didn’t know I was doing them until I finished. They’re missions you simply start doing naturally as you find them without any darkening of the sky of voice-over guiding me somewhere. The events were a little more involved than comparable games and, if there is enough variety, they should keep players busy for quite some time. There are also materials to collect that will be important for crafting all that gear you’ll be pining for. I look forward to playing around with this in the next demo to get a better feel for it, but given how beautiful the world itself is I don’t imagine there will need to be much more motivation to check it out than this.
So long as this is just a very small taste (as I imagine it is) of what will be available in the full game, Anthem appears to be everything you’d expect from a game like this from a developer with this pedigree and a publisher with the kind of money to throw around as EA does. In spite of all the issues and bugs, the VIP demo did the one thing it had to. It gave me confidence that Anthem can and in all likelihood will be the real deal. It got me excited for the game in a way none of the trailers and gameplay previews could, and now I can’t wait to get my hands back on it. If the demo wasn’t over I’d still be playing it right now, hours after I already hit the max level and had seen all it had to offer.