Anthem Impressions – Two Demo Weekends In

Anthem - Ancient Ash Titan looms directly ahead, with a wave of its minions - the ash elementals swarm around its feet.

This post is more difficult than I imagined. And it’s due to more than just experience with the demo itself. There has also been a fair number of information drops since the VIP Demo.

Not all of that news has been good. I’ve experienced something of a mental tonal shift in regards to Anthem too. Don’t get me wrong — I’m still all in and wish this game absolute success.

But there is a significant difference between constructive criticism vs. an irrational degree of cynicism. Or perhaps less charitably — driving clicks through sensationalist moral outrage or jumping on the current hate-bandwagon.

Despite what the internet by and large would have us believe these days – it’s actually OK to like something. That doesn’t however excuse blind faith or rationalising away legitimate concerns. Unwarranted positivity can be just as damaging as unwarranted negativity.

So here’s an attempt at rendering more of a balanced view. Based on both the information released since my last write-up, and another weekend of play.

The Open Demo itself

By and large, everything I discussed in my last impressions of the VIP Demo still holds true. We were after all essentially playing the same build of the game, warts and all this weekend.

With a couple pretty key exceptions: They fixed the infinite loading / 95% stuck bug. And the servers launched in a much more stable condition.

Otherwise though — the bugs remained. Enemies still vanished, sound still cut out, key parts required to complete events could depart with a disconnecting player, rendering events (and even the Stronghold) unable to be completed. Luckily, this is confirmed fixed in live game build.

There are a few things that I either didn’t cover or feel needs more attention now though. For example, Pete reminded me in his impressions post of the annoying insistence to second guess the players choice to go into Private play mode. If you want to play a mission in private, even though you literally just dug several menu’s to change it… When you go to launch the mission it will ask, ‘Are you sure?’ with a patronising message about the game being better with other players.

For your first time through a mission, other than with friends? Vehemently disagree. Having a random blaze off ahead, forcing you into a teleport after them without the time to take things in or find things yourself is the worst. Stop it Anthem, stop it!

Mouse and Keyboard Controls

I mentioned before I quite liked the controls – to the point of hoping the fixes talked about for the live build didn’t change things too dramatically.

Dealing with Mouse Acceleration is 100% normal to me. I’ve turned it off now and increased the DPI used on my mouse. It has taken a wee bit of adjustment, but has helped highlight for me the problems people have discussed with the flight model.

This is still true. But I’ve done a little more research on the topic of mouse control and at least understand the problem others are experiencing a little better now.

This article gave me a much better understanding of issues around mouse acceleration and the like. Turns out I’ve been amongst the scrubbiest of scrubs, with Windows mouse acceleration turned on (the ‘Enhance Pointer Precision’ option).

And I mean, that sucker has been on for years. Probably since the option turned up in Windows XP.

So dealing with Mouse Acceleration is 100% normal to me. I’ve turned it off now and increased the DPI used on my mouse. It has taken a wee bit of adjustment, but has helped highlight for me the problems people have discussed with the flight model. So I hope the planned fix assists us all in that respect.

There is still an element of ‘git gud’ to picking up Anthem’s flight as well though. The practice effect is strong, but it kicks in after a relatively short amount of sustained play.

Menu and UI

I think… Painful might be the right word to use here.

It largely gets out of your way when it matters, but makes what should be simple tasks such as inviting squad mates and launching a mission much less intuitive than it should be.

We are getting some good fixes coming through for launch, but it is clear that the interface was a console first design. That needn’t necessarily be a death knell for a UI even on PC.

But layer on that lacking (in the demo, at least) the simple ability to click through to elements clearly displayed on the screen just because they’re one level down, and this really odd laggy, delayed sensation to the menu interactions? And yeah.. Painful.

The console method of confirming actions by requiring a key to be held down has jumped to this PC interface as well. In some instances, I’m OK with it, e.g. when requesting to leave a mission early or leaving freeplay. But other times it is ridiculous, e.g. when it asks you to hold ‘Esc’ to simply leave a menu, as if it is a key that commonly gets mispressed!

Honestly speaking — unlike controls where issues can actively diminish the play experience — a painful UI is rarely a deal breaker, and it isn’t here either.

It largely gets out of your way when it matters, but makes what should be simple tasks such as inviting squad mates and launching a mission much less intuitive than it should be.

How was the end of Demo event?

Eh. It was OK.

It was overhyped for what it ended up being. To be fair — this was a community action rather than anything BioWare did. There was a small teaser to hang around for the final hours of the event, and from this videos were spawned speculating we were to see a Shaper Storm or a Cataclysm event.

But while BioWare themselves never promised any of this — managing player expectations is a key aspect of managing a fan community, and this was nowhere to be seen.

Admittedly, it did look good in motion. And even better at night.

So when it turned out to be an orange patch of storm in the sky, with a few particle effects representing fiery fallout from it and an abundance of Ash Titans around the place… And that was all… ‘Eh’ is about right.

In fact before I went back in and found the Ancient Ash Titan myself — I was getting to ready to leave this demo on a detached and very down note.

Fighting this guy first-hand saved my experience with the demo.

I almost didn’t bother going looking. I had heard already that people were suffering from the despawning-monster bug prevalent in the demo build of the game and losing their progress against it.1

I’m glad I did, because watching this fight and taking part in this fight are dramatically different things.

As the Ancient Ash Titan’s health gets lower, it starts using more abilities and in different sequences, increasing in tempo and variance the further in you get. All before berserking out, firing everything it possibly has at you for a while before self-destructing.

It was wild, exhilarating even. More of this, please.

Still — as an event, it was fairly lack-lustre over all. But from all indications, we should only consider this to be the ‘Phase 1’ of such an event roll-out. In live the expectation is that this would continue to build into bigger and better things.

OK, that’s fair — I can buy that. I don’t buy that it was necessarily a good idea to showcase a ‘Phase 1’ event with no follow-up, in a demo you’re putting out to help sell the product though.

Endgame

Moving on from the demo itself: Endgame news.

The embargo on endgame broke Feb 1st, and… Hoo boy. You might have heard, there are only three strongholds2 at launch.

Strongholds are not the only endgame content, but from what we can tell, for those serious about endgame play – they will be the main activity immediately following launch. They are more than a Strike in Destiny 2, but perhaps a little less than an MMO’s dungeon where multiple boss encounters are expected. They culminate in a boss battle at the end, and have events and mini bosses throughout.

One of the three will unlock during the main story path, but the remaining two will only unlock after reaching maximum level (30).

We’ll also have Legendary Contracts occupying a similar difficulty level as the Strongholds, but it seems only one a day. A legendary contract is a set mission but generated from a random selection of three events which escalate in difficulty from one to the next.

Outside of these we’ll also have the difficulty scaling into Grandmaster 1-3, similar to Diablo 3’s Torment levels. We will have full access to freeroam, other non-Legendary-contracts and the open world mini-dungeons (e.g., the demo had The Mandible and The Necropolis) to get through at these difficulties.

Even so, I get the concern. Only three strongholds for launch is an incredibly weak offering. I feel like even if they’d bumped it to five, while still weak, the outcry would not be so vehement. Hell, I’d be a lot more accepting of five.

I understand that it’s fairly common practice for the looter-shooter genre titles to launch without anything in the way of an endgame. But have they not learned from the outcry and player-base bleeding that goes along with it each time?

BioWare have been suggesting that they will be providing some clarity over the post-launch roadmap soon. I’m looking forward to seeing this and how quickly we can expect additions to what is currently sounding rather thin on the ground.

BioWare has also said that there have been multiple live-content teams at work on post-launch content for the past several weeks, so there is still potential for a quick turn around… But, in the absence of that information?

Here’s my current conclusion…

Conclusion

I’m still very much looking forward to Anthem’s full release. The core of the game is excellent, the skills (if not all the weapons) feel impactful and great to use.

At that point I could comfortably put Anthem on the shelf and give it time to develop more of an endgame — likely giving The Division 2 a try while it does so.

The loot while not yet showing signs of living up to the great examples set in Blizzard’s titles and other ARPGs, is certainly a hell of a lot more interesting than anything Destiny 2 offers in this area.

But! I am tempering my immediate long-term expectations for the game. That isn’t a contradiction, I swear! What I mean is — 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.

At that point I could comfortably put Anthem on the shelf and give it time to develop more of an endgame — likely giving The Division 2 a try while it does so.

I’m no longer expecting to get hundreds of hours out of the title immediately. Eventually, yes. But not immediately.3



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