It's been almost two years since Electronic Arts and BioWare showed off the first gameplay trailer for Anthem. The trailer came during E3 2017, the gaming industry's marquee event, and Anthem made an impact. It was slick showcase of a brand-new world for BioWare fans to play in, powered by unique flying exosuits called Javelins.
Like many early trailers though, that trailer wasn't indicative of the final product. Some of this is understandable, as graphics gets optimized for the average system instead of a top-of-the-line rig. Some trailers are more of a statement of purpose, as characters pull off moves that are impossible within the actual confines of gameplay mechanics. And some trailers are outright lies, like the infamous Killzone 2 teaser for E3 2005. Where does Anthem's trailer fall in this estimation?
Tarsis Feels Like Home
Right from the beginning, the Fort Tarsis in the trailer is a lively, amazing setting. The Freelancer pulls back a brightly colored curtain to reveal an amazing future bazaar. People think about purchases while store vendors try to hawk their wares. The camera pans up to show a giant mechanical Strider walking just outside the bazaar area. It establishes not only the scope of Fort Tarsis, but also gives it a sense of life.
In-game, there's next to no crowd noise in Fort Tarsis. Most vendors sit by quietly, doing nothing. Occasionally, you'll hear citizens get into conversations, but if you stop to listen until they finish talking, they'll end up staring at you like the Children of the Corn. The trailer shows the Freelancer approached by an NPC, who warns her of trouble on the horizon. It's a mission, but delivered so well; there's a feeling like the Freelancer is helping a person, not just getting a mission from a quest giver.
The Javelin loading platform is visually exactly the same. The trailer shows an "Ally of the Week" marker, which isn't present in the final product, but that's a small change. Another change is it looks like originally all of your Javelins would be present on the loading dock, instead of the center slot being occupied by whatever your current chosen Javelin is.
Once the Freelancer steps out to the edge of Fort Tarsis, we see the the world of Anthem stretching out in front of us. Visually, there's definitely been some graphical optimizations, but the final version of Anthem still look very good. It's interesting to see content icons as the camera pans over the landscape: these still exist in Anthem, but only once you get close enough to certain world event content.
Just You and The Open World
The Freelancer's Javelin leaps off the platform and goes into flight mode, which feels largely the same in the live versions. There's some extra graphical polish and cinematic pizzazz, like the animal herd that goes stomping by, but nothing feels out-of-place in the current game. Flight and running animations look largely the same, though flying lack the overheating mechanic. Also, I've yet to see an Ursix in a world event, let alone one fighting against a group of Howlers.
The user interface pops up once the Freelancer gets into combat with a group of Scar. It's different from the live version, occupying the center of the screen rather than being shuffled off to the right. Otherwise, combat looks much the same. Once again though, the trailer shows visible, floating location markers, which aren't available in the live game.
One big change pops up at around 4:25 in the gameplay trailer. For one, world events don't feel as common in Anthem's Freeplay as they are in this trailer, but I can chalk that up to providing a heightened sense of what Anthem was supposed to be. The big difference is the Freelancer notes a world event and says that's probably part of the mission she just received. Anthem's mission system prevents this kind of flow: if you load into a mission, you can only really tackle the objectives of that mission, and mission content doesn't appear in Freeplay. The Strider falls here in real-time, which doesn't happen in current Anthem, though there are world events that see you helping Strider-bound citizens.
At around 5:20 in the trailer, another major shift occurs. The Freelancer picks up a legendary rifle called Jarra's Wrath, and equips it immediately. None of this is possible in live Anthem. First, items gained in missions, Strongholds, or Freeplay don't resolve into actual weapons and gear until you get to the mission complete screen. Second, there's no way to equip weapons or armor mid-mission, because you can only change loadouts in The Forge.
The trailer ends with Cataclysm storm, a bit of content that's not in-game yet, but is coming soon. Interestingly enough, the Freelancer calls in two other player for the content, but I don't think that's possible in live. If they were in Freeplay, there'd be two other random players in the open-world already, matchmaking to add team members would have to be done prior to launching the mission.
Was the Trailer a Lie?
I wouldn't call Anthem's gameplay trailer an outright fabrication or lie. Judging from the animations, I'd say there's some actual gameplay within the trailer itself that maps onto the live game almost directly. The specifics of playing were certainly remixed and changed within the last two years, but the trailer is closer to what Anthem is than say the Killzone 2 teaser. I'd call it an "enhanced" version of the final game, much like the E3 2012 Watch Dogs reveal. There are some thing in the Anthem gameplay reveal that I wish were in the final production, like a more seamless open world or the ability to equip weapons on the fly.
I'm left wondering what happened here? What led to all on the cutbacks in Fort Tarsis? Why did BioWare drop a more traditional open-world, where missions and world events can be tackled together, for the mission structure we see in the final product? Why the change in being able to equip new gear out in the field? It's a bunch of changes that lead to a vastly different experience.
I'd say this Anthem was actually indicative of whatever BioWare had at the time. Yes, it's more graphically intensive than the final product, but that's to be expected. Fort Tarsis looks to have taken more of the cuts, moving of a setting with verve and life to it, to the slow, plodding, lifeless version in live. I wish the final product was more indicative of this trailer, with missions and quest givers offering the same type of interactions shown here. Alas, that's not the game BioWare is releasing worldwide tomorrow. It looks similar, but the gameplay reveal trailer just has more magic to offer. I'd like the dream over the reality.