You know that feeling of excitement you get when you start a new Fallout game and exit the Vault for the first time? The light blinds you momentarily and then your eyes adjust and you see the wide world in front of you, ripe for exploration. I got that feeling when I loaded into Anthem’s beautiful world for the first time, too. And then I moved.
I moved, tried to aim, and then tried my hand at flying. The controls felt sluggish, like the game was trying to emulate a joystick even while I was using a mouse and keyboard. My heart sank and I felt much of my excitement deflate like a balloon. I spent the next little while fiddling with the game’s controls until I found something I could work with. I got things playable enough where I could enjoy myself, but this wasn’t remotely ideal. For some odd reason, raw mouse input wasn’t an option for PC players using mouse and keyboard. Many players have been complaining about the controls on PC over the weekend and it does look like BioWare will be making some (hopefully sufficient) changes in time for launch, but this was just the first of a few questionable decisions I noticed during my time with the demo.
The bugs and connection issues were problematic. You only get one first impression, after all. BioWare dropped the ball here, but I like to consider myself a pretty patient gamer. While these issues did erode my confidence a bit, I’ve been playing online games for long enough to be able to weather this sort of thing without getting too upset.
What really bugged me were a bunch of little things, little things that very well may be sorted by launch, but are important nonetheless. Simple things like not having a way to track your group (I know this is already in the current build of the game) and the lack of a character sheet. Seriously. Anthem is a game where we are going to be putting together loadouts with tons of different bonuses and there isn’t a way to take a deep dive into your various attributes and the combined totals of your bonuses in game. Even Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has a character sheet. What is the expectation? That players will have to add everything up themselves on a calculator and plug it into a spreadsheet? It’s the omission of these sort of essential little details that really have me wondering how ready Anthem will be by launch day in just a few weeks. Don’t even get me started on the cumbersome nested menus and the loading screens for every little thing you do.
It's in the moment-to-moment gameplay where Anthem truly shines.
And despite it all? I still had tons of fun. Bugs, connectivity, and some questionable decisions aside, there is truly fun gameplay underneath it all. Anthem is basically like playing Mass Effect Andromeda, only you can fly and you’ll be relying much more on all that additional mobility than hiding behind cover. Once I wrestled the controls down, the game dug its hooks into me and I spent hours upon hours playing it over the weekend and hunting for loot that ultimately didn’t matter. I spent tons of time experimenting with different types of weapons, abilities, and ability combos and I found a lot to like. The moment-to-moment gameplay is enjoyable and that’s key, but BioWare’s really got to step things up in other areas if they want to hook players far less skeptical about the game than I am.
I don’t have a whole lot to say about the game’s story at this point. Thrust into the middle of things, it’s hard to really judge without proper context. On the plus side, character faces are much improved since Mass Effect Andromeda, so there is that. Either way, despite this being a BioWare game, story isn’t a huge reason for me to play. Hopefully it’s good enough to keep me interested in the quests I’m doing, but let’s be real, I’m here for the loot.
Ultimately, I came into the Anthem demo a lot more confident about its success than I was after it was over. BioWare’s been saying the right things and showing off the game a ton recently, but the devil’s in the details and this was a demo, not a beta. This was the version BioWare wanted players to assess as part of their decision on whether or not to purchase the game (or keep their preorders) and there were just too many issues here for me to feel reassured about its launch state. We’ll have to see, of course, but consider me more cautious than cautiously optimistic at this point.