It’s no secret that Anthem’s VIP demo didn’t go smoothly. It finished out the weekend well enough, but the first two days were as broken as the biggest Anthem naysayers expected it to be. EA has been on thin ice with its playerbase for the past several years, not helped by scandals like Star Wars Battlefront II’s loot boxes further damaging the publisher’s reputation. Combine this with the widespread skepticism that gamers have developed over years of watching games turn out nothing like how they looked in E3 trailers, and Anthem may have more to prove than any other EA title in history.
There were plenty of hindrances in the game’s first public demo that could spell death for it in the long run. Not even considering the hours during which countless players were locked out of the demo, the game suffered from rampant technical issues, including infinite loading screens, rubber banding, and a general inability to party up, just to name a few. The thing is, though, BioWare is already keenly aware of these issues, thanks to everyone continually harping on about them. To that end, let’s critique something about the game’s balancing, rather than its tech, so that the game is as fun as possible once its functional issues get sorted out.
One of the Anthem demo missions, titled Inverse Functions, concluded with a boss fight against a spider-like mech that was seemingly ripped straight out of Destiny or Horizon Zero Dawn. During the fight, waves of various minion types spawned into the map to hound us, prompting a combination of attack patterns from both the mech boss and minions that made the fight the most frustrating experience in the entire demo, hands down.
Starting with the mech boss, the attack in question involved what appeared to be rapid-fire missiles that had severe knockback effects. The stun from the knockback also made it extremely hard to get out of the way of the others. If one hit you, you were almost unavoidably in for a pounding, and if they got you in an enclosed space, you were completely immobilized.
The best way to avoid this was to fly around and stay as agile as possible, which would have been a feasible option if not for the minions constantly setting you on fire. Being set on fire causes your jets to instantly overheat, leaving you to immediately careen into the ground. Due to the relentlessness of these two attack patterns, my squad and I spent more of our time in that boss fight getting knocked around like croquet balls than doing anything that felt like playing.
For transparency’s sake, I should convey that we were playing on the Hard difficulty, and one might argue that it was supposed to be difficult, but there are ways to make a game challenging while still being fun and fair. Take another boss fight in the very same demo for example. The Convergence mission ends with squads facing three massive ogre-like enemies. These bosses can send damaging shock waves across the ground, even traveling through objects, as well as summon voids in the air that wreck anyone caught in them.
Balancing my position relative to their attack patterns was quite challenging, but I still felt like I was given a fighting chance. This is not to say the enemy attacks in Inverse Functions need to be reworked completely, but the correct balance of systems like enemy attack patterns can make or break a game as much as anything else.
Beyond that massive frustration, the Anthem demo was genuinely a blast. The flying in this game deserves particular recognition, as transitioning from flight, to hovering, to ground combat and back again is both incredibly seamless and curiously simple. It truly feels like one of those “no duh” systems that make you wonder why more games don’t make use of it. As for the technical issues, they were unfortunate, but if I choose to view it as a stress test rather than a demo, I can give BioWare the benefit of the doubt and continue to look forward to what comes out in three weeks.