A Slice of Anthem: The Demo Review

Do you ever wonder why when you watching a cooking competition show and the judges only take a couple of bites from the contestants dishes and then promptly render a verdict on the quality of the final product?

In the above reference it is primarily because a food dish can usually be assessed in a few bites and the need to devour the entire plate is simply out of a desire to consume more of the food that you already know tastes good.

Taking this analogy and applying it to a video game review is not as valid because as we know some video games actually get better when taken as a whole ( the entire game) versus just a small part of it ( a demo). This is why releasing a demo can be a dangerous proposition for developers because with the context of the entire game behind it the players are just sampling a small slice of the game and if it doesn't resonate with them the developer runs the risk of losing a potential client. Its like watching a movie trailer and then deciding not to go and see it because the trailer wasn't to your liking.

When the Anthem demo booted up and came alive on my screen I had a very clear picture of the type of game I was looking for. The reason for this is because I did not want to simply say " the game sucked". I knew Anthem wasn't just a carbon copy of Destiny or The Division. It was EA's first foray into the shared world "MMO light" shooter genre. EA is positioning it as a RPG Shooter but whatever you want to call it I had a very specific experience that I was hoping to get out of it. Suffice to say I wasn't going in with too high of expectations but rather some specific ones.

Unlike Destiny and The Division, EA decided to reverse the social aspect of the game and put you the player into a very specific single player experience that you will experience on your own. That is to say that you will NOT be walking around in a shared social space with your in game avatar in between your fast and furious shooting missions/quests.

The DEMO did not looks as alive as this screenshot and without other players to bump into it actually felt very lonely

Does this matter?

It sort of does. The shared world shooter genre has always made an attempt at making sure players interact with each other in non combat environments as well as fighting shoulder to shoulder in the more action oriented aspects of the game. Some of my favorite moments in The Division was when I was rubbing shoulder with other agents in a safe house waiting for my next mission or listening in on the various AI characters chatting away about their struggles. Those calm moments before the storm were the perfect times to size up other players and even to use some of the cool emotes I had bought and or unlocked. Heck I even found myself inviting people to my group because they looked so bad ass.

Anthem does away with these in favor of a single player hub zone called Fort Tarsis. It is your HUB and your Hub alone. There are various vendors and NPC's go interact with as well as your launching pad into the games multiplayer suite which consists of free play open world, group missions and matchmaking. You will never see another player walking the halls of this safe zone but you will experience the games story in a way that Bioware is known for. Branching dialogue and hyper detailed characters to interact with. Just know that your friends are waiting for you beyond the walls.

Lets atlk about the world of Anthem.

If you think of James Camerons "Avatar" you wouldn't be far off. The world of anthem is massive with a heavy emphasis on water and jungle/forest. Mountains and canyons play heavily into its vertical space and Bioware even went as far as rendering the underwater space when you plunge into a river or large body of water. This detail brings Anthems outer world to life in a spectacular fashion and just begs to be explored however this very strength is turned against itself by the star if the whole game; Your Javelin Exo Suit.

In Anthem you don't really matter ( at least in the demo) and by YOU I mean your character when he/she is not in a Javelin kicking ass. In the demo I did not see any initial character creation scene which is a staple of this genre. You simply choose a male or female voice for your pilot and your off to the races. It is sort of fitting considering the entire story segment of the game is played out in a first person perspective and that includes your time in Fort Tarsis. You can barely see your hands or feet in the first person mode ( a cardinal sin in any FPS) let alone facial characteristics. When you finally do shift to a third person viewpoint you are firmly bonded with your Javelin and no need to see your pilots features.

While this may have been a design choice I truly find it jarring for a RPG and one that makes it harder for me to become invested in my character as I play through the game. I may as well be a robot versus a human pilot.

EDIT: I have discovered that this feature will be present in the full game.

Now having said all of that, the customization of your pilots weapon of mass destruction is extensive. Colors and designs are not limited to simple "shaders" like how Destiny implemented customization but at the same time I feel that The Division albeit a different setting takes the win on how detailed the level of customization for your in game character is.

The only fear I have is that after the game goes live EA will transform this customization system into an opportunity to micro transaction our asses to death!

Once you jump off the flight deck of Fort Tarsis inside your javelin you are flying fast across its landscapes and this is the point at which the beautiful world beneath you becomes scenery versus a real world. In the Division the world was a character. You set out on foot and started exploring it street by street finding little nooks and side streets not to mention exploring the insides of apartment buildings and so on. The world needed to be explored because there was so much density to it and the developers had filled it with things that you need to find. The enemies on the street where the obstructions getting in your way to finding and completing missions. They weren't the reason you walked the streets to begin with.

In the Anthem Demo the world seemed to be sparsely populated. Without a doubt there were not any " non enemy" AI wandering around the world unless you count wildlife that lived in the forests or jungle. The ability to fly far above the world essentially reduced the entire game world as an optional area to explore. You are driven to land because you either have a mission in a specific area or you see some enemies you want to start shooting. The ability to fly , albeit VERY cool has turned the world of Anthem as wallpaper to your shoot fests. Never did I feel the urge to land and simply walk around the landscape looking for items of interests. I am not sure if the world will be more populated when the final product ships but as it is Anthem just felt pretty but very empty and soulless.

Combat is where it's at!

Lets talk about what Anthem does really well. Gun play! The moment to moment action in Anthem is a technicolor dervish of violence and ballet. as soon as you land on the ground with a " Superhero landing" and start firing your gun this game will hook you! No other game is recent memory put a smile on my face when the guns started blasting. The thumping base of each shot combined with the fact that you are essentially Iron Man in the movie Avatar is a feeling that no other game can come close to. Giant enemies and raging mutant animals are all fair game to rain destruction down on. I cant say enough food things about the feeling of Anthems combat systems.

So how did Anthem " Taste" ?

Based on the few bites I had with the demo I can say that it is not a game for me. At least not long term. The social aspect is the big hang up. I want to immerse myself in this world but if all it wants to give me is " shared combat activity's" versus a wide open world that allows me to connect with players in non combat venues, I'm not going to invest in it. Bioware needs to invest in me as a player if it expects me to invest in it as a game. Toting it as a RPG seems a little misleading at this point and maybe better to say " Co-Op Shooter"

Graphically this game has all it needs to appeal to that cross section of gamer's and game play and combat systems stand on the same podium.

I can see massive loot grinds for players who jump into Anthem and can only hope that Bioware is ready for the inevitable cry from players who have burnt through the base game and are now wanting more more more to satisfy them.

My concept of reviewing this Demo may not agree with everyone but with so many games on the market I think developers need to adopt a higher sensitivity to the gaming populations penchant for first impressions that wow them.

Demo's should be the new " sample dish" and all the care and attention the full game gets should be applied to these "slices of the game" when they get served up to us.