Anthem's VIP demo took place over last weekend, starting Friday. Characters began at Level 10, and could attain Level 15 before the demo ended, and were able to experience a number of early missions and explore a large chunk of Anthem's world.
I jumped in Friday evening just after dinner, playing Anthem on my PC, luckily sparing me the server connectivity troubles I’d heard about when it first opened earlier in the day. I wasn’t surprised to hear about them, and that’s part of what these demos are for - discovering and ironing out kinks in the system.
The First Impressions
The world hub, Fort Tarsis, is full of NPCs, many of whom call out to me as I passed by, but most of the NPC interaction is unavailable during the demo. I was only able to talk to three NPCs, each with decent voice acting but unchanging facial expressions that made me wonder if Bioware is trying to become infamous for wonky facial animation. Fort Tarsis has music, wandering NPCs, and a day/night cycle, all of which make it seem like a vibrant place. The biggest problem with the hub is your character's slow walking speed while outside of their mech (which should be fixed before release).
I finally got into my Javelin - the fancy armored suit that turned out to be such a pleasure to pilot - but before I could fly around and shoot things, I had to deal with the expedition planner. The UI let me choose a mission, difficulty, access social tabs and more. It was slightly awkward on the PC, and it’s obvious they made it controller-friendly. Sometimes clicking on buttons didn’t seem to do anything, and I had to resort to using their hotkeys. Often it felt like there was little to no confirmation, no tactile reaction to selecting something, such as when I invited a friend to my squad and got no immediate feedback I’d succeeded in doing so until he told me he was in. Menus would show a preview of their contents to the right, and I’d click fruitlessly on settings before realizing I hadn’t actually selected the relevant tab yet.
We finally just went ahead and started a mission together. There was no tutorial in this demo, so I referred to the keybindings just to figure out how to get airborne, but once I did, oh man. Flying around in your Javelin is a real treat, as is hovering mid-air and raining bullets down on your enemies. Doing so with friends is even more awesome, and getting into a little formation with a squad of 4 feels really cool. I wasn’t very good at flying with the mouse and keyboard to begin with, but I got better fast. A friend said that using a controller made it much better, but their marksmanship suffered, so for best results, use a mouse when in combat and bust out that controller for exploring the world.
It's while flying with friends that we discovered the built-in VOIP did not work well. Push to talk or voice-activated, either way we could barely understand one another - and it cut out during loading screens, too. We got frustrated and used Discord instead.
Combat And Customizability
The combat lived up to Anthem's flying.. There are a variety of guns, of which you can bring two with you, from machine pistols and shotguns to sniper rifles and autocannons. Special abilities feel useful and satisfying, and charging up your ultimate through combat is well-rewarded. Each class has their own ultimate, and each is a devastating and truly awesome display of destruction. Through loot I picked up after successful missions, I was also able to swap out and fit my other three abilities to better match my playstyle.
Reaching level 12 in the demo, I was rewarded with a second javelin to unlock. I went for the Interceptor and I was extremely happy with my choice. Suddenly I was playing a new style with a completely different model and abilities, more mobility through a triple jump, and infinitely chaining melee attacks - something not possible with the Ranger. The Interceptor quickly became my favorite, even as the friend playing with me unlocked a Colossus and seemed equally thrilled with that choice. The demo limited us to unlocking a single extra Javelin, but with no restrictions in that choice, so matchmaking often let you witness the other types in action.
If you like customizing flying suits of armor, Anthem should satisfy you. Both my Javelins seemed to have six different visual elements that could be customized in terms of texture and color, variants on the models for helmet/torso/arms/legs that could be unlocked with in-game currency, and even a spectrum from shiny and new to mud-splattered and worn. Early in the demo this customization really helped me stand out, because in my first mission we were a squad of four identical-looking Rangers. It didn’t take long to find myself in a squad with someone who had painted theirs to look like Iron Man.
Bugs And Crashes
A definite downside was how frequently the game crashed on me, and while I was playing on a five-year-old gaming PC, I haven’t had that kind of reliability issue in quite some time. Other than that, the game ran, and looked, fine on medium graphical settings. Also to Anthem’s credit, whenever I crashed in the middle of a mission, it booted up fairly quickly and gave me a convenient option to load directly back into the action.
There were a number of other minor bugs and details that took away from the experience, such as Origin friends not showing up on the social tab to be invited into my squad. There are some loading screens in the open world for specific mission locations, but thankfully they’re short and uncommon. Most missions took place in set pieces within the open world, so if you’ve explored enough you’d recognize the area when you arrive.
Excited For What's To Come
There were hints at an interesting setting and story, and the world was pretty and full of wildlife and other enemies to kill. I particularly enjoyed sniping wyverns and seeing them explode. The world has a ton of verticality to it to make use of the mobility you have in a Javelin, mobility that’s also helpful against the many enemies that have strong and weak points, such as shields that block damage from the front and egg sacks or fuel tanks that take bonus damage.
I only played 7 hours, but despite the glitches and connectivity issues and a few other minor details, I feel like the core gameplay is extremely satisfying, with a large world I’m dying to explore, and some truly satisfying combat. I don’t usually play games like this, but for Anthem, I’ll make an exception.