Can you hear the Anthem? Whether or not the thought of a new online shooter from BioWare has you salivating, read on to discover what we learned from the recent VIP demo.
Humanity has settled on a new planet, but some people are being influenced by an ever-transmitting anthem (geddit?) which seems to have a negative effect on those who succumb to it. This leads you, along with up to three other players, to investigate what’s happening as you carefully explore the game’s (fairly) open environments from inside mech suits known as Javelins.
You’re a Freelancer, a gun for hire who travels the world presumably in support of the science-based human contingent who are trying to learn about the planet. Further story details are still somewhat sketchy at this point.
From our time with the demo, first impressions weren’t overwhelmingly positive, but once the game hit its stride there was a lot of potential to chew on (and we intend to). Naturally, demos come with the expectation of a technical quirk here and there, but the problems began for Anthem even before seeing any gameplay - loading into the hub area, just reaching the main title screen even, often took several attempts.
When we did get in, we found that Xbox One X suffered from performance issues when faced with multiple on-screen explosions, in the midst of already visually busy firefights.
You’ll be exchanging shots with (presumably native) nasties, who unfortunately don’t stand out much more than being varying levels of bullet-spongy, when undertaking missions and donning your Javelin in order to venture out onto the planet’s surface. There are four varieties of mech to play around with: the all-round Ranger, elemental attack-wielding Storm, up-close-and-superfast Interceptor, and the hulking Colossus.
Each have access to a variety of weapons - some of which are class specific - their own super ability, grenades and standard abilities, which recharge over time and have (largely) either offensive or defensive capabilities in combat.
There wasn’t enough time to fully get to grips with each Javelin, but, from first impressions, the Storm suit seems to be the most fun, boasting some exciting, flashy powers even by default and having strong mobility with seemingly little sacrifice in shields or health compared to the middle-of-the-road Ranger. The Colossus seems to be at the other end of the spectrum, with not enough durability or damage-dealing to justify its lesser maneuverability.
The Storm suit seems to be the most fun, boasting some exciting, flashy powers even by default.
Balancing could correct some of these observations before launch, or perhaps it's just that some classes are more of a slow burn. Regardless, each Javelin can perform Iron Man-style flight for a limited time, which rarely fails to satisfy.
When choosing fight over flight, you have at your disposal a melee attack and an array of basic weapons, categorised by classes and six tiers of rarity, from Common to Legendary. You can craft your own weapons from blueprints using components you pick up in the game world, or gain by breaking down unwanted loot.
About now seems like the right time to talk about how the game feels, which means drawing some comparisons. The answer to “Is Anthem for me?” largely comes down to whether you enjoy the way it plays, after all.
The Destiny vibes are strong here. Daily and weekly quests haven’t yet been revealed, but they’re sure to feature as Anthem vies for your time against other service-based games. Mass Effect is another close relative, as you might expect, with the third game’s effective, but ultimately disposable, multiplayer a clear influence on combat. Storm Javelins basically fulfil the squad role previously inhabited by Adept, Vanguard or Sentinel classes in Mass Effect 3.
Seeing this DNA filter through is interesting, but so far there’s been relatively little of the developer’s trump card - that being more compelling narrative and characters than those of its service-based peers - with Anthem instead following the crowd and placing the main focus on character customisation (which is fairly aesthetically dense) and combat.
Similarities to Borderlands, another comparison thrown out there, mostly stem from numbers flashing up on screen to represent the damage you deal, as well as the game’s fairly extensive loot rewards. Crafting and unlocking weaponry and armour items is achieved by handing over materials and Coin respectively, which you’ll need to do consistently in order to get the shiniest toys for your character. How much of a weapon variety there is remains to be seen, but, during the demo, sniper fans found themselves with only a handful of bullets to make their point - not enough to clear the field for even the most accurate lone marksman.
Speaking of which, this game really isn’t a solo experience, so those looking to pick up from the highs of earlier, more RPG-based efforts from BioWare will be out of luck. You can play by yourself, technically, as a single squad member in a private group, but even harsh enemy scaling wouldn’t be enough to make the experience achievable and certainly fun, as the most satisfying and impressive displays come as you combine different attacks with teammates.
Even playing in a group has its drawbacks currently though, as restricted respawn areas leave your character helplessly kneeled on the battlefield, their armour locked up until you’re revived, despite the screen reassuring you you’re respawning. This can lead to extended periods feeling like a spare part, as you can’t even crawl helplessly back to your squadmates or alert them and highlight your location unless you happen to be chatting with them already, and even then it’s not always easy to see a felled ally amid the fray.
In the end, the Anthem demo mostly raised more questions instead of giving us a strong sense of what the final game will deliver. EA might have a hit on their hands here, but considering The Division 2 comes out around the same time with a more grounded shoot and loot feel, which players are already comfortable with, it’s also easy to see it going the way of Titanfall - that being an extremely polished title which ultimately doesn’t capture the wider audience’s imagination.
Did you play Anthem last weekend? Will you be checking it out this weekend when the demo goes public? Let us know what you thought and what you’re looking forward to, or concerned about, in the comments below.