Changing Times, Changing Gamer

I’ve had a draft kicking around for a while now aiming to explore how I’ve changed as a gamer over time. But as this post sort of ambled it’s way through my mind I could never quite grasp the full form of it. Originally I thought it might focus on my change over time (in the MMO-world, at least) from being an absolute carebear to PvP evangelist to somewhere in the middle.

That’s something I certainly still want to explore but reading through both Bhagpuss’ ‘All Aboard for Funtime’ and then only a little later Pete’s ‘Playing Just Because It’s Fun’… Well, it occurred to me just how large a subject this actually is.

Complicating this further is that more than once I’ve found that my actual preferences in games had shifted, consciously unbeknownst to me, and became something different to my stated (and at some level, still believed) preferences. The PvP evangelist back to more of a PvE-leaning player was certainly an example of this.

Further, separating what has been an internally driven change in my preferences vs. what has been driven by the market might not be a task I can even do.

The Need for Persistence

Somewhere along the way, though, I started to require something more from games in order to feel satisfied by them. Some reward. Just playing isn’t enough. It might be gaining levels or earning loot. It might be unlocking Achievements.

I don’t like this about myself very much.

Pete (2019), Playing Just Because It’s Fun (Dragonchasers)

The added emphasis is mine — it struck a chord with me. I think because even though I don’t view this need as a bad thing myself, there have been other changes that once I became consciously aware of them I did feel a need to somehow reconcile them with myself.

What I hear in Pete’s article is a desire for permanence. For some degree of persistence and recognition to what has gone before. There could well be more to it, or I may have an entirely different set of gaming motivators from Pete and missed his mark completely.

But it lead me to make the following comment, which I don’t think I can materially rewrite in any better a form, so I’ll copy here with a small amount of tidy up for reference:

I remember being perfectly happy playing completely static and unchanging from round-to-round FPS’ like Quake World: Team Fortress back in the day.

…Right up until I got my first taste of an MMO. Which for me was Asheron’s Call. Many things about AC blew my young mind, but not the least of it was that I could log out and come back later and carry on building from where I was. What a concept!

When this started finding its way into FPS titles like the Battlefield series, a sort of unholy melding of round-to-round play but with persistent ranks and unlocks, I knew I could never go back to a completely static game environment.

I think what this offers us is a sense that what we’ve done matters. At the end of the day, it might still have ‘just been a game’ but there is something a little more tangible than time spent to point at and say, ‘I did that’.

Evolution of Taste and Tolerance

Bhagpuss spoke to the change over time in his desire for a realistic, weather matters, food matters, weight while swimming matters, low-magic RPG where there was narry a hint of rivaling God’s or Dragon’s, to being able to let go and buy into the trappings of the more standard RPG fare where power-spikes of the players lead to such encounters becoming relatively common place.

“I was paying far more attention to whether I was enjoying myself than whether I ought to be. It turns out that being powerful and winning all the time is fun.”

Bhagpuss (2019), All Aboard for Funtime (Inventory Full)

The journey is one I can relate to as I have been through the same, albeit over a relatively shorter period of time.

My tolerance for demanding games has dwindled to near zero. But I suppose I should clarify ‘demanding’ in this context. Because I’m still all for challenge in games. I’m good with beating my head against a raid boss for several hours a night with friends, and in a similar vein I’m perfectly happy to play through titles like Dark Souls that have the potential at least, to be rather punishing of poor play.

But I simply will not sit through another game that demands that I eat and drink every 60 seconds. And looping back to my straying away from PvP evangelism? There was a time when I was all for the full-loot, winner takes all style of Asheron’s Call: Darktide. I loved the concepts of base-building (and loss) of Shadowbane and Darkfall. Territory control in EVE was an amazing draw.

Now I can be easily frustrated if a player in PvP manages to dislodge me from a quest or hunting spot, even if there is no other real consequence.

This was one of the changes in myself that I had trouble with. I couldn’t with any certainty finger-point at a specific time, place or reason for this change in myself and what I wanted out of a game.

It might’ve been the disappointing executions of both Shadowbane and Darkfall. It might have been the then result of being more open to trying WoW and its relatively light implementation of world-PvP.

I don’t know, but I do know that when I realised it, that I couldn’t really tolerate my own previously-preferred style of play any more, that I felt quite like a fraud. There I had been espousing the virtues of such PvP implementations. The player-stories they offered, the increased power and meaning of social interactions through the steadfast allies and deadly nemesis’ you’d come to find… And I’d lost the will to engage with it?

I think in some ways I might even still be looking for the answer to what happened there. There is some part of me that would like to be back in that world — but it just isn’t me any more.

Coming Games of Interest — March 2019 Onward

There is a lot coming out over the next little while that I’m quite interested to play. Normally, I’d just take things as they come. Really ‘seat-of-my-pants’ it. I still might. But I can feel the end of my tether fast approaching with the launch content of Anthem, so want to put down something of a plan. Well, less a plan, more a sketch of a plan. Rough though, very rough.

I’m currently sitting at 75-hours played and still enjoy the core gameplay experience. Enough so that I’m quite likely to finish the post-story Trial of Valour. There’s also a bit still to unpack in the Anthem Roadmap which will help going forward.

This wasn’t unexpected, after my second weekend with the demo I revised my expectations.

…if at launch, I can get somewhere in the region of 50-80 hours of it, accounting for going through the story, finishing up with the reputations and challenges I care about, perhaps getting into a decent set of Masterwork gear (with some legendaries scattered in) to such a point I can get into and do the Grandmaster difficulties? Then I’ll be happy that it was money well spent.

Naithin (2019), Anthem Impressions – Two Demo Weekends In

I am exactly there, and will end up with more hours than anticipated. Bonus. But this post isn’t meant to be about Anthem, it’s the ‘What’s Next’ post!

What’s Next?

The Division 2 — March 15th 2019

I have no plans to spend any time with the upcoming open-beta. I got my fill of the demo content during the private beta when that was on, in which I played a good amount of the early game PvE, the Dark Zone and the endgame PvE.

I won’t be taking any time off work for The Division 2 as I did with Anthem, so there will be a better pacing to the content it has to offer, I think. How I’ll split the time between Anthem’s content drops and this, I don’t quite yet know. It seems likely that this will be my primary game from March 15th for a while though.

Outward — March 26th 2019

Outward has somehow flown under my radar until very recently. It looked great even back in a 2016 PAX West trailer too. Now that I have seen it, I want it yesterday. Today would be next best.

If it has also passed you by until now — the concept puts you in the shoes of a nobody in an otherwise high-fantasy world. Your victories will be small in scale, but no less meaningful for it to start. Getting a backpack is a milestone to remember.

It will have survival elements, which is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. I won’t deny they certainly can be a nuisance if the frequency of needing to eat, drink, etc is too high.

The detail going into it have me incredibly interested. Oh, also? It features co-operative play, even local split-screen co-op. :o

I’ll be taking a look!

The Elder Scrolls Online: Elsweyr Expansion — June 4th 2019

You might remember in an effort to fill a gaming-gap, I started an adventure back into The Elder Scrolls Online.

I was really enjoying my adventures there and I still have… many hours ahead of me to finish the story content already available. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the original main story quest, and estimates for Morrowind and Summerset expansions put them in around 30-hours each to get through.1

There’s almost no way I’ll be ready for Elsweyr’s story at release. Not if I want to do things in order at least, which I do. ESO does scale all content to whatever you are if you’re personally more keen to just jump straight into what’s new.

That’s probably OK though, as ESO is going down a path similar to Guild Wars 2’s ‘Living World’ episodic structure, with a full year of content planned around the return of the Dragons to the world. The longer I wait, the more of this there will be. ;)

Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers Expansion — July 2nd 2019

Being honest, there is a huge element of FOMO2 going on with me and this title at the moment.

I’ve played the title before and never made it to end game. I was disheartened by frequent reports of end game raids being essentially unplayable from the Oceania region. Using the datacentres in Japan helped, but apparently still wouldn’t be enough for top-tier raids.

For the type of player I am3 this told me not to bother. I really don’t know how to play an MMO casually. Or more to the point, how to enjoy doing so.

If I make a return to FFXIV, it might be with a new perspective — less focusing on it as an MMO and more playing it for the story and the journey. Something I’ve done in my approach to ESO so far, and you know- I think it’s working.

Also? Gunblades. Yiss!

Heart of Rage: Tips for The Monitor

Moments before disaster struck. Here’s some tips to avoid this happening to you!

Learning the Scelos fight last night taught me something about Anthem. It’s difficulty shares some parallels to WoW. Anything below Grandmaster and the mechanics can be preeeetty much ignored (or at least not fully understood) just like in WoW’s normal dungeon or PUG Raid (LFR) difficulties.

Crank that switch up though and things start to matter.

In order to do this as a Stronghold, you need to have gone through the encounter as part of the Story so you would have seen it already. But as a bit of a recap The Monitor-ascended has three-major phases to it.

  • Phase 1: The ‘ow hothothot’ phase, where the floor, the sky, the boss the boss’s weapon (and sometimes your Javelin) are lava.
  • Phase 2: The ‘ow I’m melting’ phase, but this time it’s acid burn.
  • Phase 3: The ‘ow-‘ ZZzzzT! Lightning phase.

Of the three I think the first phase is the roughest to get through, especially if you’re not sure what’s going on or if enough of your party doesn’t know what’s going on.

So let’s fix that.

Phase 1: Fire

If you take only one thing away with you from these tips, take this:

Shoot the balls of fire on the ground.


The first time I encountered this mechanic, I assumed it was intended that we find a safe spot on the ground and run to to it. That’s a trick, a dirty- dirty- trick.

Fire, fire everywhere.

By the time they’re ready to go critical and explode, they’ll be covering about 95% of the arena floor. You can fly above and treat the floor like lava during this phase, but this is risky business if you get knocked out of the air before they’re finished turning everything at ground level to bacon.

There is a secondary bonus to destroying the Meteors before they can detonate as well. Destroying the meteors gives you a crazy amount of ultimate charge. Destroying even a couple each round of meteors will see you being able to get several Ultimates off before it pushes into Phase 2.

The expanding rings around each meteor are safe to be in before they explode, you can run right in close as you’re destroying one to make sure you don’t accidentally get hit by an explosion from another nearby meteor.

There are no adds to worry about in this phase either, so you can position yourselves as you see fit around the room. I’d suggest not stacking too tightly due to the leap attacks and fire orbs, but if you see someone who is struggling with clearing a patch of safety around them in the Meteor phase, it’d be better to hang out nearby and help them than to let them take that damage repeatedly. It’s intense.

Three other things to pay attention to in this phase though are:

  1. Pay attention to the boss even while shooting the meteors. Use your abilities to get the meteors down quickly so that you don’t get blindsided by a leap attack. If The Monitor kneels down and is facing your general direction, jump, dash to the side and jump again. Your aim is as much horizontal distance as possible. If you’re a Colossus, err… die I guess? I suppose you could try out your shield. That might work. ;)1
  2. If the fiery orb is floating above the ground — it’s a trap! You can’t destroy those ones, they just simply explode. Mechanically they’re very similar to the stationary fire-orb explosions that Titans do. Just back away from these and don’t let them explode on you.
  3. At the midpoint of The Monitor’s second pip of health, watch out. You’ll also hear a voice-queue from your Freelancer, ‘Chase him down!’ to signal this is about to happen. You’ll get a wave of Meteors with a lot more health. You probably cannot kill these fast enough alone to avoid them detonating. If you’re nearby allies (or are on voice and can co-ordinate coming together as you near this point in his health) you might be able to focus fire one and carve yourself out a safe spot. If not, every person for themselves! Fly up immediately and aim for an outer edge of the arena. You should be able to find a safe spot to land and wait out the detonation, possibly ressing the less fortunate after it goes off. ;)

#3 signals the end of this phase — you’ll have time to regroup before flying to the next arena if needed and bring up your fallen if needed.

Phase 2: Acid

After all that for Phase 1, Phase 2 and Acid will probably feel like a cakewalk.

The main new addition here is Mordant Elementals who will be a near constant companion during this phase. Like any other elemental you’re likely to encounter in Anthem, they would love dearly to come up to you and give you a hug.

It’s just a shame that their hugs come in the form of an acidic shower.

Work on killing these rather than letting them build up, but you can achieve that simply through pretending to want a hug and walking up to them — to jump and dash away right after if you’re one of the more agile Javelins.

Meanwhile, The Monitor won’t be jumping around as much any more and slamming halberds through your party, but he will Teleport around the place. You’re generally most safe to stay positioned on the platforms in the room, although despite appearances the liquid at ground level will not innately damage you.

As well as offering splatter-hugs, Mordant Elementals who you gain sufficient distance from will instead spit acid at you. Yes, rather unpleasant.

The Monitor will do this too, but it will come in quite a wide torrent. For this reason it’s best to keep some distance from him. If he teleports nearby your platform, relocate to another.

On top of this, The Monitor will occasionally bring back his explosive orb trick — of course, this time attuned to Acid.

Once The Monitor is down 3 pips of health (50%), this phase will be over and he will teleport away again. Know that the elementals will not stop spawning. You should just leave as soon as the next waypoint marker appears on screen; not keep fighting the elementals in the room like I did for a while. ;)

Phase 3: Lightning

The final phase, and the second most difficult in my opinion.

The main new mechanic here to watch for is domes of exploding electric energy, which then course a wave across the entire arena floor. These can come from any direction and often overlap each other.

It does damage at ground level, so staying above it — either by hovering as much as possible, standing on the various pieces of machinery in the area, or timing your jumps to pass it by harmlessly beneath you is up to you. Learn the sound it makes though as the wave starts, as it may save your life.

Taking a single wave probably isn’t going to kill you, but taking one followed by a sequence of homing electro balls might.

Now, YMMV on this — but I found with my latency2 I had to jump a bit before what was visually suggested to me. In the video I’ll include below, you’ll see a few instances where I jumped over and still took the damage, and a few more where it appears I landed ON the effect and got by unscathed.

As you approach the final 1.5 pips of health, he will go berserk — crouched in the centre sending continual shock waves out. It is my belief that the orbs of light in the barriers in the arena are meant to protect you from the wave attacks.

But I found this to be somewhat unreliable. Watching the video back though, here’s what I think the situation is — I’ll be testing this further on future runs, but also happy to hear from any of you on it:

  • The barrier cannot protect you from the initial explosion that sources the energy waves,
  • The barrier also cannot protect you from the homing lightning balls.
  • But it seems that the barrier can protect you from just the waves of energy. I think when I take damage from a wave, I have juuuust inched my way out the back end of the barrier and therefore lost it’s protection.

If this is true, it might be an easier means of avoiding damage from that mechanic, but it isn’t infallible so keeping mobile except in times of dire need might work just as well and is probaaaably what I’ll continue to do.

Shortly after he goes berserk, he will fade out of existance. (No grand strider entrance this time.)

Well done, you’ve beat it! :D

The Video

If you want to see this in video form, you may. But note it is completely unedited and not narrated. On the plus side, that means the bloopers are also intact. ;)

I benny hill an elemental around a platform for a while in, launch a grenade at a different unsuspecting platform and fire a devastator round into an equally unsuspecting wall. Fun times.

Nonetheless, the attempt was successful and it might help in visualising some of what I’ve talked about.

Scar Temple: Tips for Scelos

The type of reward, you too may have, if you follow these 27 easy tips! (Note: Likely not going to be 27 tips.)

Went into Scelos fight tonight on Grandmaster 1 after previously only having done Scar Temple on hard. To start with, Scelos was an exercise in frustration. “Oh for Fart’s Sake,” or perhaps something, um, similar, was heard over our Discord on more than one occasion.

The core problem was that we were over-cocky bastids at this point. Even Legendary Contracts on GM1 were starting to give us that feeling of super-human power again. Take that attitude into Scelos’ lair though, and he ain’t having a bar of it.

In case you’ve not yet seen or done this fight full-stop; the basic mechanics of it are that Scelos has fused himself into the form of a very large Escari shell, with all the fun and games that entails. Waves of devastating missiles and withering machine gun fire being the specials of the day.

Add to this though that every so often three giant shield generators around the room will power up and render Scelos invulnerable. Each generator must be taken down before Scelos can be damaged again, but also during this phase additional Scar support units will spawn in, with increasing intensity each time this phase is activated. Note that even while shielded, Scelos would love nothing more than to ruin your day with an unasked for Missile-enema.

Queue the tips — aka: The things we did wrong on the first two attempts that we corrected for the third.

  • Be mindful of where the fans arethey will hurt you if you’re taking their blades to the backside. They also activate with very little warning. Fan activation appears to be boss HP based rather than time alone, but it isn’t directly related to passing from one ‘pip’ of Scelos’ health into the next. Nonetheless, crossing that threshold is when we started to be extra alert for the fans starting, and making sure the cover we were currently using wasn’t right in front of one.
  • The scar waves with the activation of the fans are finite — kill them. Don’t feel pressured into doing the fans quickly in order to reduce Scar spawns. They do stop on their own without taking the fans down and should be dealt with accordingly. The first fan phase or two is not that scary, but if you ignore them they will hang around until dealt with, on top of the less friendly waves that come later.1
  • Moving in a group (or at least pairs) from cover to cover is good during the shielded phase. Pack mentality for handling the scars is the way to go. Focus fire the threats (Hunters, Scouts) then take out the little guys. If Scars spawn right into your cover, fly low and fast to another clear cover. You can barrel role (or shield) your way through this cleanly most of the time. Move around the room in a circle, clearing fans as you go and is safe. If there are Scars up in another part of the room, have someone not focus the shield to keep watch on what’s happening on the ground rather than in the air on the generator beams.
  • Opposite is true for the damage phase — spread out for this. Assuming you’ve cleared the Scar reinforcements out before downing the final fan beam, you can and should safely spread to different sets of cover around the room. Scelos’ turret tracks very quickly but still must aim to fire. The current target of Scelos’ ire would ideally notify rest of the team that it is (briefly) safe for them peek and poke with prejudice. Bonus points if you can get that poke on ol’ Scelos’ bad knee (a common weakpoint for Escari).

And that’s basically it. Scelos hits hard and fast, but isn’t as unfair as first impressions may seem. An example: His missile waves do incredible damage and have a force component meaning you can be knocked about if hit. But they do have a fair travel-time component, and there is always time to react between the first salvo and the second salvo, even if the first pummels you.

Taking that first salvo isn’t too bad, but the second as well? Definitely no bueno.

And that should be about that. This level of co-ordination is likely going to be difficult with PUGs to start with while people learn what is required of them. If you’re playing in this scenario I think the best you can do is to attach to one of the group while in the fan phase, keeping the Scar population around them to a minimum, and keep working on the Scar if for some reason your group leaves them up into the next boss damage phase.

You really don’t want to have to be dealing with your cover spots from the boss becoming increasingly dangerous with Scar swarming around as well.

Otherwise, keen to hear how people are finding this encounter on the higher difficulties. I went from making grumpy faces at it to having a newfound respect for the mechanics after managed to shift out of the mindset that current gearing has allowed for in other content.

BioWare told us that Strongholds would be the pinnacle of challenge for the launch game content — and it seems they meant it!

Anthem Changes — Beyond the Patch

The February 22nd Day 1 Day -1? patch came out yesterday, in advance of the launch for all comers today.

It has a wide array of changes and fixes, with the official list of changes from BioWare here. It seems an incredibly positive list overall, and my experience with it so far would back that up. A PSA though: If you’re using nVidia drivers 418.91 (The latest as of Feb 22nd), this version of Anthem does not like it.

I personally had issues with the game hanging on quit with a black screen until force-terminating the game. Others though have reported jittery framerates and micro-freezes that reverting back to 418.811 seems to resolve.

Besides that, I also found a few changes not in the patch notes! I’m sure there are others, but here are some of the big ones I found not covered in the notes.

Alliance Ranks Provide More Coin

Feb 15th Build of Anthem
From The Feb 21st Build of Anthem

Not an insignificant boost. In the old screenshot one of my friends was at the time Rank 9 (of a possible 10) and was providing 540 coin.

Now you earn more than double that amount from at least Rank 6 upward.

A very positive change, but one I had momentarily thought was in place of what were previously pretty good coin rewards from basically any daily/weekly/monthly challenge available.

Thankfully the missing/reduced coin from these challenges is a bug. Hopefully one we’ll see resolved soon!

Stronghold and Legendary Contract Completion Bonus

Completing a Stronghold or Legendary Contract on Grandmaster 1 or higher difficulty now guarantees a Masterwork (with I assume, chance at a Legendary).

So even if you’re incredibly unlucky during the mission itself and don’t manage to get any MW’s to drop for you — just know one will come in the end.

A positive change and one that should keep people sticking around to the end. :)

Grandmaster XP Buffed

If you made it to Grandmaster difficulty before the patch, you might’ve noticed that the XP gain was tiny compared to what you would get on any other difficulty.

I had wondered if this was perhaps intentional to prevent dragging lower level characters along with you and power leveling them. (No idea if this is viable btw, you can take lower people in with you, but not sure what their XP would be like now.)

Turns out not though, and GM xp has been buffed by a factor of 8-10x.

End of a Legendary Contract on Grandmaster 1 difficulty. (Also? Go Ranger power!)

Ranger’s ‘Pulse Blast’ is Amaaazing now

OK, this one might’ve actually been in the patch notes. But it’s just too good not to mention.

Now with fancy shield-breaker icon

Pulse Blast is an absolute shield destroyer now. Don’t leave Fort Tarsis without one of these in your party for near on instant knockdown of Scouts, Hunters, Elementalists or any other pesky shield-wielder you care to name.

How’s my Build Coming Along?

Alright so not exactly patch related, but the MW drop increase from Grandmaster Strongholds and Legendary Contracts helped… so…

OK, just a tease then. Separate post detailing it all later. But here’s a screenshot showing what I’m wielding at the moment. :)

I can push the gear level up into the ‘Masterwork’ tier, but while (slightly) more survivable, it’s far less damage. So until I can get a good enough component to replace the Epic Armor one, or even better, a Masterwork or Legendary Bulwark Point — I’ll be happy with an Epic Javelin rating. :)

…Although I miiight have pushed myself into Masterwork ranked Javelin and done a mission just to get the achievement. *cough*

Anthem Review: An Early Access Title in AAA Clothes

Make no mistake, Anthem is an Early Access title. The publisher approved term here is ‘Game as a Service’ (GaaS) and sure, it’s that too. But if you’re buying Anthem now, you’re likely buying into the promise of what it is to become. You’re likely buying it because you want to support the developers in their efforts to bring their vision to life, because that vision is something you want in your life.

This isn’t a new concept, but it’s a creeping trend in the AAA space. And in my view it is every bit the gamble that Early Access is with a relatively unknown Indie developer.

Sure, developing new titles is expensive — building the minimum acceptable product cuts those upfront costs down, brings in revenue early, and most importantly (and where our risk comes in) allows a more sensible commercial decision to be made on to what extent the studio will continue to support the title post-launch.

With this being the case, the review conclusion comes down to a statement you’ve likely seen in countless Steam reviews for other Early Access products.

“Only buy this if you’re happy with it the way it is right now or you’re wanting to support the Devs.”

— Countless Steam reviews for Early Access products.

There is an argument to be made that it isn’t entirely fair for AAA publishers to expect to be allowed to play on the same level as an independent developer in this way. It might even be an argument I would agree with.

But for the purposes of this review, here and now, it’s an argument I’m not going to get into. Also? We’re getting way ahead of ourselves.

So:

Is the Current State of Anthem Fun?

Before I answer that, a note:

I’m not an EA Game Changer and I have no personal ties into EA or BioWare. Not so much as a Twitter follower from these companies.1 Further, unlike many of the YouTubers cashing in on the entertainment value of negative reviews, I have no monetisation on the line for this in any form.

That out of the way?

Yes. Unreservedly, yes.

Anthem is fun, right now, in it’s current state. Going right back to my Anthem VIP Demo Impressions I made the following statement:

The foundational elements of Anthem are strong, and will support the load of long term play from its player base if allowed to. If BioWare can deliver a meaningful endgame with a good pacing on content releases the future for Anthem is bright.

– Naithin (2019), Anthem VIP Demo Impressions

Not counting however many hours I spent with the demos, over both that weekend and the following weekend, I now have 50 hours with the Feb 15th launched version of Anthem.

In that time, I’ve completed the Main Story Quest, the Agent Missions, dozens of contracts, started pushing into the Grand Master difficulties, taken on Legendary Contracts and battled through the Strongholds.

I can still 100% stand behind that statement. The Javelin gameplay is incredibly satisfying, with the freedom of flight and aerial combat simply not seen in its genre competitors2. The gun play is solid, with a wide variety of weapon types — further diversified by several sub-types existing in each ‘main’ category, each with their own twist on firing style.

Sure, guns are good — but the abilities are better. Your abilities are there to be used and generally have quite a short cooldown or recharge. Each Javelin (Ranger, Colossus, Storm and Interceptor) not only has a unique set of these abilities provided through Gear slots, but also very different handling characteristics.

Fifty hours in, and I’m still not feeling ‘done’ with the game’s launch content either.

So sure, Anthem is fun. Not only is it fun, there is a fair chunk of content even from just the base game’s inclusion, Early Access or not.

But (yep, we’re into the ‘buts’ now) this fun is to be had in despite a number of issues, some stemming from the very fact that we’re being passed an Early Access title by stealth.

Key Issues

For better or worse, it is typical for an Early Access title to launch to the world with issues. Some of the issues with Anthem fall into this type, I think. Things that can be solved with time and effort on BioWare’s part.

Others (like the loading) I’m more worried about the ability of the engine to handle any better than it currently does. On that…

Please wait… Loading

I feel like the Loading issues are well documented, but if you’re unaware… An SSD should be listed as a mandatory system requirement for the game. If you must install Anthem to a standard HDD, prepare for a bad time when it comes to loading missions.

In fact, for story missions (Main, and Agent) if you’re having to load from a standard drive and you can’t play with only friends who will wait — set the game to private and solo.

If you don’t, you may load into a mission 30-60 seconds after everyone who has put it on their SSD does. By then they will have flown off and started things.

Worse, Missions have a very tight distance tether. So, what happens when you’ve loaded in, to find your teammates most of the way to the first objective?

The game helpfully teleports you to them. Via a load screen. A load screen almost as long as the first one. If you’re really unlucky, this can become a chain.

The patch coming on February 22nd has some further optimisations for loading from a HDD, but the speed is only part of the issue. The sheer frequency of the load screen triggers is intense, even getting into managing your loadout or appearance, for example? Load screen.

Mechanics Worn on Sleeve

If you apply a reductive mindset, you can break down any of the Looter Shooter games to a small set of very simple mechanics. Get to a place, kill a thing, maybe move one thing to another thing, etc.

We don’t fault those games for these simple mechanics typically, because they wrap them in story. We’re not just standing around fighting waves in a room, no, we’re buying time for civilians to escape out behind us!

Anthem’s missions aren’t necessarily mechanically any worse than these other games — but there is no meaningful effort to dress them up or immerse you in story reasons for why you’re doing it.

This might sound like a small thing and I suppose in some ways it is. But when you ask someone who has played this, and say The Division which hides the mechanics much better behind the story, which game has the more satisfying mission mechanics? Even though The Division is not objectively any better in this regard, they will tell you that it is.

This impression matters and makes it much harder to invest in what you’re doing.

The Story

The story is not up to BioWare standard. It’s perfectly serviceable, if not actually good so far as looter-shooters go. I didn’t hate it by any stretch, and unlike many I found the character conversations to be interesting.

But as interesting as they are, there is not much in the way of consequence or change as a result of what you say or do. It is this element in particular I miss from the usual BioWare formula. You can affect some very tiny changes to your personal version of Tarsis, just… Not much.

The story also feels like (because it is) just an Act 1 to the overall story. Sure, we get an ending of sorts. But it’s poorly paced and the ending we get doesn’t feel at all deserved.

BioWare plans to extend this story out overtime through free content/story updates, which is something I applaud. Also I admit to being extremely keen to find out where the post-credit teaser revelation takes us in the coming months.

But the story issues also extend to the implementation. Outside of some cutscenes, all your story beats occur back in Ft Tarsis, completely segregated from the actual ‘game’ of Anthem. This is a Singleplayer only area to protect your experience with the story.

But if you’re attempting to play with friends, you’ll have up to 15-20 minutes at a time talking your way through Tarsis to contend with. If some of your group are interested in the story and some aren’t no-one is going to feel very happy about this.

The Tombs

I mentioned story pacing, right?

This right here was one of (but certainly not the only) culprit in this arena. With the 15th Feb launch, this mandatory-to-proceed ‘story’ quest required players to run through a set of ‘challenges’ such as open 15 chests, get 10 collectibles, get 50 melee kills, etc.

Adding insult to injury, the 15 chests required each individual to open their own set of 15. Being in a squad standing right by the chest being opened was not enough.

Two fixes for this are coming, but too late to benefit me. ;)

  1. (Already implemented) Tracking of the quest objectives start from Level 3 (down from level 10 previously), such that by the time you GET to this quest, it’ll be quite likely you have much of it done.
  2. Chest opening credit will apply to squads, so just 15 chests will be needed, rather than having to hunt down up to 60 for a full squad.

This whole quest though is nothing more than an attempt to pad out the game time. … Or at least I thought so until right this moment. It just occurred to me that possibly it’s rooted in the same issue as I outlined with Mechanics, where Anthem just has absolutely no creative spark when it comes to hiding or at least wrapping what it’s asking you to do in a better story context.

Others?

The Menu and UI setup remains high on my list of bugbears. Both for how it does work and for what it is missing.

The pain of using the Menu’s I outlined in the Anthem Open Demo Impressions still holds fairly true. We have had some improvements in being able to click through to the next layer down, but it still has a long way to go.

I also noted in the Anthem VIP Demo Impressions that there was no possible way to view your overall Javelin stats and bonuses. Or even basic information such as what your base shield/armor values are. That’s still true, and in my view needs addressing. It is a fairly core component of the ARPG and Looter Shooter genre.

Although also of note is that there is no way to tell what some of the really quite cryptic modifiers on gear even do. Even testing isn’t reliable right now since we know that some modifiers don’t work right now. (Due to be fixed in the Feb 22nd patch)

Then there is the matter of variety — in creatures, enemy factions and biomes in particular. That last has been quite a deal breaker for some already. The continuous sea of jungle with no respite is just too much. Personally? I prefer this over abrupt borders of desert to snow that some open world games provide, but even I must admit… I’m really hanging out for some new land masses to be added.

There is also no questioning that the end-game content is a little light at this point. e.g., there are only three strongholds (full-sized dungeons) and then the open-world content such as Freeplay, Contracts and Legendary Contracts on Grand Master difficulties.

These also all add up to the feel that Anthem is currently an Early Access title. Sure — it is one with promise, but certainly not one ready for a descriptor of ‘Fully Launched Title’.

Conclusion

Anthem is flawed. Beyond any shadow of a doubt. I’ve outlined what I see to be the worst features of the game in its current state, but also how despite them there is an exceedingly fun time to be had with Anthem.

The question then becomes, as alluded to right at the beginning: Do you think that you, personally, could enjoy the game in its current state despite the issues mentioned?

And if not, do you at least believe that Anthem will continue to deliver sufficient post-launch content and is this a vision you want to support and buy into? I do. The developers at BioWare have gone to great lengths to be transparent about the goings on, what is in, what is out, what is coming down the pipeline for later.

My only niggle of reservation is whether, if sales are not immediately ‘awesome’, will EA continue to support BioWare in getting Anthem to where it needs to be? This is the ‘gambling’ aspect of it, I think.

For what it’s worth, I can only imagine that releasing in this early state is an intentional and calculated move on their part. One they’ve done before with Battlefield V, and that title is still seeing content updates to flesh out what was missing at launch.

So for all this, I think there is no harm in considering Anthem again in a few months time after it’s had some time to settle some of the bigger issues. Especially if one of the other big releases this month is vying for your dollars.

Otherwise, don’t be afraid to give Anthem a go for yourself and just form your own opinion. Consider trying it out even through Origin Premier Access with just a month’s subscription perhaps. Within a month you will well and truly know whether Anthem is for you and how you feel about the cadence of updates.

Should you enjoy what you’re playing then you can buy the game with the benefit of 10% off if you do it before the subscription entirely expires, or you can part ways without having had to part with a larger chunk of your hard earned money.

For what it’s worth, I feel I’ve already extracted value for money out of what was present just in the Feb 15th launch content. I could comfortably put it aside and not regret my purchase.

But that’s not why I bought Anthem. I want more. The Story of Anthem was a bit of a let down when held up to typical BioWare fare, sure, but the world building? That was top-notch. There are so many places I want to go see in this world that has been created. So many things referenced in lore that I want to get to know about first hand.

There is more to Anthem’s world and story to be had; let’s just hope it doesn’t take too long to get it to us. ;D

For now, I’ll leave you with some of the tasty, tasty loot I’ve obtained over the past few days. :)

Postscript on Microtransactions

You might have noticed I didn’t list the MTX as an issue. I guess the short of it is, with current implementation — I’m not worried. At all.

Should legendary grade armor, emotes, etc, come out at some truly ridiculous price point (in either coin or shards!) then I’ll update accordingly.

But my belief is that the coin income has held up into the end-game very well. It is going to take a very long time for the one-time challenges to dry up when you consider that they exist for every weapon, for every gear piece of every Javelin, for exploration of every area and more challenges besides.

Then there are the constantly ongoing set of 3 dailies, weeklies and monthlies for additional income. There is more than what is shown via the table in the Freelancer Barracks, make sure to always be checking out your challenge entries in your Journal / Cortex as well.

Survived the First Month!

I figured I’d better take a look, as I had an inkling that the first month’s anniversary of this place would be up soon. I thought it was a bit later in the month, but nope. Today. (Good thing I looked.)

Out of morbid curiosity, I also took a look at what the average life-expectancy of a ‘new blog’ is. The general answer I found is 100 days. I couldn’t see any sort of data to back that assertion and my own estimate would’ve put it at around 180 days. Either way, it’s not long.

My prior experience lasted multiple years, tis true. But that was also over several different blogging projects. One post when I’d made a return from an unscheduled hiatus on ‘Fun in Games’ (September 2011) had the following line in it:

My last post was back in May. My last regular post was from April. The last post of mine I actually liked was somewhere back in March.

Naithin on Fun in Games — now surviving via the Web Archive Project — Scroll down to ‘I’ll be Back’ post.

As great as the Web Archive Project is, it isn’t infallible (especially for smaller sites) so I can’t go back and see what post from March I would’ve been talking about. ‘Older Posts’ does go to a record of page 2, but it’s an older one, skipping March and going to February.

But it sounds like I’d lost the drive somewhere along the way, likely as a result of quitting WoW again. Despite nominally being a more general gaming blog, WoW was certainly at the centre of my posting there. I didn’t really break away from that until my last blog project, Modicum of Gaming1.

In any case — I want to beat the 100 day timeline. I want to beat the 365 day timeline. Longer. Maybe one day, even be grown-up enough in blogging (2+ years) to mentor new up and comers in a future Blaugust!

I don’t want to fade off again.

Planning for Success

Uh, right. This would be the part where, if I knew what I was doing, I’d outline the plans I have to ensure continued success. (Success at this point being defined simply as: Not stopping.)

Current Plans:

  • Post Schedule: Often..ish…? Oh, like days? … Yes.
  • Post Content: Also yes. Definitely need some of this. Loot…games?

OK, truth be told — it boils down to ‘wing it’. I’ve always been more of a discovery person than a planner person anyway.

Circling back to post-content again, and revisiting some of my old blogs thanks to the magic of the internet, I see I used to veer wildly off-topic. Well; at least from the ‘core’ topic of the games themselves.

There were community posts, various bloggerly type ideas and more. Some of those might even have been amongst my favourite content. So without going nuts on it (before I eventually created a more ‘IRL’ blog for writing, book reviews, etc) I think I’ll loosen the reigns a little bit on what I’ll ‘let’ myself cover here.

I found those posts to give me the best freedom of expression and ultimately the ability to find my own ‘voice’ in blogging. Something I’ve certainly struggled with since making a return, something I was discussing with Scopique from Levelcapped just earlier today.


Examining the Motives

I’d be lying if I even tried to claim I’m not interested in a readership. Of course I am. But if there is one piece of advice I feel confident in sharing to anyone planning to embark on the path of blogging, that is not to put this front and centre of your motivations — especially while starting out.

You need to be OK essentially just writing into the void to start with, building up content and readers slowly.

I’m good with this, and something that really stuck with me to help through this phase came from Wilhelm of The Ancient Gaming Noob, if you look at his About page, you’ll see the main expressed reason for writing is as a journal of gaming events, a personal history.

This resonates strongly with me and something I want to be able to do in the years to come. I cannot say how often I’ve attempted to go back and find old forum posts, to find old conversations and even try recall what my reasoning was for a given position on something.

Well, here we go. :)

That Said, How Did Month 1 Go?

1) What to Expect When You’re Expecting… (an Anthem Demo)
2) The Division 2 Private Beta – Early Impressions of Early Game
3) We Lost the Battle on Microtransactions
4) Seach Engine traffic ramps up — these must still be far, faaar beyond page 1 clicks, but it’s gone from at best 1-2 a day through to 12 three days ago, and 19 yesterday. The screenshot was taken earlier today, but I expect today’s overall traffic to end up somewhere similar to yesterday.

It has been an interesting month to be sure. Not shown on that chart is the day or two prior where I’d written the about page and the ‘Hello!‘ post, but had not yet so much as tweeted the existence of this place.

I’ve changed the theme no less than three times, the header banner no less than twice. And the thrust of the blog? Now once, given my interest in pursuing a wider array of topics than I was perhaps allowing myself to before.

In terms of posting, I joked about this in the prior section, but this will be post 25 in a bit over 30 days. Is that a pace I can maintain? Uncertain. I used to average around 2 posts a week, but I have felt no ill effects of the current pace.

I’ll take it as it comes, I think, with an expected minimum of one a week barring time away and that kind of thing.

Overall I’m happy. I’m still finding my feet again to be sure but it has been really great reacquainting myself with the blogger community new and old and in general discovering that blogging still has a place in the world.

I had started to fear that perhaps the likes of YouTube and Reddit even had fully consumed the niche blogging had in the world. Perhaps they have eaten blogging’s lunch a little, but it seems we have plenty of life to go on with yet. :)

Confronting Confirmation Bias and Echo Chambers

Anthem is the catalyst for this post, but the discussion could certainly be taken more broadly. Also, I want to make it very clear that I’m not excluding myself from this. No-one is free of bias, the best one can do is try to be aware of where your personal bias’ lie and take the necessary steps to mitigate them.

Whatever else you might think of Anthem; it can certainly look good.

My bias toward Anthem is something I first raised after exposure to the demo weekends, again while writing up my impressions of The Division 2 beta and most recently mentioned being in the ‘honey-moon period’ for my early impressions of the early-access launch.

This is all good and well, but I want to write a review that will be useful to people shortly. So at least for myself, I need to confront the assumptions and biases I’ve held to date, and break the echo chamber effect1 somewhat in order to do so.

What was my starting level of bias?

Well… I essentially came out of a 5+ year blogging hibernation for the express purpose of talking about Anthem.

That should put some context to it for you. At the time I made the decision to come back to blogging for it, there is very little I could have heard or seen that would have dissuaded me from the position I then held.

Nonetheless; over the course of this (admittedly so far short) stint at returning to blogging, I’d already started to self-moderate. I had seen signs I was being unreasonable in my expectations. I was shrugging off certain things that really do deserve constructive criticism.

Enjoying a thing is absolutely fine, good even. We are, for the most part, much too ready to jump down negatively on almost anything and everything. I know that my natural inclination is one of skepticism and disbelief. Before this, I would have told you that I’ve been around the pre-launch hype of too many games to be taken in again. Prove to me it’s worth the hype and then maybe, possibly, I’ll change my tune.

I couldn’t tell you what it was about Anthem that captured that remaining, ‘I want to believe’ spark left in my imagination, really. But capture it it had.

And Now?

I’m still enjoying the game. No-one (including myself) has been able to talk me out of having fun with Anthem.

This is not always a given, either. My Steam library is littered with titles of a more-easily-hyped-Naithin, and some of them to this day have not been loaded. Even once.

I have something like 35 hours into Anthem now and still hunger for more.

Be that as it may though, I think I have managed to gain a better perspective on where the troubles lie. The areas that are in need of improvement if not outright remedy. I can see that Anthem’s ‘Games as a Service’ model is more than anything else ‘Early Access’ for a AAA studio title. (This is a post for another day.)

To get there, to this more balanced position, has meant going out of my way to listen to dissenting opinions. Going willingly into the lion’s den of negative opinion about something I enjoy, and considering whether each individual complaint holds merit in as detached a manner as possible.

Review to Come Soon

So yes, the review will start rolling out soon. Depending on length I may section it off. In particular because I can write about story with some confidence in it not materially changing with the patch on the 22nd Feb.

But if you were hoping for a bit more guidance right now on where things sit with Anthem, I guess my conclusion is this:

Yes — Anthem has problems. The load screens being a big one (especially for those without the luxury of an SSD they can make space to fit the game on). There are other issues too in my opinion with how itemisation is handled and certain story decisions.

But equally, Yes — Anthem is fun despite these problems. Anyone telling you that you can’t have fun with the title in it’s current state is wrong. Now, whether you are willing (or able) to support a full-price game that is coming out with these issues is another matter, and a decision not to is certainly one I could respect.

I want to play Metro: Exodus so much, but I simply refuse to support Epic while their means of acquiring market-share is to introduce third-party exclusives to the PC market. I will wait a year for a Steam release rather than give them a cent of my money now. So I do get taking a stand.

Also, there are a lot of pretty good titles coming out right now besides.

If you’re on the fence, but interested, I think the best thing you can do for yourself (if you’re on PC) is to grab one month of the EA Premier access. This will give you a full month of unfettered access to try it out for yourself, and form your own opinions rather than take my word, or anyone else’s.

If at the end of the month you’re still invested, and/or the coming content drops sound interesting, you can then choose to invest (with 10% off the purchase price, if you do it before your month runs out).

Alternately, just wait for a few months for all the hype (both positive and negative) to die out, and see where things stand then. As I said, plenty of good titles to tide you over in the meantime. :)