Hands-On: Will Anthem live up to expectations?

We’re about a month away from the launch of Anthem, BioWare’s upcoming co-op open world action shooter, and publisher EA games invited a handful folks to get their hands on the game to get a taste of what to expect.

We had about a good six to seven hours with game playing a variety of missions, side quests, open world free play, and end game content.

The Beginning

Our hands-on started with the beginning of the game giving us an overview of the Anthem, the Shapers, relics, and the conflict surrounding the inhabitants of the planet. The first two missions are basically tutorial missions introducing us to other characters, Fort Tarsis, and Javelins, which are powered-up suits you wear out in the world.

I started with the Ranger Javelin, which is described as the most versatile suit. When playing with the Ranger suit, I felt like Iron Man, despite toting an automatic rifle. My suit was equipped with heat seeking missiles, frag grenades, and an ultimate ability that launches a barrage of missiles on top of locked-on targets.

I played most of the missions with the Storm Javelin suit though. Storm is known for battling from a distance, being able to throw ice, fire, and lightning with a hover movement that looks pretty slick. The Storm suit fit my playstyle the most out of all four suits. From a distance I can fire off ice shards to freeze enemies, or bomb on enemies with multiple flame explosions. I also had the option of bringing down a lightning strike to an area to take out a group of adversaries. The Storm Ultimate brings down a powerful elemental storm of lightning, ice, and fire to assist in taking down massive enemies and bosses.

The Interceptor Javelin suit felt a lot like the Arc Hunter Class in Destiny 2. Interceptor is nimble and quick, throws ninja stars, and has an Ultimate that has your character whipping around the map, and knifing enemies. The Colossus Javelin suit felt like Iron Man’s Hulk Buster, just a big hunk of mass that can cause a small earthquake when he pounds the ground, carries a flame thrower, and has an Ultimate that launches a massive, highly explosive mortar. The explosion basically took up my entire monitor.

We played the game on PC using an Xbox One controller. The way the game plays feels a lot like Mass Effect in third person without the stiffness. Everything is tighter, fine-tuned, and more fluid. The flying is simple, and at the start I had to get used to the sensitivity of the controls. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll be weaving in out of trees, and dodging projectiles in no time. Be careful though because the suit will overheat after a certain amount of time and you’ll either have to land or fly through a waterfall to cool off.

Missions, Contracts, and Freeplay

During our playthrough, we played a few story missions, a couple of contract and agent missions, which act as side missions, and spent time in Freeplay, which is the open world of Anthem where you can explore and participate in events that are continually happening.

The first mission after the tutorials is The Lost Arcanist, where you’re tasked with rescuing Matthias, an Arcanist who researches and studies Shaper relics and artifacts in the world. During the mission, I had to recover clues which were guarded by Scars, an alien race that is trying to retrieve shaper technology.

A lot of the early missions, including the contract and agent missions,  seemed a bit repetitive. Retrieve an item, protect an item/area, get a clue or rescuing someone all required clearing out swaths of enemies, followed by the task. You can’t fly by them, or get the item and run, you have to clear out every enemy before moving forward with the story. While it was fun clearing out all the enemies with my powers, which refill pretty quickly, I was wanting a bit more variety of the gameplay (there was one mission with a puzzle that was fun trying to solve with my squad).

Especially since you’re stuck with the weapons and abilities you choose prior to starting the mission. If you equip an assault rifle and a pistol and realize you rather use the sniper rifle while in the middle of the mission, you’re out of luck.

By the way, during my playthrough of the Lost Arcanist mission I was paired with another player, however, he was off doing his own thing, leaving me to complete the mission solo. This presents a problem because since there was more than one player in the mission, the difficulty of the mission is increased. So make sure whoever you’re running with is helping you out because it gets harder. I was able to get it done though while he was off lost in thought somewhere.

Freeplay opens up the world of Anthem for you to explore as well as participate in public events. The Prospero character in Fort Tarsis tasked me with harvesting embers during freeplay. While I was out looking for the material, there was a group of Sentinels who were getting beat down by Scars and were calling for help. Of course I obliged and was not only able to harvest the materials I initially came for, but also earned some loot.

Loot and loading

Speaking of loot, health and ammo constantly drop on the map, but the other loot you pick up, you won’t know what it is until you exit the activity. It’ll just be labeled an “uncommon item” or “rare item” and once you exit Freeplay or a mission, it’s revealed. These range from weapons and armor boosts to suit abilities and modifications. You also have to wait until you’re in The Forge to be able to equip any of the gear you just earned. There isn’t any customizing and reequipping your Javelin while you’re in Freeplay or on a mission.

And in terms of waiting…. there was a lot of waiting around during my playthrough because of loading screens. There’s a loading screen every time you come and go from Tarsis, which is understandable, but the way the missions are set up, is like multiple Destiny strikes. You load the missions up – loading screen, play the mission, it ends, another loading screen, then load up the The Forge to equip some new items – loading screen, then another loading screen to head back to Tarsis to get another mission then wash, rinse and repeat. There’s even loading screens within the mission if you have to enter a cave, cavern, or underground lair. Hopefully there are some changes made to speed up the loading. Can I least stay in Freeplay when a mission is over instead of having to leave the area to only return moments later?

End game content

While I can’t share the specific end game content I played at the hands-on event, I can say that by the time your character reaches level 30, you’ll be pretty powerful. A lot of the suit will be unlocked but not everything. The end game content is designed for the players to reach that peak level of power where they earn the most powerful weapons in the game, including Masterwork items. There were also new enemies that we hadn’t seen in the early missions, along with some of the same enemies with new weaponry themselves.

Overall, the game feels pretty good and on the right path. While the game will draw some comparisons to Destiny, BioWare has its own style, flare, and finesse and Anthem is definitely proof of that. As an avid Destiny 2 player, I hardly thought about it while playing Anthem, I was too enamored with the stunning environments and action-packed gameplay. I’m looking forward to digging deeper when Anthem launches on February 22.