BioWare's Anthem is a video game that was released in February 2019. Part of me wants to stop there and just leave this as a purely factual post. The other part has some things to say about the aforementioned game. In the span of about a week and a half, it has become one of the most talked about releases so far this year, but not exactly for positive reasons. For this week's "Let's Play Co-Op," Mike and I did our best to talk about the good, the bad, and the co-op, though if I'm honest, it is weighted towards "the bad."
There are moments where Anthem shines. Jumping off a cliff and then hitting your rockets/boosters at the last possible moment so you fly up into the sky feels really good. Comboing enemies with your abilities is satisfying and provides a lot of synergy between the different javelin classes. Working as a team to flank certain foes and take them down is fun. The "Strongholds" are great to play in co-op, particularly on harder difficulties that require you to strategize a little more and work as a team to make your way through. Running around as a Colossus with your shield up and just steamrolling dudes is THE BEST!
These are all moments that make me want to hop back in and play more. I want to finish the campaign and get into the endgame stuff, even if it is repetitive and limited (a lot of games in this same genre had, or have, that problem). I want to find more equipment and weapons to see what kind of builds I can make for my javelins. Before I can even launch the game, though, I first have to overcome a strong mental barrier that says, "these moments are surrounded by an almost unending stream of core gameplay/UI issues, game crashes, long loading screens, weird tethering to your group, and other problems." I more-or-less have to "psych" myself up to play and, as someone with limited gaming time, that's just not appealing. I try to overcome that mental barrier by repeating to myself, "this game is in beta, this game is in beta," but I know that's a lie.
Mike and I briefly get into the whole "what does full release/early access mean these days" during our stream, but despite the weird week-long "early access" thing, Anthem was released worldwide on Friday, February 22. This is when disc copies were sold in brick-and-mortar stores, this is when the ubiquitous "Day One" patch dropped, and more importantly this is the date when, in the minds of consumers, shareholders, and others, EA and BioWare said "here is a finished product." It's that last point that I think has so many people hung up, and understandably so. Anthem doesn't FEEL like a finished product.
Had EA/BioWare said, "look, we're releasing this thing into a long beta period so there are going to be issues we figure out along the way," I think a lot of folks (myself, included) would feel a little better about the state of Anthem. We'd understand this is in beta/early access and changes would be made along the way to improve most of the bugs/issues that are present. Then, at some point down the line, it would be "feature complete" and hit 1.0.
But here we are, almost a week after the release, and it's sitting at version 1.0.2 and feeling more like version 0.5. This is not the first game in this genre to encounter these same bumps and issues, and it likely won't be the last, but the biggest difference here is whether or not Anthem will make it long enough to see a better day. Yes, there's a 90-day roadmap and a number of hotfixes/small tweaks to fix some minor issues, but BioWare had a plan for Mass Effect: Andromeda, too, and that was pronounced dead a scant five months after it launched in 2017; and that game came from a long-running and beloved franchise, not a fresh new IP.
The reason I bring all of this up is that the best way to enjoy Anthem right now (aside from playing with friends), is to go into it with the mentality that it IS in beta (yes, a $60 beta, hopefully there's a price drop soon). You're going to encounter bugs, game crashes, and other issues that will generally make it a not great experience; but then you'll have those moments. Those little glimpses at what could be or where all of this could go. I hope it gets there. I hope this IP lives long enough to see the same revitalization that Destiny has seen. I hope that despite this rocky period, we'll be talking about Anthem a year from now and how much it's turned around.
Anthem baffles me. In this stream, I repeatedly said that I enjoy the game, but when asked to back that up, I honestly couldn't. There's just something about the core loop of death-defying nose dives while flying, seamlessly dropping into combat, then leaping back into the air that makes me feel really good. I even like managing heat while flying. However, when I try to analyze the game, all I see are the broken and flawed pieces.
For me, the biggest issue is that the loot just isn't interesting. I don't mind that you have to return to town to see/equip what you got - people seem to forget that other loot driven games have had similar restrictions; The Division's Dark Zone extraction comes immediately to mind. However, the fact that there is an extremely limited set of "base" weapons is a cause for concern. Within a few hours of play time you'll know which of the two Auto Rifle archetypes you like better, and you'll keep seeing those same weapons drop for hours and hours. Suboptimal loot is part of the ramp-up in a game like this, but to date I haven't found anything that feels like a marked improvement over my current loadout.
The mission structure could use a boost as well. For the most part, the generic "contracts" that you're given will reveal almost all of the possible objectives: Kill this swarm of enemies, stand in a zone until you've uploaded some data, or the three separate variations of "find X item in the environment and bring it to Y location". For activities that pop up during free roaming these are fine, but when most of the same things start showing up in the story missions, it starts feeling very bare.
The good news is that I think that a lot of these issues are fixable. Explaining the primer/detonator system in-game, fixing the stability, and offering a clearer roadmap of when and how new content will affect the game would go a long way towards feeling confident that BioWare will take care of business. The loot is another story, and will probably take a lot of time to fix, but a lot of games figured it out - namely Diablo 3 with "Loot 2.0" and when Destiny 2 reintroduced random perk rolls to gear.
Of course, the big question will be whether EA has the patience to support a flawed game that isn't exactly flying off of the shelves while they have a monster hit in their hands with Apex Legends. Only time will tell, but I hope BioWare gets the chance.