BioWare's brand new IP Anthem, a big bet for publisher Electronic Arts in 2019, is finally available for all interested players to download and try through its open demo. We've been playing it on PC, including last weekend during the VIP demo which had a rocky launch.
Anthem is a class-based third-person looter shooter which draws comparisons to Activision's Destiny, Digital Extremes' Warframe, and Ubisoft's The Division, and rightfully so since its core gameplay loop is the same. Although for comparison purposes, it's the former that's the most similar even if Anthem began development before Destiny 1 released.
From our hours of gameplay this weekend and last, and what we tried at E3 last summer, Anthem is very similar to Destiny. Too similar, even, in some respects. Players choose one of four classes - or Javelin armored suits - and can level up through gear and weapons. In this way, Anthem can be described as Destiny meets Warframe while trying to be Iron Man. The difference is that Anthem has one additional class compared to Destiny, and for players it's the same one character called a Freelancer (think "Guardian" from Destiny) who can jump in and out of collected and upgraded suits rather than separate characters or player profiles for each.
As for the structure of the game, it's also the same as Destiny but more forgiving and simplified when it comes to choosing when and how you play. For example, there's matchmaking for every Anthem mission type and none of those weekly resets or time limits that make Destiny feel like a chore. There's a Tower hub though called Fort Tarsis (which even looks like Destiny's tower) but it's full of lifeless NPCs and no other players can be found. It's gorgeously detailed but not at all interactive in the demo. It's here where players can talk to mission givers and use the Forge to sort out their Javelin loadout with acquired loot or cosmetics (and there are a TON of ways to customize the Javelins to really make them your own). Strangely, loot acquired during a mission - including basic guns of which players can carry two - cannot be equipped or swapped during a mission. You pick what Javelin and gear you want, and that's what you have for the mission.
Anthem Copies Destiny In Many Ways And May Have Similar Flaws
The game and mission structure, the gear scores and leveling system, all scream "Destiny clone" but the latest and most telling conceit from BioWare on this front is the last-minute news that they will indeed be adding a social hub to Anthem. Why? Because that's what Destiny players want. Called "The Launch Bay," Anthem will feature a social area for up to 16 players to gather. Outside of this hub, players will see their party members (up to four) during missions, and can come across other players in the Freeplay.
It's difficult to tell how big of a game Anthem is, but from what the demo offers and what news came out of preview events, we're not certain there's a lot. We've added content to our list of chief curiosities and concerns. So far, we know Anthem will only have three Stronghold mission at launch, which are the equivalent to Destiny's Strike missions. If that and difficult variants of the game's other missions or contracts are the end game of Anthem at launch, the game might be in trouble when it comes to its goal of being a games-as-a-service title.
As for Anthem's story, the writing is mixed at best in the demo's limited offerings, and those who've seen more of the story say the same. It's at least presented with character moments, cinematics, and the protagonist character actually speaks - a must for a BioWare story. Where Ubisoft says there's 40 hours of campaign in The Division 2 before its end game kicks in, this is what BioWare is saying - or rather, not saying - about Anthem:
This is a good question, but tough to answer. Everyone is different. There’s a lot of side missions, but some folks will just want to rush the main story and then hit strongholds. It’s a lot, though. Personally, I’ve only played through everything a few times. https://t.co/uXe0cXVOrj— Michael Gamble (@GambleMike) December 29, 2018
It’s a really hard thing to compare so we aren’t really commenting on the crit path length for Anthem. Depends how you play, etc https://t.co/Xit50f5thi— Ben Irving (@BenIrvo) December 26, 2018
The missions playable so far are short and simple. Follow the linear path and kill all creatures in the area or as they spawn in. And repeat. Some missions involve rescuing characters or collecting some sort of glowing pick-up, but for the character stuff they simply stand like a statue when rescued or discovered. There's no escorting them back and we don't see them get picked up, only a voiceover. It seems shallow, uninspired and incomplete.
There's an interesting variety of unique enemy and wildlife designs, but their AI is unimpressive outside of their ability to force players back to the surface with weapons that overheat the Javelin suits. This brings us to the best and worst part of Anthem.