GAMING POINT OF LOU – THE ONE ABOUT ANTHEM
One could argue that coming out of this past year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, no game had more hype surrounding it than BioWare’s upcoming shared world shooter Anthem, and while the months between the show in June and this past December were relatively quiet on the information front, in the weeks leading up to their VIP demo this past weekend BioWare began to pull the curtain back and give us a taste of what we could expect from this massive undertaking. And while I still have a million more questions that will only be answered once I get my hands on the full retail release, it’s high time to jot down my thoughts of what I played this weekend.
For those of you not in the know, BioWare’s bread and butter is RPG’s (Role Playing Games) and their catalog is basically a who’s who of some of the greates games / franchises ever to grace the genre, so let me highlight a few: Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Jade Empire, Knights Of The Old Republic, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age. While this list is by no means comprehensive I hope it illustrates that this is a studio that KNOWS what it’s doing when it comes to digital RPG’s. But designing a shared world shooter (Think Destiny, Warframe, or The Division) is no easy task. Not only on the technological front, but also on the replayability front, games like these are supposed to be hobbies, a game that you log into day after day, a world you inhabit. Where your Avatar is not only a group of polygons and textures on a screen but an extension of who you are as a person, and where you cultivate real friendships with folks you have never met in person (I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s true) this is what the core of a good “MMO” / Shared world shooter is. It is what keeps us coming back YEARS after the initial run through the campaign is done, and it is by this that any truly great “MMO” is judged. (And full disclosure, I am a HUGE BioWare Nerd)
So it was with no shortage of excitement when last Friday rolled around, and I was able to finally get my hands on what may possibly become the next great obsession in my life. Unfortunately the weekend was to be marred by a ridiculous amount of technical glitches as Anthem’s servers were less than cooperative, from Infinite Loading screens where the game would not let you in, to massive stints of rubber banding, enemies disappearing on screen randomly, the inability to enter certain modes in a premade group, getting booted from activities, or not receiving loot at the end of activities there was no shortage of frustration on the technical end. To both publisher Electronic Arts, and BioWare’s credit they communicated all throughout the weekend, and were burning the midnight oil deploying fixes as best they could, and as the weekend wore on stability did improve a bit, but it was nowhere acceptable to anyone involved, it was most certainly not the start that Bioware had envisioned but these things tend to happen when a game is released into the “wild” for the first time.
Separating the actual game from the technical issues, I have to say I left this past weekend even more hopeful than when I went in (which is saying A LOT). The gameplay is simply INCREDIBLE. Nothing I had seen up to this point did justice to how smoothly your Javelin (the high powered suit of Armor you inhabit) moves around the world. Transitioning from the ground to the air is seamless and combat is nothing short of exhilarating. The open world offers an unheard of level of verticality which allows your Javelin to fight from the air as much as the ground, giving you any number of options for dispatching the legions of foes thrown at you, but through all that nimbleness your Javelin still feels like a heavy suit of high tech armor. Each of the 4 Javelin suits (Ranger, Colossus, Storm, and Interceptor) play differently. If you are like me and want to be the bullet eating tank, well Colossus is for you, if prefer operating on the fringes of the battlefield blasting enemies with area of effect attacks and setting up vicious combos, then The Storm would be your Javelin of choice. While the Interceptor boasts the longest flight time of all the Javelins and is the prototypical “Glass Cannon”. The Ranger meanwhile is not only your starting Javelin, but functions as a “Jack Of All Trades”, not really excelling in any one category but decent in all of them. I would anticipate that the Ranger, perhaps more than any other Javelin will need significant attention paid to it’s build in order to maximize it’s effectiveness in battle.
While piloting your Javelin is truly a fantastic experience, I have some serious reservations about the in game menu’s and user interface. I found navigating the menu’s to be unecessarially cumbersome, and something as simple as trying to group up with your friends became an exercise in frustration. I was also not a fan of the “Skyrim” style map at the top of my screen, I would much prefer a mini map style similar to Warframe’s, as having to constantly stop to open the menu to see where I was going an unnecessary waste of time, which only served to take me out of the moment far too often. It would be far better, especially with all the world event’s, and hidden areas to have quicker points of reference when flying around.
Now lets move on to what’s going on “under the hood”, the heartbeat of any good “MMO”, and that is power progression, and while I’m not 100% certain on how this will all come together especially in relation to the endgame lets talk about what we do know:
For starters, your primary level is your “Pilot Level” unlike Destiny where you have to level up your Master Class (Titan), Warlock, and Scrub (Hunter), separately, you only level up one pilot unlocking access to the various Javelin’s as you go. There is also a secondary gear score which looks to function somewhat like Destiny’s “Light Level” which will calculate the overall level of all your equipped weapons and gear, we already know that there will be a hard power cap in place that will increase with updates, but just how this will limit progression has yet to be determined, hard caps are always a tricky proposition due to the fact that when players hit the ceiling, what will keep them grinding away. I have a feeling that they will address this through the use of (see below)
(Continued from above) Builds, and Build optimization, judging by the fact that all the gear and weapons that dropped during the demo rolled with percentage based bonuses. I have a strong suspicion that the endgame loop will revolve around setting up a build (I.E. Close Combat, Range Combat, Pure Tank) and then working towards optimizing it by synergizing your weapons, passive abilities, and special abilities to enhance said build. This, in my opinion is the most satisfying type of progression, in fact it is VERY similar to how The Division is set up, and I would much rather have something akin to that, or Diablo 3’s system where your weapons / armor are the icing on the cake, rather than Destiny’s system where your power is solely determined by what you are wearing.
After a VERY rocky start, I still found quite a bit to enjoy in this demo, although as I stated before I still have a ton of endgame questions that will need to be answered. The next item on the Anthem agenda is the Open Demo this upcoming weekend, I will once again be in game, to see how much progress has been made on server stability, and will hopefully have more to report as the weekend unfolds, so keep your eyes peeled as I regularly update this article as we lead up to launch. I hope to be able to finally run some more activities with a premade team, and get through the included stronghold without the game booting us.
Open Demo Weekend Update:
Well as promised I am back to talk about my experience with the open demo weekend so lets go:
I’m glad to say that the stability of the servers was much improved, although I still experienced some issues completing activities in a pre-made team, they were nowhere near as prevalent as the prior weekend. It was nice to be able to fly around the world with the legion of disconnects or infinite loading screens from the weekend prior.
I had more time to spend with the Storm, and Interceptor Javelins, and I have to admit, I am not a Storm, or Interceptor type of person. I can already tell that The Ranger, and especially the Colossus are going to be my 2 mains. While the Storm is exceptionally cool, boasting a ridiculously long hover time and the ability to wreak havok from the fringes of the battlefield it’s a cool piece of kit. But it doesn’t suit MY particular play style. And don’t even get me started on the Interceptor, I just am NOT feeling that particular suit. There’s definitely no denying it’s massive upside: Tons of Mobility, and lots of Damage if handled properly. I’m just fond of Tanking / Support classes, and that’s what the Ranger and Colossus are looking like they will be.
The Highlight of the weekend though was something teased earlier in the week, that we would be getting a small taste of endgame content, come Sunday coinciding with notifications from the games official Twitter page players got treated to what are know as “Shaper Storms” Suffice to say, a giant storm appeared in the sky, and giant Ash Titans sprung forth from it for players to hunt down. While not much, it did offer a glimpse of what the game will have to offer in the open world.