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An afternoon with Anthem

4 min read
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By the time you read this, the doors will have closed on the Anthem VIP demo. Doors that presumably have plenty of spoilt fruit stuck on them, thanks to some… shall we say…teething problems. No matter the developer, the infrastructure or the team behind it, nothing can prepare a game for a few million simultaneous logins as most players were greeted by a load screen that usually timed out with the following message:

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And honestly, that’s to be expected. Destiny suffered from this, The Division was no different and Anthem is keeping that tradition alive. Once in the game however? There was a ton of stuff that I loved and plenty that had me scratching my head at some of the design decisions present. Stuff I like: Fort Tharsis, and its motley collection of characters who feel like they have actual personalities attached to them.

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The hub is a buzzing hive of activity, everyone has a story to tell and there’s some properly solid acting in their digital faces that helps sell the narrative. What I didn’t like, is the slog that players have to go through every time they want to do some maintenance on their personal Javelin. With your character moving at roughly the same speed as a snail that happens to be high on Absinthe, that journey back and forth got quickly tiring.

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Once you were in the engineering bay however? Oh man, I could spend hours pouring over lore, checking out stats and fiddling with my Javelin. Bioware knows that these suits are the key selling point of Anthem, and having the options to not only fiddle with every aspect of their aesthetic design but also admire them? A nice touch.

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When it came down to the actual core gameplay of Anthem, there was even more to love. I adored flying around, cooling my Javelin jets in waterfalls and extending my air time. I freakin’ loved how the suits feel like there’s an actual heft to their movement and how they handled on the ground. Gunplay is solid enough as well, split across multiple weapons and feels wonderfully meaty as well, thanks to some phenomenal sound design that hammers home every bullet fired.

There’s a lot of charm in the basic foundation of Anthem’s action, thanks to varied enemy types and bigger bruisers whose weak points are designed to be exploited by a team of Freelancers utilising tactics that turn them in a gang of hyper-energetic flies with high-calibre weapons, but it’s also an action that feels completely undone by a user interface that does the game no service at all.

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On the surface, you’ve got plenty of systems to keep track of. There’s your overall shields and health bar, ammo, weapons and a trio of rechargeable special abilities to keep an eye on, but you’d need to have the ocular capacity of a chameleon to fluidly monitor all of that while in the middle of a firefight. Make no mistake, fights in Anthem get quickly chaotic thanks to every single possible special effect exploding right in your face, the end result of this being a turbulent visual cacophony that can quickly overwhelm your senses.

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It’s a problem that Anthem’s predecessors Destiny and The Division managed to solve, with each game providing their own subtle series of prompts and UI decisions to help players keep accurate score of their chosen avatar. Anthem is going to have its work cut out for it in streamlining its own UI, because while it looks sleek, in practice its a dog’s breakfast of poor design overall.

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And yet, I still like Anthem and its ideas. The power fantasy feels fantastic, taking down a difficult boss with a team of Freelancers feels as fresh as ever and there is some definite potential to EA’s biggest non-FIFA game of the year. It’s a game that I want to invest some time into…but not that much if the demo is an accurate indicator of the current state of the Bioware game.

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I’ve only got so many hours during the day, and I’m just not feeling Anthem as the kind of game that I’d pour hundreds of chrono-units into. I think it’ll be a great 20-30 hour game, and that’s no small feat in this day and age of reduced attention spans and other games vying for your recurrent chronal expenditure.

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Maybe the next demo, provided that it doesn’t make me fight the dreaded 95% loading screen boss, will change my mind. Because currently, I like Anthem. I just don’t love it…yet. Also and again, f*** this screen in particular:

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You know what you did. You know.

Last Updated: January 28, 2019

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