As one of a PC gamer heritage, Bioware’s games have always held a special place in my heart. In recent years, however, it’s been a bit of a struggle to remain enthusiastic about their offerings, which have increasingly felt unnecessarily padded and, frankly, unfinished.
With the disappointment that was Andromeda still clear in mind, I entered this weekend’s Anthem open demo with a mixture of hope and apprehension. Would one of my favorite developers still be able to bring the magic, or had they truly become just another EA imprint as the Internet’d scornfully been suggesting?
It’s probably not fair to jump to either conclusion based on a few play sessions over a two-day period, but I have come to believe that, rather than the epic role playing sagas delivered to us before, Anthem is a multi-player focused shooter with RPG elements, that appears optimized for consoles.
The latter is noticeable in everything, from the obtuse UI to the bad control scheme. Word has it Bioware will revisit those after release (which will be on the 22nd of this month), but this does not really inspire me to order the game now.
And that’s kind of the issue I had with the whole demo. It was apparently more playable than last week’s VIP event, although I personally still experienced quite a few issues throughout, but the build does not demonstrate what we have to look forward to very well. Not in a positive light at least.
The one Javelin (your Ironman-esque suit of flying armor) available was kind of bland. Others are supposedly more exciting, but they were only there for the VIPs. In flight, the machine handled like a box of rocks and combat, while familiar with its use of Mass Effect’s enemy color-coding and third-person shooty fun, felt very sluggish as well.
Story-wise things were not much better. The first person I met in the demo, a striking bald lad who clearly had something on his mind, would not part with his thoughts for anyone who did not own the full version of the game. In fact, none bar one of the NPCs in the starting area would and story exposition was done through voices in my headset, telling me where to go next.
These different destinations would be selectable on an overview map similar to Bioware’s earlier games and the journey to them lead through a collection of loading screens. Graphically the game looked great mind, but with performance being what it was and missions regularly interrupted by said screens, I found myself missing the original Mass Effect’s elevators.
On top of that, the game constantly reminds you that it’s best enjoyed with other players. While this makes me wonder about its longevity if it does turn out to be another Andromeda, it’s also just not true. Matchmaking issues aside, allies are not tracked your mini-map, which means you frequently lose sight of one another. Since only one party member is required to trigger story events, this in turn results in you often missing key story points. Add to this that when the original lobby creator leaves the mission, everyone does and you’d best get ready to replay everything multiple times.
Perhaps Bioware is hoping that getting players together in a single environment will create impromptu stories as has happened in other titles. Perhaps the full game harbors an amazing story. Perhaps it’s just not finished.
Fact remains that, going by this weekend, the developer’s delivered another contentious game in a time when it could really use a home run. While I don’t fault its team for wanting to make something different, the demo did not make clear what sets this game apart from competitors like Destiny or Warframe. Worse, it appears as if the studio has either forgotten its own strengths or was at least dramatically unable to showcase them in this demo.
I honestly hope that come release day I’ll be proven wrong, but for now I can only recommend holding off, at least on the PC version, until after launch to see whether Anthem will actually fly.