In-Depth With Anthem's Endgame, Which EA Promises is Really Good

EA showed us what awaits at the end of Anthem. Here's what we thought.

A little more than seven years ago, BioWare released Star Wars: The Old Republic to eager fans. It was lauded for its strong storytelling and excellent production values, both of which matched up with the best that World of WarCraft had to offer. One thing it did not have, though, was a good endgame, which became apparent as elite players quickly ran through the available content.

As a traditionally single-player developer, BioWare was in the mindset that it was providing multiple games worth of storylines. But what it didn't reckon with was teens and twenty-somethings with way too much time on their hands. It's a mistake that BioWare seems determined not to repeat.

To prove it, BioWare recently took the step of making some endgame content available to play for Anthem. Its main goal was to show that it had learned the lessons of Destiny 2, which had endgame problems of its own. But really, it was trying to dispel the ghosts of Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Anthem's Mini-Raids: Temple of Scar and Tyrant Mine

You remember Star Wars: The Old Republic, right? Eight years ago, BioWare put out a story-driven MMORPG that it touted as multiple KOTORs in one. What wound up happening was that top players blew through the content almost immediately and asked, "Where the heck is the endgame content?" It was a long time before BioWare had much of an answer.

This time around, BioWare is trying to say, "We have endgame content, and it's good. You can even try it now!" The endgame missions for Anthem, neither of which were available for capture, were what you might call "mini-raids." Compared to World of WarCraft or Destiny, they're quite short, lasting maybe 30 minutes apiece. Each one showcases one of Anthem's antagonist factions, with the Temple of Scar featuring the myserious alien Scars, and Tyrant Mine starring aliens that resemble the bugs from Starship Troopers. They are what you expect: sprawling dungeons with many high-level enemies and lots of loot, ultimately topping off with a final boss.

Both follow the pattern of earlier levels, but are... well... longer. The Temple of Scar is loaded with swarms of Elite Hunters, turrets, sniper rifle-wielding Scouts, and heavy shieldbearing Legendary Enforcers. Tyrant Mine is much the same, but with bugs. What differentiates them from earlier incarnations of the same enemy is a radiant yellow glow and beefier stats. BioWare offered a glimpse of the Temple of Scar in the livestream embedded below.

Watch Anthem Developer Livestream - Ft. Lead Producers Mike Gamble, Ben Irving & Game Director, Jon Warner. from anthemgame on www.twitch.tv

As you progress through each dungeon, you are confronted with mini-challenges, such as gathering a set number of orbs or holding a position while data is uploaded. As with Destiny, there are certain areas where spawning is retricted, which is also where you are apt to find the biggest swarms of enemies. Beating them is a matter of sticking together, exercising effective crowd control, and breaking out the big ultimate attacks in the right moments.

Waiting at the end of each is a massive boss. The Tyrant Mine concludes with a giant spider that crawls around the walls while unleashing its broodlings, while the Temple of Scar finishes up with a biomechanical hybrid protected by multiple energy shields. Both fall into the "defeat waves of enemies and wait for the boss to become vulnerable" mold—a common sight in shooters like these.

Neither of these dungeons are intended to be especially deep or memorable. Rather, they're repeatable grinds where you can acquire experience and loot while hanging out with your friends. The true challenge is in beating these raids at Grandmaster 3, the highest of Anthem's six difficulty levels.

They hardly live up to the legend of, say, the legendary Vault of Glass, which Kotaku once called "the best thing in Destiny." But they broadly tick all the boxes you would expect from high-level endgame content, including multiple difficulty levels and lots of loot. That alone should keep top players busy for quite a while.

Hopping on Anthem's Loot Treadmill

Outside of the Strongholds, Anthem will be serving up a familiar selection of live events and other missions. Free Roam is a public hub where you can explore, clear enemy camps, and take part in the various live events that have become a service game staple. Contracts are dynamically generated missions that are designed to be repeatable, with Legendary Contracts being for experts.

More interesting are "Shaper Storms"—dynamic events that seem to resemble pocket universes. We're still waiting on more information about Shaper Storms, but I'm kind of wondering whether they will be akin to Diablo 3's Nephalem Rifts, which are randomized maps designed for high-level players. BioWare lead producer Mike Gamble isn't saying much right now, but Shaper Storms seem to be one more piece of the puzzle.

Whatever form Shaper Storms ultimately take, Anthem will definitely have regular live events. These events have become a crucial part of the live service gamer experience, with Fortnite in particular turning them into something of an artform. Remember the burger in the desert? The creativity and cadence with which live events are implemented in Anthem will go a long way toward determining the success of its endgame.

The final piece of the puzzle is the customization. It sounds strange to say, but after a full day of playing Anthem, I still don't have a great feel for the loot. Loot doesn't seem to have much of an impact on the appearance of individual Javelins, so it's hard to feel a real sense of progression when acquiring new weapons and items. The components are also somewhat esoteric, which doesn't help. Instead of a new helmet or pair of boots, you get a "Catalytic Overdrive" that has some stats attached to it. It all ends up feeling rather abstract.

This is yet another element of Anthem where the jury is still kind of out. The depth seems to be there; or at least, there are a lot of individual stat boosts to manipulate. Nevertheless, it's hard to get a clear sense of cause and effect, especially with 11 pieces of equipment to manage. Right now, I mostly just hit LB and watch as my Colossus launches a mortar that absolutely wrecks large mobs. Even my gun doesn't feel all that important by comparison.

Which brings me to another concern I have: I'm not sure there's a strong enough sense of ownership in Anthem. In Destiny, getting an exotic gun like the Skyburner's Oath means something. High-level armor looks cool and feels satisfying to equip, which serves to accentuate the stat boosts. In Anthem, the Javelins are more of an interchangeable set of character builds and paint jobs, with other cosmetics being locked behind a microtransaction grind. This is one of those things that's hard to gauge with a generic character from an event, but I'll just say that it's something that I plan to keep an eye on.

My overriding impression is that Anthem is fun to play; really fun to play. The mechs feel heavy and powerful, with the controller rumbling ominously every time they hit the ground. Attacks land hard, and explosions are everywhere. I had a blast hopping into a Storm Javelin and floating around in the air like Magneto, smashing mobs with blasts of fire and lightning from my hands, then swapping to a sniper rifle to finish off the stragglers. Now that's a feeling you won't get in Destiny.

But all that said, I have real questions about how well it will hold up over the long term. Will the loot be exciting enough? Will the sense of ownership be strong enough? Will the actual missions be interesting enough? These are all questions I'm still waiting to see answered.

As of right now, Anthem's endgame follows the pattern for success established by successful live service games like Warframe, which puts it a step ahead where Star Wars: The Old Republic was back in 2011. The rest is up to the game itself. Anthem's live VIP demo is now available, with the final release set for February 22.

Tagged with Bioware, Electronic Arts, Opinions, PC, PlayStation 4, Role Playing Games, Shooters, Xbox One.

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