Anthem
Hands-On Preview
"...while the core gameplay of Anthem seems to be strong, technical errors and odd gameplay choices could end up marring the experience. "

Anthem is an unexpected type of project for BioWare. At first glance, it looks like a Destiny clone, and after playing a bit of the game myself, it certainly feels like it was designed in the mold of Bungie's online shooter RPG. Whether Anthem will distinguish itself from its peers remains to be seen, but after previewing it and reflecting, I have a plethora of thoughts to share about how it's shaping up.

The recent demos of Anthem drop players at Fort Tarsis, the base of operations, somewhere in the middle of the full game. Except for a few journal entries, there's no character or story introduction to clue you in on what the heck is going on. As a result, I couldn't really get a sense for whether the story will live up to BioWare's previous work, though I was happy to see that your character is voiced and that there are dialogue options when chatting with your allies at the fort. It seems as if these dialogue choices lead to branching conversations, which could have some interesting role-play potential, but we really won't know for sure how in-depth this system is until we get our hands on the final product.

After checking out the fort and picking up a quest from a fellow named Matthias, I suited up in my javelin — a Ranger, which is the all-around, jack-of-all-trades model — and set out to find a mysterious Shaper relic called the Manifold. (In the world of Anthem, the Shapers are gods who created everything and then mysteriously vanished, leaving their tools behind for others to find.) A friend of mine was playing at the same time, so we partnered up to tackle this mission together.

Or at least we tried to. Load times were long, even on PC, and the first weekend was plagued by connection errors and infinite loading screens. I had fewer issues loading into the overworld on the second weekend, but I was still booted out of instances, sent to the main menu, and even had my client crash on me a few times. Enemies occasionally appeared out of nowhere or disappeared mid-fight, my friend lost all sound at one point and had to reboot, and other friends mentioned severe rubber banding at times. These last two I didn't experience myself, but suffice it to say, this first look at Anthem was really rough from a technical standpoint.

There were also some odd gameplay and UI choices that could potentially be frustrating should they remain in the final version of the game. For instance, moving through Fort Tarsis is painfully slow, and the fort is the only place you can change your javelin's loadout or view the stats of your weapons. The fort is also where you select missions, and even though these quests send you to the overworld, the game railroads you along the path to your objective. Getting an "outside mission boundary" message every time you take a detour majorly impacts the sense of freedom that flying around a vast wilderness should impart. There are odd little decisions like this in a variety of places, and while they aren't dealbreakers by any means, I can only hope that some of them are changed when the game launches later this month.

Technical issues aside, I had fun blasting around the lush jungle environments like Marvel's Iron Man, though the flight controls definitely took a little getting used to. Based on the map, the world is smaller than I expected, and only part of it was accessible in the demo. On the plus side, the world felt dense, with lots of verticality and impressive sights to find. Having to cool down your jets while flying could easily become tedious, especially during the heat of combat, but I'd like to see how the customization system affects this mechanic before I pronounce it truly annoying.

Combat can be an absolute blast, especially with a whole squad. The mobility of flight, the combo system from Mass Effect, and the strengths and weaknesses of each type of javelin make for a system that's got a lot of potential. After trying all four javelins, my favorite is definitely the mage-like Storm. I loved hovering in midair for whole firefights, raining down death and destruction with various elemental attacks (which looked beautiful and allowed me to easily trigger powerful combos). The stars of the show are definitely your powers; regular weapons feel a little boring by comparison, but I suppose that's to be expected when you can call down a bolt of lightning or let loose a stream of fire on cooldown.

Fighting Anthem's variety of bad guys (from rival javelin users to big hulking monsters) in the open world and story missions was enjoyable enough, but the Stronghold was absolutely the best time I had in the entire demo. Strongholds are basically Anthem's version of the Strikes from Destiny, which are themselves basically dungeons. This particular Stronghold, called the Tyrant Mine, took my friend and I (along with two other players) through a series of caves on a hunt for some Shaper relics. Things started out easily enough, but as we traversed expansive and often beautiful areas, battling bad guys and dealing with relics along the way, we soon discovered there was more going on than we first thought. By the end of the dungeon, we found ourselves going toe-to-toe with a gigantic, nightmare-inducing spider, and the showdown was pretty epic. All told, the Tyrant Mine took about a half hour to complete, and in my opinion, it was a half hour well spent. If Anthem can provide experiences like this over the course of a playthrough, BioWare may just have a good thing on their hands. But of course, the quantity and quality of these dungeons remains to be seen.

We're only a few weeks away from launch day, and while the core gameplay of Anthem seems to be strong, technical errors and odd gameplay choices could end up marring the experience. I hope that BioWare can iron out the kinks before the game goes live, but at this point, all we can really do is wait and see.


© 2019 Electronic Arts, BioWare. All rights reserved.

RPGFan