E3 2018: Five Takeaways from Our Demo of Anthem

By Mark Delaney, 6 months ago
Following the EA Play press conference, I was able to get a front row seat to a 20-minute presentation of the publisher's next big IP, Anthem. BioWare fans, multiplayer fans, and plenty of doubters have all had their share of questions lobbied at the blossoming franchise. Sometimes with big new games like this, with the full weight of a massive marketing budget behind it, they seem just destined to succeed, but in this case, it still feels like many people don't quite understand what Anthem is yet. That's probably fine, as the game has another several months to sell itself, but for those wondering what Anthem is trying to be, these five takeaways should help sort it out. Here's what I came away dwelling on following my session with the game.

anthem e3

It is like Destiny, but it's also importantly different

The biggest knock on the game is that "it's just Destiny 3." The comparisons are tough to deny, but they're also a bit lazy. For the average gamer, it seems likely that however you feel about Destiny you may feel similarly about Anthem thanks to their structure being like one another's. But so too is The Division's, and so too will many more games over the next five years be like these. The light MMO/shooter hybrid is not going away, and if we're going to just call each of them another Destiny, we're not really allowing each game to stand on its own.

It's like if The Avengers were all outfitted by Tony Stark

What if Marvel's dynamic heroes were more like one another than they are currently? What if Tony Stark gifted each of them their own Iron Man suit to fight in? The result would be Anthem. The Javelin combat suits, as they're called, definitely look that way, though thankfully they're class-based and each play very differently from one another, or so I'm told. You can see those differences in their design and form factor, but to be honest the demo didn't highlight very well how differently each class can really play as it followed just one character the whole time and never showed me the abilities of others.

It's a new day for BioWare

Those looking for BioWare's usual story-driven games will maybe be disappointed. They've promised an entire single-player portion of the game to explore in some way, but I'm still waiting to see how substantial that really is. If it's coming just in the form of background information and occasional dialogue that's probably not going to be enough for most fans. I didn't see a heck of a lot of that story content in the demo, though it was a nice touch to see the characters communicating so much about the world around them as they explored it. Stuff like that is more world-building than true narrative content, though, and for the BioWare fans that don't play these games as service, the differences right now seem not so welcoming.

It's gorgeous

Say what you will about the game — I'm not yet sold myself, mind you — but you can't deny that view. Being in the venue for the showing, it's what I noticed first about Anthem's new key art and color scheme. The studio's art team has really stepped up their game. Each Javelin was given a vibrant and distinct colorway on stage and in the demo, and the environments were stunning and varied. We've reached a point where just about every game looks phenomenal, so we maybe take for granted just how great games can look, I think. Anthem looks lovely, and that still counts for something even as gamers are treated to an embarrassment of riches in the gaming visuals department.

It's not a game that demos well in small doses

20 minutes with Anthem doesn't really cut it, to be honest. As someone who has played games like it, I can safely say they aren't meant to be consumed in a span of just 20 minutes. To really get a grasp on what Anthem is and what it could be, one needs to play much more than that. It's a game that can change often how it looks and plays and it's going to be tough for EA to market for that reason. Giving people ten hours of it in EA Access will help, but that's just a week before it's out. What about the next several months?

Anthem releases on February 22nd, 2019.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is the host of the community game club TA Playlist. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his family. He almost never writes in the third person.