Anthem Open Demo
Before I start with my thoughts on the actual nuts and bolts of Anthem, let me just say that it’s nice that the concept of “the demo” still exists. There was a time when I use to buy various computer magazines in the late nineties, and they would all have a cover disk filled with game demos. I discovered many great games that way (MDK, Hidden and Dangerous), simply by having access to a few levels of a new title. Game developers seem ambivalent towards the concept of “try before you buy” these days. More often than not we get early access instead, which is not the same thing at all. But a functional demo that gives you a decent representation of the full product is a far better proposition. For the gamer at least. Because if you play it and like it, then you are sold. Unlike early access where you may see a product with prospects but whether it comes to fruition is another thing entirely. However, demos are a double edge sword, because may also come to a clear and unequivocal conclusion that you don’t like the game in question, or that is simply not for you.
Because so many gamers see criticism and analysis as a personal attack on their opinions and therefore an assault upon themselves, let me make this first point very clear. I do not think Anthem is a bad game (from what I have seen). At its core, it is a fun, exciting experience. It does exactly what it sets out to do and appears to do it well. Got that? Good. Because a lot of the other stuff, IE the story, the characters, and the overall aesthetic are arbitrary. Again, let me stress they are not bad, just adequate. Up to a standard to coin a phrase. But far from unique, not outstanding or in any other way exceptional. I have written in the past about the misrepresentation of the word “adequate” and that not every game has to be a genre milestone. But this is a BioWare game being published by EA. It’s got multimillion-dollar, big bollocks, in your face, hyped up bullshit written all over it in large neon letters. If you want the full experience (Legion of Dawn Edition) it will cost you £70, all but a penny. Call me old fashioned but if I part with that amount of cash, I want more than what I’ve described.
Earlier today, I fired up the demo and quickly got into the game. There were no logon or server issues this time round. I found myself in a Fort Tarsis and quickly got funnelled to the expositonary NPC and quest bestower. As Anthem uses the Frostbite Engine, everything looks fancy although I found a lot of the production design to be somewhat generic. As it’s a limited demo I repeatedly got onscreen messages telling me that I cannot interact with NPCs and items. Nope BioWare wanted me to go get in my Javelin exo-suit and sod off and start shooting stuff. Now I noted that this first part of the game was all in first person. Whether that is the case in the full release I do not know. Let it suffice to say that if all the RPG elements are conducted in such a manner, then that’s another stumbling block for me. So, I subsequently donned my fancy armour and found myself with three other random players out in the combat zone. Everyone promptly ran off in different directions and started experimenting with the game controls. I was hoping there would be some semblance of a tutorial but no, you just have to figure shit out for yourself. It is however very intuitive and easy to work out.
Well let me save both you and I a lot of time. If you played Destiny 1 or 2 then the combat is pretty much the same. The only difference here is that you have thrusters to fly for limited periods and you have the benefits of a third person view. You have two ancillary weapons, which on the ranger class javelin are explosive projectiles and you have a melee skill. The game is fluid, requires situational awareness and robust twitch skills. The added verticality adds to the challenge requiring you to get above and behind enemies and objects, hover, shoot and move on. If you are young with good reactions, have played other games that require you to interact with similar three-dimensional environments and are adept with keyboard and mouse, or a games controller, then the combat in Anthem will really appeal to you. If you are of an older group, you may find it harder to keep up with the game. I played overall for three hours and during that time quickly got the measure of the game. Because while everyone else was flying around, shooting mobs and efficiently traversing the environment, I was adjusting my pince-nez, sipping my Amontillado, trying not to be distracted by the garrulous in-game voice over and trying to determine which key did what.
The thing is with Anthem, a player such as I will probably have to work twice as hard to train myself not to over steer, get disorientated and fall behind the group. Because the combat is pretty much the foundation of the game experience, you need to be proficient to get the most out of the game. I don’t think its strength will lie with its narrative, characters and production design. As I said, these are all adequate (from what I could see) but nothing more. A decade ago I would have been happy to put in the time and the effort to improve my performance and prove a point. But not now. I play to have fun primarily and if I’m not up to the task, then I am happy to move on. I don’t blame the game or myself and I’m not under any obligation to “git gud” to embrace some spurious philosophy that the only good game is a competitive challenge. So Anthem is not for me. Let those who enjoy the demo, purchase the full edition and go have their fun. I’ll find mine somewhere else. As for those who are expecting the much lauded BioWare storytelling experience, I’d be interested to know in a few months from now as whether it’s there or not.