It’s a day a lot of us gamers have been waiting for; the opportunity to final get our hands on the anticipated Anthem has been on our minds for months. I am one of those minds. But least to say that the VIP Demo had a relatively rocky start within its first 12 or so hours, including bugs with loading screens, glitches and crashes. It led to a lot of confusion and frustration, between gamers and developers alike. It takes time to adjust what a raw game is like when it’s released and not a lot of gamers realise that.
After a little time though, I did manage to get some very good hours into this, so here’s what I found my experience to be like, as well as describe Anthem’s mechanics and features too. It goes without saying that we need to remember that this is a Demo, and any issues I raise in the article are purely from my experience on the Xbox X, and could be completely corrected once the full game is released.
We know and get the feel straight away that there is going to be a deep story plot, just by wandering around Fort Tarsis itself, the safe haven for the freelancers and others living their lives there. But we will get back to that soon enough. All we know from the demo, is that there is a world filled with dangerous groups, factions and monstrous creatures that threaten the ‘Anthem of Creation’. You, a Freelancer, use specially crafted Exo suits called Javelins, to eradicate the evil beyond the walls of Fort Tarsis and protect those within them. It’s also your job to discover and research the alien technology that is the main construct of the world itself, the Shapers. They have left behind several relics, which can both be a hindrance, or an advantage, it’s up to the acute few within Fort Tarsis to task these Freelancers to acquire such technology.
In the Demo, there was an Expedition Quest line available to play given to you from a guy called Mattia. He sends you out to find a piece of shaper tech to further his research. Once acquired, he activated it, but ends up not only duplicating himself into three versions of himself, but also splitting his personalities between them.
As the quest line continues in an attempt to reverse the incident and prevent Mattia turning into a puddle, you venture out to protect, collect and assist as much as possible. From my point of view, it felt like it was more of a side quest than the main story, but you get the feeling that it’s definitely in depth, and relevant to what’s going on, unlike most other single player-based action games where side quests are thrown in for the sake of it, like throwing salad on the plate next to your double decker beef burger. It has context and sets it up real nice for what could be included in the main game.
Let’s start off with that one big ass place I’ve babbled on about several times already. Put simply, Fort Tarsis is the safe haven and staging point for you to deploy from, change your equipment for your Javelin, speak to the variety of NPC’s scattered around, find ominous parchments with alien language written on them, purchase vanity items for your Javelin suit’s, and choose to take on various missions, strongholds, freeplay missions on your own or with a group of friends. So least to say, although the demo allowed us to do the minimum around the place, I suspect the full game will have a lot more to offer also. You experience Fort Tarsis in first person, other than 3rd person when actually playing the main part of the game.
It’s a neat idea; putting the player into a more engaging and immersive experience. However, during the demo it was fairly sketchy, even just to walk around. The frame rate isn’t the best which spoils the experience a bit. I think it’s because there is so much detail around the Fort, to make it look authentic and graphically beautiful, but this slows the gameplay down quite badly. But this is a demo remember, and may be fixed in the final product.
It seems that BioWare continue to create choices and options for the player, to allow them to act how they wish to who they want. When interacting with some of the NPC’s, you have the chance to say some choice words now and then. This ranges from telling Zoe, the Javelin repair gal, that being a freelancer is dangerous work, or from telling Amal, the ‘sorry I thought you were gay.’ barman, to completely trust a woman with his delivery, even though she sounds potentially dangerous. For now, it just seems like a feature they are willing to show off, as well as an opportunity to try and find out more about the lore in Anthem, if that is your sort of thing. But this feature in the main game could influence players to take specific paths during a mission, or possibly have multiple story endings, like the Witcher 3?
Javelin suits are a Freelancer’s bread, butter, bacon and sauce in the game. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to live long enough to see a Grabbit. Before you venture off, it might be wise to set your Javelin up for whatever task lies ahead of you. Enter, the Forge.
This feature allows you to customise up to five loadouts for each Javelin, your weapons, equipment and buffs, what your Javelins will look like, salvage weapons and equipment, so you can collect parts to craft new, better ones, and generally just look in awe at what you have created. It’s a really nice feature; when you create a Javelin that just suits you, excuse the pun, you can just take a step back like it’s a piece of art. It’s also pretty easy system to use as well.
It looks like you shouldn’t just be flying around the world in a preset Javelin, no sir. You can have your own personality and flair with your creations. You can customise your Javelins cosmetically to give off your own style and make your friends and groups envy you. It doesn’t just range from colours, but also the material you choose for each part of the Javelin; metallic paints, wood’s, metal’s, fabrics, patterns, vinyls, different armour designs, it honestly feels endless. You can even choose how clean your Javelin is; just come out of the workshop clean as a whistle? Or do you prefer to show off your battle scars.
During the Demo, the feature on how to earn these cosmetics was present as well. You can earn in-game currency called Coins, or pay for an in-game currency called Shards (not present in Demo). When you play, you earn coins from expeditions, freeplay, completing challenges and the like, anything really. They can then be used to unlock said vanity items for your Javelins – alternatively, you can buy Shards, the purchasable in-game currency to put towards cosmetics ONLY too.
As you walk up to your suit, and it turns and opens itself up, ready for your departure into Bastion, you must choose a number of options first; what you’re doing, where your deploying, going alone or with a group, it’s almost like your mother is trying to make sure she knows what her son or daughter is doing and warning you to be back before dark.
That being said, there is a number of things you can choose to do; missions are standard and can be completed as a group or solo, and can be tied in with the main story or side missions you might be doing.
Freeplay lets you explore the world of Bastion, collecting resources, investigating events that occur and venturing into enemy infested areas such as dungeons, caves or relic sites. Strongholds are tough, long events that drop the finest of loot and gear, they are almost essential to be completed as a group and can face an overwhelming number of enemies. Each of these game modes uses a selectable difficulty level, and will match make with other players accordingly. Furthermore, the difficulty level will increase or decrease the rarity of loot that drops for you, harder levels meaning better loot drops of course. It was a good system – some of the time.
Unfortunately, throughout the demo, matchmaking and loading into a game house often caused my game to crash, only loading up to 95% of the game before freezing. This has been notified by the developers already and hopefully should have the issue fixed before full game release.
Finally! I managed to get into a game mode, let’s do this! What are the controls!?
Before you can fly about and start causing mayhem, it took me around 3 minutes or so to fully understand how to use my Javelin. The demo didn’t come with a tutorial, but that might be because during it, you start roughly halfway through the game. When you get to grips with the large variety of hotkeys for your actions, it’s becomes a lot simpler to use.
The flying mechanic is fantastic to use, it’s not forever, but you can prolong the flight by diving towards ground quickly or flying into waterfalls and even close to lakes and rivers, to cool down your jets from overheating. There’s a true sense of freedom in flight, and you get a great sense of how big the map really is. It truly feels open and expansive, not only in the horizon around you, but in secret caves above you, to underwater caverns below as well.
When you get involved in combat, it is very easy to adjust to, and you will find yourself using your Javelins abilities more than your actual weaponry, as they are not only just so effective, but they’re so freaking amazing to use as well. It becomes even more satisfying when you get a combo, or several combos in a row.
Combos occur from 2 components, a primer and a detonator. Since there is elemental damage in the game (fire, ice, electric and acid damage) the primer is set to use and apply one of these damage effects to your enemies, once that effect takes place, detonators can be used to apply a huge bonus damage effect on the affected enemies, creating a huge amount of devastation.
These primers and detonators are mainly part of the equipment you load out your Javelin with, so it’s wise to have a play around, as generally with my Colossus, I always had at least one primer and one detonator in my loadouts, just in case.
Damage from your Javelins didn’t just rely on the equipment and the abilities they had, each one also had one Ultimate ability. This charged up over time and can be used to create crazy damage onto several enemies or maybe just a singular target.
They look, feel and sound amazing, although I felt the Colossus and his Siege Canon Ultimate was slightly underwhelming; It’s a huge visually impressive explosion, but nearly not enough damage dealt as intended in my opinion. BioWare Devs did state that some balance changes were present throughout the demo, so there’s a slight chance some Ultimates are meant to be more powerful than they were shown.
Overall then, the combat mechanics are pretty sound and precise once you get used to them. It’s all about choosing the right Javelin for you and your playstyle; each one is different from each other, not only in equipment but also in manoeuvrability. There was an issue I experienced with the weapon recoil though – Any time I had wanted to sentence a group of scars to death after flying in like a badass, the gun would recoil uncontrollably, until you left and re-entered aiming and using your weapon again – I’m sure it’s a simple fix though.
The music you hear on the menu and around the nearby market are noticeably different, but they are both tribal and futuristic, it’s quite a mash up, but a little repetitive. I’m sure in the full release there will be different sounds and music that will switch things up a little bit. When I first loaded up Anthem for the first time, I did enjoy the look and how the title slips in and between the scenery of the backdrop, with letters sitting in between pipes and wires scattered across the title, pretty neat.
The attention to detail such as this which makes me realise the effort that’s gone into making it look stunning. Fort Tarsis for example, it is vibrant and bustling with life, but it’s also worn, cracked walls, brown colours of dirt and grime, alongside growing plant life scattered around the fort. It’s this imperfection that makes the fort more realistic and immersive. They may not be as visually impressive as the PC version, but the shaders and lighting still play a beautiful part, and do it well. The graphics do a good job when speaking to people around the fort as well. Their personality shines through nicely, no matter how cheese or stale their dialog can sound at times. Their animations can be a little off at times too, can just be a little buggy in places.
Outside the walls, it’s a different story. Still visually beautiful, but it’s more vibrant, filled with bright colours and greenery, vegetation scatters the plains. But it still blends in with the huge shaper technology across the lands, and the buildings and fortifications that enemy factions have situated themselves in. I particular like the look of the Scars and their ways of living. They are an enemy faction of alien scavengers. Living in buildings and hideouts with any salvage they can get their hands on. It’s almost Mad Max style of designs, lots of rust and decay, it’s stunning.
During combat the graphics and audio generate bigger impacts for more immersion; weapons and equipment sound powerful. They are very base orientated, definitely worth wearing headphones for firing that siege cannon. Sounds like this make me want to hold down the trigger, unless I’m recoiling again like crazy. Another detail I absolutely love is how the Javelins feel and move, it’s very mechanical, like you can hear all the correct parts co-ordinating with one another, leg joints moving correctly, the sound of you thundering into the surface from flight, all very impactive. Even when just walking up to your Javelin to start a game mode is a brilliant touch; how your character slips into it really gives you a sense of the materials and crafting gone into making the suit. Besides the few bugs and glitches with the visuals, it’s amazing what has been accomplished for a Demo.
Of course, as stated at the beginning and throughout, this being a demo, there were a few issues. Some could be as simple as a code fix or a patch, others might be a little bit more in-depth. It’s better if I go from the start of my experience throughout.
Most of the main issues for several players like me was the initial main screen, when trying to log into Anthem. People immediately complained about connectivity issues and the EA servers being clogged up. To understand this better, it’s worth mentioning that no matter how big or accommodating a server can be, you can never estimate how it will cope with a fresh, raw concept such as a game demo or a beta. The parameters set on a game could be for specific reasons, like stress testing to see the true limits and capabilities of a game’s potential. Once the servers had opened up and increased capacity, connection to the game was fine.
At least, I thought it was. The next glitch was the main menu would lose all of its interface and just show the graphics in the background – and it stayed like that unless you quit and rebooted the game. This was probably my biggest problem, for me and many, many others. The issue was raised straight away and BioWare developers hunkered down through it, managing to patch it several hours later.
During gameplay, the frame rate would drop in and out now and then, depending how many moving parts were on screen at the time. Loading screens and loading times could take a little while but that’s expected. It’s clever how the secret loading screens work when moving around Fort Tarsis, it’s pretty seamless all things considered. Just wish that was the same concept for going into different dungeon areas in freeplay around Bastion.
If you entered a dungeon in freeplay, it’s almost like an instance; new area, wait to load. Sometimes going into areas like these were hit and miss, you didn’t know if you would be waiting for a while, or if the game was going to crash during loading.
Loading issues can be a little agitated when trying to match make with a party as well. When I first experienced this, I switched to private, which improved loading times and getting into a game a lot quicker. So perhaps multiplayer matchmaking needs some creases ironed out also, but that could be down to connectivity issues.
Other than those there were some minor ones too, like the recoil of weapons being over exaggerated when exiting out of flight or sprinting forward to then take aim and fire away. It’s a lot for a demo to take, especially with it being a triple A title. It goes without saying a huge thanks for the opportunity to experience and play the demo in the first place, no matter what issues it might have raised. It’s good these issues are surfacing, that’s what the demo is for in the first place. It’s also worth saying a huge thanks and appreciation to those working hard to sort out the major issues that made the game unplayable at times. They worked extremely hard to get the game going for us and still continue to do what they can to improve gameplay. So – to you developers and fault finders, I salute you.
It truly is shaping up to be a fantastic story filled shooter, with the ability to play with mates in tough strongholds and missions, fly around like and iron beast, and conjure up some pretty epic explosions, Anthem is stylish, brilliantly designed and a whole heap of fun to play. Fingers crossed the final game has most of the issues brought up in this demo sorted.
Anthem is shaping up to be an amazing explosion filled game, but the demo has some issues that dampens the mood.
- Beautiful dynamic graphics and scenery
- Customisation and appearances
- Combat combos and explosions
- Loading times and glitches
- Matchmaking connectivity
- Some abilities are underwhelming in power