Anthem, Part 1 – Rocks and Shoals

Everyone has had a lot to say about this game since that very first E3 tease all the way back in 2014 and before we really get started let’s take a second to revisit that.

Bioware teases brand new IP at E3 2014.

It may sound a little mean but, I always find it funny when we get these produced pieces set to hopeful music about the grand future waiting for us just around the corner. That being said regardless of how many times I see them from developers I love they never cease to get me excited for what’s coming. Bioware has had something of a rough few years what with Mass Effect: Andromeda being an unmitigated disaster and Star Wars: The Old Republic being… a long story. EA, the publisher for Bioware’s games, has not been free of controversy either over the last handful of years. Their most notable, but far from only, debacle being Star Wars: Battlefront 2 and the famous “…sense of pride and accomplishment…” quote. You really have to marvel at a PR statement that is so bad to be that soundly rebuffed by an entire demographic let alone the specific community it was targeting.

Three years, a lot of bumps and roadblocks later brings us to E3 2017 and the official trailer and gameplay reveal of Bioware’s new IP, Anthem.

E3 2017 reveal.

Mmph, that dialogue. Never ceases to remind me of the face creasing power of a mouthful of Warheads but without the reward of actually having candy. That aside it was hard to not instantly be pulled in by the impressive visuals, gameplay, and hints at a fully realized sci-fi world from Bioware. There is little point in lying about the fact that I was hooked immediately in spite of the deluge of cautionary, “Yeah, but it’s EA.” cries from every corner. EA and Bioware’s latest string of foibles was still fresh on everyone’s mind and there was no getting around that. Things were relatively quiet through 2017 with little details trickling out here or there but 2018 was an entirely different story. Bioware went on the offensive with a steady run of live-streamed content for transparency with a rightly skeptical community.

As I watched the live-streams and read the myriad coverage of the game’s progression towards release I was constantly surprised by the number of comments calling it bland, boring or generic looking. I could see some arguments being made in reference to the lack of story information since without it all you have is the game mechanics themselves to hold your interest. People need to know their reason for suiting up and flying around your world blowing up bizarre creatures. The Matrix wasn’t sold to people on its revolutionary slow-motion technique alone but rather the story which was bolstered by the cinematography.

Even granted that we had heard some intriguing tidbits that had me engrossed.

The anthem of creation?

Shaper storms?

Fort Tarsis being one of the last bastions of humanity?

What made the world this way? What world are we even on?

New IPs while often a very dangerous proposition for even established studios have the benefit of being wholly unknown, a new frontier to explore and learn about. For me, Anthem had painted the perfect picture to draw me in with just enough information to get me asking questions but not enough to answer them.

On the mechanical side, the game is very familiar having been compared to everything from the very top-of-mind Destiny, who dropped all pretense on the matter, all the way to Diablo. Even if you’re playing these games for the story ultimately you’re still playing them for the loot because it is an inescapable part of their gameplay and progression.

All this being said, why am I here today talking about Anthem? This past weekend I was able to play in the VIP Demo/Beta and I’d like to chat about that experience. Especially given that there is an open demo weekend coming up where everyone, including folks without pre-orders, will be able to try out the game.

We may as well get the obvious stuff out of the way; the technical problems. The demo was a bit of a mess as Friday started out with the servers being largely unavailable to players because of a somewhat humorous design error. In an effort to make sure people could get in without manually having to retry over and over the game was accidentally designed to DDoS itself. Understandably most folks didn’t find this very funny as they had paid by way of pre-orders to have access to the game over the weekend. Eventually, they got it figured out but this was only the first in a series of issues the game would encounter. To make a long list short we’ll do it like this –

  • Stuttering/Lagging/Rubberbanding during play.
  • Infinite Load – Loading progress would stop at 95% and never progress. Seemed to be linked to folks using WiFi.
  • Second Javelin unlocks at level 12 – Many players once achieving level 12 were unable to unlock their second Javelin. The game also seemed to have trouble accurately tracking XP gains and levels in general.
  • Item stat errors both visually and mechanically.
  • Graphical errors along with enemies spawning and despawning randomly even while engaged in combat.
  • Immobile NPCs where their AIs seemed to be bugged.
  • “Connection Error” dialogue box would pop up frequently during play and could only be dismissed by clicking. This would interrupt your control inputs so you would simply stop moving and acting. The error didn’t actually disconnect you from the game.
  • Console players, by and large, being unable to log in and even play for huge chunks of time over the weekend. Partially caused by issues trying to link their Origin and console accounts for access to the demo.

I’m sure there are more I’m forgetting but those were the ones that either happened to me, people I was playing with or were simply the most prominent over the weekend. In the wake of this, I have seen lots of conjecture about the readiness of the game and how much can Bioware really fix in the weeks leading up to release. Not entirely an unreasonable point but it is important to remember that this was a six-week-old build of the game. I’m not offering this as a way to excuse the problems during the demo but simply to point out how much work has undoubtedly been done in those six weeks. Not to mention will be done in the four until release. All things being equal I would have preferred a demo with no problems or just fewer but we’ve all collectively done enough of these that this shouldn’t be too shocking.

A summary of the demo weekend from Bioware’s Head of Live Service, Chad Robertson.

Going from controlled closed alphas to even a pseudo-public demo will cause a lot of unexpected issues to crop up which is just an unfortunate reality. This statement certainly won’t quell the “I canceled my pre-order!” crowd nor should it, that is their recourse for a rocky demo. It isn’t money lost for the consumer because they got the experience they paid for, one that told them their money would be best spent elsewhere. It saddens me to see a product like Anthem, with so much potential, take it in the teeth like that on a demo but that is the risk they take.

For me, personally, the demo rocky as it was had the complete opposite effect on me. Call me a sucker or a shill but I’ve tried to never judge games too harshly based on demos, betas or alphas. Developers take huge risks in letting us see games early and in potentially broken states. They count on players keeping an open mind and sometimes seeing the potential in what they are trying to do rather than the current reality.

Even four weeks out, one troubled demo weekend down and one more rapidly approaching I still can’t help but see the potential in Anthem.

Thanks for reading part one and I’ll be back with part two tomorrow. Until then have a great day and happy gaming.

  • Anthony

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