Back in the bad old days of Destiny's launch, when it was being hammered for glitches and a lack of content, supporters had one major rallying cry: the gunplay was great. Like, really great. It was enough that it was simply fun to play on a moment to moment basis, even if the missions themselves were often pretty braindead.
Much the same can be said for Anthem. After playing for several hours, I have no idea whether the repeatable content or raids will be enough to satisfy the fans that will inevitably form its hardcore base. But I do know that, even after eight hours and change, I never stopped being excited when a large mob gave me an excuse to break out the big guns. Someone once told me that Dynasty Warriors is popular because sometimes you just want to come home from work and mindlessly slice through a lot of bad guys. That's pretty much Anthem, but with raids and online co-op.
You can see what I mean in the video that I captured above. I spent many of the early missions playing as an Interceptor, and while I had a gun available to me, I had much more fun dodging about with my melee attacks. I suspect that my tactics won't work at all in the endgame—Anthem reportedly gets extremely hard once you hit Grandmaster 3—but I sure did enjoy having an excuse to my foes like so many alien roasts.
It may have just been the demo version, but it seemed as if all of the Javelins had attacks that were weighted toward being as powerful and stompy as possible, at times bordering on the ridiculous. Just the shoulder weapon on the Colossus launches a mortar attack that can clear out a wave of foes in seconds. The Interceptor's ultimate attack makes it totally invincible and restores its health, which seems a little excessive.
The most absurd of them was the Storm Javelin, which made me feel like Magneto as I floated with my shield activated, lighting and fire exploding from my fingertips. I felt amazingly cool, and also amazingly overpowered. It helped that the graphics were really top notch, with the Javelins in particular being notable for the amount of detail and attention poured into its design.
When you're done smash enemy mobs, you leap into the air and take off like The Rocketeer or Iron Man, your jets roaring as you zoom through caves and jungle. Flying is an inspired touch in Anthem, and it does a huge amount to make the levels feel open, interesting, and varied. The transition points between battles, so often a weakness in games like these, are legitimately fun in their own right.
Anthem Feels Calculated, But That's Not Necessarily a Bad Thing
The cynical part of me says that this is all calculated on EA's part (obviously). I imagine a design director sitting with a spreadsheet open and saying, "Research shows that if we tune up the attacks just enough, overall engagement increases by 300 percent." That's just the way it is with service games like these—EA wants to hook you early and keep you playing long enough to spend some extra money on the cosmetics store.
But at the same time, it's not like a fun game can simply spring out of a spreadsheet (though some mobile developers might argue otherwise). It takes the combined efforts of a lot of talented artists, sound design specialists, and gameplay designers to make a game that looks and feels this good. Assuming the servers work and there aren't too many glitches, always a crapshoot with games like these, the PC version of Anthem stands to be one of the best-looking games of the generation.
That alone might be enough to push Anthem over the top, at least in the short term. Longer term, Anthem's success will be down to whether BioWare can crank out enough interesting live events, high level dungeons, and updates to keep fans relatively engaged. I have some doubts on that front, actually, but I'll talk more about that in the future.
In the meantime, Anthem's VIP Live Demo launches tomorrow, giving the general public their first taste of a game that has inspired a great deal of doubt to this point. We'll see if it's enough to get them on board for the long haul. Anthem launches on February 22.