Anthem is here and the overwhelming narrative seems to currently be that the game is bad and broken. I’m here to tell you it simply isn’t true, and explain how an overwhelming bias that some hardcore gamers carry around with them like some sort of cross is making sure Anthem isn’t getting a fair shake out of the gate.
Let me address this off the bat—I know people are having some legitimate issues with Anthem. I’m not here to tell you that Anthem is perfect, that all of the concerns are invalid, and that the game is worth your money right this second. I can’t make that call for you. What I can do is tell you what my experience has been with the game, and why I feel that the current scuttlebutt around the game isn’t fair to the team at Bioware or this new IP.
When I first played what they termed a demo a month ago, the game was in bad shape. Part of the problem Bioware/EA created themselves by calling it a demo, and not a beta or stress test for a server, which is what this clearly was. The server couldn’t handle it, the game crashed, and there were tons of unforeseen problems that you simply can’t internally account for when that many people get involved that took place. Again, this was a completely free experience for anybody who pre-ordered, and didn’t cost the player base a dime. I’m not sure how it works anywhere else, but you can drop a pre-order on Xbox’s digital marketplace or at GameStop and then cancel it before release and get all of your money back. I’m not sure if this is the same on Steam or PS4 (I know Sony rejected my request for a refund years in the past for a game that hadn’t released), but I can’t imagine it not being so.
Even so, this is to be expected for any game that revolves around multiplayer. I’ve read books filled with interviews that talk with developers, and all of them agree that it doesn’t seem to matter how prepared they think they are, how sound the infrastructure, as soon as they throw it out live then it tanks. It happens on pretty much every single game released, and certainly every game as a service I’ve ever played.
This was absolutely indicative of my first experience with the game. When I got home excited to play I couldn’t even log on, and when I finally did there were constant infinite load screens, crashes, and crazy rubber banding issues. EA Help Desk Twitter was responsive and quick, but they were flooded with complaints of people that couldn’t access the game. I booted it up the next day and the infinite loading was gone, I never experienced rubber banding again, and I had no further log in issues. Loads were insanely long, but I didn’t think this too far out of the ordinary—I was just happy to play the game. I’m on Xbox One S if this matters at all, and have a Ethernet connected high speed cable internet connection.
Yet when this original weekend happened you would have thought this had never happened before, people were livid on social media and across the internet at large. Of course, the internet overreacting to something isn’t anything new, but there seemed to be a special kind of heat that followed this around. Many of the people stoked for Anthem are the same people that love Destiny, The Division, Diablo and other such games. They had to have known that this was going to happen the first weekend. So what was so different about this that the feedback would be so loud and negative?
Oh right, this game is published by EA.
See, for a long time gamers have carried around this nearly irrational hate for EA. For many of them EA is akin to a mustache twirling bad guy, a Cobra-esque entity to their GI Joe. And I’m not saying they are without fault, and don’t focus on making money like every other video game company out there, but this is the same company that gamers made sure was voted the worst company in the world in years past. THE WORST COMPANY IN THE WORLD!?! In a time when there were big oil companies polluting huge swatches of the ocean with mistakes they were trying to cover up. I’ve seen the most calm, logical gamers turn into mouth foaming hate mongers when you merely mention EA, regardless of the reason.
The next weekend was an open beta, and I only played about 3 hours of this one as I’d already determined to buy the game, and I had no issues. I understand some people were still running into stuff, and I can’t speak to that.
What is occurring now is again somewhat EA’s and Bioware’s fault as they have a horribly confusing role out of the game. For the widest gaming populace, especially on consoles, the game hasn’t even officially released—that is slated for this upcoming Friday on Febuary, 22nd. Some people are defending Anthem against the poor opinions of many by declaring that they can’t judge the product until official release date, but I don’t agree with that. This game has been fully available for PC players since 2/15, so the Day One patch is actually a Day Seven patch, and Xbox gamers (i.e. me) have been able to have access to a ten hour trial as long as they are subscribed to EA Access—something I did solely in order to get in early on this game. So the narrative that you can’t judge a game that isn’t released widely is incorrect, the game is out already, and you can’t tell someone thier opinion isn’t valid because the rest of the gamers haven’t gotten in on it. EA/Bioware created this problem for themselves, and it is something that is affecting the narrative of their new IP. They are going to have to deal with that.
The problem, however, comes in many of the concerns that are currently being lobbed at the game. The overarching narrative you’ll hear again and again, even begrudgingly from detractors, is that the gameplay loop is actually really fun. I can attest this is accurate–flying is the best it has ever been in videogames and the team at Bioware has absolutely nailed the class-driven, ability-based gameplay. Fighting in Anthem is fun, movement is incredibly fluid and awesome, the story has been interesting, the NPC dialogue is fun, and the Javelins are really different from one another.
So what are the issues? First thing that you’ll hear is load times, and I’m here to tell you they can be long. I play on Xbox One S and have waited as long as 2 minutes for a load, but the narrative that you’ll see a million two minute load screens is sheer nonsense. The biggest load happens when you first load into a mission or freeplay, and is loading a huge, gorgeous map. Anyone that knows me knows I really dislike loading screens, but they simply aren’t that big of a deal here to me. You’ll see them when you go into an underground area or when returning to Fort Tarsis, but the only ones that are anything outside the ordinary are the loads into and out of the main map. The underground areas load in less than 30 seconds, the forge area where you can change all the pieces of your Javelin loads in less than 10, and the Day One patch actually went live last night speeding these up even quicker.
The crazy thing to me is that these load times are nothing new. Go play Destiny 2 right now–a game that has been polishing itself for essentially 6 years since the first Destiny–and you’ll find long load times anytime you go to the tower or leave it, and any time you’re landing for a strike. They may be slightly shorter than Anthem, but this is also the first week the game has been out.
There are a number of other issues like a quest that halts campaign progress and doesn’t count progress correctly, some issues with loading in with groups, and issues with crashes I’ve read about. I haven’t experienced any of this because I’ve only played about six hours thus far, but every single one of these has been addressed by Bioware and some have already been fixed in the patch available now. People complaining about endgame for a game that has been out a week is absolutely bonkers to me—not to game shame anyone, but if you’ve played over 60 hours in a single week maybe you should address other priorities in your life. While games as service can live or die by their endgame content it wouldn’t matter how much was available, because the most vocally angry fans are tearing through this stuff at an insane speed. There is no way Bungie, Bioware, Ubisoft or anyone else can keep up with the demand of its most voracious base. We are talking about a game that hasn’t even released to the largest population of gamers yet, and people are ALREADY COMPLAINING ABOUT ENDGAME. Destiny had these issues, The Division had the issues, Diablo 3 had these issues!
So what is the difference between those and Anthem? Why is Anthem getting such an unfair shake?
It all comes back to the fact that it is made by EA, and I’m here to tell you that is nonsense. The microtransaction bit of things? Completely aesthetic. Once you buy the game you can play to your heart’s content and unlock all kinds of cool stuff. To put this into perspective people are complaining about a system that is a week old, that Bioware has already said they are re-evaluating on, and that doesn’t affect gameplay AT ALL. Shaders that Destiny 2 sells as a one time use that are there to make sure you don’t look like a complete clown in the hobbled together equipment you have? Paid content that rarely drops. In Anthem every color is available to you for customizing each piece of your Javelin along with different textures for each individual piece, and even choosing whether the equipment is old, new or dirty. Just the base level one amount of customization is staggering when compared to something like Destiny.
I almost let all of this negativity make me cancel my pre-order, which would have been crazy because I’ve really had fun playing what I have. Last night I jumped into freeplay with no mission driving me since I was waiting on my brother to progress through the campaign, so I had no promise of reward other than XP, and I didn’t care. This very rarely happens with me in these sorts of games, but Anthem is just so damn fun to play it doesn’t matter. Jumping off of a cliff and firing boosters, doing awesome barrel-rolls in mid-air before crashing into an underwater biome with no load is awesome. Creating combos of elemental attacks with a squad of other Javelins is awesome. Diving, dodging around, and going crazy on enemies with Interceptor knives is awesome. I’ve only played for around 6 hours on the main game now, and I already enjoy the story as well as love some of the NPCs.
This game is a good game, and unless you plan to play 40 hours plus a week there is plenty to do. If you want to hold onto your cash for six months for everything to get ironed out, good on you. That can be a really smart decision. But if you were stoked for the game like I was and still want to get in there early knowing that you’ll get a fun experience that will continue to get better in the coming months than don’t let the negativity and hatred of a video game company dissuade you.
I’ll see you beyond the wall Freelancer.