Anthem, you will have heard of it no doubt. Anybody with the slightest toe dipped in to Gaming, Social Media. Or having seen the odd Bus drive past will be familiar. Being the latest title from Bioware the stakes were high. It has to be said, Bioware fans can be a fervent pack when they are poked with a stick. Let’s be straight up from the front.
The company has delivered a game that does not stick to their modus operandi. Fair enough, but the fans didn’t know and they’re upset.
The company has tried to deliver a game du jour. A moderately massively persistently online, bullet sponge enemies and heaps of customisation.
The company has actually delivered a flawed, but fun game that can be enjoyed on different levels if you forgive a few structural issues.
This is probably a good time to say, this isn’t a review in the traditional sense.
There are various reasons for that, but the key ones will be the method of Anthem’s launch and popularisation. Alongside the pack mentality and vocal rejection of the game by anybody with a phone and some data for Twitter.
Look at the launch, this comes from the stable of Electronic Arts after a few years of build-up, there was an obvious change of strategy with Anthem to previous EA games. We are in the age of the Influencer now and it has to be said the launch of Anthem sealed that move. Where big hitters of 2018 like Spiderman gathered traction on Social Media and Streams, PR bodies were tripping over themselves to hand out code and goodies to get their new wave of mouthpieces to show, share, like, swipe all the sexy things and get as much attention as possible.
You know what, it worked.
Anthem upped the ante, traditional media got time limited code too late, consoles not at all until right on launch or just after. Hands up for that one. However you couldn’t swing a cat last week without hitting a streamer or instagram legend that was showing off their fancy stuff and giving away code after code after code. Say what you will about EA, most people do, I for one understand that a business is in business, regardless of your darling franchises, but in this case they hit the ground running and launched hard.
Even on the back of questionable closed and open Beta sessions people were on board, they were buying on pre-orders and if they didn’t get freebies they were buying and some big sales numbers started to roll in. There is no doubt, the landscape has changed and we are in a period where people get their trust from whoever sells their sponsorship the best.
Seven days later, I’m still playing it and enjoying it, but the fervour of sponsored streamers seems to have paled somewhat.
All publicity is good publicity. An old adage that will never die, and it was very true in the case of Anthem.
The build up was exciting, but people started having doubts in the demo sessions and they started talking about those doubts…in public. The population was staring to turn. They had just seen a brand new Battle Royale drop out of nowhere with next to no server problems and shit ton of polish. They had seen what was on offer in the demo and were worried about Anthem not delivering the goods. Then hoving into view on the horizon was another third person massively online shooter that was starting to look very sexy indeed. Where was Bioware, where was the role-play, the romancing, the story?
On one hand there was the pro-Anthem publicity machine and it was shouting very loudly. On the other hand was the growing bandwagon of the disaffected. Not only disgruntled buyers, but also people taking offence at the marketing strategy. Professional media feeling shut-out and the backbench public team that probably never played the game, but just wanted to be heard saying how similar it was to x, y or z.
Here’s the thing.
Electronic Arts is a business that is in business to make money out of making video games. They are good at it. As consumers they make stuff we like, which we can choose whether or not to consume.
Bioware will have poured their hearts and souls into Anthem. Years of development and world building, their teams and their team’s families should be applauded for giving it a go. The game engine is gorgeous, no mistake. Inside the hub world of Tarsis its heavy on the detail pretty, but lacking substance. However, once you get outside into the canyons, caverns and underground lakes it is stunning. From skybox to puddle Anthem is dripping with high quality visuals. Your third person exosuit, called a Javelin for the sake of narrative is one of four standard builds and can be customised to death. Whatever you do can be seen on screen, change colour schemes, add decals and textures, it all looks mighty fine. Weapon effects, explosions and weather all make a tremendous job of bringing joy.
I am never much of a narrative fan. Most games have lazy writing and overwrought cutscenes that do not grab me. Anthem is no different. There is a story of sorts and it is forgetful, there is canon, but as ever it’s just window dressing. You can see where the pitchfork wielding Bioware fans are coming from having grown up on a diet of Mass Effect. The most important control option for me is being able to skip nonsense. Just let me get on with following a flashing thing and shooting as required.
Controlling your mechanical alter ego is a dream, no wonder Iron Man makes it look so easy. Apart from quickly overheating in flight, which isslowed down by some Crackdown 2 style dipping, the rest of the suit is quite fun to flip around. Jump and take off and you will hear the roar of your jets (especially in a decent headset. Not Sponsored). Flick into a hover mode and rain some death, roll, dodge, make a superhero landing and charge into battle. It is smooth and intuitive, consider that a win.
Weapons systems are a mix of thrown, some gadgets and two active weapons that are switchable on the fly. What you can’t do on the fly, in mission, is rummage around in your inventory and swap out your equipment. Seems to be a big sticking point, really isn’t that much of a bother and to be honest if you’d notice. At the start of the mission you squeezed yourself into a Javelin suit so tight that you’ll be happy you didn’t have that extra muffin. So where would all that inventory be? Considering all the loot pickups are glowing glyph type thingies. They are getting downloaded back to Fort Tarsis base thingy, and I even skipped the story.
As for the actual guns. Being dubbed a Loot-Shooter is all well and good, but it’s going to be slow grind to get the top end stuff. Basic weapons cover all bases and offer ranges vs accuracy trade offs as usual. As you progress in levels better specced weapons will become available and they can always be traded in for parts. To use up against a blueprint to create something new. No surprises there and to be honest, exactly what I was expecting, so again not really a drama.
Is Anthem good in a crowd?
Once you get the solo introductory levels out of the way and get to wander around Tarsis on your own you notice something. This isn’t a Destiny type hub where loads of fun people teleport in to kick a soccer ball or sit pensively up a tree. This is empty. Its your version of the same place everybody gets and as it is, not somewhere you want to spend much time in.
Moving on with the story forces you into matchmaking. Great if you are playing with friends and have an actual squad. Randoms on the other hand can be a different kettle of fish. I’ve been lucky and generally found that people on missions, just want to play missions. You might also find yourself being carried by players that have been there before. The teamwork is there, but constructive communication is often not. Generally a point where online gaming does fall down for me. Thankfully having ignored most stories over the years, I can make a good call on what objective I’m aiming for next.
As well as the story missions the expansive map can be visited in Freeplay. Which again sets you up with three other players. This does a couple of things. First it hamstrings the hope that you can wander around on your own being nosey. Second it shows that the whole structure is limited well outside the realms of anything massively multiplayer. The Freeplay map is where I have spent more time, it just highlights the fun side of the game. Using the freedom of the Javelin to travel, wiping out gangs of enemies, larger beasts and the odd world event as it happens. Not having the drop-in, drop-out nature of Destiny makes it feel more controlled, but still, the hours go by.
To sum up, I like Anthem.
I like the game mechanics and I like the feel of the Javelin. I am not a fan of the story, but hey, I’m grinding away in this lush environment they made because that’s how I spend my time.
As for the hype overload and hype backlash, well, whatever. The game sold itself in those E3 demos over the last 2 years, I could tell where it was going. I have absolutely no idea what the naysayers thought they were getting, but it was pretty clear to me. I also want see where it goes, because Bioware are selling the long game. The story is of little consequence with the Acts that are following. There is commitment to see the world of Anthem evolve, changes will happen in the layout, new enemies will arrive. The game is destined to evolve.
Stick with it, let’s see.