As we’ve already seen with titles like Monster Hunter World, Diablo 3, and The Division, games with long post-release lifespans tend to get by on trickling out small amounts of content every so often to retain “player engagement.” But what I’d say these games have more in common is a substantial endgame focus that dedicated fans can stick with, knowing that by tackling the game’s hardest challenges they’ll be rewarded with not only better loot, but also the opportunity for an even greater challenge. This is, from what I’ve seen, the schematic Anthem will be following as well.
Let me explain further. In something like Destiny 2, players complete story missions alone until they’ve finished the campaign. The real “endgame” comes from completing weekly challenges and raids for better loot — there’s no real incentive to play through story missions or strikes beyond completing the obligatory requirement for a single drop once a week. In Diablo 3, players can up the difficulty of the entire game, well beyond “Hard” and into the Torment difficulties. This means playing any section of the game’s campaign, alone or with others, has the potential to yield huge rewards.
Anthem features higher difficulties too, called “Grandmaster.” Playing the game’s missions or dungeons in the upper echelons of difficulty gives better chances for rare gear, much like in Diablo 3. This means more potential for replayability, more content in the endgame, and a better reason to play with friends.
At EA’s hands-on event held in San Francisco, I got to play Anthem’s endgame for around two hours. This wasn’t nearly enough time to get a full grasp of the intricacies of my insanely overpowered Javelin, but I could feel the Diablo inspiration instantly. Bigger, “mid-boss” type enemies became normal cannon fodder, while bosses had enormous health pools and took serious strategy to take down. We once thought a boss was simply bugged – not realizing that the combo system of Anthem becomes nigh essential in the late game. For example, launching my explosive mortar at an enemy frozen by our Storm caused exponentially more damage (massive damage, one might say).
Forced to cooperate instead of spamming abilities when they were off cooldown, my group made our way through one of the game’s Strongholds. These are essentially four-player dungeons, filled with puzzle elements and objective-based rooms. What followed was, to say the least, a lot of particle effects and big yellow numbers. Things definitely looked more impressive, but how did it feel?
Like I said, using your team’s abilities in tandem becomes a lot more important as difficulty increases. Beyond that, our “Masterworked” guns didn’t really feel all that different than the basic starter versions. The stat bonuses are pretty granular, giving percentage boosts to other abilities or a certain elemental type, but I couldn’t tell the difference when I was actually firing them. This was pretty disappointing, and I’m hoping “Legendary” guns feel radically different than Cloudburst Assault Rifle #346.
Aside from weaponry, each Javelin class has two support modules to choose from. The Colossus, my Javelin of choice, can either boost allies’ armor for a short time or taunt enemies. These two support abilities come in the form of pieces which are slotted into your Javelin, meaning they have stat boosts and modifiers all their own. Again, this didn’t really make the abilities feel any different (in my limited experience), but can presumably be combined with other modifiers to create a more focused “build.”
My main hesitation with what I’ve seen of Anthem’s endgame so far is in the feeling of it. It didn’t feel much different at all from early missions: fight a bunch of enemies, use the guns your Javelin is able to, equip gear with bigger numbers. Given more than two hours, I may be able to see the nuances of endgame loot, but at the moment I was doing much the same as twenty levels before. I’m interested to see how the loot progression will feel in the game proper, and I’m sure once players fall into their preferred playstyle a “+15% fire damage” mod will be a lot more exciting than it was for me at the time.
As I said, there’s a very real chance that the Grandmaster difficulty settings (which we haven’t gotten our hands on yet) will shower us with Legendary items that will do insane numbers and feel unlike any normal weapon in the game. The fact that these granular difficulties exist at all shows an understanding of the grind: they promise an increased chance of getting better loot in exchange for a bigger challenge. We’ll just have to wait and see how this all shakes out in Anthem’s full release on February 22nd.
Hands-on time with Anthem was conducted at a preview event at EA Redwood Shores. Electronic Arts provided lodging and transportation for this press event.