Anthem VIP Demo Impressions

Anthem Demo - Naithin's Ranger exosuit Javelin in the background, coloured red, blue and gold. In the foreground are various engineer types working on other machinery items.

Hmm. Well, we know from the expectation setting done before the demo launch that the demo build of Anthem is without the benefit of ~6 weeks of bug fixes.

Still — I can’t help but wonder the impact the demo experience (or lack of it, for some) will ultimately have on the critical early sales period.

Personally I’ve been relatively lucky — I experienced the initial issues with server capacity and Origin going down in general like everyone did, but I did not run into the bug preventing people from unlocking their second Javelin, nor have I had to struggle too hard to actually load into missions vs. the infinite loading screen bug.

Some of my friends though have — and it has without any doubt dampened their enthusiasm. The experience delivered next weekend is going to be critical in winning at least one of this group back.

So how was it being able to play?

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.

You know how sometimes when playing a game, it simply reminds you of another similar thing, and then you get the urge to go play that other thing instead?

Well, I think the best shorthand compliment I can give Anthem, is that when playing — this didn’t happen. I was invested in the moment to moment gameplay and just wanted more Anthem.

Nowhere more was this true than in the Stronghold. I saved this for a bit of a demo endgame experience for myself and my team. We did it at level 15, pretty well geared, and cranked it to hard.

Hoo boy. We had been impressed with the game (when it let us) already, but the step up in the quality of the content and the degree of teamwork required was impressive. We were truly challenged, but in a way that felt good- it felt exhilarating. Will it ten runs from now? Twenty? Possibly not, but there is at least some hope in trying again through the Grandmaster difficulty ranks. Working out builds both as a team and as individuals to make it work I can imagine being great.

And yet, I was just watching the video I captured of my first outing into the world of Anthem (embedded below), and was reminded all over again just how satisfying and powerful even those early, most basic of skills felt.

I played with Mouse + Keyboard and while there was certainly a learning curve, particularly around mastering the transitions between ground, flight and hover modes — I honestly think it already controls well and feels good.

The live game has tweaks coming to the control model to make things a little less ‘twitchy’ — but I’m personally, at least, really hoping the feel isn’t too significantly changed!

It currently works in a way that will be familiar to anyone who has played Freelancer, or the X-series of games — where in flight control mode the cursor becomes as if a joystick onscreen. The further off-centre you move the cursor, the sharper your shift in that direction.

Swooping through the air — be it deep in the caverns of the earth or through the open air feels spectacular. Each Javelin seems to control very differently as well, adding to their sense of uniqueness.

Second half of the first mission, and my first hands on with the game. I went on normal difficulty and solo. (No puzzle solution spoiler)

The Ranger’s movement has a strong sense of physicality to it. Short, powerful boosts from your suits rockets propelling you into the double-jump or dash. The Storm by contrast lacked a double-jump but had total mastery over itself in the air, capable of slow-falling and adjusting direction at whim.

Overall, 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.

Mtashed revealed1 that the embargo on the endgame content the ‘EA Game Changers’ saw and played through ends Feb 1st 2019. This will likely be the day then, when we start to get a more complete view of what not only Anthem will come with at launch, but what the post-launch support plans look like.

What are my main complaints or issues?

It’s not all roses though, and there are certainly some things I feel the game needs to add or adjust to improve upon the strong foundation the demo proves exists.

No Build / Stats Overview Screen — Itemisation may require data mining to effectively theorycraft.

Please BioWare, allow us an in-game way of viewing our overall build stats and effects. At least provide some transparency over what components are doing and the base values we’re working with.

More than anything else, this is my biggest gripe. There is no way to view your Javelin’s overall shield, health or armor. When you look at a component piece that provides a flat amount of health or armor, there is no way to gain context on what sort of change you’re looking at.

What is the base health of my Javelin? Is it 500 or 2500? Just how significant a buff is a flat 250 health increase?

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

You can’t see what bonuses you’ve got applied, or how much damage mitigation you have, the final weapon or gear damage figures you have as a result of your gear inscriptions — nothing.

Missing this while always frustrating, might at least be able to be lived with if the itemisation on item drops was clearer. Shielding components — I’m looking at you.

The base lines on components always appears to be ‘Javelin Health’ and ‘Javelin Armor’ – how much of each depending on rarity, item level and type.

Components generally also have a white text description implying potential further increases beyond what is shown. Possibly. The Armor Upgrade components do tend to have higher armor values. But shielding components don’t show any flat numerical value.

So… What do they add?

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Please BioWare, allow us an in-game way of viewing our overall build stats and effects. At least provide some transparency over what components are doing and the base values we’re working with.

Other Itemisation Issues

Two issues here, but one of them is likely to be entirely demo related and may not show in the live game. Possibly both, if we’re really lucky.

Impossible Stats

By which I mean — I saw multiple instances of inscriptions and item types having fundamental conflicts, rendering the inscription completely useless.

Still not with me? Here’s an example — a component specific for Interceptors, no other Javelin can equip it — that also provides a buff for the Ranger Javelin Assault Launcher gear slot.

This is one that may be a design intent rather than a bug. I hope not. But the philosophy might be one of keeping things entirely random making that ‘perfectly rolled’ drop that much more exciting.

This is a rather archaic view in my opinion, and while I don’t expect every drop to be useful or amazing — I would expect the combinations to at least make some degree of sense.

0% inscriptions

I expect this to be a demo-only issue in one form or another.

  1. If it is a true 0% value, it is possible the itemisation generation was still not finalised in this build of the game, and the capping on lower end rolls was not set.
  2. It may be a non-zero value with a rounding/display error

Menu / UI Interactions

Urgh. For the love of all things holy, please do two things for us PC users:

  1. Remove all instances of ‘hold Esc to exit’.
  2. Let us click into the sub-menu which is clearly displayed on screen already.

No-one is hitting the Esc key on accident. I get the concern for controller; but at least provide the option to turn this safeguard off for Mouse + KB players!

And while the menu’s actually look pretty good — the console design is written all over them. There are many instances of having a sub-menu clearly visible but utterly unable to be interacted with when clicked over.

You have to go back and click or otherwise confirm entry to that menu before you can do anything.

Makes total sense for a controller, far less sense with a mouse pointer. And it is actively horrible to work with.

If we can get these changes in – it would be a huge quality of life improvement!


Picking a Main in Anthem

I don’t know about you–but I always struggle with picking a main. It can become quite an ordeal. We now have a little less than a day to wait before the VIP Demo let’s us in for a peek. We’ll get the see first hand the Ranger and one other Javelin of our choice.

This is really good! Unless… Like me, all of them sound exciting to you for one reason or another.

What can hopefully help put your mind at ease a little then is the knowledge that in Anthem it’s a fair bit more difficult to go wrong. In fact, the Javelin exosuits are less ‘class’ and more ‘build’.

Huh?

Your in-game persona is a human. A freelancer. A pilot. You level up as a pilot, picking talents as you go that buff things such as your flight time before overheating.

After the tutorial mission (played in the Ranger), you will be able to pick any of the 4 Javelin’s to unlock first.

Javelin’s unlock at:

  • Level 2 – This is your first pick immediately following the tutorial.
  • Level 8
  • Level 16
  • Level 24 / 261

So in essence? Don’t worry about it. Well, I mean… Worry a little bit. You should have an idea of what to try first! But just know there is no wrong decision that is going to lead to you rerolling if you find you don’t like a given class as much as you thought you would. :)

While playing with a given Javelin equipped, Anthem will use a ‘Smart Loot’ system which weights drops toward things useful for that Javelin. But you still will get the odd thing for the other Javelins from time to time — so should you ultimately decide, ‘Oh no… I’ve made a terrible mistake’ or heck, simply decide new day–new you one morning, you can get a running start at another pick.

OK! But… What do the Javelins actually do?

I’ve posted a series of profiles on each Javelin for you to look at if you’d like some help deciding. (Note: At the time of writing this, I’m pending a review on the Colossus and Storm to update them to the new format I put the Interceptor and Ranger into.)

These will be updated with more detailed information (such as which skills Prime or Detonate) after we get our hands on the game. :)

For now, here’s a quick overview of each!

The Ranger is being toted as the versatile, jack-of-all-trades Javelin. You have a medium amount of health and shields and a medium degree of mobility. The Ranger is also capable of dealing all elemental damage types — giving it a good range of options when it comes to dealing with heavily shielded (lightning, frost) or armored (acid, fire) enemies.

Consider the Ranger akin to a Soldier in playstyle, with grenades, rockets, and a good range of weaponry.

The Colossus is big, bulky and extremely tough despite the total lack of an energy shield like all other javelin’s enjoy. Also though? Slow. Slower at least. The concept of ‘dodging’ is utterly alien to the the Colossus. Making up for this lack the Colossus gains two things:

  1. It packs an actual physical shield which they can use to deflect damage and more enjoyably shield charge and slam the puny enemies out of the way… even while flying.
  2. It is the only Javelin at launch capable of wielding the heavy weapon class, including the likes of Grenade Launchers and Autocannons.

The Storm fulfills the ‘space mage’ role. Elemental fury–fire and ice with a side of lightning–is how the Storm likes to get things done. A real AoE and status building powerhouse. Lightly armored this is not a Javelin you want in the thick of things up close and personal if you can avoid it. To aid with that, the Storm forgoes a standard dash move and when dodging performs a short-range teleport (or ‘blink’).

You can also hover for longer than the other Javelins in the storm, gaining a bonus to your energy shield while you do. Just watch out–there’s no real cover up there.

Last but not least The Interceptor. This is your super agile, super nimble rogue or ninja type. With it, you can rapidly move about the play field cutting ribbons off your enemies with you dual-wielded, dual-bladed daggers. If you like zipping around with triple-jumps, regaining shield while you do, and all at top speed? Then getting up close and personal with the Interceptor could be for you.

Decided now?

Yeah… No… Me neither.

I mean, I’m becoming fairly certain I’ll start out with the Ranger, focus on becoming the single-target boss-killer powerhouse of the team. So that the demo is giving everyone the Ranger to start with doesn’t bother me terribly.

But what next? Even the Interceptor representing the rogue playstyle — not something I typically go for! — looks fresh and exciting.

The tanky Colossus would more closely align with my typical play style, as I nearly always go Healer or Tank.

But I’m quite hyped to try out the damage-dealing, status-spreading Storm, too. I think this will be the class I test out for our free choice during the demo.

So… What do I DO then?

If you really cannot decide–then nothing is going to beat first hand experience.

Even if you can’t make (or don’t want, for reasons of story spoilers, etc) to participate in the demos — know that in the live game, you’re going to have each of the 4 Javelin’s unlocked before the end game.

You’ll have had ample opportunity to test and learn and see what works best for you.

And if they’re all truly holding equal spot in your heart, then just blind pick one. If you’re disappointed with what you unlock at the time — at least you’ll have a clearer idea of what you really wanted. ;)


What to expect when you’re expecting… (an Anthem Demo)

There is a lot of information floating around about the upcoming Anthem demo–some of it not quite right. So I’m here to help distinguish between what we ‘know’–that is, we have it direct from an official source–vs. what has merely been speculated.

Little does this Grabbit know how soon, or how much, it’s peaceful existence is about to be disrupted by a horde of new Freelancers…

What we’ve been told:

BioWare’s Mark Darrah and Michael Gamble have been busy beavers on Twitter, providing information and answering questions on what we will get in the demos.1

The playable level range will be 10-15.2 You will be dropped into the thick of it at level 10, without the benefit of the tutorial, nor having had the ability to run through customisation of your pilot/human avatar like you will in the full game.

All demo players will start with the Ranger. At level 12 we will be able to select a second Javelin of our choice to test.3

The demo was branched from the final game code base ~6 weeks ago.4 This has a few distinct call-outs of its own. Namely, 6 weeks worth of bug fixes are missing from the demo build.

Tweaks to mouse and keyboard flight controls made since the branch for a more nuanced control experience are missing from the demo.

Some things have been renamed for additional clarity in the final build, that will still have their old names in the demo.

Balance in terms of the economy and the difficulty have not been updated to the final state either. Mark Darrah confirmed5 that in general, the demo build is easier than what we will experience in the final build.

This will be an important note if you, or your friends, are concerned about the seeming ease of the game. The demo is not going to be representative of the final game difficulty. More on this in the next section.

In a similar vein to the difficulty, the gear drop rates and overall economy of the game do not reflect final game state either.

Demo will be a 30gb download6 This proved to be incorrect! For PC at least–the Origin download for the Anthem Demo weighs in at 44GB.

Progress will carry over from VIP demo to the Open demo, but not live.7

So this is what we’ve been told–if I’m missing anything, please do let me know. Oh. Actually. There is one more thing. I guess. The preload is live right now. Also, VIP friend keys are available. Just a small detail. ;) Take a look at the official EA Anthem demo page for information on starting the preload on your platform of choice, or take a look at this Reddit Post for advice on grabbing your friend VIP keys.

Demo gets a trailer

This short (30 second) trailer popped up this morning. Little bit of a new scene and dialog from Matthias.

This way lies speculation!

…And information which might well be official that I read previously and cannot now put my hands on the source.

Either way–take this section with a healthy dose of salt.

It seems the demo build we’ll be getting our hands on is more or less the same build that certain content creators in the ‘EA Game Changers’ programme were given access to late last year.

This build we believe was optimised for ‘shorter play sessions’, to which I take the mean that the XP gain and loot drop rates will be inflated over what BioWare would consider ‘normal’ for the final product.

We will level faster, see more items and potentially items of a higher grade than we will see at the same levels of pilot and difficulty in the launch product.

What is also somewhat murky is how many Javelin picks we will get to test during the demo sessions. From this twitter thread, we can confirm that all four Javelins (i.e., Ranger, Colossus, Storm and Interceptor) will be available to choose from. But not how many we will have access to on a single account.

The level cap of 15 would suggest two, and two has been discussed in various twitter threads the devs are on without contradiction or correction. My advice here would be to expect only two, then if it ends up being four, bonus!

There has been some discussion that we might all be given the Ranger to start and then get to choose only one other Javelin. My suspicion is that this is confusion over the base game and getting the loaner Ranger in the tutorial before making a choice on your actual starting Javelin.

I predict therefore that we will have open choice of two Javelins. Just two days now til we can confirm ourselves!

I was wrong with that prediction, and this has now been cleared up in full! BioCamden has posted on Reddit in the past hour that the Ranger will be the first unlock for everyone. At level 12 we will be able to pick another Javelin to try.

As a parting note: I am still likely to have another VIP friend key or two to giveaway–if you’re still needing one, let me know in the comments!

Anthem Javelin Profile: Storm

This series of posts is aimed mostly at those dipping their feet into the waters of Anthem for the first time. If that’s you – welcome! If that’s not you… well, also welcome! But more in-depth content to come once we get our hands on the game. :)

Bioware's Anthem: Line up of the four classes, left-to-right, Ranger, Colossus, Storm and Interceptor. The Storm is in colour as the focus of the image, with the other three in greyscale.

Elemental power–that’s the name of the Storm’s game. Harness the power of Lightning, Fire and Ice when you jump in. The Storm is Anthem’s answer to the glass-cannon mage archetype. Plenty of damage, very little armor health.

This lack is made up for through an increased ability to stay aloft above the battle hovering compared to the other Javelin suits. And while hovering, you have a buffed energy shield.

Being up high isn’t all sunshine and roses though–when your awe-inspiring elemental damage draws ire from the enemies below, you have very little in the way of cover options. Fortunately, the Storm’s aerial dodge move takes the form of a short range teleport allowing you to blink out of harms way.

Detonating a combo as the Storm will chain the effect applied by the primer to nearby enemies. e.g., Managed to freeze an enemy? Detonate to freeze all its buddies too.

The Skills

Blast Seals: Go for AoE with Lightning Strike, Ice Storm or Flame Burst depending on your mood to fry, freeze or flame your enemies. Or get in a little closer with the seeking projectiles of Rime Blast or Living Flame.

Focus Seals: In the ice department, choose from Hoarfrost Shards–a rapid firing status builder, eventually freezing targets to the spot–or Glacial Beam to fire a concentrated beam of cold. Fire comes with the classic Fireball–charge it up to make it explode or fire it rapidly as you see fit. Lightning? Arc Burst gives you an up-close-and-personal option, acting similar to a chain-lightning spell, but emanating from yourself to nearby enemies. Otherwise, you can take Arc Burst, a ball of lightning capable of bouncing off walls to get your enemies even from behind cover.

Support Seals: Stop enemy projectiles cold with the Wind Wall, giving yourself or your team a small reprieve from incoming damage or instead take out your Nexus ability and provide a buff to skill recharge times for any allies in the field.

Ultimate–Elemental Storm: Open a channel to the raw power of the Anthem for a short time to call down three separate strikes of elemental fury. Target domes of frost, electricity and fire individually while the window is open to deal damage and then if you get off all three, watch as elemental meteors fall on your chosen locations and anything unlucky enough to still be there at the time.