Anthem Demo First Impressions

It's okay, thank god

Bioware used to be a revered name when it comes to Western RPGs. But lately, they seemed a bit off. Mass Effect Andromeda was an unfortunate mess (though it has some strong points). Can Bioware’s latest IP, the 3rd-person looter shooter RPG Anthem, succeed?

I come from a perspective of someone disappointed in the state of the developers currently, and also someone who’s still scratching his head to understand the long appeal of these looter-shooters. I’m okay with Warframe and Borderlands, but Destiny and The Division just didn’t grab me as much despite spending a significant amount of hours into them.

I’ve played through the Anthem public demo, both on PC and PS4. Outside of some bugs and glitches, I can say that Anthem’s going to be an okay game, thank god.

Familiar Setup

The world of Anthem has a simple to explain setup. The world itself is in an unfinished state, where the ‘gods’, abandoning it. As a result, it’s unstable and filled with dangerous fauna. Remnants of the tech to create the world is still out there, including the titular Anthem Of Creation, but there’s also a faction of baddies that want to control it. You are a Freelancer, and you do tasks like exploring the world and protecting the remnants of humanity housed in Fort Tarsis.

It’s pretty cliche, honestly. Destiny is also doing the whole sci-fi but without nerdy jargons angle. And I have an inkling a lot of the plotline ticks the same boxes as Andromeda did.

Though story-wise, Anthem won’t be delivering the same hooks as Mass Effect or Dragon Age did. There’s no decision that matters (though you do make binary dialogue choices). But at least the banter and conversation between characters in the hub world feel geniune and believeable, so there’s still that Bioware touch.

Suit Up

You pilot Javelins, these Iron Man-esque exosuits that comes in four classes. The demo defaults you to the all-rounder Ranger but you can progress and unlock an additional suit for the demo.

Essentially these are your different classes with unique traits that make for different playstyles. Aside from the Ranger you get the big boy Colossus that acts as the tank. The Interceptor moves fast, has melee combos and made for hit-and-run playstyles while the Storm has elemental powers, floats and wears capes.

On that note, gear are not tied to cosmetics. And there’s a lot of freedom in painting your suits with the right colour on the right material. Yes, you could even pick the different texture of each part of the suit to make it shiner/grimier/rubbery. Anthem took pages from Warframe in this department and it shows, you can make some pretty cool or some godawful colour schemes for your robo-dolls.

As such, the gear you have is all about the numbers and the properties it has. The Ranger has the ability to shoot an assault launcher mounted on its arm. By default, it shoots a direct rocket out of his assault launcher. But you can have it spew flames, cryo rays or even shoot poison darts by equipping different gear.

Mass Effect With Iron Man Suits

As for the combat, it’s terrific. Though I might be biased because I liked Mass Effect Andromeda’s combat which was its saving grace. It’s a third-person shooter and you have jump jets to dodge and jump with. And you can also float mid-air. You can setup combos by pairing one ability to another complementing one for bigger damage.

Weapons feel weighty and punchy and the abilities are a feast of beautiful particle explosions. Enemies have either health bars (red), shields (blue), armour (yellow) or a combination of the two. Aside from the cover system being removed (because why would you be in cover when you wear a big, beautiful exosuit), all of the combat feels right out of Mass Effect Andromeda. And that’s a good thing.

Many of the combat area encourages you to use your mobility, but it’s definitely fine to drop down and just lay down bullets like a regular shooter game sometimes. But when the Ranger can deploy a bubble shield mid-air and will remain floating there, you are definitely encouraged to leave the ground. The enemy AI, however, is not that smart. Most of them are just fodders but they do have abilities designed to flush you out from sitting in one place.

It goes without saying that flying around in the Javelins is a sublime experience. The way the afterburners kick in when you hit sprint after a jump to go flying is super satisfying. On PC, it’s a bit finicky to control with the mouse though. But if you use a controller, it’s a joy traversing the fractured, but beautiful open world.

Also, it’s interesting to see Anthem incorporates elemental properties. You can get overheated for prolonged use of the flying jets, but skimming near water ( you know you get it when the elemental “cooled” is displayed on the top left), you can fly longer. Being set on fire will also stops you from flying so having enemies close to you is dangerous.

These are small details, but it’s intuitive and helps make the combat feel a bit different than the other looter-shooters.

Bugs, Loading, And Other Worrisome Points

Anthem has matchmaking for all the missions. In fact, if you want to do them on your own you will get a warning if you really want to do it all alone. Granted, I tried one of the missions solo and is completely doable. But playing with random folks, I have no issues bar one- the are transitions.

The open world has several areas in caves that you can traverse to that requires a lengthy loading screen to go through. It’s nice that if you are far off from the group you’ll be teleported to them. But those loading screens really took me out of the experience.

Oh, remember the cool part in the E3 reveal where you go to dive underwater? The underwater sections found in the demo were too dark and disorienting and I hated them.

The demo gave us a three mission arc as well as a Stronghold mission, which serves as the endgame. Each mission (expeditions) play out very similarly. Go here. Attack. Interact. Go there. Attack. There are some variations, like defend an area or collect items and place it somewhere else, but nothing too complicated. Nor is it interesting.

Folks who played the VIP demo a week before got the shorthand of the stick as the game had connection issues. While that is solved for the public demo, there are other known bugs that EA and Bioware already know and has fixed for the launch, but are left in this demo.

The sound design is terrific but many sound cues are missing or don’t work. Freeplay, a mode where you can just free roam the open world and join public events, has issues to get in. And it also has issues where you cannot exit Freeplay via the menu. I mashed buttons, including the options button, to find something to do when downed in a non-respawn zone and ended up HUD-less when revived until the end of the mission.

It’s a frustrating experience and I hope they really did fix these issues already.

Final Thoughts

Overall, given my low expectations to begin with, Anthem could be a decent looter shooter RPG. Maybe now EA gets their live service cash cow they needed. The core gameplay is great and the Javelin customisation is immense.

Though there the story isn’t as intriguing or interesting. The gameplay loop could wear down quick. And then there’s the lingering fear on how the servers hold up and how pricy the cosmetics will be. All are fair worrying points.

But at least, I can see that fans of the online RPG looter shooters will be happy. Now there’s another possibly decent game tackling the genre. Though I will stay clear of it on day one.

Anthem will be out for everyone to purchase normally on February 22nd for the PS4, PC (Origin) and Xbox One.

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