Six Hours In, Anthem Has A Lot To Love

I’ve played about six hours of Anthem, a game where players fly around in mechanical suits blowing stuff up in search of ever more rare loot, and while I’m still getting my bearings I already feel a lot better about the game than I did back during its two demos.

The game launched earlier today on PC for Origin Premier subscribers and on Xbox One as part of a 10-hour trial through EA Access, with a full-launch for non-subscribers and PS4 players on February 22.

Unlike the two demo sessions earlier this month and last, I haven’t gotten disconnected from the servers or experienced any bugs on the scale of the never-ending loading screen.

Load times are still a nuisance and I wish developer BioWare had done something to make them less noticeable and boring than a bar slowly filling up above a still image, but at least they’re not broken. There have been occasional graphical glitches, but nothing that lasted for more than a second or in any way interrupted what I was doing. So far, Anthem works.

It’s also a lot of fun. The core of Anthem is flying through ancient caves and jungles dotted with ruins, and that part of the game could not feel any better.

Punching the left analogue stick to turn on forward thrusters or the right one to gracefully hover in place is easy and responsive but full of complementary camera effects and richly layered sound effects that really convince you you’re controlling a sentient rocket.

Even if Anthem were just a fantasy-infused flying sim, it would still be a ton of fun.

But of course there’s a lot more to the game than just flying around. Anthem revolves around getting missions from the people in your hub, a city called Fort Tarsis; going out into the big, bad, dangerous world to complete them; and then returning and using the loot you collected to upgrade a mechanical suit, also known as a Javelin.

You can play as part of a group of up to four players or alone, though some of the missions really are built for teamwork. Happily, Anthem offers automatic matchmaking for everything.

One of the big questions facing the game prior to release was whether it would have any meaningful story beyond a few wacky sci-fi premises strung together to explain why you were flying around a strange world in robot armour. While the narrative does take a back seat to everything else going on in the hours I’ve played, it does exist.

Playing as a freelancer, a class of warriors tasked with protecting humanity from deadly forces of nature brought about by mysterious artefacts, you become entangled in a plot to stop a particularly ruthless faction called the Dominion from obtaining special artefacts that could be used to do any number of terrible things.

Based on what I’ve seen of it so far, it doesn’t have anything as complex as the political conflicts and intrigue at work in any of the Mass Effect games. Instead, it’s more in line with the Destiny games’ clear-cut drama around good vs. evil, and it’s decent enough with a world that feels somewhat more lived-in than Bungie’s series.

Where Destiny’s hub, the Tower, is located up in the clouds and feels somewhat like a dream, Anthem’s Fort Tarsis feels more like a giant, greasy car repair shop with a bar inside it. I have no idea what the people in Anthem smell like, but I’m absolutely sure they smell like something.

The game’s otherwise straightforward plot is also helped out a lot by a cast of extremely well-voiced and well-acted characters. Motion-capture is the basis for a number of the performances and it shows, with small winks, bitten-lips and idiosyncratic mannerisms helping to set each person apart.

You can see this in characters such as Owen, a side-kick who helps guide you over the radio during missions. He’s charming, scrappy and way out of his depth.

So far Neeson Giles is my favourite, even though I only spoke with him once and the conversation didn’t go very well. A loser who just wants to hang with the cool kids, Giles told me Owen was weird and unstable before backtracking after realising he’d clearly offended me to say he’d only heard other people say that Owen was weird and unstable. He then proceeded to say we should hang out again sometime, before eventually begging me to hang out again sometime.

I have no idea if Giles will play an important part in the main storyline or if he’s just there to add flavour. Maybe he’ll have an interesting set of missions for me at some point. I could have easily just walked past him and never met him at all. Did I mention he’s voiced by Brooklyn 99’s Joe Lo Truglio?

Though I’m running the game on medium settings to keep the framerate up thanks to my under-powered GTX 970, it still looks crisp and detailed, especially considering all of the action. Despite all of the flying around and almost non-stop explosions, everything has run smoothly.

The few times I’ve slowed down to push my settings to the max to take in how the light peers over a ridge or bounces off the ripples in a pond, I’ve been really impressed. Even when the environments start to run together and feel repetitive, their size, scope and detail are breathtaking.

Of course, the real challenge for a game such as Anthem is whether it can still feel almost as exhilarating after 100 hours as it does after six. Even now I have concerns the breadth and diversity of enemy encounters and mission types.

Almost to a one they’ve consisted of some version of a spherical arena space that requires slow, methodical circling. When I end up in a tight spot, I fly out of range and then begin a new sweep. The mission objectives have so far been simple, consisting of either holding down a point or collecting orbs to activate an artefact.

Enemy AI doesn’t help either. On more than one occasion I’ve seen enemies standing completely still, or turning around and showing their backs, exposing their weak points to me, for no particular reason.

Given all of the powers and mobility at the player’s disposal, Anthem seems to try and make up for these slip-ups by giving enemies a good chunk of health and throwing a ton of them at you.

In the end it can all feel a bit chaotic, more like a free-for-all than a tightly wound shootout than forces you to actually consider strategy and tactics.

I’ve only completed about a dozen missions so far including one stronghold — a longer dungeon that’s made for a party of four players and features a boss at the end.

As I unlock more abilities and equipment, I’m hoping the game’s encounters will change things up as well, beyond just offering me higher difficulties to complete all the same old missions on. I haven’t yet found one I would love to run again just for the hell of it.

For now, there’s plenty of other things to keep me coming back.


Comments

    I am crashing between every mission. So much so, after two hours I still havent seen a single piece of loot, because I never get to the loot window (thankfully it is all still in my bag). On Xbox One X I am also having frame rate issues when using the melee/toxic cloud combo. Given this is the bread and butter of the class, that is a bit concerning.

    Overall the game feels cleaner and crisper than the demo, a little bit more stable, but honestly it is still very neurotic in terms of connectivity.

    That said I think the EA early Access model for launches if frankly rubbish. In itself, it is good, great value for money but I truly believe anyone who preordered the game, especially the deluxe should be allow to play right now, no EA Access 'tax'. I was lucky to still have a free code from when I bought my Xbox. Gamers shouldnt have to be extorted for more money when they are are already have paid full price for the game, but people who didnt want to commit to spending all that money, have better access 'rights'

      Yeah, the preorders not getting early access is madness but not the first game they've done this for sadly.

      Hoping your issues get sorted cos the game is a blast so far!

        This was a deliberate marketing ploy.

        If you ever wanted to play on from the 16th you had to have bought the game and purchased the basic origin monthly subscription before the 15th.

        They removed access for the 16th from the basic membership on the 15th, and moved it to the premier membership only.

        So it's always been a money grab for a weeks "early access"

    1am release, 6hrs in, 11am post...niice

    someone get that man a coffee

    I am loving this, if the demo performance turned you off trust me when I say it's miles improved.

    Playing on PC and I think I've got two 7-day spare refer a friend links still if anyone wants to use it for the 10 hour trial.

    Last edited 16/02/19 6:21 pm

    so I played the trial... the good news is if the only thing holding you back from buying Anthem is the control system... then at least on PC it seems mostly fixed (tweaks required in my case)... that includes the underwater control which is actually tolerable (true to their word, it's also brighter so you're not like totally blind).

    if you hated the lack of QoL features like waypoints on maps or was annoyed at the constant loading screen... you should probably just give it I don't know 3 to 6 months... they have a road map so we'll see how Anthem evolves over time

      Thanks for this; that's really good news for me and my long KBM learning curve!

    Game plays great. Not a single bug in my 4ish hours so far. I'm playing Colossus and the shield bashing, mortars and autocannons all feel good, not to mention the ultimate that feels like a mini nuke.

    Not seeing much to attract me. Generic story, shitty AI and loot-fest? So, somewhere between Destiny and Destiny 2.

      After playing for about 10 hours or more I'd describe it this way:
      Imagine if Destiny had a better story and characters but a more repetitive MMO style combat with constant loading screens and less polish and you get Anthem. In a nutshell.

        Ewwww....

        :-P

          Yeah, there's a good game in there somewhere. Needed more time in the oven I think.

    Loving it when it works. About 5 hours into my 'trial'.

    Interceptor gameplay is fast and intense, love it.

    Drop outs after 15 seconds in mission, then having to sit through a loading screen that puts me back in tarsis only to have to walk/run back to my javelin to sit through the loading screen to start the mission again is very frustrating. Rubber banding and enemies not disappearing is a constant frustration.

    Frame rate issues on xbox 1x too. I expect a pretty big day one patch to sort these issues.

    I'm sure this will all get ironed out post launch. Looking forward to the ride after completely removing the destiny train from my life.

      It's real shame that you don't collect missions from people in the city and then just roam around in the wilderness doing missions at will. That would have made a really fun game. As it is you are constantly being thrown into looooong loading screens before and after each mission and being magically teleported straight back to base. the only time the game actually feels really cool is when you are doing free roam but then it's a constant gamble on whether or not the server is going to crash and you are going to lose all your loot.

    The lack of excitement I now have for this game is a perfect example of how games are announced too early. Compare the collective yawn this game has for me and my friends (who are diehard Destiny fans despite all its flaws, and always open to a new game that scratches the same sort of itch) to how we felt about it when it was announced and it's night and day.

    Don't announce games a year and a half or two years before they come out, the world moves at a much faster pace now and games like Apex are taking advantage of that, announce a week before release and you'll get all the benefits you thought you were getting with a long, drawn out marketing campaign. Everyone's raving about Apex because it feels like it came out of nowhere, same with Fortnite before it.

    There's a good game under there, but there's just annoying time sinks involved. Long mission load times are a killer considering how short most missions really are, while the user interface on PC is just garbage. It's obviously a console port with zero effort put into UX, which is just lazy and sad. Getting left behind by your team which is easy, due to the somewhat open world style also gives you another loading scheme, and is dictated by the fastest player in the team, while the world is relatively empty. Plus there's loading into dungeon type zones WITHIN missions...

    It'd be easy to spend as much time loading into a mission and then going through the loot etc, unless you skip all the after mission stuff, as you spent playing the actual mission. Take out boring running around time, and it gets worse.

    It also feels like you're fighting your team for kills and getting in each other's way as much as working with any synergy and spawns are often too low for the team, and missions are just lacklustre. Destiny does it 100x better with their missions and world events.

    Walking around the town is just terrible. There's good NPC dialogue, but why even care, while there's no way you can claim the story is better than Destiny, as lacking as it was there, is is more-so I would argue in Anthem and there's no intrigue or reason to even care. At least Destiny had you working through a relatively linear story which lasted a bit of time. Adding a bit of character in Anthem can't hide the fact there's essentially no feeling of actual progression, while a total lack of explanation of game mechanics hinders getting to know the game.

    It wouldn't matter though, if there wasn't stupid load times just to customise your suit, or get into town, as well as the need to run around and uselessly talk to people with endless boring (but characterful) dialogue. There needs to be a Destiny type system where you can just launch missions from anywhere, and not just the social hub.

    The way they've designed the town/hub is all about theatrics and trying to make a good first impression, but it's just wasted time, especially with how slow you walk around town. It's meant to be a shooter looter, and while the shooting is good, it feels even more sparse than Destiny as far as going out to kill things, and I've yet to see any actually good loot, or anything slightly special, while it already almost feels like it's pure grind, with almost no time played.

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