EA's big looter-shooter, Anthem, hit the ground on February 15. Well, kind of. Folks with subscriptions to EA's online services, EA Access and Origin Access, can tuck in early. Everyone else must wait until Anthem's official release date, which is February 22 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.
If you're a non-subscriber, though, you're probably not feeling any pangs of jealousy. Anthem has big problems, some mechanical, some technical. Mike's already outlined some of the game's mechanical issues, including its poor story delivery, boring boss fights, and a general lack of content.
Those mechanical problems and how they're addressed will make or break Anthem in the long term but dissecting what EA and BioWare did right and wrong is the job of future generations (or just the job of games writers who make it to next week, unless the White Walkers currently stomping around North America get to them first). Anthem's more immediate issue is its myriad technical problems. Invisible characters. Headless players. Crashes. Disconnects. Load times not seen since the earliest days of CD-based game systems, on top of occasional load screens that never resolve into key story scenes ("Don't forget, you're here forever!").
BioWare is already planning a massive day one patch and says fixing the monstrous load times are top priority. If you've played pretty much any triple-A game in the past few years, you probably know all the words to the "Day One Patch" song. It's just a fact of life in the modern gaming landscape, and we can't expect a game as big and complicated as Anthem to hit the shelf bug-free. No problem, right?
Not exactly. Social media reports of Anthem's bugginess followed by BioWare's promise of a big day one patch are typical of an early access game—but Anthem isn't an early access game. It's supposed to be a polished product that Origin Access Premier subscribers are allowed to access in full before everyone else. But as things stand right now, Premier subscribers are essentially paying for the "privilege" of being play testers. That's not what they signed up for, and that's not what the Origin Access page promises. It says "Play the full game before launch. Get new EA games first," not "Cough up your dosh and play through a bug-riddled adventure while your friends get the improved product a week later."
A few bugs which are improved in Day 1 (thread)1. Getting shot by invisible people. This is streaming related. Especially on slower/full hard drives. Patch makes it much better.— Michael Gamble (@GambleMike) February 16, 2019
Early access isn't a perfect system of funding game development, but it's an important one for independent and mid-sized developers who might otherwise have trouble securing the necessary cash to finish their projects. PUBG started life as an early access title. So did The Long Dark, Don't Starve, Ark: Survival Evolved, and other games that've since gone on to sell millions of copies and win awards. But early access presents a contract between developers and players. Players understand they're buying into an unfinished and potentially buggy game because they believe in it and want to watch it grow. Developers understand they're supposed to update the game regularly and fix problems as soon as possible.
Anthem isn't an early access game. BioWare and EA have no mutual understanding with Origin Access Premier subscribers beyond "Pay us money to play Anthem before all your friends!" Worse, the week-long gap between Anthem's Premier launch and its official launch is enough time to work through the story campaign. What now, subscriber? Do you pump the brakes on your early copy of Anthem and wait by the roadside until BioWare delivers its day one patch? Or do you finish what you started and watch sullenly while your non-subscribing friends enjoy a campaign that's (supposedly going to be) more polished than your playthrough?
There is no satisfactory answer here, and the whole event is another unfortunate chip in Anthem's debut.
Anthem clearly has an arduous flight on its way to becoming the kind of looter-shooter people will want to return to for months to come. But EA also has some work ahead if it wants to assure Premier subscribers their money is truly going towards access to early game launches, and not simply "early access." Let's hope for the best.