Less than a month from release, “Anthem’”s open demo calls for careful optimism

Courtesy of EA

The beginning of the month brought with it an open demo for BioWare’s “Anthem,” giving players a first hand impression of the game. The demo itself was small and confined to only one three-part side story, one stronghold and limited access to the open world in freeplay.  Furthermore, player customization was limited and hub exploration reduced until the full game launches Feb. 22. This limited preview indicates that “Anthem’”s third-person shooter gameplay was, thus far, a blast to play. Several serious bugs, however, and questionable gameplay mechanics have led to some cautious optimism.

 

“Anthem”’s javelins (mech suits) are fun to play with as you fly across the beautifully designed open world. Players will have access to a total of four javelin types (Ranger, Storm, Interceptor and Colossus), all of which were playable in the demo, and each unique in their playstyles. All of these classes are equipped with the ability to fly, two weapons slots and three special abilities unique to their class, as well as several tweaks to armor and mobility based on their specialization. Playing as any one of these classes was a thrill, as all four builds felt very fluid in combat and movement.

 

Coupled with the entertaining gameplay of the javelins is the stunning open world. Though only a small portion of the full game world was available, the landscape was gorgeous. Filled with lucious jungles, beautiful waterfalls, abandoned villages and makeshift enemy bases, flying from location to location was a blast as there was no lack of enemies to engage. Though limited in variation due to the demo, enemies more or less fell into three categories, each with their own abilities and tactics which included the natural wildlife, gangs of enemies called scars and javelin-equipped members of the Dominion (the main enemy of the game). Freeplay was entertaining throughout the duration of the three-day demo, but it remains to be seen if the grind of gathering loot and fighting the same enemies lasts long after the game’s release.

 

But for all the positives that came along with gameplay, “Anthem’”s demo was filled with its fair share of shortcomings and red flags. For starters, there were several gameplay mechanics that restricted players ability to adapt to new threats. When engaged with a mission or flying in freeplay, any loot that you acquire is hidden from you, save for its rarity level, until you finish the mission or end your free play session and return to the main hub. This design choice slows down progression and restricts players ability to change their weapon loadouts on the fly. As a result, each time I entered a free play session I felt like I was just play testing one loadout before I quit, changed my build and demoed that one for a bit. When each step of this cycle is delayed by a tedious loading screen, the effort feels like a grind rather than a fun experience.  Additionally, the game is always utilizing matchmaking whenever you enter a story mission or play the free play mode. While not initially a bad thing, when certain story missions require you to solve complex puzzles with a squad of randoms who don’t communicate, the game becomes a hassle to complete and there is no way around it.

 

Finally, the demo was filled with bugs that either kicked me from freeplay servers or crashed my game entirely. Even when the game didn’t quit on me, I constantly found myself entering a firefight with a gun that wouldn’t fire and abilities that wouldn’t work for some reason. I even found myself entering enemy camps where all hostiles would just disappear once I shot at them.  The fact that this is only a demo reduces my overall concern regarding bugs, but knowing that the full game is scheduled to release later this month is cause for concern regarding whether all these bugs will be addressed in time.

 

When the demo worked, “Anthem” was a blast to play. The experience was heightened when I joined a squad of friends but was still enjoyable when I entered a firefight with randoms.  However, a glitchy demo and questionable design choices lead to skepticism about the high expectations for this game.

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