Thanks to some extremely good fortune, I was granted access to the VIP demo (read: pre-order bonus) of Anthem, the upcoming looter shooter from the folks at BioWare. Unfortunately, I only was able to get my code on Sunday, which happened to be the last day of the demo. As such, this is less of a deep hands-on than an initial impressions piece. Not a complaint, though, because I really had fun.
Since my code arrived late in the demo’s life cycle, I missed out on the vast majority of technical SNAFUs that plagued Anthem’s opening salvo. To that point, it’d presumably be easy for me to shrug off the problems others were running into. However, I also have lived through more than my fair share of bumpy multiplayer/MMO launches so I’ll not waste time mulling that over. In synopsis: online launches are tough and imperfect wobbly critters; it’s okay to be angry but just also be patient if you can.
I’ll assume by the time this reaches people’s eyeballs that those interested in my thoughts on Anthem already get the general idea of what was in the demo (a three-part mission, some open world gameplay, and an instanced mission), so I’ll instead run down what I felt about the things I was able to play as well as the Javelin suits I had time to rumble around in.
Of the two gameplay options I had time to get into between Freeplay and missions, I had more fun with the mission than anything else. This put BioWare’s usual character polish fully on display, with an NPC that was almost immediately endearing and a storyline that had me intrigued and invested. The best part was that the storyline payoff at its conclusion was legitimately unexpected and delightful.
Freeplay, as I experienced, wasn’t nearly as fun. Perhaps it’s because I was hopping into that mode near the tail-end of the demo’s time and people weren’t out in the wild, but I didn’t particularly find anything compelling to do. The map the demo is set in is pretty enough, but also felt a bit too walled off in that Dragon Age 2 sorta way.
Part of this complaint is probably associated with movement. Using keyboard and mouse is definitely the better way to go when it came to shooting, but this same setup in flight was not so great. Light adjustments of flight trajectory ended up being manageable, but the moment I needed to make a sharp turn, I started careening around like Iron Man after a New Year’s Eve rager and would end up faceplanting into a rock wall.
Even with this complaint, though, I very often felt in control for the most part, particularly in combat. Shooting felt really good and the weapons were generally fun to use. I got a pulse rifle that fired in four-round bursts and did incredible damage, while navigating around enemy elemental resistances through skill use or teamwork felt extremely satisfying. The best part of combat, though, is the Javelin suits. I only got to play with the Ranger, Colossus, and Interceptor suits, but man were they diverse and fun.
The Ranger, being the starter suit, seems like typical jack-of-all-trades, but it also felt like it was the most adaptable to situations and loadouts, making it feel less like a vanilla choice and more like an adaptable one.
The Colossus, meanwhile, seems to favor an aggressive bum-rush style of play, with devastatingly impactful weapons and skills. Seriously, rushing into combat with my shield up and smacking foes with said shield was FUN.
Finally, the Interceptor is the closest to a melee-focused Warframe that I’ve ever gotten. Sure, it can field guns, but its true strength comes from darting into a fight, slashing apart small foes, and leaping away. Combine that with their super move that turns them into a sort of ballerina Wolverine and you’ve got one of the most entertaining murder blender DPSers I’ve had the delight in playing.
There still are a few unanswered questions for me regarding Anthem. Next time there’s a demo, I’d like to try Freeplay again to see if there’s something I missed; I want to see what this instanced content offering is all about; and I absolutely want to see the Storm in action. Overall, though, I’m just that bit more off of the fence for this game.
What I hope for the most, though, is that it carves out its own niche. I don’t want it to destroy Destiny 2 or Warframe, and I’m not convinced it can. I’d just rather it focus on being its own best game, release awesome new content updates, and build its own fanbase. I just hope that the tech issues during this past VIP Demo time haven’t poisoned the well too much.
Once I have those above questions answered, I’ll consider myself more informed and can hopefully share similarly more informed opinions. As it stands, though, there’s definitely enough here to keep Anthem squarely on my radar. Color me intrigued, BioWare.