Earlier this week I had the opportunity to play the first few hours of Anthem, the demo content (which is available for Origin or EA Access members on Friday), and to talk to the Executive Director for Anthem Mark Darrah. There’s been an absolute glut of information from BioWare over the last few months, so this was a great chance to clear up some of the remaining questions and get a solid impression of what the core gameplay is like.
One of my chief concerns was how long it would take to unlock any of the Javelins aside from the Ranger. Personally, the Ranger is the one I am the least interested in and I was hopeful I wouldn’t be stuck playing it for hours on end. As it turned out you do play the Ranger in the opening missions of the game but as soon as you finish the intro you will have an unlock available to unlock any of the four Javelins. Yes, even the Ranger needs to be unlocked which is slightly weird considering it is what is used in the intro, but this is a much better solution than forcing everyone to use just the Ranger for a certain number of hours.
The second unlock token is obtained on reaching level 8 and as you level, you’ll continue to earn these and unlock all the Javelins. I asked Mark Darrah about how long they expect it to take most players to unlock all the Javelins and he said it’ll probably be an average of 30 hours of gameplay depending how quickly the individual levels. This seems not a terrible amount of time especially since you have the choice of what order you unlock them. So even if you pick one you end up not liking very much you’ll be able to pick the next one fairly quickly after.
I also talked with Mark Darrah some about support roles in Anthem and how players who prefer to fill those types of roles can find an enjoyable playstyle as none of the current Javelins are particularly support focused. The Colossus is the closest as it is generally designed to take the most damage in the group, you can even make it so some of your attacks will force enemies to focus on you. One issue I found with this though is since there’s no healer I still had to be a bit cautious because too many enemies at once could still off me. He also pointed out the Storm can be built to have a focus on crowd controlling enemies and can offer support in that way. Darrah also did say in the future there could be more support focused Javelins added but he couldn’t give any more details than that.
I’m slightly concerned about the players who might build for support more than damage though. Experience earned while doing missions and out in the world seemed to be heavily weighted towards players who did the most damage. This could prove to be detrimental to some players as they find themselves falling behind on XP because they just don’t put out the same damage. Hopefully, this is an area they will balance out some and will maybe give more of a bonus to directly finishing objectives. For example, for players who stay on a point you need to protect rather than running off to kill things. Or sometimes there are objectives where you need to pick-up a thing and take it somewhere else. An effective strategy might be having one of the more mobile Javelins do that and having everyone else protect them. Balancing the XP earned in this case would be a benefit to everyone.
Playing with Friends
On the topic of leveling at different rates than your friends, because invariably people will have different amounts of time available to play, Mark Darrah did mention there will be content scaling per person. For example, if I were level 20 and wanted to play with a friend who is level 10, we’d each see the enemies as level appropriate for us and our damage amount would be relative as well. The upside of this is all players will feel like they are contributing, and it should overall be a better experience. The one downside is for anyone who was hoping their higher-level friends might be able to power level them. Of course, the higher-level players will still have a bit of an edge because they’ll have more slots on their gear unlocked.
During the hands-on session there was one point where I had to force quit the game and relog, the upside of this was I got to see how things work when a player gets disconnected during a mission. Upon restarting the game there was a pop-up asking me if I wanted to rejoin the mission, I had been one when I was disconnected. After selecting yes, I was put right back in and teleported to where the other players in my group were. Even more importantly my mission info also updated so I still was able to receive credit for finishing the mission (and the associated quest) even though I had been disconnected for a short time.
I often find while playing MMOs I’ll start a quest or a mission with one friend and then another who needs the same thing will log on after we have been at it for a bit. Most of the time this is a bit of an issue and requires backtracking or in the worst case the friend who logged on last is just out of luck. Anthem has tackled this issue in a very straight forward way. If you are in the middle of a mission and a friend logs in, just invite them to the squad. They’ll be ported in near where you are, and everyone can continue as if they had been there the whole time. Of course, depending on how far through you are when they joined their XP gain at the end might be less than everyone else’s. Also, this obviously won’t work if you are already in a group of four.
While the launching of a mission map menu was a bit counterintuitive, everything else about grouping up with people worked well. The fluidity of pulling people in after starting and of reconnecting after a disconnect will go a long way to help this game be one people keep playing. Additionally, even when you are on your own and want to tackle things with other players the built in matchmaking system is solid. It generally will try to group people with variety of javelins, but it won’t force things if there isn’t enough variety in the queue.
Every game must make money somehow, otherwise no one could get paid to do any of it, but some practices of monetization have been terrible for players recently. This added to the fact BioWare has said they don’t plan on charging players for new content after they buy the game, there won’t be lootboxes, and only cosmetics will be sold on the store, I was sort of curious how all of this will work out for them.
Sometimes when games focus on selling cosmetics to earn money it can often feel as if buying from the store is the only way to get new looks for your character (or Javelins in this case) so this was one of the first things I asked Mark Darrah about. As it turns out everything which will be buyable on the store will also be earnable in game. Although he didn’t go into more detail on this point it’s probably safe to assume things have an in-game currency and a real money currency and it’ll be faster to just buy things. This is the most common way games allow for things on the store to be bought through playing the game. Additionally, there will be cosmetics which can only be earned through accomplishing certain things in game.
I also asked about the whole not having players pay for content updates and if it meant there wouldn’t be any expansions for Anthem. Although he said he couldn’t rule it out completely (which of course he can’t) they don’t have any plans to do an expansion in the forseeable future. The main reason for their choice on this is because they don’t want to split up the player base just because some people might not have bought the newest shiny. Instead they are going to focus on making frequent small content updates with larger content updates happening regularly but less frequently and using these updates as a way to keep the game fresh and going.
Overall everything I saw has me hopeful the full game will deliver a fun experience I can share with my friends. I had a blast running around in the different Jevelins and even setting up different loadouts for them, which is an odd thing for me to enjoy. There’s still a lot unseen though so I’m also keeping a bit of my cautious optimism about it. I’ll have more to show you from the hands-on event next week as well.