Games

Anthem VIP Demo – First Impressions

There has been a lot of buzz surrounding Anthem and its fast approaching release date.  Some of the buzz is good, a lot of it is bad.  Yes, I know EA has a horrible reputation and with the last couple of Mass Effect games, developer Bioware has fallen off their pedestal as well; but other than a few franchises, I try to judge a game based on the game and how it plays, not so much being bothered by the behind the scenes drama.  For my first impressions of the VIP demo on PC, I will be judging Anthem on it’s merits alone and not the history of the companies that are behind it.

Ever since it was announced back in 2017, I have tried to remain cautiously optimistic.  I was hyped for Destiny 1 and got a bit burned by the lack luster end game and how the three classes felt the same.  Yes, I know the classes in Destiny have unique melees, and ultimate abilities, but in raids and high level dungeons I almost never used my melee and I used my Titan bubble shield as a buff against bosses because that was all it was really good for.  When Destiny 2 came out, it felt lazy and mishandled with a raid that was disconnected from the story and the death timer mixing with crap mechanics which lead to a lot of frustration. All of that made me look at Anthem, a game that is similar to Destiny and had me thinking, “This could be what Destiny should have been, or you know… it could just end up being another lack luster online shooter.”

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As time went by and I started to listen to various videos covering aspects of the game, I started feeling much better about Anthem.  So much in fact that I pre-ordered the game just to get into the VIP demo.  Yes, so far it has been a bit of a debacle with the connection issues, lack of server space causing people to not be able to even log into the game, infinite loading screens needing a game restart to fix, and the friend codes for the VIP demo also being a pain to get working.  However once you were able to get past all of these technical difficulties and start playing, the game is a blast.

You start out with the Ranger and a pilot level of 10.  Within 2-3 missions (assuming you do not miss any part of the mission because of the infinite loading screen) you get to level 12 and unlock your next Javelin.  Bioware was smart enough to allow you to pick the Javelin you unlock at each level increment so I chose Storm since spell slinging is my play style.  Keep in mind for the open demo next weekend, you ONLY get to choose ONE Javelin other than the starting Ranger so make sure to pick the one you want.

Once I picked my new Javelin I decided to check out the customization and wow I thought Warframe had an in depth customization menu.  There are options to change the armor for the head, legs, arms, and torso separately so you can mix and match what you like.  Then you can choose a material you want for various sections on the overall Javelin and even choose a color for that material.  There are several options for both material and color and you can even make and save your own color to a separate pallet.  There are intro, and victory animations to choose as well as emotes so you can style your Javelin the way you want to.  This is where the micro-transactions will come into play however so I cannot say much more about it other than the demo gave you a lot of materials and colors to customize the look, but only a basic animation loadout and no choice of armor without spending a special currency to buy more.  How expensive they will be I am unsure so that is something to judge after the game releases.

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The thing that I feared the most about Anthem was; “would the Javelins all feel the same?” And I’m happy to say the answer to that is “No”.  The Ranger felt nice and noob friendly with a decent kit.  A grenade to deal with clusters of enemies, guided rocket to deal massive single target damage, a bubble shield useful for protection during barrages or during a revive, and an ultimate that lets you target several enemies or one big one for massive damage.  The Storm however felt like a demi-god.  I was calling down various elemental blasts, freezing enemies in place or shocking them so they would shock nearby allies.  Using fire to seek out my enemies behind cover, or just blasting them with a dome of fire.  Using a giant energy shield wall called “Wind Wall” to protect my allies or shield me while I revived a fallen friend.  And doing most of this while barely touching the ground as the Storm Javelin has the best hover capabilities and a shield that becomes stronger when hovering.  Then when the ultimate meter fills up I unleash elemental fury calling down four elemental blasts that prime, then combo off each other for massive damage.  What I mean by that is that certain abilities are called “primers” that will give a status effect on an enemy, fire does damage over time, ice freezes enemies, acid weakens their armor so they take more damage, and electricity charges them so they shock other nearby enemies.  Then there are abilities that will combo off of the primed enemies and depending on the ability and Javelin will have various effects.  I do not know all the effects from the combo system, but it is fun and satisfying to combo with yourself and especially your allies.

The missions are fun and challenging.  I played with pugs for my initial play through and then helped a friend with a couple of the first missions. I did not find a way to type a message and I was not sure if the push to talk function actually worked of if it is squad based so that made things difficult.  The first story mission you have access to in the demo ends with a puzzle that the first time I did it me and the one other guy with me were flying around this big room trying to find what to set these three portal looking things to in order to solve the puzzle.  After we figured it out it was a simple matter, there are glowing light that correspond to the color the portal needs and I think the last one is just a matter of keep changing it until the objective completes.  Though when I helped my friend with that I had no way to communicate with the others who clearly had not done it so I told my friend what to do and we had to dash between portals changing them back a couple times just to end the mission.  So hopefully they add a text chat option to help alleviate this.  This is especially apparent when you go down you just stare at your Javelin bent over with a giant red warning symbol over your screen, and the only way your allies will notice is if they look at you and see this tiny red circle with a white + over your body.

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Once you complete a mission it takes you to a screen similar to Monster Hunter world where it tallies up what everybody did, how much experience they earned, and how many badges they got by doing challenges and meeting special requirements.  The experience then gets totaled together and everybody earns the same so the more people you have with you for a mission the more experience you can gain.  It will then show what the loot you picked up is as during the mission you only see the quality and there is no way to check what you actually got.  That was done so you would not have that one person who is sitting out of combat to compare stats on the new gun they got while the others are in a pitched battle barely hanging on.  So test your load outs on missions you feel comfortable messing around in or in free-roam because once you launch your stuck with that load out. You then enter Fort Tarsis and walk at a brisk pace to talk to an NPC to advance the story.  Which I did find interesting and liked the resolve to the quest line we had access to.  There apparently is a “sprint” in Fort Tarsis but it is so minor it is pretty much unnoticeable.

The demo also contains one of the end game dungeons called Strongholds where you go through a challenging dungeon to put down an infestation of space bugs.  It was challenging with the end of every objective giving a chest filled with good loot.  I generally got 2-3 rare items, 2-4 uncommon, and a couple common items from each chest.  It ends with an amazing boss fight against a giant spider like creature with glowing sacs on the back it’s body in a massive circular arena that has a tall spire in the middle.  The spire in the middle you can land on and avoid the adds that get summoned in when the boss runs off, but small rocks constantly fall so your shields take minor damage up there.  I only ever used it to cool off my Javelin so I could hover more and rain icy death on the adds and shoot the boss.  It was fun and satisfying killing the boss.  It had a decent amount of health but not too much to feel like a bullet sponge.

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I did play a bit of the free roam and the map is a decent size.  I was able to fly around and look at a beautiful environment, find lore points to learn more about the world, gather materials for crafting, fight some enemies here and there, and do a few world events for loot and experience.  For the Demo there is not much variety between world events or mission objectives, boiling down to kill enemies, kill this specific enemy, pick up thing to bring to thing, rescue/revive allies.  So it would be nice if that gets expanded upon.  A friend of mine who played with me, and a Youtuber who has been covering Anthem called Rurikhan, they both talked about how it would be fun if there was an area that was cool enough to fly around infinitely and allow you to dog fight.  Using your abilities and weapons while flying not just hovering sounds fun, though part of me doubts we will get that at launch (maybe later).  Bioware has been listening to the community and already they are making changes like adding in a social space to show off your Javelins, and working on a post-launch patch to let you re-roll inscriptions that you receive on your loot.

So let’s talk about the loot.  Anthem is first and foremost a looter-shooter.  You go around killing enemies and completing objectives to get loot.  The stats as well as what the loot is is randomly generated so chances of you getting the same rifle or ability with the same attached perks and quality are very rare.  There are 6 rarity levels for loot; common, uncommon, rare, epic, masterwork, and legendary.  Among just having better base stats gear above common quality will also have bonus effects called “inscriptions” that are completely random and from my experience will generally have unrelated effects.  Some of these could be more ammo gained for a specific weapon, more shields or health for your Javelin, more damage for an ability (yes it can be a different ability than the one the inscription is on), and various others.  Uncommon gets 1 inscription, rare gets 2, epic gets 3, masterwork gets 4, and legendary gets 4 as well but from the dev-stream Bioware did it seems that legendary gear will get a non-random effect that tends to be decently powerful.  How true that statement is though remains to be seen.  You do get enough loot that if you do not get a good inscription you have a decent chance of getting that same piece of gear with some inscriptions that are good.

So far I am enjoying Anthem and do not regret my pre-order at all.  Yes, it can be frustrating that almost every time I have launched a mission I have had to restart my game to just get past a loading screen (it is just the demo), but once I get in I have a blast every time.  The combat is fun and challenging, the powers are varied, and most importantly the Javelins feel unique.  So much so that it seems a balanced team would have one of each Javelin, all with abilities that combo off of each other.  So the big question here is, “Should you get Anthem?”  and that is hard to say.  The game feels flushed out and we are not even playing an up to date build.  The demo is using a build that is a few weeks old or so and it still feels great when you are actually playing.  That is the catch though, it is a bit of a pain to just get in.  If the server issues can get fixed then I 100% recommend this game.  Especially if you have three other friends to play with as that is where this game really shines.  I played it on PC and it does require a fairly decent one to run nicely; I have a nVidia 980ti graphics card, with an Intel i7 4 core processor, and 16 gigs of ram which all gets me a solid 60 fps on max setting, but my some of my other friends with rigs that are similar have had some issues.   So my suggestion is give the game a chance next week.   Hopefully they fix the server issues for the open demo that goes live on February 1st and goes until February 3rd so we can all give Anthem the chance it truly deserves.  It is truly a fun game, and the fate of it lies very much in the hands of the community.  My biggest fear is that the game does not live up to EA’s expectations and the road map changes to help them recuperate from what they feel is a loss.   If you would like to get a bit more in-depth look on what the full release of Anthem should have I highly suggest checking out Rurikhan’s YouTube channel as he does a wonderful job with covering what has been shown and bringing up good points on what Anthem could be like and what changes would be nice to see. – TS

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