By now, players will be familiar with the notion that Anthem is a middling game that has some extraordinary qualities in it. Those elements never really get a chance to shine, and the game is worse for it. Whether it be the tantalizing hint of flight being more relevant than it is, or a well-designed fight with a Titan, there's just enough present within Anthem that it leaves fans wishing it had more.
How much of that feeling stems from the game's original reveal trailer? The E3 2017 Anthem trailer was one of the most talked about at the show. At the time, it seemed to promise a natural evolution of Destiny's core gameplay values. There are also a lot of things present within that trailer that, for better or worse, define Anthem now - its open world freeplay, the Javelins themselves, the city of Tarsis as a hub, and dizzying flight.
Yet for all of the promise of the game's E3 2017 trailer, Anthem's 2019 launch has been a much different experience. There's a lot of differences between that trailer and what we got at launch, and very little of it is a favorable addition through subtraction. Here's our take on the biggest, most noticeable differences between what we saw in 2017 versus what we got in reality under two years later - but first, here's the E3 2017 gameplay reveal trailer:
Weapon Equipping on the Fly
One of the major changes BioWare made to Anthem comes in the way the game approaches equipment. Anthem loves the idea of loot, and that's been a selling point for the genre it occupies for most of its existence. Later in the trailer, the player finds a new legendary rifle called Jarra's Wrath and equips it immediately upon picking it up, upgrading their weapons loadout. It's a simple thing and, for those who haven't played Anthem yet, doesn't seem out of the ordinary at all.
Anthem doesn't let players equip weapons while they're still in the instance they joined. The launch version doesn't even identify which weapons have been found until the mission is over. That's reserved for a visit to the mission end screen, which will then inform players of what loot they've acquired. Even then, they can't equip it - players have to navigate one screen further, to the Forge, to do so.
It's a weird discrepancy, and it's one that illustrates the system that's in place after launch wasn't always there. It seems like there may be technical limitations fans are unaware of that made the loot equipping system currently in place a better choice. It's also clear to basically anyone even passing familiar with looter shooters that being able to swap their stale guns for new, shiny ones as soon as they're picked up is a big part of the appeal of loot in the first place.
Fort Tarsis, the Living, Breathing Hub
The first difference in the trailer is even more obvious than the rest that follow. The trailer opens up onto Fort Tarsis, the hub that Anthem uses to centralize its quest givers, dailies, and story beats. In 2017, Tarsis was alive, with ambient noise in the background, bustling streets, and even characters with missions to give approaching the Freelancer instead of the other way around. Tarsis looks incredible in the trailer, like some of BioWare's finest creations in games past.
At launch, though, Fort Tarsis is little more than a shell of what the trailer suggested it could look like. There isn't really a lot of movement, and when there is, it is NPCs walking awkwardly past, without any real purpose. Nobody really comes up to the Freelancer and checks in or gives them missions. Everything is much more mechanical and plain in the Fort Tarsis we got from Anthem once it released. That isn't to say that the environment itself isn't interesting. Fort Tarsis has a lot going from it from a design standpoint. Unfortunately, there was a lot of promise in the trailer that went unrealized when it comes to the Fort.
Dynamic Open World
Speaking of environments feeling alive, the trailer also shows what happens when players leave Fort Tarsis, and it looks spectacular. There's a level of flexibility in the movement - not to mention no restrictions on flight - that makes the world pop. There's also life happening in the background as the Freelancer seeks out the location of their mission, as an Ursix gets into a fight with a pack of Howlers unprompted by the player. The environment is a little more closed off, allowing the decision to put things like tree roots or rock faces to impact combat. Finally, the player is able to dive into water just in front of a group of enemies and emerge to catch them by surprise a little later.
In Anthem's release version, the open world freeplay is much more wooden. We've yet to see creatures attack each other in a visually appealing way, and there just isn't as much happening on Anthem as there seemed like there would be. The trailer made world events look much more common than they would be, when in reality they are pretty distant from each other in both spacing and timing.
Perhaps the most crucial point of difference here, though, is the notion that a world event could contribute to a mission a Freelancer has already received. The way Anthem works now, players need to choose between Freeplay, Strongholds, or Missions prior to loading into the game world. Once there, players are locked in to whatever they chose. That means missions can't inform Freeplay games, and there's no ability to pick up a new quest while completing one the player has underway already.