Anthem’s demo was largely impressive, but it hinted at some things that are a little concerning.
Anthem’s demo has presented players with a small chunk of the game to explore. So far, its world is a gorgeous playground for showcasing its flashy action, and its overall structure is looking promising for fans of the genre. Still, there are a few glaring issues worth mentioning that could knock its enjoyment down a notch when it launches on February 22.
Looting and Loadouts
Whereas games like Borderlands or Destiny allow for on-the-fly weapon replacements when new loot is acquired, Anthem is taking some unusual steps towards altering this genre norm. For instance, items found in the wild have their names and stats hidden, revealing only their rarity until players reach the end of the current expedition.
This design choice means that it isn’t possible to swap in stronger weapons as they’re collected. Loadouts in general are cemented once players venture into an expedition, and they can’t be edited in any capacity until exiting or finishing the task. This could work well to keep moment-to-moment gameplay moving along, since no one likes waiting around for teammates to manage their inventories mid-mission. But it also creates the potential for trial-and-error when tackling missions, meaning some players may find themselves having to leave a mission to adjust their loadouts after finding that their current one just wasn’t adequate.
These design choices could end up being non-issues if the game doesn’t punish players with extremely rigid loadout requirements for specific missions, but it still may create extra busywork. Depending on how long load times are in the final build of the game, this could either be a minor inconvenience, or tedious and detrimental to the pacing.
Puzzles Are a Puzzling Design Choice
The demo’s first main expedition includes a segment with a small, relatively simple puzzle that asks players to choose a correct sequence of three symbols spread across a large room. While the puzzle itself can be solved using a minor amount of exploration to discover faintly glowing clues near each symbol, it creates a problematic scenario for most teams that aren’t pre-formed with communicating members.
When placing a group of 2-4 (potential) strangers in a puzzle room together, the game is expecting them to work together to overcome the challenge. This can be difficult when some players don’t grasp the concept and consistently impede other players’ progress by unknowingly altering the symbols that have already been properly set.
It’s yet to be seen how many of these types of puzzles exist throughout Anthem’s campaign, but having an abundance of them outside of a raid-style setting would not only potentially cause frustration for parties made via matchmaking, but may hurt the game’s pacing. A tacked-on puzzle feels out of place in a game otherwise filled to the brim with breathtaking, fast-paced flight, and intense, chaotic firefights.
A Jarring and Lifeless Hub
A dull maze of bricks and clutter make Fort Tarsis a bland and uninspired central hub in Anthem. Most of the game’s story is presented to players here, and while the acting and storyline are thus far engaging and believable, exploring is otherwise too mundane and slow to be enjoyable.
The primary reason for this is the fact that the game awkwardly and unnecessarily switches the perspective from third-person to first-person upon arrival to the hub, awkwardly replacing the javelins’ nimble traversal with clumsy, lethargic movement. It’s a design choice that’s not just utterly pointless and jarring, but also effectively destroys the game’s sense of pace. There are vendors, a few collectibles, and a smattering of NPCs to talk to, but none of it feels worth the sluggish trek to get to them in a place as mundane as Fort Tarsis.
The EA and BioWare Effect
Despite Anthem shaping up to be a promising experience, there’s no denying that EA’s reputation casts an ominous shadow. While the publisher has confirmed that the game will not feature loot boxes or pay-to-win microtransactions, they’ve packed the game with an abundance of cosmetic purchases. This could potentially lead to them locking the coolest armor behind a paywall, while implementing drastically lower drop-rates or higher prices for the in-game sets.
Additionally, while EA has confirmed that all “story content” will be free, there’s no confirmation that this encompasses things such as raids or other additional missions that could be pivotal to improving your character. So, it’s always possible that the promise of “free DLC” could be misleading consumers to believe they’ll never have to pay for content to keep up to date with their friends. It’s not uncommon or unreasonable to pay for expansions, of course, but EA’s wording is cryptic for now.
Meanwhile, BioWare seems to be providing Anthem with a solid structure and story so far, but their recent misstep with Mass Effect Andromeda, coupled with Dragon Age: Inquisition’s divisive design, has left a sour taste in some gamers’ mouths. There’s reason to believe the once-great developer has lost their way, but only time will tell.
Combining EA’s history of over-monetization and these recent BioWare slip-ups, Anthem may very well scare off some gamers from the get-go. If it lands well, however, there’s still some widespread trepidation about the game’s long-term viability in the hands of two companies whose reputations have declined.
Longevity and the Lack of PvP
While Anthem smells like a hit so far, BioWare and EA have yet to disclose how much content can be expected on day one. We could end up with another situation like Destiny’s initial release, which left players with considerably less PvE content than originally anticipated. Player retention is exceptionally important in any online, ongoing game, and many gamers will often jump ship if there’s not enough content to keep them engaged until the next content update.
Destiny has included multiple PvP modes since its release, offering a reason for continued investment to those who have exhausted their cooperative content. Meanwhile, Anthem’s primary competition this year, The Division 2, is adding traditional PvP alongside its pre-existing Dark Zone content. But EA has confirmed they have no plans to expand Anthem into the competitive arena at launch or in the near future afterwards.
Furthermore, developing engaging gameplay takes time, so it’s unlikely we’ll see any significant new content for at least a bit. If Anthem isn’t packing enough endgame content to sustain players through the lull, they’re likely to miss having a long-term option for competitive play to fill that time gap. This could be detrimental to the game’s player retention with The Division 2 offering a lot of bang for its buck come March.