Anthem preview – PvE, Endgame, and where we go next Game
During our recent hands-on time with Anthem, we received a sneak peek of Endgame content. This small taste gave us a run at two Strongholds, one of which (Tyrant Mine) you can play during the open beta this weekend. Rather than rehashing what you can play for yourself, I want to talk a little bit about the potential of the endgame, my thoughts about Anthem’s potential, and where we might go next.
There are a lot of small details buried in our time with the title that will add up to different ways to engage with Anthem. In Fort Tarsis there is a vendor supplying daily, weekly, and monthly trials. These trials represent a way to earn coins (the in-game currency used for buying cosmetic unlocks), as well as a chance for Bioware to push players outside of their comfort zones by changing up the established rules for our Javelins, though the team was tight-lipped on what that might look like. Similarly, there is a faction system that tracks your reputation between the three known factions — Arcanists, Freelancers, and Sentinels. We didn’t get a clear picture of what having a low or high faction rating with these three teams might grant, but experience with similar titles suggests that it’ll be additional cosmetics and personalization choices.
The game’s soft cap is level 30. Once you hit Level 30, you’ll unlock the Grandmaster difficulty levels, giving players tiered difficulties to test out their Mastercraft and Legendary weapons and armor, not unlike the Torment difficulty system in Diablo III.
Playing through the Temple of the Scar Stronghold (that content in 4K appears below) immediately made it clear that Strongholds ask more of the player than previous missions. Enemies are smarter, flank more effectively, and also have abilities of their own, including flight. Taking them out is no longer about hammering your abilities willy-nilly, instead of pushing the players to focus on setting up primers and detonators — the game’s increasingly-important environmental combinations. Your partners need to operate as a team, using their weapons and abilities in a complementary fashion to unleash the most amount of damage. Our two hours of playtime wasn’t anywhere near enough time to get a real grip on all of it, but my first impressions were overwhelmingly positive, and a hell of a lot of fun.
Your first Stronghold is unlocked through progression in the campaign, with the others being revealed once you finish the storyline. When I asked Executive Producer Mark Darrah about Strongholds that can be tackled before players complete the critical path, he leaned heavily on the fact that Anthem is a platform that the team can flexibly use to introduce content of any kind, bending the rules in any way they want based on player feedback. My interpretation of this is “you guys tell us — do we need Strongholds before you beat the game?”, which I suspect the Anthem community will answer with a resounding “yes”.
One of the things I liked most about Strongholds is that they are less focused on having the right gear and flawless tactics, unlike a World of Warcraft Raid, or how other loot-shooters have tackled their Raid-like content. Instead, the Stronghold missions seem more focused on player tactics. While we didn’t get to experience one for ourselves, there is something called Cataclysms that are more akin to traditional Raids, being more focused on having the right team balance and equipment levels. When I inquired further on Cataclysms, the comparison I received was that they’d function not unlike the Tides of War system in Battlefield V, granting time-limited events that can change up the rules of engagement. It’ll be interesting to see these events in motion.
Beyond the Strongholds, you are free to explore the world in the appropriately named “Freeplay” zones. Leaping off the edge of Fort Tarsis, you can traverse the expansive map with a heavier focus on discovery and gathering crafting materials. Enemies dot the landscape, of course, as well as massive Titans — Anthem’s version of World Bosses. You are also free to re-run contracts (missions that can be repeated to grind out additional experience), as well as tackling Legendary Contracts. Legendary Contracts, as the name suggests, are more difficult versions of missions you’ve previously tackled with amped up difficulty.
At the end of my preview time with Anthem, and a bit more experience with the VIP demo, a thought occurred to me. Anthem is all about the feeling of flying an ultra-powerful weapon of warfare, and the balance is all about preserving that experience. To that end, Anthem, at least in my opinion, needs to remain a purely PvE experience. I say this as most games tend to apply the Nerf bat liberally, essentially tamping down the world until everything is “fair” and all classes are essentially equal. Anthem’s power fantasy depends heavily on being the biggest badass on the block, and as the game currently doesn’t have any player vs. player components, there’s no need to mess with that. If you absolutely must beat up your teammates, I could see a dueling option, but beyond that, let us remain the hulking beasts we all dreamed we could be.
Anthem is headed to shelves on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC on February 22nd, with Origin Access Premier players getting in a week earlier on February 15th, 2019. Stay tuned, pilots — this is one to keep an eye on. You don’t need to take my word for it — try out the Open Demo until Sunday, February 4rd!
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