Anthem isn’t quite the game I was expecting when I sat down at EA’s offices to binge it for a day. BioWare’s latest effort was initially much-maligned by fans due to its seeming lack of a narrative focus. We haven’t seen much of the story, and due to the nature of the preview event, I wasn’t exposed long enough stretches to form an opinion on it. What I can say, however, is that comparisons to Destiny and overall cynicism surrounding its “game as service” status are largely unwarranted.
While I’m certainly more keen on things like “game feel” and “mission structure” than “narrative,” I have no doubt Anthem will contain at least a hearty amount of BioWare’s signature storytelling (there are already glimpses of their top-notch characterization).
What I value most in a game like this is just heading out into the world with others and letting the experience wash over me. In the same way that I went back to a game like Spider-Man again and again just to swing around, I feel a compulsion to soar through Anthem’s world in a jet-powered killing suit.
What’s really helped the sentiment surrounding Anthem is seeing this in action. Half the comments on any YouTube video about the game are something along the lines of, “Looks cool, but we’ll see how it turns out.” Having played the game more extensively, I can say with near certainty that the gameplay alone is frenetic, intense, and fun enough to carry the rest of the experience on its shoulders.
You heard it here the millionth time: the flying feels incredible. Gliding along a shallow basin to (literally) cool my jets with water splashing up behind me gave me a primal sense of contentment. Stopping mid-flight to engage enemies with mortars, auto-cannons, grenades, and mini-nuke launchers combine the best feelings of using an unstoppable arsenal with the gratifying mechanics of an arcade flight game. Slamming down from above with a powerful melee strike and whipping out a shotgun is like playing Crackdown and Gears of War all at once. Anthem is the Powerpuff Girls of combat design: combining all these little nuances with a hefty splash of particle effects.
Adding a layer of verticality to standard firefights also allows encounters to be designed in more engaging ways: large bosses spit out low and mid-air attacks and enemies form encampments on the cliff faces of valleys. Standing still for too long means certain death – the combat requires far more thought and strategy than Destiny’s stop-n-pop playstyle and feels more rewarding for it.
Speaking of rewards, making your way through each mission means being awarded plentiful loot; so much so, in fact, that I would say Anthem is more like Diablo than Destiny. Rather than guns being named, unique weapons with a few perks, Anthem’s weapons have more granular upgrades attached. For example, a Cloudburst assault rifle for my Colossus may have a bonus to ammunition or boost a specific kind of damage. By mixing these with Enhancements, modular upgrades that are applied to each Javelin, you can create a “build” that suits your playstyle. It’s far and away more customizable than Destiny’s limited class structure, and I have a feeling the community will be concocting some insane synergies down the line.
All this talk of gameplay and loot design certainly isn’t to say that Anthem’s story won’t be engaging. The dialogue is interesting and, at times, genuinely funny. Comm chatter offers more than simple narrative dumps and characters sounded more natural than I was used to hearing from a game – like people just doing their job rather than trying to make everything sound more interesting than it really is. While it may be exhausting to learn new pronouns in another sci-fi universe, I have a feeling there will be plenty of time to get familiar with all the factions and entities littering the world.
All in all, it’s easy to get swept up in pitting games against each other like it’s the Thunderdome. But I have a sneaking suspicion that Anthem will peacefully coexist alongside titles like Warframe, The Division 2, and yes, even Destiny. Each has its own quirks, appeal, and world to explore. Given their ever-evolving nature players are bound to move from one to another like a system settling into its lowest-energy resting state. I guess you could call me an optimist, but the only thing we can do now is wait and see.
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.