It’s been a while since we got a legitimate trailer/ gameplay demo of EA & Bioware’s new IP Anthem. Sure there’s been loads of Reddit updates – which I’ll get to in a bit – but where’s the gameplay? Is flying really free-flight or is there a catch? Is it going to be bogged down with tons of Micro-transactions like other EA games? Well, this year’s E3 gave us some answers and … oh…. they are promising!
Story & Character – The Enticing & The… Missing?
When we first learned of Anthem, people wondered if the 3 mech suits (called Javelins) would function like the Classes in Destiny. Well, the E3 press conferences not only gave us a 4th Javelin type; but also revealed that you can possess multiple javelins. The 4 types – at the moment – are referred to as Ranger, Colossus, Storm and Interceptor; and you can easily swap between each based on the type of mission you’re about to embark, or who you are playing with or just your general mood. In fact, each suit allows for further customization and parts, so (hypothetically) it could even be possible to have multiple versions of the same suit type with different specifications.
Another interesting bit to hear was how the world actually changes based on your actions. Now maybe it’s the Destiny player in me, but hearing the word “lore” dropped so many times during the panels was definitely refreshing; BUT despite all the talk about ‘story’, nothing specific was actually seen or said. Maybe this was an editorial choice or maybe they want to still keep that secret; but considering how story-intensive Bioware games are known to be, I’m surprised we didn’t actually get anything on that front. Even in the trailer, we hear about the so-called “anthem of creation’, but it’s presented very poorly. We need a lot more info on what this story is; and the talk about how the story will be experienced by players didn’t help this feeling.
The developers often referred to this game as “a personal story that you can play with others”, but this balance is achieved by having most of the story take place in the city. Sure the team talked about how they wanted to give players a ‘complete game from the get go along with a big world, great story, and ongoing service that provides content for a long period of time’; but if all the story is contained to ‘the city’, would that make the world feel like a bunch of fetch quests? Or conversely, would that make the city feel like a chore that you have to suffer through before getting back to the action (like the present-day plot of most Assassins Creed games)? Anthem looks like an incredible game, but will it’s story feel balanced/ worth it?
Gameplay – Fluid & Approachable:
“Free flight” is a very hit or miss term for people – especially if you’ve ever played Superman 64 – so seeing this at the forefront of Anthem is both exciting and nerve-wracking. Is it easy to learn? Are the controls responsive enough or is it an awkward dance? Thankfully, I’ve heard nothing but positive reviews on this front with many commenting on how easy the controls were to pick up. My favorite description is that Anthem is “how an Ironman game should feel”. Each suit has slightly different maneuvering abilities/ feels, and makes exploring the world so much fun as you can fly above, next to and even between the legs of giant monsters. That being said, Youtuber Blessious reported that the energy for flight is something that you do have to keep an eye on. Thankfully, it doesn’t seem too hard to refuel on the go, and you can upgrade your suits to help alleviate this.
As a ‘shooter’ though, I’ve heard the control are… ‘solid’. As someone who’s more of an exploratory/ adventure gamer, I’m okay with this; but hard core 1st person shooter fans might want to research this a bit more. It’s not that the mechanics are bad, they’re just nothing super spectacular. Though with such a wide range of powers, weapons and melee abilities, there’s more than enough depth here to keep you enticed. For example, one such Legendary armor power is a freeze grenade. If you manage to kill an enemy while frozen, the resulting explosion will cause other nearby enemies to freeze, etc etc. Combo abilities such as these will add loads of fun to playing and make boss battles really strategic; but it’s that very word (Combo) that most players are pointing out/ laughing at.
Overall, everything feels great with gameplay; but the damage numbers and giant glowing ‘Combo’ text that occurs upon attacks is a bit much. Worst of all, it distracts from the beautiful world they’ve built. That being said, this is a minor concern and I’m confident they will take this feedback to heart and shrink it – or at least give an option to turn it off in the ‘Settings’ menu – since so many are commenting about it.
Customization Options & NO Loot Boxes:
The BIGGEST worry that gamers had when Anthem was first announced was whether or not they would be swarmed with Microtransactions, much like what EA did with the latest Star Wars Battlefront. Well we finally got word on this and I am pleased to report that there will be “NO Loot Boxes” or “pay to win” in Anthem. In fact, the only purchasable content in Anthem is cosmetic, and again it’s not presented in a ‘loot box’ fashion. So basically, you see something you want in the online store – you buy it! No ‘chance to get it’. You get the exact item you see. And even without buying the items, there’s a lot to customize in Anthem! From color patterns to powers and even the “geometry” of your suit, you’ll be able to acquire a lot for your suit as you progress normally.
Though no matter how much I love hearing about all the different exploratory and customization options, what I find most promising about Anthem is how we received much of this information long before any E3 Press Conferences. Brenon Holmes (Bioware’s Technical Design Director) has been exceptionally responsive to community questions on Reddit and has been gaining fan/ player feedback each step of the way.* This shows that the Anthem team is really concerned about the community and wanted to start that dialogue as soon as possible. And judging by their announcement that Anthem would have NO loot boxes/ or pay-to-win game models, they are definitely trying to learn from the current atmosphere of gaming.
It’s kind of funny – or ironic – when EA & Bioware’s first announced Anthem last year, many outlets referred to it as a “Destiny Killer”. That’s a phrase that has been tossed around before (ie: The Division) and ultimately never lead anywhere; but fast forward to the present day and we see a VERY different landscape with Bungie/ Destiny struggling to win fans back while games like The Division are seeing a resurgence. The Division might not have been a “Destiny killer”, but it did certainly take advantage of Destiny hurting itself.
Considering all these updates, first impressions, and departure from the community-hated loot boxes model, Anthem could very well jump to the head of the pack and become that new ‘to beat’ game when it hits PS4, Xbox One and PC on February 22nd, 2019. Though as I’ve shown in the previous paragraphs, Anthem does still have some things it needs to improve/ explain better. But what do you think: Are you sold? Are you cautiously excited? Are you still clutching your ‘Don’t trust EA’ banners? Let me know in the comments below!